Over the years I’ve become fascinated with the idea and process of spiritual development. It started when I realized how incredibly influential my upbringing, my hometown, my siblings, my family, my personality, my race, my gender–all of it– has been on the formation of my faith. The fact that I am a rule-follower, white woman who grew up in a generally well-off small town with a two-parent household (who embraced equality and non-traditional gender roles) is HUGE as it has reveals the baseline from which I view God and others.
After having children, my interest in adult spiritual development has grown to include the faith formation of children as well.
What does it mean for a child to “be saved”?
How important is it to have a “welcoming Jesus into my heart” moment with kids? Is it biblical? Is it necessary?
How do children hear the various stories of Scripture?
How can I communicate these stories in a developmentally and spiritually appropriate way, yet also stay true to the purpose for which these stories were being told?
How can I teach my kids to not be afraid to ask questions and think critically while also keeping a soft heart that loves the God who inspired the Scriptures?
Who do my children think Jesus is (like, not the Sunday school factual answer, but the character of Jesus and how He relates to their everyday lives)?
All that to say, this month over at Graham Blanchard, a few of us moms are sharing our first memories of Jesus (I wonder what my kids will one day say?). Here’s what I shared:
I grew up in a culturally Christian home. We attended church on the “important days” but I wasn’t nurtured into a relationship with Jesus. My aunt, however, became a Christian sometime during my early childhood, and I remember her sharing about Jesus with my family and me when she came to visit during the summer. She would teach me how to sign (ASL) Christian songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Zaccheus was a Wee Little Man.” She’d tell us stories from the Bible and give us “Jesus-themed” gifts (which I mostly thought were a little lame, to be honest, ha!). These are my first memories of hearing about Jesus.
At the time, I was slightly curious about Jesus, but I have a hard time saying for sure if my curiosity and interest had more to do with the person of Jesus or with my love for my aunt. Either way, God was planting seeds of His love in my heart. While I didn’t come to really trust in Jesus until middle school, I know those early stories, songs and discussions set the foundation for my relationship with God.
This post was fun for me to write because it gave me space to remember and recognize how early the Lord was planting his seeds of love in my heart, and how long those seeds were watered before coming to full bloom. Wow, right? He was pursuing my heart even before I knew who He was.
Sometimes I struggle with knowing what I ought to do and then doing it.
And sometimes I struggle with wanting to live a certain way, but not knowing how to do it exactly.
Live Just.ly is a new book created by Micah Challenge to help people figure out what it means to live justly. Written in a concise, straightforward format, Life Just.ly brings together many voices to get people talking about what it looks like to live a lifestyle of God-centered justice. They focus on five areas of life: advocacy, prayer, consumption, generosity, relationships, and creation care. In each of these areas, readers are challenged to thinking deeply about what living rightly in these areas looks like and then take action as a group as well as individual. The editors use stories, Scripture, discussion questions, online videos, prayer, and projects to help readers deeply engage in the material. It’s written in such a way that if taken seriously, transformation will happen when going through this study.
I love that this book gives you the tools you need to put into practice what you’re reading about. They offer solo work ideas, as well as group activities to cement the principles that the group is wrestling with and learning.
One chapter that is particularly challenging to me is the one about consumption. I’ve talked before about some of my thoughts on our culture’s idea of simplicity (so popular! so great! own less but you end up consuming more!). I care about this a lot because this is a place where i need to grow. I know what I ought to do, and while I’ve taken some baby steps, I am mostly still figuring out HOW to do it.
Take chocolate, for instance. I KNOW about the child-slavery that takes place so that I can eat a (now Hershey) “cadbury” egg. The real Cadbury egg IS fair trade, but now that the British aren’t exporting it over to the U.S. and Hershey is taking over the Cadbury egg, I’m faced with a dilemma. At first I thought, okay, I will just not eat cadbury eggs. Easy decision. But then, after some mental gymnastics, I decided, you know what- I want the cadbury egg. Me not buying it isn’t going to affect the market at all, so why shouldn’t I enjoy the cadbury egg? IT’S JUST A CADBURY EGG!
But, the deeper reality is this: I KNOW that children are in slavery so that I can eat a cadbury egg. And I’m choosing to participate. Sure, I’m not setting their work rules and regulations. But, I’m participating by buying unfair products. I’m knowingly participating in injustice because I’m far removed from it.
We all know that it’s not just about that foil-wrapped, chocolatey goodness with an oozy sugary center. It’s about cheap products. How do we get a good deal on cheap products? Well, the store is still making money. The one who is getting the short end of the stick is the one who is making the product.
“But my budget is tight!”
Oh I feel you. As a perpetual student-family, I get that. I’m there. That’s EXACTLY why it’s so hard.
If I buy cheap, unfair products, then I get to buy more of other things. My kids get to do fun things. They get more stuff (albeit cheaper). Not even an excessive amount of stuff, but just normal amount of stuff.
If I change my buying habits, then that means I’ll be paying MORE for my purchases, and I’ll have to buy LESS of them.
So, perhaps I buy fair-trade/slave-free chocolate. It’s more expensive. I think I’ll have to make cookies less often, but when I DO make the cookies, they’ll be cookies that are created justly. Perhaps I stop buying my clothes at stores that have bad records, and instead, pay more money for my clothes and just buy LESS of them.
These are often not easy decisions for me. I LOVE “getting the good deal.” But, I have to reframe that in my mind– whose “good deal” am I getting?
All that to say, this book is an excellent resource for someone who is looking to really live more justly. It’s an uncomfortable read, but not because the authors use any shame language or “oughts” and “shoulds” (not at all!). This book is uncomfortable because it challenges our assumptions, our understandings of God’s character and values, and also reveals some of ways that we unknowingly participate in injustice.
Thanks to Micah Challenge for sending me this book in exchange for a free copy. I’m so thankful to be helping you share this really important challenge!
p.s. For any of my British readers, PLEASE SEND ME A REAL CADBURY EGG!!!!!!
Moving comes with a set of new challenges. Finding new friends, figuring out where to grocery shop (it took me 2 whole months to realize that the giant store down the street from us is a GROCERY STORE), discovering the best library (it’s honestly one of the first things we do when moving to a new city), and … finding a church community to become a part of.
Insert spreadsheets, questions, frustrations, rants, tears, pro/con sheets, and lots and lots of prayer here.
While lots of things go into finding a church community to be a part of, what our kids think is a huge factor in deciding what church community to join. It’s certainly not the final say for us, but their voice absolutely matters in this decision. I want them to LOVE going to the church gathering on Sunday mornings. I want them to associate the church gathering with warmth, love, and fun as they are engaging with the Scriptures in developmentally-appropriate ways.
This month the Mom Mentors at Graham Blanchard are sharing our ideal Sunday morning experiences for our kids. The one I shared combines the best of the best of all the church experiences we’ve had:
What an interesting question! I think it would be a combination of all of “the best” parts of various church experiences we’ve been a part of:
Relationships: It’s super important to me that my children know the people who are teaching them on Sunday mornings. It’s powerful to have other men and women integrated into the life of a child—these adults don’t just teach them for one or two hours on a Sunday morning, but these are men and women who show up around their dinner table or in their yard to play a family game of flag football.
Developmentally-appropriate experience: I want the Sunday church experience to be a really fun time of learning about the Bible with other kids their age in ways that make sense to them. I want my kids to LOVE gathering with the church, and I want it to be nurturing to their soul.
Community-based: Ideally the church building would be in our neighborhood, and the other kids in my children’s classes would be kids they go to school with. I would love for my kids’ spiritual formation to be so integrated that “church” isn’t something totally removed from their everyday life.
One of my current interests is learning about the Enneagram.
The Enneagram is a typology. You’ve probably heard of other typologies: Myers-Briggs, temperament tests (sanguine, melancholy, choleric, phlegmatic), as well as the zodiac. While all these typologies have been derived in different ways, they all share one thing: they simplify human behaviors into a limited number of character types. I think we’d all agree that some of these are more helpful than others for one reason or another.
The Enneagram is an ancient typology that boils all of humanity down to 9 character types. These character types are based around a deep-seated sin (the seven deadly sins + 2 more), which often plays a big role in how we hide from God and hide from ourselves. We learn the “life-lie” from which we operate.
The starting point of the Enneagram is the blind alleys into which we stumble in our attempt to protect our life from internal and external threats (p. 4).
The NINE Types
Type ONE: The Need to Be Perfect
Type TWO: The Need to be Needed
Type THREE: The Need to Succeed
Type FOUR: The Need to be Special
Type FIVE: The Need to Perceive
Type SIX: The Need for Securitiy
Type SEVEN: The Need to Avoid Pain
Type EIGHT: The Need to be Against
Type NINE: The Need to Avoid
The beauty of the Enneagram is that this is not another tool that tries to box us in and help us only to know ourselves better. Instead, this tool helps us to understand ourselves better so that we’re able to recognize our own voice and hence be able to recognize God’s voice all the more.
For an example. I’m a 1, which means I see what’s wrong with the world. I’m a perfectionist who has high expectations for others and even higher expectations for myself. So, when I “hear God” saying, “Try harder. You should probably add on another project. If you loved me, you would _________. Are you accomplishing all you can for my kingdom? Oh wow I’m disappointed that you couldn’t make that all happen”, then I can take a pause. Is this God speaking to me? Or is this my voice talking to me? Am I attempting to hide behind all this “stuff” I’m doing for him and not really allow Him full access to my heart? I’m beginning to hear God’s voice more distinctly as I begin to recognize my own that I thought was God’s.
Understanding myself in this way is transforming my inner life.
In addition, this tool allows us not to stay “stuck”. Even though I’m a 1 and can recognize what I easily fall into, I also can start doing some serious heart work in that area and allow God to transform me. The Truth, my friend, can really set us free.
So, as per recommendation of my spiritual director, I’ve been working through the book, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert. In it, Rohr and Ebert share the many twists and turns of how the Enneagram as we know it came about. Many think that a form of the Enneagram originated with the Desert Fathers.Then, they explain a little bit more about what the Enneagram is and isn’t, and finally the good part– they dive into each “number”, dedicating a chapter to each.
The Enneagram is intended as an oral tradition and not really to be learned from a book. The reason being is that spiritual directors throughout history have used the Enneagram to help people along in their spiritual journey with God. It’s never to be used as a way to peg people or manipulate people (wahaha, I know YOUR NUMBER!), but to help individuals understand themselves, their “modes of operation” and how that affects/hinders/enhances their relationship with God and others.
If you’re interested in learning more, it may be helpful to check with your pastor to see if he or she knows of anyone trained to teach it. It’s best to learn from a real life person who has been trained in walking people through this. But, if that doesn’t work out, it may not be bad to read the one I”m reading by Rohr (if you’re interested in the Christian perspective). The Enneagram has been adjusted away from its original purposes and is now often used in the secular world of psychology, which is fine and all, but it’s not the same as the original. Also, it’s not without controversy, so be aware of that too. However, there are many solid churches, both Catholic and Evangelical, who use this tool as a way of personal/spiritual development. For a quick guestimation of what your number may be, this free test is decent (but not perfect).
My thoughts: the Enneagram is a tool just like any other type of typology. Some people are all into temperament typing. Others Myers-Briggs. Others Strengthsfinder. This is not some magic ball that will solve all problems or a “cure all” for sin (we know that there is only one way for that to happen!). It’s simply a really helpful tool to understand yourself better.
So, if you decide to look into it, have fun and may God use it as a transformational tool in your life!
More than that, Wytsma encourages and exhorts us to live faithfully while yet recognizing that “faith is often characterized less by clarity than by confusion” (p xx). He says in his introduction:
This book is an exploration of the art of living by faith. It is a book for all those wrestling with the paradoxes that confront those who seek to walk with Christ. It is a look at how faith works, here and now, in our culture, our time– and how to put down real roots and flourish in the midst of our messy lives.” (p. xxi)
Here’s the reality of faith. It’s a constant tension. And one of the essential parts of life, according to Henri Nouwen, is to “‘live the questions’ faith engenders” (p. 13). Wytsma walks us through some of those questions that faith engenders, not giving us answers, but leaving the tension right where it is. Instead of reliving the tension, he encourages a faithful, clear-headed living response to the questions that exist.
How do I pray? And how do I hear from God?
What is God up to?
How do I pursue God in the midst of doubt?
What IS faith?
Life is messy and hard. How do I live faithfully in the midst of all of that?
What is God’s calling on my life?
One chapter of the book in particular, A World Made Right, resonated with me. In it, Wytsma is discussing the elusive “God’s Will” questions. What is God up to? What is my role in it? He addresses the individualism of that question (spot on) and then he discusses God’s general will that is outlined in Scripture in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus: to make the world right, restoring creation to be in a right relationship with God–Righteousness, if you will, which is synonymous with justice (actually, it’s the same word in the Greek, just translated differently in our English Bibles). So, while all of that was not new to me, what he said about living a life of justice really shook me awake:
There’s some bad news involved in discovering what God is up to. Engaging in justice- and especially, seeking to redress injustice- is not the shortest route to fulfilling the American Dream.
While I definitely don’t verbally aspire to the American Dream (in fact, I am sometimes adamant that I don’t), I certainly slip into living like I do without even realizing it. My mind and heart sometimes gets too focused on my bucket lists, the dreams and goals of how I want God to work in me and through me (mostly in ways that are comfortable), but I was reminded that sometimes it’s those very goals and dreams that can keep me (us) from fully realizing my (our) participation in God’s setting right of brokenness in this world.
Sometimes dreams or overly defined life goals can get in the way of God’s plans. Certainly, God can use goals, and often does, but we always have to hold them in loose hands, recognizing that God could want us to head a different direction, or stop short of reaching a goal, or do something that would make all our dreams and goals unattainable because of how God chooses to use us.
I think why I really like this book is because Wytsma addresses these messy paradoxes of faith through the lens of justice, which just makes the most sense to me. He takes the focus off of the individual’s importance and their “key role” in all of it and brings a sense of humility to the conversation. I think this book is written out of an incredibly healthy place and would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to readdress some of the key questions of faith through a less “me” centered perspective (while also honoring the beauty of the individual reading it).
Thanks to Booklook Bloggers for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
This past weekend, myself and 190ish other women spent Friday afternoon through Saturday evening in a gymnasium at the If:Madison West gathering. In addition to listening to gifted women speak from the If:Gathering stage, there was a lot of laughing, some crying, lots of singing, and a good amount of discussions and prayer. I was SO GLAD to have a few of my good friends with me (thanks for coming, Jackie, Debbie, and Deborah!). We had some great discussion processing and praying through what we heard.
The If team walked us through the story of Joshua and the theme surrounding BELIEF. We looked at with faith is (and is not), explored reasons we have a hard time believing, heard ways on how we can believe, and dreamed of what could happen if we lived out our faith more courageously in our everyday lives.
Lots and lots of great things came out of this gathering, but I’m gonna give you my TOP FIVE.
#5 Rest. I sat in a room for a day and a half, full of other women, talking, listening and resting. We were catered a delicious meal (thanks to Bunky’s Cafe!) and I ate the most delicious chocolate cake. No one asked me for a bite of my food, to wipe their bottoms, get them a snack, put their robe on, or pick out every black bean out of their soup. No miniature child but her sweet chubby hand over my mouth so I would stop talking and pay attention to only her. I just sat and listened and shared what was on my heart. And before you judge, let me tell you, I was not the only one sitting around my table who were thinking the exact things :). A true gift of rest!
#4 Be courageous. Christine Caine spoke on Saturday afternoon on Joshua 1. First, she talked about how when the Lord came to Joshua, He said, “Moses my servant is dead. Now then….” He was calling Joshua to move forward. The days of Moses were over, but He was moving the Israelites forward. How many times do we look back to the past and think, “If I could only get back to that place, then …” We longingly remember sweet periods of our life when we felt like God was really working in our lives and through our lives. But now? Well, we’re still trying to get back to that. We’re hanging onto things that are dead. God’s saying to us, “yes, yes, I was working in that way or in that relationship or in that ministry. But come on, I’m moving on to something else. Please come with me– I’m working over here now– come on and join me.”
She also really encouraged us to not be afraid to be uncomfortable. We are created to be dangerous to the dark places of the world. The call of God is nearly always inconvenient.
#3 Hearing from local women who are changing their part of the world. Several people in our gathering shared parts of their journey of faith, but one woman in particular really impacted me. She’s the founder of Lilada’s Living Room, an organization that creates safe, healing spaces for female survivors of sexual abuse here in Madison. Lilada shared a little bit about how she got where she is today, and encouraged us to look at our places of pain when asking God to show us “our place” of calling or ministry. For many of us, it’s our places of pain that we think hold us back from taking that next step of faith. But in reality, God is inviting us to share with others the same comfort that He has ministered to us (2 Corinthians 1.3-7).
I just love hearing how God is working in our specific community. It’s really easy to not know what’s going on and believe that kingdom work is only trudging along. But hearing the stories of God healing, comforting, and saving women and men here in Madison- it’s encouraging and inspiring to say the least.
#2Worshiping God through some AWESOME music! We had a fantastic team of musicians to lead us in singing worship to our God. To worship with women from all walks of life, from different churches around the city, in different styles– it was just beautiful.
#1 Lynne Hybels. Shauna Niequist sat with her momma (Lynne Hybels) on stage and together they told a beautiful story of a momma who wasn’t living into her own gifts, passions, and dreams for far too long, and how a resurrection of faith, hope, and healing at just the right time allowed a daughter to see exactly what she needed to see- a woman of faith, fully unleashed, living into a call that God had on her life. I had read part of the story before on Shauna’s blog, but to see Shauna and Lynne talk together on that stage– I wept. Daughters need their mommas to show them what it looks like to follow God and live into their giftings, not afraid of what others are going to do or say. It made me think of how much I want to set a good example for all my kids of what it looks like to follow God, even when it means doing life little untraditionally. As much as I want to be there for my kids as much as I can, I also want my kids to know that they are not the center of my world. Our God is. Lynne writes this on Shauna’s blog (I didnt take a single note from the actual If talk because I was giving 100% of my attention to the stage):
Most women I know are really good at giving. And we should be good at giving. We follow in the way of a Savior who gave himself for the world. But Jesus didn’t give himself indiscriminately; he didn’t give people everything they wanted. Jesus knew his calling from the Father; he knew the unique shape of the redemptive gift he was to give to the world. I believe that too many women give bits and pieces of themselves away, indiscriminately, for years and years, and never have the time or energy to discern their unique calling from God, never have the time or energy to play the redemptive role they are gifted and impassioned to play. The result is a lot of good-hearted, devout Christian women who are exhausted and depressed.”
Whew. Good stuff. Stuff I’m glad I hear now instead of 20 years down the road.
I had a great time at the If:Gathering– connecting with other local women, reflecting on great speakers’ messages, figuring out what faithfulness and belief and calling look like in our lives. Thanks to the If:Team for spearheading this event!
Also big shoutout to Zion City Church and Blackhawk Church for co-hosting this great event! It was so much fun and I think we should partner on more events like this in the future!
[Sidenote: I also really loved Jen Hatmaker’s talk on the topic of “what keeps us from believing?” I also didn’t take very good notes (I have a hard time keeping good notes while listening. Apparently I need to go back to college), so I didn’t list it above. The one thing I remember besides “The parent is in the elevator” situation is that she said that we live out God’s Kingdom to the same measure we really believe it. Bazinga.]
It was about this time last year when I began searching out a spiritual director.
I had first heard about a”spiritual director” while reading Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey by Sharon Garlough Brown. The book is about 4 women who end up at a spiritual retreat center together. While they are all really different, they are all learning some incredible things from one another as they seek God. It’s a fictional story of friendship and healing, but it also weaves in various spiritual formation practices along the way (a marriage of fiction and non-fiction- my new favorite genre!). The woman who leads the workshops at the retreat center is a spiritual director. After I read the book, I thought, wow, I’d really love to talk to that workshop leader. Too bad she’s JUST PRETEND. 🙂
I soon began researching spiritual directors around my city, and found websites for a few different ones, but none really felt like what I was looking for.
I finally ended up finding a spiritual director through my local church. I was nearly sure they would have no idea what I was talking about when I sent off an email to a woman on staff, asking her if she had ever heard of spiritual directors and if so, did she have any spiritual director recommendations. I was surprised when I received an email back within 24 hours saying that indeed, she knew exactly what I was talking about (she said that some of the staff members meet/have met with them), that she knew several, and that she’d be happy to connect me with one who she thought I’d really like. Well there you go. Evangelical Christianity knows about spiritual directors. Why in the world had I never heard of them before?
Spiritual directors are often described as spiritual midwives. Sometimes we go through seasons where we sense that something is going on deep within our souls, but we aren’t sure what. Sometimes life is shifting (season of life, geographical location, new career, etc.) and we need to talk out what’s going on in our relationship with God because of it. Sometimes our faith feels funny or uncomfortable or shifting, and we’re not sure what’s going on inside of us or how we can relate to God in this new way. Sometimes we feel like God is really far away and even with all our best efforts of connecting with God (doing all those things that have always worked in the past – Scripture reading, prayer, journaling) nothing is happening. It’s during these times that meeting with a spiritual director may be a really good idea. They walk alongside us, helping to “birth” whatever it is that God is already doing within us. When in labor and delivery, the midwife isn’t actually making anything happen. The laboring momma is doing all of the work. But, the midwife is there to help the momma focus, to give her tips on how to read her body and to recognize what needs to or will be happening next. In the same way, the spiritual director is helping us to read what’s going on inside of our souls, recognize the movement of God, and help us focus on what God is doing.
Spiritual directors are not counselors because they aren’t trying to help remedy a psychological issue or solve a personal or interpersonal problem. They aren’t mentors because they don’t have the day-to-day, life-on-life relationship with us. Instead, they are mature Christians who are gifted in discernment and trained in spiritual formation and who help people discern where God is moving in their life.
In our sessions this year, I’ve been working on understanding how God has wired me and how that affects how I approach God, along with my expectations of what my relationship with God “should” look like. It’s been really healthy and freeing. A lot of “aha!” moments :).
If you want to learn more, or think this might be something of interest to you, I’d recommend reading up on it a little more so that you know what to expect (and not to expect), what to look for in a spiritual director, and some places you may be able to find one.
Kathy Escobar gives this great visual of the spiritual journey. Once I learned about this, my eyes opened wide, I began to nod and I said, “I see.” I hit the wall and had a hard time figuring out what to do next because I didn’t understand what was going on. Spiritual direction really helps if you get “stuck” in any of these transitions.
The ESDA is a great place to start for those who are from an evangelical tradition. I’d also recommend asking your local church leadership.
IVP has a whole list of books related to this area. I don’t think you can really go wrong with the books they put out!
Feel free to email me any questions you may have and I’d be happy to do my best to assist in any way!
Tiny house, less stuff, minimalism– simple living is a booming industry these days. When looking for an image for this post, I searched “live simply” in google images. I came across a large number of totes, pillows, posters, necklaces, coffee mugs, cell phone covers, etc. encouraging others to “live simply” (you know, because we definitely need more totes, more jewelry and certainly more coffee mugs!).
Everywhere we look, someone wants to tell us how we can live more simply. Oddly enough, we like those kinds of articles and posts, even if we really don’t WANT to live simply. I guess because we know in our heart of hearts that less is more, but getting “one more thing” feels so good (at least for the moment).
One of my personal struggles with simplicity as it is espoused in popular culture is that simplicity still says that it’s okay to buy whatever we want– just make sure that when we buy something, we get rid of something else. So, I have a drawer full of sweaters. I see another one that I really like. I don’t need it, but go ahead and buy it. Just make sure I get rid of another and I’m still “living simply.”
To me, this sound like consumerism dressed in disguise. Continue to buy. Continue to give in to the new, the fashionable, the whatever. But just be sure to get rid of the old so it doesn’t look like I have a lot.
I have a different kind of simplicity challenge:
Just don’t buy anything we don’t need.
When we see a new scarf that we like, but don’t need, we say to ourselves and others around us, “I really like that scarf!” and keep on walking. It’s a strategy that I use with my kids, and have found it to work with myself too. We are acknowledging the scarf’s beauty, admiring its uniqueness, and then we get to recognize that we don’t have to own it just because it’s beautiful. We have enough. I also try to thank God, in that moment (Because often I REALLY WANT to take that scarf home with me.). I express my gratitude for the scarves in my closet that keep me warm and that I enjoy wearing.
It’s a different kind of simplicity, but perhaps a more honest one, especially for those of us who really want to own less, give more, and wriggle free from the grip of consumerism that we all struggle with.
The basic guiding principle was, “If God is real, then what?” and we spent a couple days listening to speakers and discussing and praying in small groups.
The speakers did a good job and I was introduced to several women that I hadn’t really heard of before. I especially like that it opened my world to a few new books and resources that were helpful to me last year. Rebekah Lyons and Sarah Bessey were the two that I liked most and I hoooooope they’ll be speaking again this year.
I ended up going by myself because I didn’t really know very many people yet in this new city of mine, and figured this would be a possible venue for budding friendships (I spent my whole first year in Madison doing this- whew, if that’s not exhausting for an introvert!). I ended up meeting a couple of women a little further down the road than me, and they were a huge blessing to me. They listened, they shared, they asked questions, they were totally honest– such a great experience!
This year will be the second year of the IF:Gathering (February 6th and 7th) local, and I’m super excited about it as well. I’ll be going with a few women that I already know, which will be fantastic, and I’m looking forward to a weekend of refreshing time with speakers and discussion and prayer and time to think (!). The really cool thing about the IF:Gathering is that you don’t have to fly to a big central location to attend. Community leaders have set up a bunch of local gatherings around the country, OR if there are none right near you, you can also just attend by yourself (or with a friend) from the comfort of your own home!
I’d recommend this gathering if you are in need of some space to learn and pray and discuss with other women what it looks like to live out whatever calling God has placed on your life.
This year for Advent our little team is using Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift family devotional. What’s different about this devotional than other traditional Advent resources is that it widens its focus to include the whole story of Scripture instead of only the Christmas story. I’m pretty excited with this alternative because it goes along nicely with Jake and I’s attempt this year at helping the kids learn the big story of Scripture.
Part of the using the book involves making a Jesse Tree. Ann says that, “to make a Jesse Tree is to trace the family line and heritage of your own forever family- the family of God.” So each day we’ll use this book to:
Read a portion of Scripture.
Read a family friendly devotional written by Ann. The devotionals are 2-3 pages long and are really well written. If you need something to compare it with, I would say that they have the same feel as the Jesus Storybook Bible.
Talk about the story (she gives a couple questions).
Do an activity. She gives a couple options, so we’ll do what we want and skip what we don’t. Some activities require some preparation, but many do not. For example, one of the days she says to “Turn off all the lights in the room except the Christmas lights. notice how the darkness makes the light seem even brighter. Thank God for being your light, even in the dark times” (76).
Finally, we’ll hang up a paper ornament onto our Jesse (Christmas) tree that goes along with the Scripture that we read. The paper ornaments are free (downloadable from her website with a code in the book), but there are also real ones that can be bought from incourage.me. While I’m not a huge fan of the style of the ornaments, they’ll have to do for this year. I’m throwing around the idea of having the kids draw their own ornaments some of the days.
The pages of this book are beautifully illustrated, and the writing is powerful. Ann does a wonderful job at pointing us towards Jesus and the good news of the gospel that so many of us need to hear again and again and again.
As for the age range of readers, I’m guessing that my almost 4 year old will possibly lose interest at some parts, just because of her age and attention-span, but I think that my elementary schoolers will be very interested.
Does your family celebrate Advent? If so, what do you do?
Thanks to Tyndale books for providing this complementary copy in exchange for an honest review.