Thursday, December 8, 2011

Life, In Spite of Me: A Book Review

Life, In Spite of Me is the remarkable true story of Kristen Jane Anderson's journey through depression, rape, attempted suicide, chronic pain, and extraordinary hope.  At seventeen, Kristen found herself so deeply rooted in depression that she laid down on a set of train tracks, waiting for her life to end.  What happened next was nothing short of a miracle, and the beginning of an extraordinary journey of hope.

Kristen shares her story openly and honestly.  It is raw and emotional at times, but filled with incredible beauty.  Throughout the pages, Kristen gives intimate glimpses into her daily struggles as she still wants to die yet continues to live.  But the most incredible part of her story is how God creates beauty out of the ashes of Kristen's life.  While Kristen intended to end her life, God saved her life, redeemed it, and gave her a hope and purpose far beyond what she could have ever imagined!

As I read Kristen's story, I was reminded of my own.  At sixteen, I too struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts.  Thankfully I had encouraging family and friends who walked with me through the dark times.  Even more, I'm thankful that God was with me and showed me early on that He had a plan and purpose for my life.  As an adult, Kristen's story encouraged me to continue to trust God in the midst of living with a spouse who is bi-polar (manic-depressive).

Kristen's story is beautiful, hopeful, and encouraging.  I would highly recommend her story to anyone who has a teen or other loved one who might be struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts. 

Read an excerpt from Life, In Spite of Me.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Soup Kitchen: An Ongoing Outreach

As a missionary in Chicago, I was involved in a variety of outreaches.  One of my favorite outreaches was working with the homeless and serving at a soup kitchen.  When God called me back home, one of the things I missed was serving at the soup kitchen.  I began looking for opportunities around my hometown to serve.  I searched the newspapers for ministries or churches that were already helping the poor.  During my search, I found a group of Methodist churches that fed the hungry on a regular basis.  So I called around and asked if I could volunteer.  One of the churches agreed to let me help, and eventually agreed to let my church coordinate  and serve at the soup kitchen regularly.

There are so many reasons why I absolutely LOVE serving at the soup kitchen.  One reason is because it's a simple way to meet a practical need.  But the real reason is because it gives me the opportunity to get to know some pretty amazing people!!  It's taken a while, but real relationships are being built between the folks who serve and those who eat at the soup kitchen.  In the past couple of months, I've gotten to know two sisters - Jane & Edna.*  These two women have hard lives, but they have incredible, humbling faith.  Despite the heartache that Edna is facing in her marriage & with her youngest son, she holds onto Jesus with a child-like faith.  She trusts that He answers prayer.  And He does answer her prayers.

This past month was my husband's first time serving at the soup kitchen.  Together, we had a chance to get to know Shawn.*  Shawn shared with my husband & I that he is homeless.  He lives, most days, behind a grocery store downtown.  On cold nights, he drinks to stay warm.  Sometimes, like this past Halloween, he gets drunk enough to get arrested so he has a roof over his head at night.  Shawn believes in God, and even calls himself "apostle."  He's friendly with many pastors around town.  Whether or not Shawn knows God, I have no idea.  But I know that God knows Shawn.

Sometimes I like to think that I'm making a difference in the lives of the folks that come to the soup kitchen.  The truth is, they're changing me.  Jane, Edna, and Shawn remind me of God's love and faithfulness.  They remind me to hold on to Jesus during my tough times, because He loves me and will hold my hand through it all.

Have you ever helped out at a soup kitchen?  What was your experience like as you interacted with the folks who attended?

*names changed to protect identity

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Save Me From Myself: A Book Review

Save Me From Myself is the engaging true story of Brian "Head" Welch, the former lead guitarist of Korn.  At the peak of the band's career, Brian leaves with little explanation to his bandmates, family, friends, and fans.  Many are stunned to hear of his leaving, and many more are astounded when they learn the truth of his leaving - Brian had found God. 

This book begins with Brian telling us about his youth, and the drug-induced journey he takes through life, love, and music.  It's a story you'd expect to hear from a rock n roll god - especially the sex and drugs.  But his journey is uniquely different, as he captures the beauty of redemption.  Brian's life is changed as he is pursued by a relentless God, setting him free from addiction, and giving his life new meaning.  All told in a personable, relatable way, Brian hopes his story "save a lot of people from going down the same roads of destruction" that he traveled.

While I was never a big fan of Korn, their music was frequently played on one of my favorite radio stations during the 90s.  I knew their songs, liked their style, and felt they related to my generation.  Even though Brian's story is a far cry from mine, pieces of his story resonate with my own.  I can easily relate to his youth - the longing to fit in and to have real friendships.  While my youth didn't leave me addicted to drugs and traveling the world as part of a rock band, it did shape who I am now.  My life story wouldn't be the same without the pain and joys I experienced then.  And, in the end, both our stories capture the beauty of redemption as we encountered the living God.

This book might not be for everyone, but I would highly recommend it to anyone who might be a fan of Korn.  Or anyone who's looking to read an incredible story of life-change.  Save Me From Myself is, simply put, a beautiful redemption story.

Friday, October 14, 2011

my book wish-list from "The Nines" conference

A week or so ago I attended an online conference called "The Nines."  Well, I didn't really attend all of it.  Ok, I really only watched a few minutes of it.  But that's not my fault.  I blame my internet connection.  It wasn't cooperating that day.

Anyway, "The Nines" had over 100 speakers over a 10 hour time period.  Many of the speakers are also authors, and today I spent A LOT of time browsing an online bookstore checking out their books, trying to determine which ones I'd like to read.  Here's my list:

Real-Time Connections: Linking Your Job to God's Global Work & Glocalization by Bob Roberts
Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture by Brandon Hatmaker
For the City by Darrin Patrick
Spiritual Warfare & Missions by Ed Stetzer
Dangerous Church by John Bishop
Primal by Mark Batterson
Change the World by Michael Slaughter
The Surge by Pete Brisco
The Poor Will Be Glad by Peter Greer
Compelled by Love by Phillip Nation
Missional Communities by Reggie McNeal
This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley
Simply Strategic Volunteers: Empowering People for Ministry by Tim Stevens
Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth by Ted Dekker (ok, this one isn't from "The Nines," but I found it while looking through all "The Nines" books, and Ted's one of my fave authors, so....)

Looks like a great list, huh?

As I was thinking about how I would like to read all these books, I thought to myself that surely some of my friends may own one or two of these books.  Or knows someone that owns them.  Or maybe knows someone who might be willing to let me borrow them.  :)

I'm a good borrower, I promise.  And I'm a quick reader, so I won't have them long.

Whaddya think?  Got any of the above books I can borrow?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


This past weekend I was honored to be a part of my church's mission trip to West Virginia.  Our team went to McDowell County, WV - one of the poorest in the nation - to help clean, weatherize, and sort clothes at a small Methodist church.  While there, we also put on a mini "Crazy Love Family Day" for the community (a free event where we passed out free food & clothes, as well as did face painting, caricatures, and temporary tattoos.)

Beyond serving the church and community, our goal was to really get to know the folks of McDowell County.  To spend time listening to their stories and to invest what little bit of time we had into their lives.  To extend grace & love to the "least of these."

My assignment on the trip was to help clean the church, but in reality, I spent much of that time sharing conversation with some members of the church community that came to help our team.  I listened to them share about their families, their health, their livelihood, their passions.  My heart broke as I heard story after story of tragedy, heartache, and devastation.  Life in McDowell County is anything but easy for these folks.

Yet, even through all the hardships that each person I spoke to faced, there was no hint of the "woe is me" attitude that would have been understandable.  Instead, they said they were "blessed."  Blessed is not the word I would have chosen had I been in their situation.  The church has taught for so long that being blessed has something to do with material possessions, having a good job, the right set of circumstances.  And, if I'm being honest, for the most part, I've bought into that lie.  If I don't have enough money, or things aren't going right in my life, I wouldn't say I'm blessed.  I'd question God and wonder "why?" 

I posted a YouTube video on my Facebook page yesterday called "Blessings" by Laura Story.  I have a love-hate relationship with the song because it irks me.  It goes against what I've been taught.  If you've never heard the song, take a few minutes and listen to it.  Let it sink it.  Really sink in.  Meditate on these lyrics....

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

What if my greatest disappointments,
Or the aching of this life,
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy.
What if trials of this life,
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise?
There's so much more I could share about the WV outreach.  But this eye-opening moment was perhaps one of the most profound for me.  It's something that has popped up again and again this past week, whether through Facebook statuses, blog posts, songs, or conversations with friends.  My hope is that this profound realization will not be fleeting, but will become a life-changing moment.
What do you think it means to be blessed?  Would you consider yourself blessed?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

hope for the homeless

Most of you know that I've been a part of an organization called Homes of Hope since February.  Homes of Hope is a relational ministry of Love INC which provides transitional housing for homeless families (check out their blog here).  This program has been around for a while nationally, but has only been in Ross County for the last year.

As Administrative Assistant, I spend most of my time in the office, answering phones and other stuff.  Today I happened to spend a lot of time on the phone, specifically with two homeless families, trying to figure out how Homes of Hope could help them.  Both families have unique stories.  One is a family of four that is homeless due to drug addiction & job loss.  Another is homeless, living temporarily in a run-down hotel, because they lost their home to black mold.  Both of their situations are bleak.

But there is still hope.  My heart may be overwhelmed at their need, but God is not.  God sees both of these families.  In fact, He knew them before they were born. 

          You saw me before I was born.

               Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

                    Every moment was laid out

                         before a single day had passed.
                              Psalm 139:16
My heart is still broken for these families, but hope is rising as Scripture reminds me that God sees these families!  He's not forgotten them even though they may feel God has abandoned them.  And though statistics say that homeless and poverty is on the rise, there is still HOPE.
Hope in a God who sees.
Hope in a God who is not surprised by our circumstances.
Hope in a God who has a plan for our lives.
           For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
               “plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
                      plans to give you hope and a future.
                            Jeremiah 29:11
Pray for these families today, my friends.  Pray for families that are like them.  And when you pray, ask God how He might want you to be the Hope that these families need.
Have you ever been so overwhelmed by life's circumstances that life seemed hopeless?  How did you find Hope in the midst of your circumstances?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Forget: 10th Anniversary of 9/11

On that fateful day I was housesitting for my brother and his new bride as they were on their honeymoon in Jamaica. The constant ringing of the phone eventually woke me up and the voice on the other end instructed me to turn on the TV. That voice was my mother calling to inform me that an airplane had just flown into one of the World Trade Center towers.

Stunned by the news, I flicked on the TV to see what was going on in New York. As the reporting was repeating the information for the viewers, another plane flew into another tower.

Life changed at that moment. War became a reality not just a possibility. The United States of America had been attacked and was at war, something my generation had never really experienced. True, there was the Gulf War, but this was on our turf not in some far away land.

Eventually the news would report two more attacks that morning. One plane targeted the Pentagon while another went down in Pennsylvania. The plot would unravel to reveal these attacks to be the work of terrorists seeking to declare jihad on America. These men died as martyrs to all who support the idea of Islamic holy war.

But for Americans, life wouldn't be the same. As the towers crumbled and fell, children lost parents and spouses lost each other. Families were torn apart. As the Pentagon experienced a break in the wall, so Americans lost their sense of security. American life was now filled with fear and uncertainty. And, for a while, life once again became sacred. Family values and morals became a centerpoint of discussion. Even God was sought after once again.

Ten years later a lot has changed. Security has gotten tighter and our defense strategies have gotten tougher. Men and women have boldly stepped forth to volunteer to fight the war on terror that still rages in the world today. On the other hand, airports are emptier, the value of the dollar is at an all-time low, and people seem to care about the lastest Hollywood star more than anything else.

Despite it all, there is a generation that has been forever impacted by 9/11. This generation has lost its innocence but has risen to the challenge to be different, stronger. Above all, this generation sees hope and desires a love that is everlasting.