To say the month of December was a bit of a rough patch emotionally is an understatement; even so, there were bright spots throughout, which I share below. I’ve also curated the best books, blog posts, and songs that I encountered this month. I hope you like them as much as I do. ~Elizabeth
A week at Camp Tahkodah down in Arkansas. Jonathan grew up going to this camp, as did his mother before him (the reason being that his great-grandfather Dr. George Benson procured the camp for Harding University way back in the day). It was fun to watch my kids run wild through nature, renew their Frisbee skills, and practice their new-found baseball skills. It was a blast being able to take the entire family, including our littlest one, on longer and more difficult hikes. And with the sky unsaturated by city lights, we gazed at our familiar North American skies — even glimpsing some shooting stars on our first night!
Watching Jonathan’s uncle play catch with my sons and take them to the driving range. It does wonders for this momma’s heart to watch a Trotter Grandpa pour into my boys. Wonders.
Sunday morning at Downtown Church of Christ in Searcy, Arkansas. We attended Monte Cox’s Bible class (some of my readers know who he is), which he teaches alongside his wife and one other couple. The topic was “waiting on God,” and people shared their (often heart-breaking) stories of choosing to trust God in difficult circumstances, and of the ways God brought them through. I sat in the back and cried. It was so good to hear other Christians telling these kinds of stories; it’s not often I hear that in real life. And I really, really needed to listen to their stories and realize I’m not alone in my own struggles. (I share more specifics about that Sunday morning in both the blog and music sections.)
Handel’s Messiah. A long-time church friend invited (and paid for!) us to attend the Messiah with her. It was a wonderful Christmas present and more like a worship service than a concert. I love all the choruses and can’t choose a favorite from among them. I love hearing all the moving parts. And although perhaps cliché, I do love the Hallelujah Chorus. I can’t wait for heaven when we will all worship like that, and when all tears will be wiped away (including the ones I cried that night). One more thing about the Messiah — the sound of this music is to me, like light in the book of Genesis. Though light is created on Day 1, the source can’t be seen. When I watch the singers, I see them open their mouths, and I hear the sound, but the sound doesn’t seem to be coming from inside them. Rather, it seems to be coming from above and behind them — almost as if it were coming from Heaven itself. Which, if you think about it, is actually a pretty perfect metaphor.
Attending the onething 2015 conference. Can you say Matt Maher and Francis Chan? I can. 🙂 I realize I have varying tastes here, placing a modern worship conference alongside the Messiah as the best worship experiences of my month. Oh well, I love them both! This conference is organized by the International House of Prayer (IHOP), whose worship music I’ve referenced many times before. Back in 2011, the music of IHOP began working on my spirit, changing how I relate to God, how I relate to my husband, and even how I “do” ministry. And two years ago, the onething 2013 conference capped off a spiritually-dry furlough, sending us back to Cambodia refilled and refreshed. So I’ve been looking forward to this worship conference ever since!
It finally snowed! This will probably be our last winter in the States for a while, and my kids have been earnestly wishing for snow. A few days after Christmas we finally got some white stuff. We bundled up, threw snowballs, went sledding, made snow angels, and built a snowman. The kids even rode their bikes in the snow! Then my feet started to freeze, and we all went inside and drank hot chocolate. The End.
Nobody’s Cuter than You by Melanie Shankle. This memoir on female friendship is laugh-out-loud funny. As in, my husband’s trying to fall asleep, but I laugh so hard the bed starts shaking, and he tells me to stop. Repeatedly.
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans. This book is a masterpiece. Gone is the angry, resentful Rachel; arrived is the older, wiser, more peaceful Rachel. It’s artful and poetic and captures the essence of Christianity and the Church. You should know I don’t land in the same place as Rachel on every issue — a reason I haven’t liked her two previous books, one of which was mostly a repeat of her first blog (and in which I disagreed with a lot of her conclusions) and one of which felt like a gimmick. So when I heard she was writing a third, I didn’t get too excited. I was curious, but I didn’t expect anything miraculous. In fact, I didn’t even pay full price for this book. I waited till it went on sale on Kindle. But. This book is so worth it. It proves that Rachel not only has superb writing ability, she’s got grace. And whatever theological differences you have with Rachel, just ignore them (as I did), because the rest of it is magnificent.
Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey. This felt really familiar to me. That’s partly because Sarah is a friendly voice, and I’ve wrestled with many of the same issues, but it’s also because I’ve read some of the same content on her blog. (Which makes sense, because if I were to write a book, I might say things in new ways, but I’d probably also be saying a lot of the same things as I say on my blog, me being the same person and all.) So, if you’re new to Sarah Bessey and want a primer all in one place, this book is for you. I especially loved chapter 3 and then chapter 7 and beyond. For a separate introduction to some of her more recent work, check out her Top 10 Posts from 2015, all of which I also love.
NON-CHRISTMAS-RELATED BLOG POSTS
Leaving Narnia . . . My MK World by Taylor Murray. I feel this SO much (except about my expat world in Phnom Penh, as I’m obviously not a Missionary Kid). Taylor says it better than I ever could, so just read her post.
Searching for Home by Kathleen Shumate. A beautiful, tightly-written narrative about our innate longing for Home, a longing that can’t be completely fulfilled this side of eternity. I LOVE this piece.
Home and Wandering by Kay Bruner. Soothing words on Home (or lack thereof) for the Third Culture Kid (or the wanderer among us). First Kay quoted some of my favorite words of Moses in Psalm 90: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” Then she talked about Richard Rohr’s idea that “Love is where we came from, and Love is where we are going.” And finally she circled back to the Prodigal Son. How can I not love a post like that??
Abandonment:”Seeing Us Through the Night” by Alan Howell. At the same Sunday morning Bible class I mentioned above, Alan read a section from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters (that famous work of fiction in which an older demon advises a younger demon in how to trip up a Christian’s faith) that had greatly impacted him, and which caused me to burst into tears:
“Our cause is never in more danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy’s will [God’s will], looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him [God] seems to have vanished and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
Later I contacted Alan and asked him for the quote, and he sent me a blog post in which he discusses the idea at length: Abandonment and the Power of Faith. It’s part of a longer series processing his emotions after a traumatic break-in in Mozambique (where they serve) and which also touches on other feelings of abandonment that have incurred while on the field. Also in the series is Abandonment: the wolves, the ifs, and the whys. It’s hard to find a missionary who is this honest about difficult emotions, so please don’t miss these posts.
In Which the Kindly Light of Christ Can Heal Our Worst Memories by Anita Mathias. I’ve experienced what Anita talks about here, but not in a long while. Perhaps the time has come again for me to carve out some white space in my calendar and seek healing (but probably not until after I return to Cambodia in the new year!).
7 Ways TCKs Deal with Grief by Taylor Murray. Not just for TCKs. These are some unhealthy ways all of us can choose to deal with our grief (and their unfortunate consequences). I am guilty of some of these (but I’m working on it!).
CHRISTMAS-RELATED BLOG POSTS
the question is the answer
and the longing is the praise
the dull ache in the belly
is the love You bled first
chasing the dawn
is You on the heels
absence is the truth of presence
and is it,
Whom Do You Seek? by Julie in Germany (also on Velvet Ashes). I loved the progression and pacing of this piece and how it illuminates our misplaced desires.
I Want to be a Woman Who Sings by Diana Trautwein. This is the cry of my heart. Always.
Finding the Magic When Christmas Isn’t Perfect by Amy Medina. A beautiful missionary kid’s Christmas memoir that reminded me to treasure the Christmas memories we’re making this year, as it will be our last in the States for a long while.
VIDEOS AND PODCASTS
Sara Groves on the concept of Floodplain. Someone recommended Sara’s Floodplain album after I shared her “Painting Pictures of Egypt” song on last month’s Favorites. (The song itself was recommended in the comments of another blog post of mine — I love how blogging is so collaborative!) So I went and checked it out, and this short little video is worth listening to. A floodplain can be a place of loss and destruction, yes, but it’s also a fertile place of health, growth, and beauty. “Some hearts are build on the floodplain,” God whispered to Sara’s heart — and mine resounded.
Andy Stanley Starting Point sermon series. We listened to the first few in this series on our travels. It’s about doubt and finding an adult faith after our childhood faith is shattered by pain, suffering, and unanswered prayer. Really appreciated his willingness to take on this idea from the pulpit.
“No Other Gods” by David Moffitt. I first heard this song on our Sunday at Downtown Church of Christ, and it simply gripped my spirit. I had just been reading about the first commandment that week, how in Exodus the Lord doesn’t say “There are no other gods before me”; He says, “You shall have no other gods.” Because there are plenty of other gods we can serve, and He knows it, but He wants to be first in our hearts.
We will have no other gods before You
Nothing on earth will compete for Your throne
You are sov’reign I Am
And You reign in our hearts alone
We will exalt You on high forever
King of all kings
And the Lord of all lords
We will have no other gods before You
That morning we also sang “You are God alone, from before time began, You are on Your throne, You are God alone” and “You are the everlasting God, the everlasting God, You will not faint, You won’t grow weary.”
I was struck by the juxtaposition of these three songs in the service. For one thing, God IS sovereign and ancient and above all gods. The King of kings and Lord of lords. We know this to be true. We also know our hearts stray so far from this God that His very first command to His people was to have no other gods before Him.
So do I actually live like there’s no other god before Him? No other god worthy of serving? Because there are so many gods we can serve, so many gods calling out to us. Not all of them have a physical representation in an idol; ideas can be worshipped too. Success, power, control, anger, revenge, selfishness, money, sports, television, relationships, food, the Internet. So these days, I’m proclaiming the words of this song and desiring to live them, too.
“Magnificat” by Randy Gill. We sang this song at our sending church the Sunday before Christmas. This is what heaven sounds like to me.
“More than Conquerors” from Rend Collective. “We will not bow to sin or to shame, We are defiant in your name.” Love that sentiment, and love Rend Collective’s earthy sound. (And their missionary anthem “Build Your Kingdom Here”.) (And their song “My Lighthouse.”) (And their song “Finally Free.”) (And you can read all the lyrics to this inspiring song here.)
“After the Last Tear Falls” by Andrew Peterson. Andrew Peterson is another one of those artists who doesn’t sound like all the rest. His sound is different, his words more emotionally resonant. I love this song about God’s love. (I also love his marriage song “Dancing in the Minefields.”)
MOST MOVING QUOTES
Marilyn Gardner on my post “When a country is etched into your soul”:
“Our creator built into us a longing and connection to place. Look at the Incarnation – God linked to time and place through the person of Christ. So displacement, whatever form it takes, causes a certain amount of pain. We were born to belong.”
Melanie on my post “Naming the Missing Pieces of our Souls”:
“When we share Eucharist, we stand in a conflation of past, present, and future that can give us hope: we remember Christ’s last supper, we share fellowship in the present with other believers, and we yearn for that Great Banquet in the future when there will be no more tears.”
Madeleine L’Engle from Marilyn Gardner’s post “Faith, Doubt and Ames Street”:
“A winter ago I had an after-school seminar for high-school students and in one of the early sessions Una, a brilliant fifteen-year-old, a born writer who came to Harlem from Panama five years ago, and only then discovered the conflict between races, asked me, ‘Mrs. Franklin, do you really and truly believe in God with no doubts at all?’ ‘Oh, Una, I really and truly believe in God with all kinds of doubts.’ But I base my life on this belief.”
(As an aside, I loved Marilyn’s piece so much that I encouraged her to link up with Sarah Bessey’s “I used to think ________, but now I think _______” book-launching-link-up. She did, and Sarah Bessey read it and commented on it, which I have to say, made my heart extra happy that day.)
John and Stasi Eldredge’s paraphrase of Isaiah 61:1-3 (from a chapter on wounded hearts in their book Captivating). We spoke at a CIY (Christ in Youth) training for short-term missions, and at the end the leader prayed this over us. I love it:
God has sent me on a mission.
I have some great news for you.
God has sent me to restore and release something
And that something is you.
I am here to give you back your heart and set you free.
I am furious at the Enemy who did this to you,
and I will fight against him.
Let me comfort you.
For, dear one, I will bestow beauty upon you
where you have known only devastation.
Joy, in the places of your deep sorrow.
And I will robe your heart in thankful praise
in exchange for your resignation and despair.
MATH & SCIENCE FUN
Hydrophobic Sand. I used to play with this stuff when I was teaching home school chemistry classes. (For the non-scientists among you, hydrophobic materials don’t dissolve in water.)
Moving Sine and Cosine image. I can’t tell you how much I love sines and cosines (and all trigonometry). This little image shows them side by side, along with the angles that create them. (This is more for the math-y among you.)
Math equations that create the letters of the word LOVE. Also for the more math-y among you, but elegant and fun.
Star Wars: A Bad Lip Reading. More science fiction than science, but hilarious, with only one inappropriate remark. You have to be choosy with Bad Lip Reading, but this was one we felt comfortable showing our kids and was especially funny because we had all watched Episode IV together the week before.
What about you, any favorites from this month??