Friday, October 26, 2012

Everything (Book Review)

I was excited when I was asked to review Everything. The description I initially read that went along with the book stated - "what you give and what you gain to become like Jesus." I have to admit however that along with my excitement came some skepticism. I've read alot of "Christian Living" books and often feel as though they cycle through the same points and scripture. Ultimately I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed Ms. DeMuth's style of writing and the book as a whole (which is a lot to say considering that when I get close to law school exam season time I normally don't read anything except my textbooks!).

DeMuth's book takes the reader on a journey of transformation and seeking to give oneself fully to following Christ. The book is broken up into 3 sections:

1. Head - What We Think
2. Heart - Who We Are
3. Hands - How We Live

My favorite part of section one was when DeMuth addressed the power of the gospel and how it should literally be "the legs we walk on, the air we breathe", rather than just something we occasionally flip to for guidance or comfort. I have had the opportunity to attend various churches over the last couple of months, and something that I have realized and become frustrated with is the way in which the power of the gospel is watered-down or minimized. I liked that DeMuth began her book with the importance of the gospel and how important it is to be in the Word if we are committed to giving our everything to God.

But my favorite quote from this section came from the chapter on worry...

"Worry is needless. It doesn't enhance our lives, give us joy, or produce a longing for renewal. It simply looks at the existing stress lurking in our lives, enlarges it to monster proportions, then immobilizes us from growth."
Mary DeMuth, Everything

Section two deals with the heart. DeMuth addresses issues such as how dwelling on past failures can prevent future faith growth, the fierce power of control, and choosing to allow ourselves to heal from past traumas or mistakes.  I loved how DeMuth ended this section of her book with a reflection on how to not be too hard on yourself! As a perfectionist I often find myself falling into that trap, instead of applying Christ's principles of humility and forgiveness to my own life.

"Why do we tend to love everyone else, offering grace and forgiveness aplenty to others, but we cannot extend that same grace to ourselves?"
Mary DeMuth, Everything

Everything concludes with a reflection on the applicability of how one lives. Some topics discussed are money matters and how worrying about money is really distrust in the Lord's provisions, what happens when you don't succeed, the power of community and being wise and intentional with one's relationships, and what I found to be most personally conflicting - wanting a painless Christianity. Don't we all like to be safe and comfortable? Yet DeMuth presents the challenge that we can only experience real growth when we accept the discomfort of making difficult decisions or sacrifices for the Lord.

"Without the heart of Christ in the center of our actions, we cannot sustain our growth."
Mary DeMuth, Everything

While I didn't find the content of the book to promote any dramatic revelations, I did feel that DeMuth presented topics that I struggle with (i.e. control, loving those who hurt us, confrontation, etc.) and did so in a manner that was thought provoking and prompted spiritual reflection. 

Additionally, at the end of each chapter, DeMuth included discussion questions. Although I did not read through this book with a group or bible study I still found the questions helpful in really pausing and reflecting back on the information I had just read.

(I was provided with a copy of Everything by TLC Book Tours for agreeing to complete this book review.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The One Where I Get Political

I cannot wait for the election to be over.

You might think I'm exaggerating, but honestly, between the political ads, signs, debates, dinnertime phone calls, talk, etc., election time has become one of my least favorite times of the year. 

My circumstances don't help the matter, I'm a conservative in a liberal state, a liberal city, a liberal school, and a liberal workplace. Sometimes I feel like it is an uphill battle to explain or defend my beliefs. Often times I feel as though I'm not even allowed to express my opinions, but instead immediately lectured about the "truth" as soon as my political stance is known. Of course, I'm sure a liberal in a more conservative area feels exactly the same way.

Unfortunately, I think that the attitudes reflected among our communities are learned from those running for leadership position. Sometimes I think that "debates" should be labeled "public trash talking events." Most of the time there doesn't even seem to be any attempt made to be discreet (not that that would be any better....). What frustrates me is when one side claims it is all the other sides fault - like they have done nothing inappropriate themselves. 

Both sides are guilty, yet we often put on blinders to the disgraceful actions of the party we support.

A friend shared this G.K. Chesterton quote with me the other day:

"Most worldly wisdom, most merely party politics, consists in the pot calling the kettle black. Christianity suggested that the efficiency of the kitchen might be greatly improved if both the pot and the kettle called themselves black. The great part of practical politics consists in calling our enemies scoundrels, and while it may be true of our enemies (it generally is) the disadvantage is that it becomes more and more true of ourselves. But the moment we have dropped the pretense of virtue we can get to the fact of it. The moment we agree that we are all scoundrels we can begin to talk like honest men. I ask the reader to imagine, if only for a moment, how happy, how reposeful, how reasonable, and how much released from petty sorrows all our dignified politicians and stately statesmen would become if for one moment they were allowed to base their whole case upon the plain truth that they are all scoundrels. The doctrine of original sin is the most kindly and genial of all doctrines."

Illustrated London News, March 14, 1908

Today, it seems that in order to participate in politics, one has to repress the call to become more Christ-like, because it involves convicting others of crimes that one has him/herself committed also. And it certainly doesn't show love toward enemies.

Honestly, the actions and attitudes present throughout our Presidential elections themselves make me nervous about where our country is and where we are headed - regardless of who is elected. 

But while I may be tired of the process, and I may not be excessively excited about either of the choices I do know one thing for sure - that 2 weeks from today I will be going to vote and exercising my right to do so.

And so I leave you with one of my favorite video clips :) 4 years ago when President Obama was first elected my niece Sasha was 2 months shy of turning 2 and really becoming quite vocal. My sister-in-law and brother often have difficult political opinions than I do, but for Sasha's sake, I know that one thing we all were excited about was the fact that the first African American President was elected. Regardless of my opinions about the last 4 years, the reality that Sasha (and now Lexi) will grow up in a country where the leader can be from any racial background is exciting. Given their political views, a little prepping was done, and a few days before the election Sasha had some predictions to make...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

To Be a Woman: Influential Women

After several months of analyzing women's issues, I thought that the most appropriate way to end this series would be to talk about influential women - what makes an influential women and who are the influential women in your life? What actions can you take to make sure you have a positive impact on those around you?

I've posted in the past a little about 2 of the most influential women in my life - my mom and my mentor Melissa. But the truth is that God has placed incredible women throughout my life at intricate moments when I needed them. Some remain a part of my life today, and others have drifted in and out of the scene.

Here is just a snipet of some of these women and the characteristics that made them influential:

My mom - Clearly the most influential woman throughout my life. She has a deep faith, is encouraging, positive, compassionate, and humble.

Melissa - Melissa has been a solid rock in my life since 9th grade. She is an incredible listener, zealous Christian, a passionate wife and mother to 4, and is welcoming to all those she meets.

Amanda - My college roommate who helped me get acclimated to living away from home and was never afraid to call me out when I made (or started to make) poor choices. Amanda is full of life, dedicated, and a great accountability partner.

Shirley - I met Shirley during my undergrad years. She was an invaluable resource as I began my legal career and a beautiful demonstration about what it meant to live out your faith in your career. Shirley is strong, articulate, and reliable.

But what makes these women influential?

1. Their faith. All of the woman that have had a profound influence on my life have had a close relationship with Christ and were bold in living their faith out loud.

2. Their attitudes. All of the women I have mentioned possess characteristics laid out in Proverbs 31 - discipline, honorable, trustworthy, faithfulness, humility, etc.

3. Timing. God has perfect timing - all the time. What I've learned overtime is to be aware to who he has placed in my mind at certain stages. Am I pushing away someone who has something I need to hear or be convicted about? Is there someone nearby who can relate or provide comfort in times of need? I've learned that when I've had to learn to survive without someone that I never thought I could make it through without - God always has someone waiting for me who is even better equipped to help me grow in the next stage of life.

I caught myself smiling as I was finishing up this post. I suppose what I qualify as an "influential woman" is significantly different from the world's definition. None of these women are rich or famous. None of them are even widely known for surviving great trials. Yet I cannot imagine who I would be without them. 

I think that is one of the coolest things - the reality that you don't have to be anyone "special" to be special in someones life. 

I encourage you to look around you today - who has had a significant impact on your life? What characteristics/qualities do they have that you admire? Who do you think you might have influenced in the past (positively or negatively!)? How are you choosing to live that will inspire/bless those around you?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Changing Times

"There is a time for everything, 
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die, 
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, 
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace."

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

The last few months have been riddled with monumental changes in what I thought was my solid life and future. For the last several weeks I've hesitated as to whether or not to blog about them, but at the end of the day, this blog has become a sort of journal for me - as well as an opportunity to share my faith...and a life is never all highs is it?

Since the beginning of this blog a large part of my life has revolved around a very important relationship in my life. However, at the end of this past summer, Justin and I decided to part ways. After nearly three years together, this was not an easy, nor a rushed decision, but in the end we both agreed it was what needed to happen.

Consequently the last few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions. Saying goodbye, finding my bearings again, getting used to a new social life, etc. Friends and family have been amazing, and I feel blessed to say that I have felt complete peace. Are there things that I would do differently - yes, and maybe I will blog about those someday, but I don't regret my time with Justin or the memories that were made. He was my rock and support through some of the most difficult times of my life, and for that I will be forever grateful. I know we both walked away with an incredible respect for one another and each other's families. I will never have anything bad to say about him, and I know we both truly wish the best for each other.

The last few months have been such a journey for me - losing both my grandparents, ending things with Justin, having a best friend move away, starting my final year of law school, etc. I believe they have also been a test of how I will respond to God and what faith really means. I am amazed at how I am continually challenged to lean on Christ and how often I struggle to relinquish control to him.

Just when I think I know how my story is all going to be laid out - God throws in another curveball.

But at the same time and through all the frustrations and tears I can see God at work. In fact, in the last week I have caught myself smiling more than ever and praising His goodness - sometimes His blessings just don't come in exactly the way we were expecting....but those stories are for another time. :)

God is good all the time, ALL the time, God is good.