Author Archives: Stephanie

About Stephanie

I am a wife, mother of three (Seth-17, Lena-15 and Eli-12), ordained pastor, follower and vessel (albeit sometimes a broken one) of Christ. One of my other titles is that of homeschooler to my daughter (never saw that one coming!). Iced coffee, reading, baking, exploring, friendship, and musical theater are some of my favorite things. I enjoy speaking to and empowering women as they navigate various seasons in life. I hold a special passion for encouraging families with a child struggling with a mental disorder or other unique challenge.

Why Building on the Rock is Essential Even When it Doesn’t Make Sense

“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.” (Matt. 7:24-25)

But what happens when you are the smart carpenter and it appears that your house is not as secure as you thought?

I can think of several seasons when the turbulent weather of my life rocked my “house.” Sometimes, it felt like it would collapse. Inside, we felt the torrent winds knocking against it.. Job loss. Broken bones. Mental Illness. Disappointment. Unexpected financial setbacks. Chronic illness. Marital stress. Trauma. Lost pregnancies.

Often, looking at others’ homes led to confusion, disappointment, and jealousy. Their houses were built on sand but they seemed pretty secure. In fact, the surrounding landscape seemed to flourish and become more colorful and vibrant by the day. Mine seemed kind of shabby in comparison.

Does God not see what’s happening?

Am I not praying “right?”

Does building on rock even make a difference?

Yet, I realized that looks can be deceiving. A lot of destruction can be taking place behind closed doors. What appears captivating from the outside can really be a facade.

Sure, my house is a bit weathered. It bears some dents and cracks. But those features speak of its resilience to the forces around it. No matter how intense the storm, the foundation will never give way. Never.

This post was posted for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come Join Us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

 

 

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A Reminder That My Identity is Formed by “Who” Not “Where”

The first few pages of the book jarred me. My soul felt the conviction.

Where do I find my daily Identity?

Like Tish Harrison Warren who wrote Liturgy of the Ordinary, I’m aware of my identity in the bigger narrative. I am God’s creation and image bearer. I am a follower of Christ. But she pushes for another title: Beloved.

Do I understand what that means? How does living as God’s Beloved inform how I live the ordinary moments of my life? 

As I wake up, my mind races to the agenda of the day: checking social media and emails, getting my son off to school, substitute teaching, writing, posting, picking up son from school, shopping, meeting….But she reminds me. Have I invited God into my day?

It’s all too tempting to live by the clock. I strive to cram in all that must be done. Any interruption is met with anxiety. I thrive in order and checking items off my list. But, subtly,my identity has morphed into many; each of which depends on individual achievements.

How did I get here?

Harrison writes, “Examining my daily liturgy as a liturgy=as something that both shaped what I love and worship-allowed me to realize that my daily practices were malforming me, making me less alive, less human, less able to give and receive love throughout my day. Changing this ritual allowed me to form a new repetitive and contemplative habit that pointed me toward a different way of being-in-the-world.”

My days begin differently now. I begin by consecrating my days to my Creator and Sustainer. The one who calls me Beloved and reminds me that my identity is informed by “who” not “where.”

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come Join Us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

 

Loving Our Neighbor Isn’t Defined by Convenience

Something amazing happened today.

A conversation took place on my Face Book wall. A significant conversation with lots of opinions. And it was civil.

I enjoy social media for the opportunities to engage with friends that I may not see in person regularly as well as hearing from a variety of voices.  I post information that resonates with me as well as perspectives on issues that may challenge us to consider another view. I have learned in the past, that some newsworthy topics are not suited for online conversation. Knee jerk reactions quickly shutdown productive engagement.

As much as I wanted to share my point of view, I waited. I read. I contemplated. And then my eyes came across a quote which aptly described my thoughts. And with a mixture of hesitancy and conviction, I pressed “share.”

And comments commenced. Lots of narratives. Different views. Listening. Responding. Reflecting.

A group of people who didn’t all know each other engaged in a civil, hard conversation without name calling, stereotyping, or political labeling. Loving your neighbor is not defined by convenience.

“Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.”  Luke 6:36.

Conversation involves risk; “laying down our lives” in order to listen. Long ago, hard conversations took place on front porches.  Now our porches have moved. We must be intentional in finding them.

Setting aside time to truly connect with others is not always convenient; particularly those whose ideologies oppose our own. Our agenda and comfort level may have to be set aside. It will involve sacrificing time and tools of power.

But loving our neighbor was never defined by convenience anyway.

This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

The Powerful Influence of the Classroom

 

These days, I find myself back in the classroom. It’s really not a surprise because it has always been a life-giving place for me. Within the brick walls, flowed currents of empowerment, knowledge, nurturing, and influence.

Oh, my experiences weren’t without rough waters. Often, I felt tossed around as I wrestled with new ideas, sought identity in a community, and learned how to navigate differences in opinion.

What influenced me the most? Teachers.

They set the tone in the environment. They created a place which had the potential to feel like a safe space for learning-beyond academics. Recently, the author of a New York Times article entitled, “Students Learn from People They Love” wrote , “a key job of a school is to give students new things to love — an exciting field of study, new friends. It reminded us that what teachers really teach is themselves — their contagious passion for their subjects and students. It reminded us that children learn from people they love, and that love in this context means willing the good of another, and offering active care for the whole person.”

My mind may not remember all the ways teachers shaped me academically but my body remembers the ways they shaped my soul.

I hold vivid memories of a teachers sharing personal stories (I can’t remember specifics but I do remember the moments of connection), taking interest in my personal well being, and life together outside the classroom. Once I attended a symphony concert with a teacher for a club and I was the only one who showed up. We still went. In junior high, my awkwardly giddy friends and I convinced our teacher to drive us to a burger restaurant for lunch-more than a few times (I was in a non traditional learning program). By today’s standards, those examples are probably greeted with surprise. Life was different then. Culture may have changed but the sacredness of connection has not.

These days I find myself back in the classroom. As a teacher (substitute) and a student.  I am not earning a degree, per se, but I am being shaped. I have a passion to influence students but I also know they are influencing me.

Who influenced you?

This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/ 

When the Better Choice Becomes the Main Course

Sometimes making decisions is like playing the “Would You Rather?” game.

When I substitute teach, I always have the book in tow. My elementary school students laugh as we read through some of the questions during a brain break.

Some scenarios are downright silly.

“Would you rather have constantly dry eyes or a constant runny nose?”

“Would you rather be compelled to high five everyone you meet or be compelled to give wedgies to anyone in a green shirt?”

Um. Neither?

But that answer isn’t accepted. A choice must be made. That’s not so hard when the scenario is obviously fictional.

What do you do when your reality is staring you in the face?

You assume a position and know that God is meeting you where you are.

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”   (Luke 10)

Mary risked a lot. Hospitality in middle eastern culture has always been central to its identity. Furthermore. Jesus was not only a friend but rumored to be more than that. How long did she ponder the social implications of bailing on that expectation? Certainly tension would have coursed through her veins. It’s one thing to be criticized by your “village.” It’s another thing to be scorned by family. Especially your sister.

Yet, she made a choice. A counter cultural one And Jesus met her in it.

41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[l] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10)

Both options appeared “good.”. But one seemed better. 

And Jesus met her in it.  Truthfully Jesus would have met her in either. But this one led to finding the nourishment Jesus offered her.

“One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.” (Luke 10:42, the Message)

Making choices isn’t always easy. But sometimes we have to take risks.  And realize that, despite how it looks to others, we have chosen to feast off the main course.

What are the “would you rather” questions you are facing?

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/  

 

 

Three Books that Shaped My Life in 2018

 

As I reflect on my past year, it is no surprise that books come to mind. As Karen Swallow Prior states in the title of her newest book, we should be “reading well.” Whether we are drawn to nonfiction or fiction (and I am reminded that much of fiction is actually nonfiction in disguise), reading shapes us.

I am very intentional in what I read as I, along with many of you, have limited time. How will you fill those precious moments?

Here is my top three list of books which I read in 2018 that have shaped me . That’s not to say that I have not read other books that were fabulous in their own right (please note this writer friends whose books I have read that do not appear here).  The books below spoke to me in profound ways that have influenced me in the ways I engage as well as my theology. They have changed the way I view the Kingdom of God and its mission. I offer these here so that you, too, may savor the words and let them lead you to wholeness. Warning: the words may lead you to deconstruct your current theology and worldview in order to reconstruct a soul passionate about making this life on earth fulfill Jesus’ prayer: “On Earth as it is in Heaven.”

Rethinking Incarceration by Dominique Gilliard (Intervarsity Press)

I began this book with the supposition that it would affirm information that I already knew about the prison system. Addressing the need for reformation is a personal passion of mine. I was not prepared for the brilliant unfolding of history that had remained left out of text books and media which catapulted the crisis of incarceration we find ourselves in today. Furthermore, Gilliard incorporates the voice of the church in the conversation. What role has the church in America played in supporting a system that historically has focused on punishment and rejection rather than restoration, transformation, and reintegration?

Through presentation of historical facts, tracing the evolution of incarceration and Biblical scholarship, Gilliard challenges the reader to rethink what we have been taught about justice. In particular, he explores how the atonement of Jesus influences a view of restorative justice. What are the implications and the hope when we embrace such a view? How will it change the ways we view poverty, mental health, racism, and the “war on drugs?” It is not a book with a political “agenda.”  however, begin the process of deconstructing and reconstructing your theology. It is a book challenging us to think about how we are going to reconcile our commitment to follow Christ with doing what is necessary to reflect his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Vintage Saints and Sinners by Karen Wright Marsh (Intervarsity Press)

How I wish I our paths could have crossed in this earthly life! For now, I am fortunate to learn from these brothers and sisters through the pages of this book. Marsh introduces the reader to individuals whose lives are held up because of significant ways in which they availed themselves to be instruments of God’s acts of restoration.  As we learn more about the personal lives of this eclectic group of “saints,” we become more aware of their struggles with sin in their journeys: doubt, unhealthy relationship choices, skewed images of God’s character, and fear. Hence, they can be recognized as both “saints” and “sinners.”  Woven in between these narratives, is Marsh’s own offering up of the ways she connects with these ancestors. I found myself identifying not only with those introduced here but also with her reflections. Her wit, and personable writing style made me long to know who I was going to “meet” in the next chapter.

Liturgy of the Ordinary Tish Harrison Warren (Intervarsity Press)

This book transformed my life by transforming my days.  I was challenged to recognize that the way I prioritize and view my first few moments can shape the lens through which I view the rest of my daily interactions. That’s a challenge.  Framing even the most mundane task as brushing teeth as an act of worship, Warren prophetically spoke into my life. It’s tempting to ride on the “big” moments in which we see God answer prayer, speak a word, move mightily. Yet, God’s character is so much bigger than those human designated “manifestations.” Warren showed me that when I slow down and take time to listen and observe God’s presence in routine tasks, I allow God to shape my heart and my desires.  My rhythms (and interruptions) become opportunities to see God at work; both in my story and the larger one. And I am made new in the process.

“God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.”

 

Now that I’ve shared my list, what is yours?

What it Means That Jesus Entered a World that was Not Calm and Bright

Truthfully, I find the lyrics of “Silent Night” a bit misleading. All is not calm or bright on this earth. It never has been.

The world in which Jesus entered was characterized by greed, lust for power, sexual deviation, oppression of marginalized people, violence, murder……One need only scan through scripture to recognize the destruction of all that God had created and declared as “good.”

Yet, God chose to enter into it.

Who would choose to intentionally encounter chaos? darkness? death?

The moment Jesus was born may have harbored some silent moments but most likely was surrounded by the noises of an imperfect world trying to find its way. Animals communicating their needs in a chorus of incomprehensible words. Friends, midwives, children, moving about and murmuring about the new life which had arrived. The roaring of human voices as they crowded the streets during this required census registration.

And, yes, most likely, yelling, shouting resounding from disagreements, drunken rhetoric, and weepingBrokenness didn’t disappear because Jesus arrived.

Jesus arrived in the midst of it.

His cry served as fanfare inaugurating the beginning of a new  kingdom. One that speaks peace into the loud sounds of longing that characterize the earthly one.

In reading the history of “Silent Night,” I discovered the lyrics are based on a poem which was inspired by a vision of the author. One night, as he stood upon a hill in his Austrian village, he gazed upon the snow covered scene below. As the lights poked through the darkness, and the town stood relatively still, he was reminded of a poem he had written. It was based on reflections on the moment the shepherds were interrupted by angelic messengers announcing Christ’s birth.

What he witnessed was a taste of Heaven.

Truthfully, the calm which we seek isn’t rooted outside. It’s rooted within.  It’s possible when we embrace Jesus and his upside down kingdom…  In the midst of noise, pain, and chaos.

1-2 The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
    in readiness for God from day one.

3-5 Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out. (John 1:1-5)

This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! http://fiveminutefriday.com/