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Allison Althoff
Allison Althoff
Natalie Lederhouse
Natalie Lederhouse

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May 3, 2013

My Real-Life Beauty Sketch

I gave up makeup for Lent, and found I really am more beautiful than I think

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I’m more beautiful than I think. At least that’s what the Dove Real Beauty Sketches’ media campaign is telling me. All of this talk about natural beauty reminds me of my Lenten fast, when I gave up wearing makeup for 40 days.

Although Lent has passed, I’m still processing my experience. When I wore makeup on Easter Sunday for the first time in six weeks, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought I looked silly. I didn’t feel like myself. Over the 40-some days of going makeup-free, I had grown accustomed to my natural- looking face. I loved the simplicity of not putting on makeup in the mornings, and I had even begun to see myself as beautiful.

Continue reading "My Real-Life Beauty Sketch" »

April 30, 2013

God is My Refuge and Strength

When our marriage went cold, my greatest source of comfort came from this passage of Scripture

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Last winter, as the snow fell and life became barren, my marriage followed suit. I can't pinpoint what changed. Perhaps it came from years of issues we thought were resolved yet really stayed just below the surface, ready to jump back to the forefront whenever we got into a fight. Maybe it came as a result of the fact that I was working on a big project that demanded more of my time and energy. Maybe it was the seven-year itch I'd heard others warn me about. I can't say. All I know is that everything in our relationship changed and I didn't like it. More accurately, I didn't like my husband. I voiced my complaints. Loudly.

My closest friends knew everything my husband said or did that most affected me. Allen heard all about my heartache and disappointment. He began to feel hopeless and his level of confidence plummeted. As my finger wagged and triggered his insecurities, he retaliated, unconsciously trying to bring me down to where I took him. We began our dance on broken glass.

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April 23, 2013

Battling Through the Pain

Running a marathon is a lot like life--you have to work through the pain to get to the "better things"

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One of the main reasons sprinters won't run a marathon is that they just can't wrap their minds around running 26 miles in one go. The thought terrifies and defeats them before they even attempt it.

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April 11, 2013

Find God's Will for Your Life

Why it is important to pay attention to who he made you to be

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There are few things more attractive, more noticeable, than someone who's pursuing an activity she loves and is good at. We've all had the remarkable experience of sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher who engages and awakens the deepest parts of who we are. I have a friend who runs a gardening service, and as I listen to him talk about keeping a family's yard looking nice, the joy and skill he brings to what he does are obvious. You find your gifts by paying attention to who God made you to be.

What gives you life? What are you good at? What do you love to do? What consistent patterns are noticeable in you that may be clues to your design and calling? Before he met Christ, the apostle Paul was an activist and a zealot—an articulate opponent of the church. When he met Christ, he continued to be an activist and a zealot, but he changed for whom he worked. Acts 9:20 says he at once began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. He didn't change who he was by design, but he did change the Lordship in his life.

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April 8, 2013

Spring Cleaning for My Soul

I set out to clean my closets, but God had a bigger decluttering project in mind.

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Every April, I think a lot about spring cleaning. Visions of closets filled with neatly organized bins in trendy designs dance in my mind. I picture my desk completely cleaned off with only a few tidy, colored-coordinated piles. I even smile thinking about wiping down the miles of wood baseboards in our 1920s home.

But thinking about it is as far as it goes. At the end of the day, the task is just too daunting because I have way too much stuff. I have a room full of crafting supplies, a closet filled with an embarrassing number of clothes, and boxes of books that never got unpacked after our last move.

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March 29, 2013

Thankless for the Cross

I'm learning to see Easter as less about my sin and depravity, and more about the holy perfection of Jesus.

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Every year I feel like Easter sneaks up on me. You might feel the same way. Maybe it’s because you haven’t had a break since Christmas. Maybe it’s because March Madness takes over your entire life at this time of year. Maybe it’s because of something entirely different. But I don’t think that’s the case for me. I have a bigger issue than that.

I’ve been a Christian for almost my entire life. Every year Easter comes and goes, and I seldom ever get emotionally distraught over the act of Christ’s death on the cross for my sins. I acknowledge it and am grateful for it, but I rarely see myself as the death-sentenced person that I am because of my sins.

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March 25, 2013

Because He is Faithful

Easter reminds us that even when we doubt, God is faithful.

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As I walk through Holy Week this year, I have to admit I am a little nervous. Every year I eagerly anticipate these final steps on the path to Easter Sunday, and relish the chance to walk through Christ’s final days as part of the local and global church. But this year is different. I have spent the past few months walking alongside friends experiencing doubt, and understanding what doubt looks like in my own faith. As Holy Week has drawn closer, a small part of me has been wondering if the celebration of Christ’s victory over death will lose its power over the unresolved questions floating around in my head.

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What is Easter About?

The world didn't stop and wait for Jesus to sacrificially redeem humanity.

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Back in the first century, the world didn't stop and wait for Easter. Besides Jesus, no one was preparing for the incredible spiritual battle that was going to take place when he was arrested, beaten, and led like a lamb to slaughter.

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Raised to New Life

No matter the weight of our sins, Christ's sacrificial love redeems us all.

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On October 16, 1986, my world turned upside down. I'd been reared in a loving Christian home and had earned a teaching degree at a Christian college where I'd met John*, my husband of 13 years. We were members of a church, and enjoyed many family activities together. I felt John and I had a good marriage, although I wished we could communicate on a deeper level. Reading my husband's heart was like trying to see the bottom of a deep, murky well.

Continue reading "Raised to New Life " »

March 19, 2013

TCW Verse of the Week: John 7:38

Knowing the difference between water and living water

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It was high noon on a hot day. Jesus, tired from traveling, chose a sensible rest stop—Jacob's well outside the town of Sychar—while waiting for his disciples to go into town for food. When our unnamed woman appeared with clay jar in hand, Jesus made a simple request: "Will you give me a drink?" (John 4:7).

Uh-oh. (1) Jews weren't supposed to speak to Samaritans. (2) Men weren't permitted to address women without their husbands present. And (3) rabbis had no business speaking to shady ladies such as this one. Jesus was willing to toss out the rules, but our woman at the well wasn't. "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman," she reminded him. "How can you ask me for a drink?" (John 4:9).

She focused on the law; Jesus focused on grace.

Continue reading "TCW Verse of the Week: John 7:38" »

March 18, 2013

Tormented by My Weight

God wants to use you, no matter what you look like.

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With the birth of each of my five children, I added a few more pounds to my 5'2" frame. The pounds clung to my hips, thighs, stomach, and backside like barnacles to a boat. They invaded my clothes, stretching and shrinking them until the seams gave way.

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March 14, 2013

Pray for the New Pope

Why the choice of a Catholic pope should matter to Protestants

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The Roman Catholic Church has a new pope. Argentine Jorge Bergoglio, who has chosen the name Francis, has the distinction of being the first South American pope. I am not Catholic and have never been Catholic, but I take a great interest in this new pope, praying that God will guide this man. After all, I owe the Roman Catholic Church. It has done much to preserve the faith that I love. For all its faults, it carefully defended the Christian faith over the centuries and kept it intact on some important doctrines, such as the Trinity and the substitutionary death of Christ. It also carefully guarded the Scriptures over the centuries, making sure that the Bible I now read is the one that the early church also had.

Besides that, the Catholic church pursued social justice long before it was a popular interest of evangelicals. For centuries, they have established hospitals, fought for the underdog, and provided for basic needs in many countries throughout the world. For all the culpabilities of the church hierarchy, individual Catholics were often the lone voice of compassion in a corrupt society.

I’m also interested in the new pope because the Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest Christian church in the world with wide-ranging influence in developed as well as third-world countries. When they take a stand on issues to preserve the faith and fight corruption, we all benefit (see the article “Evangelicals and Catholics: Let’s Celebrate our Similarities” to explore this idea further). And according to this article, Catholics are becoming more evangelical.

The new pope also has an enormous impact on the lives of Catholic women throughout the world, as the Her.meneutics’ article, “What the Benedict Papacy Meant for Women,” points out.

Continue reading "Pray for the New Pope" »

March 12, 2013

TCW Verse of the Week: Romans 8:38

Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ

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Maybe it was the time I walked into the kindergarten playhouse, and I was abruptly, unexpectedly shoved out and not allowed back in.

Maybe it was the time I was the only kid on my street not invited to a neighbor girl's birthday party.

Or maybe it was the time my best friend, Becky, decided she was tired of me and chose Gwen as her new BFF—and the two of them sauntered down the street in front of my house so I'd get the message. To this day, I still remember peering out that window, sobbing. But time after time, for some unknown reason, I experienced the sting of rejection.

Continue reading "TCW Verse of the Week: Romans 8:38" »

March 11, 2013

Back to the Basics

Why I'm praying for an authentic prayer life

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I’m an introvert, so one of the hardest things in the world for me is initiating conversation. Icebreaker activities fall in a list of my top ten least favorite things to do, along with hailing a waiter for the check, mingling at high school reunions, and job interviews. Essentially, when I’m in a situation that necessitates interaction with strangers or acquaintances, I become a feverish, panic-stricken mess. I feel like a shell of myself, disengaged from the connections I’m supposed to be making, intensely aware that this is not something I’m good at. My capacity for creating competent sentences evaporates, and I worry that every word I utter sounds moronic.

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March 5, 2013

TCW Verse of the Week: 1 Peter 3:9

Don't retaliate with insults.

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When you are married, if you're like most couples, you made a vow pledging your faithfulness. But now you've discovered your spouse didn't take that vow seriously. It doesn't matter whether it was a one-night stand or a long-term affair, the results are the same—your spouse's action has left in its wake fear, doubt, distrust, betrayal, hurt, and anger.

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February 28, 2013

God's Marriage Counseling

What do you do when divorce is not an option?

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Driving through Bakersfield on our way home from Thanksgiving, I read billboards to stay awake. They came one after another, then another. Suddenly, on a plain black field with simple white letters, one read: "Need marriage counseling? I'm available. -God."

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February 26, 2013

TCW Verse of the Week: 1 John 2:17

Finding purpose in the mundane

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I was in college service at church. People were passionate about being disciples of Christ and sharing that passion with others. I stood there in the crowd of my peers, praising God with them, and thought, "This is just a shadow of what heaven will be like." Then I thought about those who had never heard of Jesus—who didn't have a chance of knowing him—and the tears streamed down my face. I committed at that moment to go anywhere for the sake of Christ. I did not consider it too much of a sacrifice to give up the comforts of my life at home for something much more lasting and significant.

Continue reading "TCW Verse of the Week: 1 John 2:17" »

February 21, 2013

TCW Verse of the Week: 1 Timothy 2:2

A reminder to pray for all who are in authority so that we might live peaceably.

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As my father Billy Graham's official representative to Pope John Paul II's funeral, I was seated on the third row. From that honored position, I looked out on a vast sea of people jammed into St. Peter's Square. Across the broad platform on which I was seated were over 100 world leaders—many of whom represented nations that are hostile to one another. To their right, I could see the colorful garb of men and women representing various world religions—Buddhists, Hindus, and others not as recognizable—religions that at times seek to persecute and stifle the faith represented by some seated on the same platform. Surrounding me were leaders of almost every major Christian group, from Baptist preachers to Coptic priests—groups that often compete with, criticize, and, at times, condemn one another. To my left were row upon row of Catholic bishops, dressed in their raspberry-colored robes and caps.

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February 14, 2013

TCW Verse of the Week: John 15:9

Remain in my love.

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Who doesn't yearn to know in their very marrow that God is their friend? Who doesn't want more peace? And who wouldn't like to handle life's difficulties and pain with equanimity?

In Christ, surely such impossible-sounding desires are possible, and in one of the most beautiful Gospel chapters, Jesus opens his heart to his disciples, telling them that he loves them, that they are his friends, and that he is always with them:
"I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love."

Continue reading "TCW Verse of the Week: John 15:9" »

February 12, 2013

Intercede, Pray, Love

Moving past good intentions and into real community with the power of prayer

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Too often when I encounter someone's desperate need, I offer a quick "You're in my prayers" without slowing down enough to make good on my word. Any "real" praying I do consists of a hastily muttered sentence during my busy day, as if I'm merely checking off my to-do list or making God aware of a situation he might've missed.

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February 5, 2013

TCW Verse of the Week: Psalm 25:4-5

My hope is in you

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From God's perspective, waiting is an exercise he's designed to help us develop patience, a sign of spiritual maturity. The New Testament writer James urges us to "So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing" (James 1:4, NLT).

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January 31, 2013

TCW Verse of the Week: Galatians 5:25

It’s important to follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

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Our purpose is being a woman of God and doing what he asks. Our passions are meant to be godly purpose-indicators. They are the things that make our heart sing; they help us identify and complete our purpose. For example, my passions include jigsaw puzzles, travel, and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. God's purpose for me is to help women figure out his call on their lives.

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January 30, 2013

Perpetual Pursuit

God continues to seek us even after we begin following him.

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Have you ever read something in the Bible that made you wonder why it was ever included? Consider the story of the prophet Hosea: God tells him to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2).

So Hosea marries Gomer, who has a wandering eye—and body. She continually runs from Hosea, who continually pursues her and brings her back into relationship with him.



I don’t know if you’ve been lucky enough to hear a sermon on or to study the book of Hosea, but it really is a beautiful picture of grace—well, beautiful might not be the right word. Hosea’s relationship with Gomer is an illustration for God’s relationship with us. Just like Gomer, we’ve gone astray. And the fact is that just as Hosea pursues Gomer regardless of who she is or what she does, God continually pursues us, seeking a relationship.

So the story of Hosea really is a great story about God’s grace and love for us.

Blah blah blah.

Great.

Hosea and Gomer’s story is a touching one—unless you’ve heard it so many times before, it starts to feel stale. And that’s exactly how I was feeling. After all, I’d been following Christ for 11 years. I already had a relationship with God. I wasn’t Gomer.

So as my pastor spoke on Hosea two weeks ago, I settled in for a sermon I’d heard many times before. You know how it goes: God wants to be in relationship with you. So much that he sent his Son who died a terrible death. And there’s nothing you can do to earn the grace he’s offering; you simply have to accept it.

But that wasn’t the sermon.

Continue reading "Perpetual Pursuit" »

January 29, 2013

Breaking Free from Physical Expectations

A new mantra for women: break free from the one-size-fits-all mentality

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In a day when diversity is celebrated, the cultural prescription for beauty is a narrow, one-size-fits-all mentality. And that one size is a skinny size few women ever achieve.

We're repeatedly exposed to unrealistic cultural images that affect our thinking, so many of us give up and overeat, feeling we can't measure up no matter what we do.

[We compare ourselves] because we're uncertain of our identities. Comparisons are our attempt to feel better about ourselves and bolster our esteem. The real issue is, where do you find your esteem?

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January 24, 2013

TCW Verse of the Week: Micah 6:8

An inspirational verse on humility and obedience.

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"O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."

Micah 6:8
January 22, 2013

Lessons in Singleness

God has a plan for every single woman in the world.

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Continue reading "Lessons in Singleness" »

January 21, 2013

Sticking With Love

Here are a few reasons why, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., love should always win over hate.

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It was summer. It was Maine. It was Sunday. So my dad, a U. S. army reservist on a two-week hitch in the small town of Bangor, decided to do what he always did on Sundays. He went to church.

He didn’t know anybody in the small congregation. As a black man, he didn’t expect the few churchgoers to fall over themselves to welcome him. But this was the Sixties. This was Maine. And this was Sunday. So the last thing he expected is what happened.

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January 17, 2013

TCW Verse of the Week: Romans 15:5-6

An inspirational verse on unity from the book of Romans.

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"May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

-Romans 15:5-6

January 16, 2013

Powerful Prayers for Peace and Rest

Life can easily spiral out of control, but not when prayer becomes a priority.

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It was late when I finally finished eating dinner. Tired and bleary-eyed from a long week at work, I opened the kitchen cupboard to put away my spaghetti leftovers and stopped suddenly.

What am I doing?

I shook my head and laughed and put the food in the refrigerator where it belonged. I was exhausted. The past few months had been a whirlwind, and tension was taking its toll. Of course, putting Italian food in the wrong place was the least of it. Most nights I was up late working, folding laundry, or doing “one more thing” before going to bed, wondering why the days were so long and the nights so short.

I don’t think I’m the only one who has too much to do and never enough time. Indeed, we are a generation of busy people; working hard but hardly living. Getting enough rest, replenishing rest, is often at the bottom of our priority lists.

But why?

Continue reading "Powerful Prayers for Peace and Rest" »

January 15, 2013

Praying Significant Prayers

How to cultivate a meaningful conversation with the Lord.

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"Sometimes I catch myself "chatting" with God, limiting my prayers to superficial things and surface issues, never getting to the heart of the matter. And I've noticed that when others offer prayer requests, they're rarely about spiritual needs. We ask God to heal physical ailments, provide safe travel, and to "be with us."

Continue reading "Praying Significant Prayers" »

January 14, 2013

In the Shadow of Death

To survive I need hope, so if faith and the hope of life beyond the grave is a crutch for the weak, sign me up.

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My grandmother is dying.

When she passes, she will leave my father an orphan, joining my mother who’s been an orphan for 23 years. The “next line of defense” will have passed on, ushering my parents one step closer to eternity.

Ushering me one step closer.

Gram, as I call her, has been suffering. Her 89-year-old, weak body has been starved to the point that it has begun to eat itself, leaving her at 70 pounds. She has a bit of dementia, and when she looks at a photo of my grandfather and her, she claims that she knows them but can’t quite place who they are.

When I saw her the week before Christmas, she still knew me. I held her cup of sweet tea as she sipped it and gently rubbed her hands and silently prayed that she wouldn’t linger.

Death is a terrible reality. And we can do absolutely nothing to stop it. We can only sit by helplessly and watch it speed up the clock, as the future becomes the present, which too quickly becomes the past.

Continue reading "In the Shadow of Death" »

January 7, 2013

What Are You Waiting For?

I started the new year jobless, and have been learning what it means to wait and trust in the Lord.

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A few weeks ago I made what might be called a careless and foolish decision: in a time of economic uncertainty and at a stage of life that has me screaming for stability (read: mid-20s), I quit my job.

It made for some uncomfortable discussions when family or friends would ask me about my plans for the beginning of 2013.

“Um, to be determined?” I would say sheepishly.

But if it was poor planning on my part, it has been perfect timing on God’s. In propelling me toward an exit, God is challenging me to put my hope back in his promises—promises that begin with the birth of the Savior.

Continue reading "What Are You Waiting For? " »

January 2, 2013

Encountering Jesus at the Passion Conference

Worshiping God with 60,000 college students is an experience I’ll never forget—are emotional encounters with Jesus underrated?

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Tuesday night, conversation buzzed in Atlanta's Georgia Dome as a light fog hung over the crowd and Scripture passages rolled across large LCD screens. Anticipation filled the air as the lights dimmed, spotlights turned to the stage, and Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Kristian Stanfill, and Christy Nockels came on stage to lead 60,000 university-aged students in worship. The buzz of conversation turned to a roar as guitars came to life, signifying the start of the 2013 Passion Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

To an outsider, the scene looks more like a U2 concert than a worship conference. To a Passion attendee, however, it’s just another year of a conference where hearts are changed and a generation comes together to “make Jesus famous.”

“This is not about Passion,” founder and pastor Louie Giglio said during the conference’s main session Tuesday night. “This is about allowing Jesus to do a work in you that no one else could do.”

Continue reading "Encountering Jesus at the Passion Conference" »

December 31, 2012

TCW's Top 3 Blogs of 2012

Hundreds of topics were discussed on the TCW blog this year: which ones made the top 3?

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As with most other years, 2012 was marked by highs and lows, tears and transitions, triumphs and tragedies. Today's Christian Woman was no exception, and was there to provide readers with wisdom and encouragement on a variety of topics throughout the year. According to our readers, here are the top three themes from our blog in 2012: giving up worry, overthinking, and relational boundaries. We'll be sure to write more on these topics in the New Year!

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December 19, 2012

Anxiously Anticipating Jesus' Birth

What the Incarnation means for believers and nonbelievers alike

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Many characteristics of Jesus’ physical entry into our world move me. Like all naturally birthed human babies, he was discharged in great pain by his human mother and emerged, as each of us once did, a humble mystery: purplish skin, scrunch-faced from the pressures of birth, and probably screaming upon his arrival from the pain and shock of it. He was a real baby born of a real woman, in a real place—although certainly humbler than most—a real stable somewhere, redolent of manure and the steamy breath of domesticated animals, a temporary home unwillingly proffered and shared with chattel and food sources, creatures even humbler than humans.

Every Christmas season my husband reads aloud from an anthology called Treasury of Christmas Stories. I look forward to a poem called “Secret in the Barn” by Anne Wood, even though it exasperates my daughters whenever my husband reads it aloud because I cry so much. In it, the speaker, a little girl named Louise, has asked for a horse for Christmas, and she can’t go to sleep on Christmas Eve because of her anticipation that she might really be getting one.

I love the live current of Louise’s impatience for that horse. The electric energy of longing and remembered promises. The exciting evidence—the snorting, champing horse noises out in the barn—that what she longs for and what she gets are about to coincide, as they so infrequently do, in the amazing mystery of Christmas. In some sense, Louise longs for what we all long for, even if we have never been interested in horses. Something warm, noisy, lovable, alive. Something that belongs entirely to us. Something so far beyond our deepest fantasies it seems the product of longing itself.

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December 18, 2012

TCW Advent Verse

Remembering the reason for the season with a memorable verse from Isaiah.

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"For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

Isaiah 9:6-7

December 17, 2012

Connecticut School Shooting: There is Hope in the Midst of Suffering

Jesus’ resurrection is divine reassurance for those lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

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When I first heard the news about the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that left 27 individuals, including 20 elementary school students, dead, I was on my way to a Christianity Today staff Christmas luncheon. I didn't feel quite right celebrating at such a time as this until David Neff, CT’s former editor in chief, gave a brief message on the hope we have in Christ’s resurrection and everlasting love.

Continue reading "Connecticut School Shooting: There is Hope in the Midst of Suffering " »

December 12, 2012

Cultivating Time Alone with God

God is asking us to come near to him, so what’s keeping us from taking time to recharge and allow God to speak to us?

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Have you ever been to a place so amazing, you wished that someone you loved was with you? Maybe it was the beauty or the peacefulness or the fun, but you wanted so badly for them to experience what you were experiencing. You just knew how much they would love it, and how happy they’d be if they had come.

This is how I feel about my time with God. Moments spent in his presence, with his word, and with all of my attention. I have so much to learn from him, so many things he wants to show me, I can’t help but want this for everyone. It might sound strange because, granted, not every time I’m with him is a glorious event.

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with my sin, sometimes I’m hurting, and sometimes I just feel blah about everything. But I think you can recognize that this is like any good relationship. Our deepest bonds are with people who have walked with us through life, with its messiness and highs and lows. God wants to walk with us like this.

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December 10, 2012

Why I’m Afraid of Children

Childbirth is a beautiful thing—so why does labor have to hurt so badly?

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As a 20-something woman with hopes of having children someday, pregnancy, at the moment, seems terrifying. From a scientific perspective, the words pain and contractions leap off the page at me mercilessly. My babysitting misadventures have often ended in burnt popcorn and kitchens full of smoke, and characters like Honey Boo Boo from shows like Toddlers and Tiaras make me cringe.

Continue reading "Why I’m Afraid of Children" »

December 3, 2012

Expecting Jesus This Advent

When Christ came to earth as a baby, he chose to enter into every aspect of our lives. Have you consciously let him into yours?

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In November I bought an Advent calendar for my kids, in keeping with family tradition. Behind each window is a small piece of chocolate and a Scripture verse that tells a little of the Christmas story.

When all the windows are closed, the calendar depicts a lovely scene: Mary and Joseph and a few tidy shepherds huddle closely around a well-fed baby, cozy under a pile of blankets, surrounded by fresh hay. Two suspiciously medieval kings kneel before him, and a well-behaved sheep looks on. The group has artistically arranged itself in front of an elegant redbrick-and-stone stable that, while rustic, looks to have been cleaned recently. The night is clear and star-lit—all is calm, and all is bright.

If the savior of the world had to be born in ancient times, this is where he should have been born, right? After all, cleanliness is next to godliness—these are his kind of shepherds.

Or are they?

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November 26, 2012

Does Doubt Have a Place in the Church?

I found my suspicions were necessary for my faith. Here’s why.

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I remember lying on my bed on my 16th birthday, staring at the ceiling through tears, and admitting to the wide-eyed parents standing in my doorway that I just couldn’t believe in God anymore. We’d just had an argument, and somehow the conversation led to the real issue: the doubt that had crept into my heart over the past year.

The minute the words left my mouth, I felt honest and empty. The façade of a safe, “Sunday school” faith was gone forever.

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November 19, 2012

Joyful Living Every Day

Our days are packed—but how much do we really enjoy our routines?

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I recently spent a week with my best friend, Diana, and learned a few things from her son, Joel. He just turned four, and is a bundle of energy, enthusiasm, and joy. Every morning Joel gets up, runs to his mother’s room, shakes her awake, and says, “Wake up, Mommy! It’s a beautiful day. I need my breakfast.”

Diana, who would rather sleep in, is forced to wake up to the enthusiasm of her son. Unlike her, he just can’t wait to get on with his day.

As we drove around with Joel, he’d roll down the car window and repeat to any passerby who cared to listen (and even to those who didn’t)—all in one breath: “Hi! My family and I go to church on Sunday. I have Bonhomme Preschool on Monday, Spanish on Tuesday, gymnastics on Wednesday. I play with Mommy on Thursday, and I go to KinderCare on Friday!”

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November 14, 2012

Something more Intuitive than My iPhone

Technology may get the best of me—all the time—but fortunately, I have access to something even better.

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I beg to differ with the word intuitive so readily applied to today’s technology. Every shiny, silicon gizmo that pops on the market is “intuitive.” What they mean is “self-explanatory if you’re 12 and convinced you cannot possibly lobotomize your new device by pressing the wrong button.”

I happen to have a healthy fear of unintentional consequences, so I won’t press anything unless I know what it does. Last time I forged bravely ahead, I got Spanish subtitles on the TV.

Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. I just don’t speak its language.

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November 8, 2012

How I Freed Myself from Biblical Limits

What I do when I get trapped in the pharisaical maze of having to do everything right.

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It was nearing eight o’clock, and my sinful flesh was screaming for me to catch up on Grey’s Anatomy before drifting off to dreamland. On this particular evening, I nearly skipped my Beth Moore Bible study lesson, but something, or more accurately, someone, kept nagging at me.

I knew I’d feel guilty if I chose McDreamy over McSavior, so my Bible study won by default, and I proceeded to take part in a lesson on the meaning of diligently seeking God.

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November 5, 2012

Is “Overthinking” a Blessing or a Curse?

How I turned my excitable stream of consciousness into a daily devotional practice.

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I used to think I had an overactive mind, like it was some kind of disorder. It just never seemed to turn off. One day after a particularly obnoxious amount of thinking, I googled overactive mind disorder. When no legitimate medical results popped up within the first page of search results, I breathed a sigh of relief.

With a clear prognosis, I perused the rest of the results and found I was in good company. Though I don’t share all their worries and concerns, the Google search returned hundreds of stories from people whose overactive minds made my excitable stream of consciousness seem mild.

Anyway, all of this is to say I over-think things. A lot. But when all I hear is my own voice repeating my own problems over and over, I have little space to hear God’s voice and the encouragement and direction he has for each day.

To help create margin in my cluttered mind and so I can better experience the presence of God throughout my day, I’ve developed some strategies:

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October 25, 2012

Do You Really Believe God Loves You?

Keri Wyatt Kent’s new book, Deeply Loved, helps women experience how much they are valued.

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Keri Wyatt Kent is a student of the Word and a champion for women, which turns out to be a great combination in her new book, Deeply Loved (Abingdon Press). Using the gospel stories of Jesus, Keri guides us through 40 days of creating space “for Jesus to show up and love you.” And who wouldn’t want that?

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October 18, 2012

The Surprising Blessing of Inconvenience

How a slower pace of life has filled my spirit.

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For 13 years, I was a busy pastor’s wife living a normal and active life of ministry in Illinois. Then God called my husband and me to minister in Zambia.

We have now moved halfway across the world, and everything has changed for us. I’m still busy with ministry, but through the process of adjusting to life in a radically different culture, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about the pace of life.

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October 11, 2012

Suffering 101: The Required Class We Wish We Could Ditch

When life provides us with unwelcome doses of pain, do we cling to God or run away?

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I must admit I wasn’t thrilled a few weeks back when my husband signed us up for an upcoming class at church. . .on the Book of Job.

The teacher is great and the fellowship will be fantastic. But Job?

That book is all about suffering. It’s about horribly difficult questions about pain and heartache and God not intervening or, even worse, playing an apparently complicit role in that suffering. It doesn’t have the ending I want—the ending in which God answers the hard questions and, poof!, turns back the hands of time to magically erase all the suffering. No, Job wades right into the deep, dark muck of pain—the muck I strive hard to avoid.

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October 4, 2012

When God Calls Us to Take a Leap of Faith

Fear can be intimidating, but my dog and the Israelites reminded me of what I can really do with God’s help.

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My dog, Henry, doesn’t believe in the word impossible. One day as we walked past a lake, Henry spotted some geese swimming happily about. His predator instinct kicked in, and he burst toward them, nearly tearing the leash from my grasp.

Never mind they’re 20 yards out from shore and have a clear head start—he will catch them.

Never mind that their fat goose bodies float effortlessly, and Henry swims like an anvil.

He. Will. Prevail.

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October 1, 2012

Insignificant

I went on vacation ready to fix my grandiose life. God had other plans.

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Two weeks ago, I headed to a beach house in North Carolina with my pregnant sister, her husband, a couple of their closest friends, and my dearest friend in the whole world, Steph. It would be my first real vacation in years, and I was ready to, in addition to having extremely long, productive, life-changing quiet times with God, accomplish several personal goals, including regular morning runs, a tan for my pasty Irish skin, the consumption of healthy food, and at least five edifying novels during my time on the beach.

The only goal I managed to achieve of the 10 I initially set for myself was to stay off the internet.

In all other aspects, I was a total failure.

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September 27, 2012

Book Review: She’s Got Issues by Nicole Unice

How one woman makes the daily grind something extraordinary in Christ.

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Have you ever thrown a block of parmesan, followed by the grater, at your husband for commenting on a messy kitchen? If you have, did you then happen to sit down a week later to write a chapter about anger in a book about everyday issues?

Nicole Unice, author of the new book She’s Got Issues, has. Anecdotes like the one involving a cheese grater make She’s Got Issues a compelling read. Instead of saying, “Y’all are messed up and here’s how,” Nicole says, “We are all messed up. Let’s look to Jesus.”

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August 7, 2012

The Gift of Boredom

My frantic pace cannot be helping my relationship with God.

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My mother died a few years ago. She’d lived a long and happy life, but she was old. Although she was once extremely industrious—having raised five children and helping my father start a business while developing her skills as an artist—toward the end she spent most of her days sitting or lying down.

As she was dying and slowing down to a snail’s pace, my life, in contrast, was crazy. For example, I remember spending a slow and tedious weekend with her. Then on Monday I was thrown back into my ridiculous schedule. After an hour-long commute each way to work, I fixed a large meal for a group of people and entertained until late in the evening. The next day, I had a doctor’s appointment after work and ran errands to do all the things I don’t have time for during the day. As I straggled into work on Wednesday, I almost laughed aloud at a Bible study I had to edit called, “The Gift of Boredom.”

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July 23, 2012

Spiraling into Insecurity

I know God loves me . . . so why do I feel so insecure?

Ever been there?

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We can be moving through life swimmingly with a confidence in God’s love, a vibrant faith, and a healthy sense of self-worth and then, boom!, seemingly out of nowhere we’re hit. Suddenly we’re spiraling down into a nosedive of insecurity. One minute we felt fine, but now we feel ________ (fill in the blank: unlovable, ugly, imperfect, misunderstood, insignificant, fat, lonely, out of place, unworthy, unimportant).

Surprisingly, for many of us, it doesn’t take much to prompt a plunge into insecurity. Even women who’ve made great strides in this area can still find themselves caught off guard by a sudden slip into a lack of self-confidence. It’s a spiritual danger we must actively battle so it doesn’t catch us unaware. One critical way to be on guard is to be more aware of what triggers our insecurities in the first place.

Consider these common triggers:

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June 18, 2012

The Power of Being Known

The longing we have for others to understand and accept us comes first from a God who knows and accepts us.

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As a young student, I spent kindergarten through eighth grade in three different rural schools. These schools were tiny—one in particular, where I attended half a year and was the only third grader in the entire school. I joined up with the first and second graders. Our classroom picture shows seven smiling kids, the total for all three grades.

The next school I attended felt significantly larger—about 60 scholars in the whole school. We had two grades per classroom, with 10 to 15 kids in each room. And I graduated from eighth grade with four other people.

I didn’t appreciate how tiny my educational experiences were until my family moved and I found myself in an urban school, surrounded by a couple thousand strangers.

You may assume my educational experience suffered without hundreds of classmates. It didn’t. This was a great—and fun—way to get an education. Every student had individual attention, self-pacing, and an automatic spot in extra-curricular activities. We learned in an authentic kind of community I’ve never had since. It was pretty much impossible to fall through the cracks.

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May 14, 2012

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Figuring out our responsibility to care for and serve others

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Cain certainly isn’t on my “Top 10 Inspiring Heroes” from the Bible list. But if I’m honest, he’s on another of my lists: “Big-time Sinners in the Bible I Can really Relate To.”

It’s not the jealousy or the murder that I connect with; rather it’s that self-justifying question he tosses back to God that jumps off the page and often echoes in my own thoughts: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9, NIV).

Cain’s motivations in this defiant interchange with the Almighty are as complicated as any twisting and turning modern-day crime novel.

When I have this attitude, on the other hand, my motivation is pretty simple: I’m aiming to justify a self-focused life.

Let me be honest: There are plenty of days when just “keeping” my own life running—and “keeping” my beloved family—are about all I feel I can handle!

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May 7, 2012

“Friending” Each Other . . . for Real

Looking for authentic spiritual friends

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Friend used to simply be a plain old noun, but in recent years it’s undergone a makeover. Now it’s a verb, as in, “That weirdo from high school keeps trying to friend me!” or “I can’t believe she un-friended me!”

In Facebook-land, as in real life, it can be difficult to pin down what a friend really is. Among my Facebook “friends” are summer camp buddies, elementary-school playground pals, college gospel choir friends, former and current coworkers, and even a few people I honestly don’t like very much (but who I didn’t have the heart to reject when they “friended” me!). Yet in the crowd of all these “friends,” there are only a few real soul sisters.

There are friends...and then there are friends: the women in our lives who walk with us on our spiritual journey and help us grow closer to Christ.

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April 24, 2012

Chicken Nuggets and the Sabbath

Download the Kyria ebook, Sabbath Rest in a World of Stress, in the Nook, Kindle, or Kyria stores.

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I realized I was taking the fourth commandment a little too lightly when I found myself rolling my eyes and muttering under my breath, “What’s Chick-fil-a’s problem?!”

It was Sunday, after church, and our family was grabbing a bite to eat at a local Mexican restaurant. We were sitting outside, trying to enjoy the sunshine, but Chick-fil-a was looming large right in front of us—literally across the street.

“Mom, I really, really, really want Chick-fil-a!” (Can you hear the high-pitched whining?)

“I love Chick-fil-a. Why can’t we go there?!” (Can you hear it yet? Add to your mental image: crossed arms, bottom lips stuck out.)

“Chick-fil-a is closed on Sundays,” I pronounced. “So just eat your quesadilla and stop whining, okay?”

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April 10, 2012

The Best Time I Failed at Lent

I beat myself up over my weakness, but then I discovered an important aspect of Lent and Easter that I hadn’t realized before.

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Over the past week, I read a book. This should be a simple statement, but for me it’s somehow not. When I look back over my past week, I wonder where it went. For a few days, I totally rearranged my life in order to maximize reading opportunities. I ate at my desk so I could devote my full lunch hour to uninterrupted reading, and one day I brought a change of clothes so I wouldn’t have to backtrack home between work and my evening plans and I could get a few extra minutes with my book on a nice park bench. I may have even said no to a social invitation or two because, when it came down to it, all I wanted to do was go home and curl up on the couch with my book.

This isn’t a unique experience for me. In fact, it’s happened at least three times in the past 40 days. Oops.

You see, about 40 days ago I committed myself to spending at least one full, uninterrupted hour with God each day during Lent. I picked one hour because it sounded like enough time to force me to rearrange my schedule. I needed to shake things up, and this “radical” commitment was, I thought, the perfect way to do it. It would look like . . . well, like my other, non-biblical reading turned out looking.

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April 3, 2012

Avoiding the Cross

It’s so much easier—and less painful—not to think about the reality of what Jesus went through. And yet, it’s essential.

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Violence really gets to me. My husband often laughs at my reaction to movie scenes, TV shows, and CSI commercials: gasping, covering my eyes, and cowering in fetal position at sights that to him (and probably most of America) seem relatively mild. Even hard tackles during NFL games set my teeth on edge!

And so the Cross—the mind-numbingly painful and brutal reality of it all—well, it’s hard for me to swallow.

Several years back when The Passion of the Christ came out on DVD, we bought a copy. My bright idea was to watch it every Good Friday as an aid in contemplating Christ’s suffering and death.

It literally took me four years to follow up on that idea. For four Good Fridays in a row, despite my determination to go through with it, I just couldn’t bring myself to watch it. (I’d seen it in the theater, so I knew—very distinctly—what I was avoiding.)

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March 20, 2012

When My “Stuff” Gets in the Way of Helping Others

Am I really attending to my friend’s hurts or hindering her from getting the help and comfort she needs?

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Imagine this. A friend calls you upset and in need of help. She invites you to her house—something she’s never done in the many years you’ve known her.

You pull up to the quaint house with a nicely manicured lawn, you walk to the front door, and ring the door bell. Within a few moments your friend answers. Her face is red and splotchy. It’s clear she’s been crying.

As you step into her house you immediately notice how dark and smelly it is. All the shades are drawn and a single lamp lights her large living room. Mildew and dust mix in the air and flood your nostrils with stench. Once your eyes adjust you notice piles of books, newspapers, and magazines stacked up along each wall. The end table near the couch is covered with used tissues. A bowl of moldy food sits on the floor.

What stirs up inside you?

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March 6, 2012

Introducing Kyria eBooks!

The resources you love in a convenient format

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In the hallways of Kyria.com you’ll often hear our staff chatting about what they’re reading. There’s always someone who will give you a recommendation, whether you ask for it or not. (I would know since I’m the biggest culprit.)

So it didn’t surprise me that after Christmas, I heard a different type of conversation. “What kind of eReader do you have?” “What eBooks have you been reading?” “Do you know how to lend a book on the Kindle?” You may have had some of these same conversations yourself.

We’re very excited about offering some of our bestselling Kyria resources in eBook format. They’re available for Kindle, Nook, and iPad. They provide the convenience of being easy to download and to use, and you can take them wherever you go. You can also lend these resources to others with eReaders. (If you don’t have an eReader but would like to download these resources in eBook format, you can download free eBook reader software to your personal computer here and here.)

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February 28, 2012

I’m Giving Up Broccoli for Lent

Is this Easter preparation season really about giving up the things we hate anyway? Or is there some other meaning?

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“I’m fasting from Facebook for Lent.”

So read my friend’s Facebook status last spring...for about two weeks...until she started using Facebook again.

Ah, the perils of announcing one’s Lenten fast!

I’ve only been giving up things for Lent for the past few years. As a dyed-in-the-wool evangelical, I never heard about Lent growing up—I didn’t even really know what it was until high school when I spent the night at the home of a Catholic friend. During dinner, her dad enthusiastically passed the broccoli. He then conspiratorially whispered to me: “I gave up broccoli for Lent!”

“Broccoli?” I asked.

“Yes, I hate it.”

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January 31, 2012

The Surprising Delight of Confession

There’s something freeing when we call sin what it is in our lives.

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A few years ago amid swirling rumors of Tiger Woods’ infidelities, newsman Brit Hume waded in with a bold claim about Christianity: “The extent to which [Tiger] can recover seems to me depends on his faith. . . . I don’t think [Buddhism] offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. My message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’”

Many were up in arms about Hume’s direct on-air promotion of Christianity—but what struck me most was the aspect of Christian faith that Hume drew attention to. It wasn’t God’s love or how we’re made in God’s image or even about God’s wonderful plan for your life. It was the desperate need we sinners have for forgiveness and redemption.

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January 10, 2012

Assessing the Year that Was

Through the good, bad, and ugly I discovered one consistency

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While we often think of the new year as a time to look ahead, to make goals and plans and resolutions, it’s also a time to look back, to take stock of the last year of our lives, and catalog each joy and sorrow before moving on to another year of new joys and new sorrows.

As the clock approached midnight on December 31, I watched as the “farewell 2011” Facebook statuses started rolling in. Many of the posts showing up on my feed also summarily categorized the year about to pass as a “good” or “bad” year in the life of the poster. I wondered if my 2011 had been a good or a bad one; I hadn’t really thought about it. Sure, both good and bad things happen in a year, but nothing so awful and overbearing permeated the full 12 months to a point where it would negate all the good things.

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December 20, 2011

Best of 2011 from Kyria!

Check out our most popular offerings this year.

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I love year-end lists. They’re informative and fun. You get to see what others thought was important or noteworthy in the past year. And you get caught up on some things you may have missed.

The Kyria.com team can relate to the topics you’ve made most popular. We’ve wrestled with feeling misunderstood and accepted, trying to figure out our reactions to bizarre news stories, and finding God-centered ways to relate to our spouses, kids, and friends. We’ve also grown through each issue of the digital magazine we’ve put together as we’ve looked at spiritual practices such as simplicity, acceptance, and submission. You can stay up to date on the newest Kyria content by signing up for our free e-newsletter here.

Thank you for walking this journey with us in 2011! Here is our collection of Kyria.com Top Lists.

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December 12, 2011

Bah, Humbug!

Getting past the glitter of Christmas to the gold

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Whenever I’ve read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, I’m struck that I’m starting to resemble Ebenezer Scrooge at Christmas. When he says, “Bah, humbug,” something resonates within me.

I’ve developed an allergy to evergreens, so we’ve had to resort to putting together our Christmas tree piece by piece—a task I find revolting. Gift giving is always agonizing for me. I want the recipient to be surprised and awed by their gift, which is almost impossible in a culture that has everything. Sometimes this hunt feels like an epic quest to the ends of the earth on the level with The Odyssey. I try not to overeat, so all the temptations at work, home, neighbors’ houses, and church are like walking a tightrope that will drop me into a cornucopia of food if I slip to the right or to the left. Although I love receiving everyone else’s Christmas cards, I find the process of doing them myself tedious and overwhelming. Do I sound like Scrooge yet?

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November 22, 2011

A Hand to Hold on Thanksgiving

Learning joy through gratitude

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One of the goals I set for myself last Thanksgiving was to be a grateful, joyful woman. Who doesn’t want to be a joyful person? But how do you become that? If joy is the end, what is the means? How do you actually rejoice in the Lord, much less do it always?

Surprisingly, my answer came from a work project. We were working on the November 2010 digital magazine and in the first question of our interview, Sally Clarkson answered my question of how to be joyful. “You can’t have joy unless you’re grateful.” So simple, so clear. Yet it seemed like I’d never heard it before. It always amazes me how God instructs us, how he uses the ordinary to answer our prayers and to direct us onto the right path.

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October 24, 2011

Thoughts on Death

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Two months ago I started spending my Thursday afternoons at a nearby nursing home. I visit a woman named Millie who will probably not live much into next year. Since we spend most of our time in the common room, I end up interacting with staff members and other residents as well, and as Millie rarely speaks in more than short, nonsensical phrases and questions, I spend much of the time observing the room at large.

The nursing home is a sad place. Residents generally have some degree of dementia or some other mental disability. Millie often cries, seemingly out of the blue. She buries her wrinkled, mournful face in her cupped, knotty hands. Her shoulders shake. I wish I could know what specifically makes her sad, but asking questions doesn’t get me far. This week I’m going to take her some photos of my puppy. Maybe they’ll make her feel happy, at least for a time.

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October 18, 2011

Book Review: Deeper in the Word

Looking at the Greek root of 100 New Testament words

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Keri Wyatt Kent is known for her books on getting us to slow down and evaluate our spiritual, physical, and emotional lives. Several of her books start with the words rest, listen, breathe. So it’s somewhat of a departure that she has written a reflective book on 100 words from the New Testament.

Deeper in the Word, in her words, is a “tool to help you better understand both the words and their context so that you can engage in the spiritual discipline of the study of God’s Word.” It’s designed to be used as reference volume and study guide, rather than a devotional. However, it is written in Keri’s winsome style and drew me in devotionally as I studied.

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October 4, 2011

Does God Use Twitter?

How often are our prayers in 140 characters?

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“Are you on Facebook?”

“Yes, but I tweet.”

“Me too. I’ve been so busy I have a twacklog.”

I peeked over my menu to check out my daughter and her friend.

“My tweighborhood has grown to 122 and I’ve reached twequilibrium.”

“Are you kidding? That’s great! I’m just a twewbie. My twibe is very small.”

Sure that my daughter had developed some kind of speech impediment with random “twa” sounds, I became concerned. “Honey, are you okay? What’s wrong with your speech?”

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September 27, 2011

The Neglected Spiritual Practice

Why do we so often forget the importance and power of celebration?

I was a typical new mom, meticulously recording milestones, photographing every possible facial expression and pose, and religiously recording it all in a scrapbook for my bouncing baby boy. That, of course, was baby number one.

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September 20, 2011

The Challenge of Hope

Grasping the understanding that our anticipation really is in Christ.

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Hope can be a scary thing. As a 20something, it’s never been anything but exciting—hope represents the best of what life might be. I have lots of hopes. Some of them are tiny and insignificant: hope for sunshine on my day off, hope that the movie I just sat down for will be good. Some of them are huge and life-defining: hope for a fulfilling job, hope for a family.

At a point where most of the big things still stretch out before me, this is a good thing. But I’m learning it’s also a scary thing. Because sometimes hopes are disappointed—in fact, devastated. Sometimes God doesn’t give us the things we want. What does this mean about God? Doesn’t he want good things for me? Is hope just about looking toward heaven? Do I have to accept that the good things I want might not happen in this life?

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September 13, 2011

Are We Getting Worship Wrong?

And how can we get it at least a little bit right?

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One church I attended for a few years was really, really into the song, “The Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman. Don’t get me wrong—I think it’s a fantastic song. But it began to bother me when we seemed to sing it nearly every Sunday. The song’s lyrics candidly and confessionally speak about how we humans can so easily get worship wrong: it can inadvertently become something about us rather than being focused on God.

Week after week all the congregants in my little church passionately sang about worship, saying, “I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it.” There were definitely times when singing these lyrics was an honest confession for me; I do struggle sometimes with turning times of corporate worship into self-focused experiences. But singing “I’m sorry” week in and week out rubbed me the wrong way. Are we really getting worship “wrong” all the time? I wondered. Do we really need to keep apologizing over and over? Aren’t we getting it at least a little bit right?

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August 30, 2011

Returning to Christ

Even when we fail to pursue God, he always equips us to turn back to him.

A few weeks ago, I reviewed my New Year’s resolutions for 2011. My list included several impactful spiritual goals that I’d needed to work on when the year started.

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The update: I’m failing. Miserably so, but I already knew that.

I’m not a woman of action. I leisurely get tasks done, often procrastinating until the last minute. When I do accomplish something, though, I celebrate. I say to myself, Look at what you’ve done. You are a capable, creative, and independent woman. It feels so good to be productive. And it really does! The problem is I’m not disciplined enough to change my habits when the next task presents itself, and I live in a cycle of simply completing or doing nothing at all.

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August 23, 2011

What’s in a Name?

An interview with the woman who named Kyria.com

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Kyria.com is two years old! We’re celebrating our two year anniversary on August 26. We have often received questions about our name: how to pronounce it (we prefer Keer-eea instead of Ki-reea), why we chose it, what does it mean. To give you some insight into some of these questions, we interviewed the woman who gave Kyria its name. Meet Carolyn Stonehocker: wife, mother, grandmother. Here’s what she shared about being a woman of influence.

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August 9, 2011

Forced to Face My Issue with Grace

How God used my gallbladder to show me an area in my life that needed work

After a year of having an on-again, off-again “funny stomach” that I blamed on bad food or bad-for-me food or a passing flu, I woke up one morning with excruciating pain just under my right rib cage.
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A few hours later it passed, but I knew I couldn’t blame the episode on bad food or the flu. Within a few weeks I saw several doctors who concluded that my gallbladder was the culprit. Surgery was scheduled, but in the meantime I still had graduate classes, work, and household duties.

It was difficult to keep up with my responsibilities. The pain was so strong sometimes that all I could do was lie still, nibbling on crackers to try to settle my stomach. Additionally, I was relearning what I could and couldn’t eat, which meant I spent a lot of time worrying about what I’d eat at weekly work lunches and how that would affect me. Plus there were all the doctor appointments. I had blood drawn at least once a week for months and saw four different doctors during the ordeal.

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August 1, 2011

A Narrative Problem

Our stories can define us in both good ways and bad. Too often I was choosing the bad.

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Not long ago, I found myself telling a new friend an old story.

It’s a pretty good story, as stories go. In it, I’m the wise, intrepid heroine who navigates an especially tricky matter of the heart with resilience and aplomb. Despite tragedy, heartache, and loss, I emerge on the other side a little sadder, but a lot stronger, with help from mother wit, some swinging jazz standards, and the occasional pint of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch.

At least that’s how I thought it sounded when I began.

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July 18, 2011

Written in Our Hearts

I’m beginning to understand the powerful purpose of God’s law

My husband and I have been thinking a lot about children lately (we’ve enjoyed nearly three years of marriage without them and have each felt the pull toward parenthood).
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Pondering the responsibility of raising another person in the fear of the Lord has been a catalyst to my growth as I’ve realized more the importance of my obedience to God and relationship with Christ. I think about my propensities toward perfectionism and control. I think about the subtle sin in my life that so easily goes unchecked. While these things are just as important without the prospect of children, I’m thankful for any call to attention that God has chosen to use.

So what matters to God? Who does he want me (and you) to be? We know through history in Scripture, as well as through the overt teaching of Jesus, that legalism (another word for perfectionism) is not what God desires; in fact, he condemns it. We also know that righteousness is of utmost importance to God; he requires righteousness of us, and that is fitting with his nature.

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April 12, 2011

The Art of Discomfort

God knows how much I hate asking for help.

I’m reading the Gospel of Mark again. I always forget about Mark. I leave him out of the Gospel writer equation and then I feel terrible amounts of guilt for forgetting him. I wonder if he was a middle child.

Anyway, I stumbled upon this little number last night from Mark 6:47–52:

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February 1, 2011

Who Are You Imitating?

We’re all following someone’s example.

I drive like my dad. Well, maybe not as aggressively, but similarly nonetheless. As a grown-up daughter I see how influential my parents’ example has been in my life and in the lives of my sisters. From simple driving habits to the complex way we handle anger, my sisters and I are in many ways just mirroring the examples we’ve seen throughout our lives.

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December 6, 2010

Singing of Mother Mary

In our efforts to differentiate ourselves from unbiblical approaches to Mary, have we swung the pendulum too far the other direction?

I used to feel an inner struggle whenever I’d hum or sing the famous Beatles’ song “Let It Be.” I loved the tune, and I really liked the general message of the song . . . except for that darn, pesky line about “mother Mary” coming and urging the songwriter (Paul McCartney) to simply “let it be.” The idea of Mary showing up to give the Beatles advice seemed like just one more wrong, off-the-rocker example of Marian mythology in our culture. As an evangelical, I always felt it was my duty to shrug off and fastidiously avoid anything mystical, magical, mythical, or even remotely special regarding Mary.

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November 29, 2010

Hope in Advent

Don’t hesitate to trust the Lord’s leading.

This week we entered into the season of Advent: a perfect time to reflect on the past year, and prayerfully consider the year ahead. During Advent, I often find myself thinking about all the hopes I have for the year to come, maybe things I didn’t get to do this year, or things I’m missing spiritually. I would say these are good hopes, but I was reminded this week that I should place my greatest hope and trust in the Lord, no matter what’s in store for my life.

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November 9, 2010

How Great a Father’s Love

It even extends to our hair

Lately, I can’t stop watching the Sesame Street video, “I Love My Hair.” The video, which debuted last month, features a cute little African-American Muppet who dances around the screen, singing about her hair:

“Don’t need a trip to the beauty shop/’cause I love what I got on top/It’s curly and it’s brown/ and it’s right up there/You know what I love?/That’s right! I love my hair.”

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October 5, 2010

The Blind Side’s Sean Tuohy- LIVE webinar

Please view the "Living the Giving Life" webinar with Sean Tuohy, recorded on 9/28/10. We hope you are touched and challenged to focus your giving with a conscious effort.

(Please note that you must have Adobe Flash installed to be able to view the webinar, and the file cannot be downloaded to be viewed later.)

September 14, 2010

An Object Lesson in Perseverance

Not everything in life goes to the swift and strong

For me, fall means more than spicy baked goods, craft fairs, or a wardrobe change. After a summer off, autumn means returning to part-time study in my graduate program. And this quarter, that comes with an extra challenge: Most of the people I started my program with have graduated.

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August 30, 2010

Carolyn Arends Worship Webinar

Carolyn Arends answered questions about worship in a one-hour live webinar held on August 26th. She was interviewed by Kyria Editor, Ginger Kolbaba. Carolyn Arends is the author of Wrestling with Angels, as well as a singer/songwriter. Check out her new album, Love Was Here First, or visit her website.

(Please note that you must have Adobe Flash installed to be able to view the webinar, and the file cannot be downloaded to be viewed later.)

August 17, 2010

Years of Confusion

How to learn to trust God in the midst of uncertainty

The ground starts to shake; parts of the earth are shifting. An earthquake begins to separate the land around you. Bits of the earth are crumbling into the depths of the ground. To the left to the right, behind you, and in front of you is sinking ground. Chaos and destruction is destroying everything around you . . . but the land directly below your feet remains unshaken.

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August 10, 2010

An Hour with J.I. Packer

If you didn’t get a chance to participate in the webinar, you can view it here.

Theologian and author J.I. Packer answered questions in a one-hour live webinar held on August 4th. Dr. Packer was interviewed by Kyria contributing editor, JoHannah Reardon.

(Please note that you must have Adobe Flash installed to be able to view the webinar, and the file cannot be downloaded to be viewed later.)

June 29, 2010

Swatches of Hope

How do we connect what feels like abstract hope to the concrete problems we see?

For a few weeks now, I’ve been carrying around some unusual symbols of hope: a small stack of paint swatches in a wrinkled plastic grocery bag.

I’d been looking for a new place to live—someplace close enough to work and school to shorten a soul-draining daily commute. A good space for having friends over, with enough room for a little dog, and a small balcony where I can read on warm summer nights. A space with walls I can paint whatever color I want.

Finding that space has taken more than a year—a long year full of appointments and paperwork squeezed around all of my regular responsibilities. As time has ground on, the idea of having a home has started to feel more abstract than concrete. I know intellectually that eventually I’ll fax the last mound of papers, write the last check, get the keys, and move in, but I didn’t feel connected to that reality.

So a few weeks ago, I went to the hardware store on a mission to find some paint swatches. I figured that having some small reminders of the joy I’d feel once I had my own place would help me feel encouraged and connected, even as I slogged along.

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June 14, 2010

Identity Crisis

Losing who we are and gaining much more

Identity is a funny thing. We often base it upon the realities of our day-to-day: “I’m a mom,” “I’m an athlete,” “I’m a teacher.” What we do becomes who we are, which happens easily when we invest in a vocation, craft, or gift.

So we naturally experience a sense of vertigo when our seeming significance is ripped from us. Who do we become when we can’t do what we feel we’re made to do, what we’re supposed to do in order to minister to others, or to keep our own sanity?

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June 1, 2010

When I Was in a Besieged City

We are not alone in our fears.

Hopefully you’ve tasted the blessedness of bringing sin into the light of Christ’s love and the fellowship of gracious believers. The step of coming out of the shadows is a challenging one to take—to show we are empty, crooked, and dark. And sometimes even seeing this darkness in us takes a long time; sin desensitizes us as it often subtly invades. And for different reasons, sin causes us to lose some connection to the life outside of our broken selves. This, I believe, is the scariest part.

In the same way that sin curls us inward and slowly silences us, so does fear and anxiety. The places in us that are governed by worry and panic take control of our minds and suck our attentions and demeanors into that darkness. And as with sin, the more we invest in our fears, the more we nourish them.

For the last four years, I’ve been struggling with the darkness of anxiety. Where I once relegated those consumed-with thoughts about death to the fringe Goth kids in my high school, I’ve come to wonder at anyone who doesn’t interpret day-to-day goings on through a sharp awareness of mortality. I am constantly expecting the next tragedy that will turn my life upside-down—the news or the accident that will change my course completely and break my heart.

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May 25, 2010

Constant Distractions

They seem to continually get in the way of pursuing God’s kingdom.

I love the movie Finding Nemo. Yes, it’s a delightful story with real truth packed in. But the reason I really love it is Dory, the blue tang fish with short-term memory loss. She has good intentions . . . and she gets distracted easily.

I often feel like I have an inner Dory. I want to be part of something significant and useful, but I am so easily distracted by any one of a million things: the to-do list, friends, an interesting article that leads to another interesting article that leads to more time wasted on the internet.

I recently realized that the most significant and useful thing I could ever participate in is the kingdom of God. (I can hear a chorus of “Duh”s right about now.) But what does the kingdom of God mean? It’s one of those phrases I’ve heard over and over in my lifetime of church attendance. Here’s an explanation I heard recently that stuck: the kingdom of God is the rule and reign of Christ.

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May 11, 2010

Finding My Own Voice

How do I deal with the confusion of singing versus lip-synching through life?

I almost always spend part of my long daily commute listening to the radio or my iPod. I usually sing along: scatting with Ella Fitzgerald, rocking out with Robert Randolph, or attempting those strong, soaring notes with Aretha Franklin.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed an odd development: from time to time, I notice myself lip-synching rather than singing along to the music.

I haven’t analyzed this development enough to notice any sort of pattern here: for example, whether I mouth the words to gospel songs or jazz riffs, whether I bow out when it’s time to hit the high notes during the bridge of a power pop ballad, or whether I start out strong, then fade away. I just find that, without noticing it, I’ve stopped making any sound.

What makes this especially strange to me is that I have a passable singing voice. While you won’t see me on American Idol or Gospel Dream anytime soon, I have a soft but steady Bapticostal soprano, and I’ve often led songs as part of a choir.

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May 4, 2010

Prayer Webinar with Patricia Raybon

Discuss what you've just learned about prayer.

Prayer is a mysterious concept, but it doesn't have to be confusing. Now that you've experienced the Kyria webinar with Patricia Raybon, we hope you have a deeper understanding about what prayer truly is and how to commune with God on a more profound level. What struck you about what Patricia said about the nature of prayer? How do you encounter God in prayer?

Share an example of a time God surprised you or answered a prayer in a unique way. What about a time God didn't answer your prayer but taught you something about himself? Was there anything that Patricia said that gave you a fresh perspective? How will this new thinking affect your prayer life?

April 27, 2010

Me . . . and Mother Teresa?

If spiritual discouragement is common among believers, why do we avoid talking about it?

I remember hearing a note of smug satisfaction in the voice of the secular radio reporter who was doing a piece on Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, the book that features some of Mother Teresa’s private letters to her spiritual advisors. In her letters, we see that for many years Mother Teresa experienced times of intense spiritual darkness. Though she prayed fervently, served mightily, and meditated intensely on Scripture, this darkness persisted. She longed to experience the joy and delight of her first intense encounters with God, but instead she often felt spiritual loneliness and a sense of God’s absence. The radio commentator implied that these honest expressions of intense struggle in some way proved that Christian spirituality was in fact empty and unsatisfying.

As I listened to the piece, at first I felt somewhat shocked and discouraged. Mother Teresa so obviously loved Jesus and dedicated her entire life to serving him, I thought. If she felt that way, then . . . is the radio commentator right?

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April 6, 2010

Cut the Bleep Out

It’s healthy to revisit how you censor entertainment.

How to censor what we watch, read, and listen to is a continual debate among believers. I’ve been revisiting how I censor entertainment after listening to a friend’s conviction on the subject.

My friend almost lost his marriage and family from a sexual addiction. Now on the road to recovery, he and his wife have cut out anything remotely sexual from their entertainment. Close friends screen their movies for hints of sex, scantily clothed women, and dirty language.

They don’t watch much TV. How could they? Is there a drama or comedy on TV that doesn’t have sexual themes? While their convictions stemmed from avoiding temptation, the practice has proved to be extremely revealing and healthy in their journey to become more like Christ. In turn, their practices have led me to consider my own.

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March 26, 2010

The God of the Third Way

God reaches us where we didn’t even know we needed to be seen

This Lenten season has brought a freshness of anticipation and wonder to me like none other I can remember. Yes, it has been marked by repentance and introspection, but with knees bent and palms turned up to heaven in contrition, I can’t help but strain my neck to see just what my Father will do next—what incredible way he will demonstrate again his divine wisdom and great love towards us.

Our God is a God of the Third Way. We can storm our minds for wisdom in our need; we can consult other resources and people for best and godly practices, but God is a God of a surprise, consolation, and beauty that transcends even our noblest human ideas. He provides a way beyond our conceptions and reaches us where we didn’t even know we needed to be seen. I’d like to share one recent story of our Father’s way.

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March 12, 2010

Israel: Day 5

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In visiting Jerusalem, it’s easy to see the significance of the Mount of Olives on the landscape. It’s a mountain near the Old City, outside the wall but within view. It hosts a large and very visible Jewish cemetery, in use since ancient times.

In reviewing biblical history, it’s easy to see the significance of this place in the lives of God’s people. In preparation for visiting the site, when I looked to see how many biblical events took place at the Mount of Olives, I was surprised at how significant this location is in Scripture. Here are a few:

• Solomon built altars to the gods of his wives on this mountain—and they worshiped them here, in what Scripture refers to as “high places) (1 Kings 11:7-8).
• After the Book of Law was rediscovered during King Josiah’s reign, he destroyed the altars Solomon had built here, which was then called The Hill of Corruption (2 Kings 23:13).
• King David ascended the Mount of Olives as he ran away from Absalom (2 Samuel 15:30).
• Ezekiel refers to the glory of the Lord ascending the Mount of Olives when prophesying of the Jews’ return to Israel from Babylonian exile (Ezekiel 11:23).
• Jesus and his disciples hung out here (Matthew 26:30).

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March 11, 2010

Israel: Day 4

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“I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.
Our feet are standing
in your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD,
to praise the name of the LORD
according to the statute given to Israel.
There the thrones for judgment stand,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.’
For the sake of my brothers and friends,
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your prosperity.”
--Psalm 122

This psalm—one of David’s psalms of ascent, which were written to be sung on the ascent to Jerusalem for worship—has never meant a whole lot to me. Like all of God’s Word, I have valued these pieces of Scripture, but I have not truly understood their meaning and significance.

That changed today. On visiting Jerusalem, I came to understand so much more than I did about the significance of this city to God’s people from David’s time to the present.

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March 10, 2010

Israel: Day 3

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During my time in Israel, two separate cultural contrasts have reminded me how completely Jesus transcends our own limitations.

First, seeing the place where Jesus’ life and ministry took place has reminded me just how different the cultural context of Jesus’ ministry was from the cultural context in which I worship him. Walking around the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, and the Dead Sea, the hymns of Martin Luther seem dramatically out of place. So do the worship songs we sing in my contemporary church. This land inspires a different kind of expression, and the people here worship differently as a result.

Does that mean my kind of worship is inadequate or impure? Does the fact that Jesus lived and ministered in the Middle East mean he thinks and behaves like a Middle Easterner and doesn’t understand my mindset? Do I need to change my culture to become more like Jesus? Of course not. Understanding the context of Jesus’ ministry certainly helps us understand his teachings (and I don’t mean to diminish this critical aspect to Bible study), but Jesus is above culture. He lives way outside this and all other cultures. He created cultures and the people in them. The creator is never limited by his creation.

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March 9, 2010

Wannabe Runner

It took me a while, but I’ve finally been able to accept my natural limitations.

Two years ago I decided I wanted to start running. Long distances. Real running. Not just “I’m running from the house to the car because it’s so stinking cold outside” running. What brought this on, I’m not quite sure. Especially since for most of my life, I’d avoided running at all costs.

Over the years I’d spent little time running, but a lot of time watching people run. I’d watch the runners at the gym and think, Yeah, that doesn’t look too bad. I can do that. I have a friend who’s a runner and would knock off four or five miles in a single workout. She’d even completed a half marathon.

Oh, if she can do it, I bet I can too, I’d think. Such high hopes. So little understanding! I just loved the culture of running and I wanted to be as good as those around me.

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Israel: Day 2

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Among the stops on our tour today was the ancient city of Capernaum. Capernaum was Jesus’ home during his ministry in the Galilee area. It also was the site of several biblical events and some of Jesus’ most well-known teachings. Today it is a collection of ruins from ancient times, including some remains of the synagogue from Jesus’ day. Birds were singing and roosting in the shade of olive trees as we walked through Capernaum, which sits along the shore of the beautiful Sea of Galilee (actually a freshwater lake).

Among the biblical events that took place in Capernaum was Jesus’ declaration that “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

This statement was shocking to those who heard it because they interpreted his words in terms of physical food. The crowd had come to Jesus for more “miracle food,” having just seen him multiply five loaves and two fish that he had just multiplied to feed thousands.

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March 8, 2010

Israel: Day 1

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The first day of our tour of Israel has been overwhelming. Everything has been dazzling—from the gorgeous weather and blazing sunshine, to the colorful land, the historical and cultural depth, and the wonderful food (if you’re a burger & fries type, it might feel like a cultural experience; as a vegetarian who never met a vegetable, fruit, or whole grain I didn’t like, I feel as if my tongue has come home). And the biblical sites have left my head spinning. In Caesarea, I gained a whole new understanding of the significance of the Roman occupation of this land. In Nazareth, I was surprised to see a city sprawling along the mountainside, much larger than the small village of Jesus’ day, but still boasting a small reproduction of what life may have been like during his time there. And everywhere in between, I was fascinated by large ruins dating back thousands of years.

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March 2, 2010

My Trip to Israel

Join me in my journey through the Holy Land

I'm excited to announce that I've been blessed with an opportunity to travel to Israel. And I'd like to take you with me--well, sort of.

Next week, with a group of other representatives from Christian media organizations, I'll be touring the Holy Land and visiting numerous biblical sites. Even in glancing through a preliminary itinerary for the trip, I've been amazed at the thought of seeing so many important places in real life. I hope to learn a lot, to see my faith in a new way, and to share with you what I experience along the way. I plan to blog from Israel each day next week, so stop by to read about my journey. I hope to share photos and maybe some video as well so you can experience a bit of Israel with me.

See you next week. Shalom.

My Daniel Fast

I never imagined everything that I’d realize about myself

A few Mondays ago, I inhaled deeply as the warm, earthy scent of brewing coffee wafted gently over several rows of cubicles and wandered toward my nose. I can usually smell coffee brewing, but on this particular day the scent was so strong I could almost see it meandering around the corner and swirling around me, like in a scene from a cartoon.

I stepped over to my desk and flipped open a small black notebook I’d placed next to my keyboard. Uncapping a pen, I wrote the first thing that came to mind:

8:15. Smelling coffee. ARRGH.

That Monday was Day 1 of a 10-day Daniel fast my church was participating in. Inspired by Daniel 10:3, in which Daniel determines to forgo “choice food” in order to demonstrate humility before the Lord and to gain understanding, our pastors called us to eat simple foods for 10 days, and to add additional prayer and Bible study to our daily routines. Refined foods, sugar, dairy, and yeast were out, in favor of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Also on the “no” list? Caffeine.

The journal I kept during the first couple days records my adjustment to the routine in stream-of-consciousness style.

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February 23, 2010

The Growing Season

40 days to a new you!

In Kyria’s Encouraging Words daily online devotional, author Diane Eble recently wrote about the need to create the right conditions for spiritual fruitfulness. Citing Galatians 5:22—"But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!"—Eble reminds readers: “Fruit is the result of right conditions, including enough light, the right amount of water at the right time, pulling weeds regularly, and enriching the soil.”

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February 16, 2010

The Lenten Soil

We trust that Christ will meet us in our frail offerings.

Before I went to college, I had a cloudy understanding of Lent. I knew it involved giving something up. Usually chocolate. Not my idea of a good time. But beyond believing that it was legalistic—and maybe even a little masochistic—I didn’t know much.

My Lenten ignorance ceased my sophomore year when I started attending a church that observed Lent. So in the name of “taking one for the team,” I decided to give up—you guessed it—chocolate. I, with my penchant for melodrama, braced myself for a stark and thorny 40-day journey. I survived.

My faith was not profoundly altered during that Lenten season. I didn’t experience moments of sublime communion with Christ. But something small emerged from my heart.

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February 2, 2010

Brought into Being

We can only truly answer “who am I?” questions in the context of community.

Who am I? What am I made for? What defines me?

These are ego-centric questions, yet ones we feel we must ask ourselves—and hone in on an answer—especially if we’re to be effective and influential individuals and Christians. But Mark Galli, in his article “I Love, Therefore You Are,” argues that this is precisely our problem: We are asking ourselves these questions, spending our energies in introspection, determining to bring ourselves into defined beings in order to have something solid to offer the world. This, he claims, is not the pursuit for which we were created.

We are taught in many ways not to define ourselves in relation to other people. The compare-and-contrast game can be a dangerous and hindering one. Scripture says we were knit in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13). This presumes that we are each unique and choicely created directly by the hands of God and (seemingly) independent of one another. From another angle, Jesus tells us to remove the plank from our own eye before pointing out the speck in someone else’s (Luke 6:42). We’re not to define ourselves by finding a contrast in someone else. That is an unhealthy (and often inaccurate) way to search for definition and personal quality.

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January 12, 2010

The Best Days Are Behind Me?

Too often I long for the past

Every day, on my way home from work, I drive past a college campus. As I wait to turn left onto College Avenue, I often see groups of students walking down the street to go to dinner together. Usually I smile, while fond memories come rushing back. I often look at them wondering if they’re taking it all in—if they’re enjoying this unique experience of community with their peers. I find myself longing to be them; wishing that I was walking with my friends to the cafeteria, instead of driving home to an empty apartment.

I really loved my time in college—homework, exams, and textbooks included. College, in my memories, was like this otherworldly place. A place where you could go to class three hours a day and watch TLC in the afternoon with your roommate. A place where there was always someone who wanted to order pizza at midnight, make chocolate chip cookies at 5 p.m. for dinner, or start a movie late at night. I could sleep until 10 a.m! Heaven! Or at least, that’s how I remember it.

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January 6, 2010

Becoming a Godmother

Two godly women gave me powerful examples of how to shape a child’s life.

Not long ago, my sister and brother-in-law asked me to serve as their son’s godmother. Over a series of text messages with the attendant abbreviations and emoticons, we discussed the responsibility of caring for my nephew’s physical, spiritual, and intellectual development.

I couldn’t help but smile over the idea of having such a serious conversation through the casual medium of text messages. Still, given the experiences my three siblings and I had with our godparents, it seemed appropriate. Our godmothers and godfathers were members of the church we attended, so their presence in our lives was as ordinary and frequent as a Sunday service at our church in Boulder, Colorado. At the same time, these remarkable Christian adults were deeply intentional about showing us special care.

My godmothers, whom we call Aunt Jewell and Grandma Innis, entered our lives as if they’d always been there. My mother describes the ease and care with which Aunt Jewell held me at Bible study when I was a newborn. “She held you like you were her own,” she always says when recounting the story. That convinced my parents that she was the godparent they’d been looking for. A few years later, during my sister’s dedication, Grandma Innis stepped forward, and, with the gentle authority of a seasoned church mother, said simply, “I am the grandmother.”

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December 22, 2009

“Remain in Me”

Apart from Christ we can do nothing.

Nearly seven years ago, I started a business. I prayed diligently about the decision and sensed God’s confirmation to move forward. Because of my inexperience in retail operations, I depended heavily on God for wisdom and direction. Between the first time I caught a vision for this venture and the day we opened our doors, I prayed every step of the way.

On opening day, customers lined up around the building. With pounding heart and sweaty palms, I became acutely aware of the fact that the success or failure of this business rested on me. For the next four years, I ran the store as if this were true.

Instead of praying for God’s wisdom or listening to the counsel of trusted advisors, like my husband, Dan, who was also my business partner, I relied on my own understanding. I simply was too busy and preoccupied to spend time reading my Bible. And when I did make time, I found myself re-reading the same passage over and over and never grasping the words. Daily preoccupation over my work took the place of daily quiet time with God.

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November 24, 2009

Healthy Body, Healthy Soul?

The consequences of allowing good body habits to slide

Late last month, I picked up my buzzing cell phone to a welcome surprise: a photo of my seven-week-old nephew, Jayden, with an irritated expression on his face and a tiny black shirt printed with a white rib cage on his little tummy.

Combining wit and wherewithal, for Halloween my sister and brother-in-law dressed the newest member of the Taylor family as a Hungry Taylor. Jayden’s ensemble was a nod to my family’s legendary ability to ignore a gently rumbling stomach until it coasts past the stage of shaking hands and distractibility, stopping only after it yields the floor to snarling irrationality. (Jayden’s irritated expression was a very true-to-life touch.)

Down to a member, all six of the Taylors can chart a correlation between plunging blood sugar and soaring irritability. It’s bad enough when we’re apart from one another, but the problem is compounded exponentially whenever two or three are gathered. In fact, when I look back on our shared life, I strongly suspect that a specific epoch of family crisis might have been staved off with a box of granola bars.

My nephew’s costume was a hilarious reminder of this familial quirk (though we’re hoping he’ll break the cycle). At the same time, I was reminded of what happens when I ignore my body’s needs.

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November 18, 2009

Real Hospitality

It's more than coordinating dishes and centerpieces.

The word hospitality brings to mind women-targeted magazines and TV shows like Real Simple magazine and the Martha Stewart show. I anticipate that Real Simple magazine arriving in my mailbox each month. When I get it, I’ll often sit and read it cover to cover. I love the new recipes, decorating ideas, and simple home remedies for cleaning. I’m not trying to give the magazine free publicity—I just love it. But why the connection in my head to these types of media and hospitality? Maybe because women tend to be the party throwers and organizers.

I think we’ve been somewhat deceived by our culture’s understanding of hospitality. In our culture, it’s more about throwing dinner parties with the coordinating dishes, napkins, placeholders, and centerpieces. But how often can you do this? Probably only a few times a year. While inviting people into your home is certainly part of hospitality, we’re missing the eternally deeper message of the word.

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November 3, 2009

The Monthly Visitor

Why I’m grateful for the intense sadness that accompanies my menstrual cycles.

I’m grateful for my period. And not just because it proves the possibility of new life and distinguishes me as a woman. I’ve actually become thankful for the emotional instability that sensitizes the handful of days surrounding my menstrual cycles.

For the first years of my period, I noticed few symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome. But I remember sitting alone in my dorm room my freshman year of college and crying about—literally—starving children in Africa. Even I was caught off-guard by the experience. My period started three days later.

I’ve continued to grow more emotionally fraught around the time of my period. Much of my emotional instability during this time feels pathetic and can quickly become embarrassing. It’s hilarious, actually, as I like to think of myself as laid back, secure, self-actualized. I suppose there’s benefit to having that mirror shattered on such a regular basis.

But present within my spectrum of extreme emotions is sadness. Just sadness. And sometimes this sadness isn’t disembodied or irrational. It’s appropriate sadness: sadness for things and situations that deserve to be grieved.

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October 27, 2009

Give Me that Old-Time Religion?

How timeworn words steer me back toward faithfulness

One Christmas during my childhood, my family received a small electric chord organ and several songbooks. The organ allowed budding musicians to make music using a simple system of numbers and letters. Notes corresponded with numbers that were played with the right hand, while a series of buttons, played with the left hand, produced chords.

One of the songbooks we received included a gospel version of the spiritual “Old-Time Religion.” Because I liked pushing the chord buttons as much as the keys, I didn’t always pay much attention to the time signatures. Instead, I would often play songs at a pace I liked. As a result, my family was often subjected to a rather plodding version of the song:

Give me that Ooooold-Tiiiiiime Re-LIIIG-ion/
Give me that Ooooold-Tiiiiiime Re-LIIIG-ion/
Give me that Ooooold-Tiiiiiime Re-LIIIG-ion/
It’s gooood eee-nouuugh for meeeeeee.

While my love for spirituals like this one has only deepened—and the gospel music tradition I’m a part of allows for a lot of creativity with meter—I wouldn’t say that I practice “old-time religion.”

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October 21, 2009

Praying Together

What does it mean to pray biblically?

For years I attended a prayer group that included close friends. We prayed for one another, the church leadership, and for any needs we happened to know about. After one of these times, a friend said she was considering dropping out of the group because she felt overwhelmed by the prayer requests. It seemed to her as though everyone’s problems were insurmountable, and although we’d been praying for the same things for months, it didn’t seem as though anyone’s life was getting any better.

So what were we doing wrong? Nowhere in Scripture do I find prayers for Marta’s fibromyalgia, Jess’s unruly children, or Connie’s rotten work conditions. The prayers in the Bible are powerful and life-changing, full of God’s power and glory.

Consider Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:16-19. In fact, read it aloud with feeling:

“I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

Wow! Such a prayer puts fibromyalgia, unruly children, and rotten work conditions in perspective. But obviously, we shouldn’t ignore our problems and pretend they don’t exist. How can we transform them by putting them into the bigger context of what God wants to do in our lives?

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October 9, 2009

Twenty-One Things the World Will Say About Christians

Lauren Winner shares her vision during the Christianity21 conference.

Friends, I'm up late in a hotel room writing what is too good not to share, just like any good live-blogger does. Day One of the Christianity21 conference in Minneapolis has been full of provocative ideas, revelations, and creativity. I spent the chilly afternoon sipping Peace Coffee (I stepped on an ICE patch in the parking lot, thank you very much), listening to 21-minute sessions, and limping under the weight of my computer bag as I interviewed greats like Phyllis Tickle and Mimi Haddad (more reasons to stay tuned to Kyria in the months ahead!). While I can't describe every way the Lord is working in one late-night blog post, I'd like to share Lauren Winner's 21 characteristics that - if we all are faithful now - the world will say about Christians by the end of this century. In other words, she hopes that the average person on the street in the year 2092 might think of these qualities when asked what Christians are like.

By the end of the 21st century, Christians will...
1. Be peacemakers.
2. Be expected to be the first ones to show up when disaster strikes.
3. Rest, because they know they're not the ones in charge.
4. While resting, reconfigure their work.
5. Live well in their bodies, whether by their diet, their sex lives, or the clothes they wear.
6. Practice boredom. They will not succumb to the "fetish of the new or the cult of novelty" when it comes to their faith.

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September 23, 2009

If Only Life Came with a Syllabus

I’ve often thought it would be nice if we knew exactly what life had in store for us.

Last weekend, I headed to a local coffee shop with a stack of books for a graduate course I’m taking. Before I began the week’s reading, I pored over the course outline, highlighter in hand, and pens with two different colors of ink at the ready. I spent several minutes marking the most important information on paper, then entering and color-coding the significant dates in my PDA.

The syllabus is one of my favorite things about classes. I love having everything spelled out clearly in one document. A good syllabus does more than simply outline the readings, tests, and assignments for the course. It describes the course, defines its goals, and gives insight into how it will work. It answers questions like: on which assignments should I focus the bulk of my energy and attention? How do I know what the expectations and standards are, and whether or not I’m on track? What should I be doing with my time? If I need help or feedback, where should I go, and when?

As I circled dates, bracketed the grading scale, and starred major assignments, I wondered—and not for the first time—why life doesn’t come with a syllabus.

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August 26, 2009

Welcome to KyriaBlog.com!

Welcome to the Kyria blog!

This blog is designed specifically for thoughtful, influential women who want more from their faith and who want to make a difference in the lives of others. We strongly feel God's claim on our lives and God's call to exercise influence in ministry to the body of Christ, primarily through the local church.

Kyria gets its name from a word in the original language of the Bible. In Greek it means "honored woman." The epistle of 2 John, for instance, is addressed to one such "kyria," translated there as "chosen lady." You may recognize the similarity of this word to "kyrie," which is the masculine form of the same word, usually translated "lord."

We chose this name because, just like the biblical Kyria, we feel it conveys something about the place of women in the life and ministry of the body of Christ, his church. We are chosen, called, and gifted for ministry.

Kyria blog will be filled with content on topics from spiritual formation to missional life to women's ministry to church leadership to hot topics. We'll cover current events, politics, culture, and media—anything that will help you reach out and disciple and serve others better.

Along with this blog, we're producing a free weekly enewsletter (you can sign up here), a weekly updated website, and if you become a member of Kyria ( for more info or to sign up click here), a monthly digital magazine, in which each issue will cover a specific spiritual discipline or spiritual issue. These resources not only will be useful for you in your faith and ministry, but will also offer you a community of women with the same callings, gifts, and passions so you can grow together and challenge, and support one another.

Ultimately, Kyria is a place to be encouraged, challenged, and motivated. We believe in the power of God to change lives and build the church, a powerful instrument of hope and redemption for the world. As women created in God's image, we've been chosen in Christ, called to influence.

If you believe as we do and are committed to making the most of the gifts God has given you, please join our conversations. As Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11: "Let's encourage one another and build each other up."

August 4, 2009

Dead Tree Blooming

Almost every day I pass a certain field. It?s pretty wide open in the center, with some sort of oak trees and some kind of palm trees scattered here and there, which is an odd combination if you ask me.

In the center of the field stand two oak trees, and in the 17 years I?ve passed them, they haven?t changed.

The tree on the right has always been dead-looking, probably hit by lightning. It has remained a skeleton for as long as I can remember, with its branches stripped bare. No leaves, no life, not even any Spanish moss hanging from it.

It?s always been an eerie sight, especially when black birds line themselves on the stark white tree limbs and shriek, reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock?s The Birds. It ranks an ick factor of about 5, with a pit of snakes at 10.

It reminds me of how death mocks life, how it haunts our thoughts and tinges even our best of times, a constant reminder that we don?t leave this world alive.

In contrast to this dead-looking tree, the oak tree on the left is lush and green. Its leaves never seem to fall, never fade or turn color. They are ever and always green.

For years I?ve passed this field with these two trees standing near each other, one alive and one dead-looking. For the longest time I thought the dead-looking tree was truly dead. Although it hasn?t fallen over, there?s been no activity or growth. No tiny buds in spring or tender shoots.

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July 22, 2009

Thankful for True Friendship

Everything I know about true friendship, I learned from Lori.

I wish you could meet her. She's the sort of person who makes everything more fun, just by being there. She's an unfussy beauty, with auburn hair and freckles, and I've charted the last half of my life by the fixed point of her friendship.

We met 25 years ago, in a "young-marrieds" Bible study. Our husbands shared a love of fishing, so Lori and I got to know each other, standing side-by-side in a Rocky Mountain river, casting for trout.

I remember those pre-dawn mornings, Mark and I drinking coffee in the tiny kitchen of our married-student housing apartment, listening for the squeaky fender of Greg and Lori's Maverick to announce their arrival at our front door, fishing poles ready.

A real estate developer in the making, Greg flipped houses before it was a topic on home improvement shows. Lori and I painted countless walls in countless living rooms during the early years of our friendship.

As time went on, we raced our way through every fashion trend of the running boom, from baggy cotton sweats to lycra tights. We did aerobics to the songs of The Pointer Sisters. We survived "big bangs" and body perms.

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April 15, 2009

The New Girl

She was the sort of girl you spoke to when the teacher was listening, but later shunned on the playground. In the well-defined social strata of fourth grade, she occupied the lowest position in the pecking order.

She provided my first glimpse beyond the comfortable borders of my elementary school experience.

She arrived halfway through the school year and she rode my bus. She seldom bathed, or so we surmised after standing next to her in the lunch line. The raveled hems of her dresses swung unevenly around her dirty knees when she ran. Her sleeves were always too long or too short. We regarded her as an unwelcome interloper into our well-incubated world.

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February 11, 2009

Seeding the Snow

It's two degrees outside, and my mailbox is overflowing with lilies and tomatoes. Pictures of them, that is. Seed catalogs.

They began turning up just before Christmas, sandwiched between the Visa bills, gilded Christmas cards, and letters from friends we haven't seen in years. In the midst of carols, baking, and family festivities, the seed catalogs were piled on an end table, largely forgotten. Until today.

I love how they arrive in the dead of winter, dependable as the liturgy. So much promise for just pennies a packet. Some of the catalogs are slick and polished, with an abundance of exaggerated hyperbole. "Exclusive!" "Summer Madness Hybrid Double Petunia," "Picture Perfect Salmon Pink Coleus," "A tapestry of stunning colors and textures." No shy descriptions here.

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