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Why Simplifying the Bible Matters

Three years of ministry in Salt Lake City introduced me to a whole group of people who had a deep mistrust for the Bible. In their experience the Bible had been used as a tool to manipulate, control and confuse. As a small group and women’s ministry leader I met so many women who had a deep desire to grow in their relationship with Jesus and yet struggled with engaging in the word of God.

How can you grow in your faith if you have a mistrust for the Bible?

I think this question is one that applies to most Christ-followers, whether brand new to the faith or decades in and possibly finding yourself stagnant. Growing in faith and time in the Word are synonymous; and yet why is it that we often find ourselves doing anything and everything but diving into our Bibles?

Perhaps it’s for the exact same reason that we sometimes lean into our own human ability to control rather than allowing the Spirit to lead and guide us. How guilty am I of wanting to control outcomes and even the day-in and day-out of my life? How many times have I actually said, “I’ve done everything I can do, now I’ll just pray.” What if I started with prayer and then did whatever needed to be done? What if I started with the Word and followed with action?

In doing life and engaging with people who openly struggled with opening their Bibles and yet had a heart for God I discovered the intrinsic need for all people to be able to approach their Bibles with confidence and capability. Gaining confidence in reading the Bible is something that often needs to be learned. This learning takes time and patience, but is so worthwhile.

A couple summers ago a friend of mine approached me in a coffee shop and suggested that we create a Bible study that would help build women’s confidence in reading their Bibles. Our desire was that they could open their Bibles to any book and begin deconstructing what they were reading. Out of that desire our Bible study “For Such a Time as This” was born. After running through the study with our small group the greatest feedback was “I wish there were a study guide that had these materials in it, but that could be used as a companion tool with any book of the Bible and any Bible study.

Out of that concept the Deconstructed: Bible Study Guide was born. Deconstructed strips away additional commentary and provides a path to growing in confidence and understanding of the Bible. It helps break down what exactly the Bible is, who wrote its 66 books, what type of literature they are, and why it is important to understand them.

When I embarked on the hefty task of writing the content for Deconstructed I became overwhelmed and uneasy. Who on earth was I to think that I could carry out such a sacred task? My sweet husband, who is a Pastor and just finished his master’s degree in Systematic and Philosophical Theology—say that three times fast—tried to help me get started. He gave me one of his theology books setting it onto my desk with a heavy thud. I cried, “I’m not a theologian!” I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer mass of the book he gave me; it was 4-inches thick!

The overwhelming size of that book reminded me who I was writing Deconstructed for. It’s not a guide for the theologian or seminary grad; I was writing it for myself and for my friends, who just like me can struggle with knowing and understanding the word of God. We need something simple and easy to digest over a cup of coffee. Deconstructed is for anyone who has found themselves stuck or hung up on something in the Bible. It is an incredibly simple tool that even a child could use. My 9-year-old has read a lot of it and approves!

Everything about Deconstructed is simple, from the terminology to the tools. I want anyone to reads this little guide to walk away with a newfound confidence to discover the Word of God on their own. The Bible is not supposed to be some mystical book only for the hands of priests and pastors, this sacred book is for all of us. With that in mind, all of us should have the ability to understand what is in those sacred pages. Through understanding comes confidence, through confidence comes trust, and through trust a deeper and richer faith in God.

***Free Gift: For Such a Time as This Materials, use and modify for your own small groups!

Blog Post Originally Posted at www.strenghtforthesoul.com visit for discount code information

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Beauty from Ashes

sarah-mak-54250I grew up a church girl. We lived in this tiny house in Pasadena, a property with two houses stacked into it. Our family of six squished into the back house, while another family of six smashed into the front house. The horde of children played between the two houses and even though we looked quite different we were at some point just brothers and sisters.

We were this misfit community, primarily comprised of young first generation Christian families, and their hoard of children. We would play together daily, pray together on Sundays, and do life together the rest of the days, whether that was sharing a meal or sharing toys.

As children we’d to go from home to home playing magical ponies, and as we approached our pre-teen years discuss how awesome DC Talk was. Crushes would blossom and little hearts would get broken, but then somehow someone would mend them and on we’d go. We spent summers swimming and barbecuing, we did youth group in the various homes of people we felt more comfortable calling Auntie or Uncle than we did Mr. or Mrs. We’d essentially known each other all our little lives.

This is how we did church.

I occasionally get asked what my church background looked like, and if I had to sum it up in two words it would be “messy” and “lovely”. Sometimes in our little community we could lose where one of us ended and the other began. We, in some ways, just melted into each other. I was a child, and cannot pretend to know that it was really like for the adults. I assume something rip your heart out beautiful, but perhaps something a little without boundaries at the same time. Our lives and worlds were beyond intertwined.

I’d joke that we were one step away from snake charming and that there was a lot of Sunday writhing on the floor. This typically elicits a blank stare. You’d just have to be there.

Then it was the summer of ’95 and our world burned to the ground. Our people were dying and a string suicides rocked our little community. If my mom said the words “I need to talk to you,” I’d respond with “who is dead.”

The magic was over. We moved away. I grew up.

Some of the group scattered and some stayed in the same place. A part of me felt fractured, untethered. I felt much like a moth out of its cocoon subject to winds and weather.

I floundered. And kept floundering. I went off to college and did “my own thing” as so many faith-raised kids do. I decided to be angry with God for allowing my world to break apart. I decided faith was inconvenient. I decided church was an ugly place filled with hypocrites. I decided I wanted nothing to do with it. I decided to give up.

In truth, all those lovely days spent in our little comfortable community taught me what the church is supposed to look like, but unfortunately I didn’t come out of it with a solid foundation of who God was. Was He all knowing? All loving? Gentle or angry and wrath-filled?

I only had one-half of the piece. It’s taken me years to build a foundation under existing and at moments non-exsistant faith. One night in my early 20’s I came to the scary conclusion that the work was not going to do itself. I was not necessarily going to have a Saul on the road sort of meeting with God. My anger, agnosticism, hurt, resentment, confusion, brokenness, battle wounds, all of it, the whole wide messy package was something God could very easily hold in his hand.

I didn’t have to hide any of it.

I was studying abroad half-way across the world only to stumble into a church filled with Americans and ex-pats. The Pastor, fittingly, was from Southern California. Why I had to stagger around the world only to find someone that spoke my language to lead me back to Christ, I don’t know, but forever I’ll be grateful. This little church did church much like that messy little church in Pasadena. We broke bread together, did life together, watched Alias together.

I somehow ended up teaching Sunday school. They allowed broken messy me to teach Sunday school. We entered the season of Lent. Spring was upon us, there seemed to be more bread and wine passed during those 40 days and nights. There was a reverence and beauty that I hadn’t experienced in my past church life.

Then it was Easter Sunday. We rose before the sunrise and drove into the countryside. We climbed a hill and celebrated the resurrection as the sun rose. Right there, in that very moment, the profound impact of Christ’s sacrifice hit my heart like a freight train. Right there, from the ashes of my past I could see beauty and freedom and life and joy and release in a way I had never yet experienced.

There, right there, beauty from ashes.

 

 

 

Photo Cred: @sarahmakphotography

 

 

 

 

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She Made Some Mistakes: My Mother

I’m 32 years old and have the immense pleasure of getting to watch my Mom interact with my children. She reads them books and helps them build Legos. She scratches their backs and soothes them to sleep. She chases them through the park and tells them about Jesus. She prays for them and loves on them. Their relationship is beautiful and pure.

If only all relationships could be this easy…

I’m five again. She’s opening a box of white L.A. Lights. The laces are pink and white. She laces them up and unleashes me upon the backyard. I run as fast as I can, returning to her sweaty and smiling. “These are the fastest shoes ever!” I hug her.

Daddy is away for work. Off on a dive boat. The little girls are sleeping in the bunk beds and somehow I finagle my way into her bed. We talk all night. I fall asleep about the same time the sun comes up.

We move from Pasadena to Pomona, California. A little corner lot with a giant backyard. We watch Winnie the Pooh. I’m afraid of the Heffalumps and Woozles and squeeze my way into her “nest”. My sisters and I are so often doing this; squeezing into the space behind the bend in her knees and the couch cushions. There are three of us girls, so we are always rotating and fighting for the space. How she sacrificed her physical space for us. We were always all over her. It never seemed to bother her.

But then there is one day. I remember it still; she’s pulling our beat-up station wagon into a parking spot. We’re being crazy. We’re a horde of insanity. The four of us. Jeremiah, Rachel, Sarah, and Stacey, baby Joshua on the way. And she says it; “You’re making me crazy, I’m going to the loony bin.”

What’s a loony bin? We shrug it off but quiet down for fear of spankings.

It’s Dads birthday. We’re at Knott’s Berry Farm having a blast. The sun is going down and we hear our last name being called over the loudspeaker. “Douglass, Darren Douglass, report to the front.”

There’s been a fire. The house is essentially gone. Just about everything in it, gone. All of my brand new birthday gifts for my 10th birthday, gone. The ruby ring passed down from my great-grandmother, gone.

She doesn’t even cry. Not in front of us anyway. She’s like a rock. We’re in a hotel for days while looking for a new house. She keeps us sane, activity-filled, like the destruction of our home is somehow a fun vacation opportunity.

I’m struggling in my new school. I’m having a hard time making friends. I feel lonely and sad after our move. She becomes my best friend. She plans early morning dates. Almond flavored tea and cookies, fresh berries, and Bible stories. She holds my head above water as I transition my little life.

But then there is the scream. The one I’ll never forget. The one with the bad news. The one that changes everything forever. I find her slumped next to the phone. I’m 12. She’s whimpering and I think she’s been attacked. I look for wounds but don’t see any, they are all on the inside, a heart shattered. They aren’t coming home. Jeremiah, Daddy, they are gone. Just like that, gone.

I’m standing in her room. I’m screaming at her. “Get up! Get up! I hate you! I hate you!” My face is hot with anger and tears. I’m not mad at her, but I can’t verbalize my pain. I need her to be my rock again. I need her to get up and take care of the baby. He’s crying, he doesn’t understand. I’m just 13 and I can’t be his mom.

She does it. Like the walking dead she lifts her covers and walks. She’s like a ghost. But she’s going through the motions anyway.

I’m getting bullied at school. It’s middle school and kids are mean. I’m trying to hide it. I’m trying to be brave. She knows me. She sees me. She steps in. She rescues me. She’s broken on the inside but she still shows up and protects me.

She’s remarried and we move to Big Bear. I’m in high school now. She sits down with me Freshman year and tells me about goals. We write them out, working backward. She encourages my dreams and gifts.

I’m 16. I’m fighting for my freedom. We butt-heads. I scream at her and call her names. She’s doing this parenting thing on her own. She fails. She succeeds. She makes some really nasty horrible mistakes out of her brokenness. I hold hate in my heart. I’m good and rebellious all at the same time. I’m confused about myself and yet so sure of myself.

I’m 18. I’m leaving home. My car crammed full of my things. Off to college. I don’t call often. I leave my siblings with a sense of guilt. It’s my first Christmas away. I come back to visit. Home doesn’t feel like home anymore, I’m homeless, a nomad, a wanderer.

She’s not the woman that cradled me in her arms, that held me in her nest. She isn’t, but she is. She’s fighting this internal fight that I don’t understand. She’s barely holding her head above water. I judge her, I cruelly and deeply judge her. Things fall apart. Her marriage. Her life.

Rebuilding. Slowly, one brick upon the next. She invites me over, and asks for forgiveness. I say the words, but my heart doesn’t really get it. I wasn’t even the one she wronged. She’s working to repair the relationships she can. I’m still judging, in secret. I’m still angry. For years and years, I’m angry. I’m still holding that day, the day I screamed at her to get up in my heart. I don’t know how to exhale it out. I can’t be free of it.

He’s born. My son. Blue eyes and bald head. My heart breaks and is rebuilt bigger. I look at him one afternoon; he’s laying on his Daddy’s chest. It strikes me, if they were gone, taken in an instant, would I get up, would I continue to live? Would I fight back at the pain and be brave enough to make mistakes, to grapple, to claw at life?

There it is, through my own experience, that exhale, that ability to forgive, to understand, to have compassion and empathy. She’s made some mistakes, my mother, some big some small. She’s been broken, but she’s been brave. She’s clung to faith and slivers of light in the darkness. She’s held my hand as I baby-stepped through life, she’s pushed me when she knew I needed it, she gave me wings and allowed me to fly.

My experiences with her are my own. Unique, different to each of us children, and yet with commonality. In a way we still seek that nest, that refuge. We’re adults now, forging our own paths. Carving out our identities, standing on our own two feet. But on those days that life is too much to bear, when the pain of existence knocks the air out of our lungs, there she is. She’ll cry with us, talk us through the pain, the injustice. She encourages and loves in a way that is beyond comprehension.

Our relationship is not perfect. We don’t always see eye-to-eye. Sometimes we just have to shrug our shoulders and change the subject. We try to fill those gaps and differences with love, and for that love I am forever grateful.

***written 05/2016

An Invitation to Slow Living – If Only for Today

bethany-laird-311248A little over a year ago my sweet little ginger baby girl was still nursing. She didn’t sleep through the night until I weaned her, waking several times and crying out to me. We lived in a haze of exhaustion.

In the morning, at first light, she’d wake, screaming, until I came to her. We’d start our morning routine; fresh diaper, snuggles and nursey-time on the couch, while my sweet husband prepared coffee. My little boy made himself busy playing Legos and for almost a solid hour I’d sink into our love-worn sofa letting this little baby nuzzle me.

Mornings look different now. How a year can change things. I roll out of bed at 5am to teach English to sweet little Chinese students half-way across the world. My little boy is becoming more and more self-sufficient, dressing himself in his school uniform and often even preparing his own breakfast. As I walk up the stairs from my basement office I can often hear him giggling to Fineas and Ferb, and yes he figured out how to turn on the T.V. and navigate Netflix long ago.

Baby girl still wakes up crying, but not for me, instead for her little dog, Pepper—the source of her morning snuggles.

By 7:30 it’s a rush to get out the door, coffee spills on the counter and oatmeal bowls in the sink. Of to school and work my gentlemen go, while baby girl and I head to the gym. The days are regimented and life works well this way.

But today, my body feels older than my thirty-some years, I scroll Instagram and see young mothers who seem to have all the energy. Whereas most days we’re barely making it. We opt-out of the gym for the day and determine what chores need to be done and what can wait. We make our world small, focusing only on the here and now. The big stuff can wait. Today my body needs to rest, my little girl needs snuggles and a tea party-mate.

Somedays, this is what we need to do, lean into the quiet, allow for rest and games. It’s a big grand world out there, but it’s just as grand in our little space.

Mommas, we all need this occasionally, rest for the weary, the oxygen mask on first, the time on the floor with a toddler. The slow and beautiful of life. The quiet morning, day.

The do-er in me feels a level of guilt when leaning into the quiet and slow, but I read somewhere that we aren’t built for breakneck speeds. Yet life and society tend to demand it. There will always, always, always be a need for us to do, do, do.

Today, I quiet, I listen to that rhythm in my soul, and dear friend, I give you permission to do the same.

 

Photo Credit: Photo by Bethany Laird on Unsplash

Teachers & Momma’s: To Learn About my Stay at Home Teaching Gig Click Here.

 

 

It’s Been a While

elijah-o-donell-392340It’s been a while since I’ve logged in. Even longer since I’ve strung words together in a coherent manner. I last wrote at the beginning of summer vacation with promises to fully enjoy my children, the sun, the sand, the ocean air in my lungs.

We enjoyed it all. The ice cream down our faces, the sun until our skin peeled, the sand tracked everywhere—sand that I’m still finding in random places, all these months later. I set it all down with the promise of promptly picking it back up when the littles went back to school.

But then our house flooded and we were living in what felt like a never-ending construction zone. And then there was a retreat and a trip out of town and there were guests and trips to see the fall foliage and costume shopping and visits with friends and laundry and dishes and and and…

Suddenly, I realized that summer is so very over and here we are knee-deep into fall and the writing has just stopped, dried up. I promised a few of my faithful followers to stay-tuned, the hush of the blogosphere was so that I could focus my efforts on my book. I dutifully sat down to finish Bloom and stared at the words piled upon words and felt riddled with self-doubt. “Why am I even writing?” I challenged myself, questioned my motives, attacked my own ego.

I can think of about a thousand things I need to do right now, finish planning that party I’m hosting, write all my thank you cards that are years overdue, finally re-paint our bedroom, sort and wash the laundry, catch up with that friend who needs encouragement, make those phone calls.

The list is truly endless.

This journey began as I sat at my computer nearly two years ago. I sat in Emily P. Freeman’s “HopeWriters” workshop and she said something so brutally honest it caused water to spill out of my eyeballs. “The world needs to you come to life.” 

Lately, I’ve been looking at the world with agony and a pit in my stomach. I have hope through my faith, and yet I stare out and am completely broken by our brokenness. My heart breaks in unexplainable ways for the people of this world, for those who suffer, endure tragedy, for those left behind. I want to weep and carry their pain, and then I also want to find a rock to hide under.

I can allow this empathy to swallow me whole. I can sink into it and never resurface, and while empathy comes from love, losing oneself to it is the antithesis of coming to life.

And so, while this world is a hard place to find breath in, and while I struggle with self-doubt and ego and constant busy-ness I’ve realized that I have to remain committed to the process. These words are my process, they are my gift to myself and something to share with you who has chosen to read them. I’ve missed you and them, so I’m back, welcoming myself, with a little more grace and tenderness. It feels good to be here, alive and breathing.

-Rachel

 

 

photo credit: @elijahsad unsplash 

Postal in the Post Office – Mom Life

jason-rosewell-60014.jpgThe line in the post office was long. I had two kids in tow and we were quickly approaching naptime, but I had a package I needed to get out so I hoped for the best and stayed the course. The line slowly shuffled forward. My son said words like “boring” and “forever” and asked questions like “how much longer?” While my son articulated his impatience my two-year-old demonstrated her angst physically. She began throwing her body around, touching everything and even at one point yelling something that sounded a lot like “you’re a bad bad mom.”

I resorted to sweeping her up in my arms, I pulled the package from my purse along with my credit card. I’d have everything ready to go, I’d be quick, I promised my children.

Finally, after what felt a lot like an eternity we made it to the front. A tall gentle-faced woman waved me to her station, I prepared to exhale. “See, this will be easy,” I confidently thought to myself. I quickly handed her the package and said: “whatever is cheapest.” She inspected the package and furrowed her brow. “You don’t have enough tape,” she explained. I stood there blank-faced. I wasn’t really sure that the appropriate amount of tape was, the package was closed and safely sealed. We both stared at each other for a moment, after a pause she sighed and said, “well because I’m so nice I’ll tape your package for you, but in general we want our packages properly taped before we can process them.”

My two-year-old continued squirming in my arms and my six-year-old was now jumping up and down and hanging from the counter. The new long line that had assembled behind were now starring, begrudgingly I’m sure. I started sweating like a pig and muttered something to the effect of “thank you, you can see my hands are full.”

Then it was time to pay, the package would cost $2.67 to send. I swiped my credit card quickly and hoped to bolt from the watching eyes of everyone in line behind me. “The machine isn’t ready yet,” the teller said, “Not yet, not yet, okay now.” I swiped my card again and then she stopped me, “Wait is this credit?” “Yes,” I replied. “I need your identification.” My ID was buried at the bottom of my purse, the abyss, which was at my hip, meaning finding my ID would require I set my daughter down and chance her bolting toward the door, not an option I decided. “Why didn’t I bring my stroller?” I lamented. I struggled and did the “I’m trying not to lose my kid and still grab something for you dance.” I’m pretty sure the people behind me at this point were rolling their eyes and sighing.

I finally found my wallet, flipped it open and essentially waved it in her face. It was low, rude, and totally unacceptable. “Wait for your receipt,” she practically yelled at me. I pulled it from her hand and hustled the kids to the car, chiding them the whole way. “How can you behave like that in public?” But an inner voice spoke to me, “how can you behave that way?”

I hastily buckled my toddler into her seat and gave her a stern look. “That was naughty,” I scolded. Her chin began to quiver and big huge crocodile tears began to roll down her face. “I’m a bad girl!” she cried. My son just curled himself into a ball in his booster seat, as if knowing that Mom was no longer “cool.”

And he was right. I had lost my cool. I was frustrated, embarrassed, and pretty much sick of myself. Why couldn’t I just let that lady roll off my shoulders?

I got home, got the kids in the house and took a moment. I texted a friend about the encounter and just sat with myself for a moment. I concluded that some days I just can’t do people. Or as my new friend puts it, “it’s just too people-y out there.”

Pretty unbecoming of a Pastor’s wife huh? Aren’t I supposed to have endless amounts of patience and an ever soft-tongue? I should be constantly gracious and always even-tempered, right? But the fact is that I am so just very me, and perhaps this highlights my need for Christ. My deep deep need for Christ, because without Him—can I just be totally honest—without Him I could have gone postal in that post office.

In an ever-changing world, I need Christ as my steadfast metric, my example for living. However, (still being honest and Rachely) I’m so thankful for Christ’s large range of emotions. I’m so thankful that alongside love and compassion He did express anger and frustration. He flipped tables in temples and put people in their places. Now, not that I should go around flipping tables or people off for that matter, but I am allowed to feel frustration. I don’t have to berate myself when I feel my jaw clenching, but I do absolutely need to express my emotions properly and keep myself in check.

So, in check, I sit. Self-assessment complete. Done and done.

However, all self-checks aside, I’m pretty sure I’ll be avoiding the post office for a good long while.

 

 

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Our Numbered Days – Parenting

We rush into swim lessons. Baby girl in on my hip. She is perfectly capable of walking but for the sake of expediency I whisk her into my arms. My little boy holds her foot, tugging me in a downward backward motion. I just want to get out of the hot sun.

“Stop pulling me down!” I snap.

We check baby girl into her play class and she trots happily to the toys she’s claimed as her own. We walk toward the pool, mindful not to slip on the wet deck. He’s jumping off the walls. Literally. Always. He’s either bouncing off the walls or dead asleep. There is no in between.

“Come on buddy.” I try to take the harshness out of my voice.

He puts his little hand in mine and walks determinedly towards the orange cones that separate Turtle from Clown Fish. He finds his fellow Turtles and jumps into the pool. His energy direct towards his instructor.

I can see her mouthing “No no. Do not splash me.”

I giggle a bit, but try to maintain composure. “Stay strong,” I think. “They can smell fear.”

I reassure myself, “This will be easier. Less physical.”

I hurt all the time. I constantly have a two-year-old on my hip or running  head-first into my pelvis. Or my 6-year-old who now has “muscles” attempting to pick me up, which really is more like getting hog-tied around the ankles. He’s taken me down more than once.

“It will get easier.”

But then I think about his little hand in mine. Her little words and the ways she says her “L’s” like “U’s”. I imagine when it gets easier he won’t be putting his hand in mine, in fact he’ll probably be embarrassed to hug and kiss me in public.

Yes it will get easier, my body might even hurt a little less, but then these moments will be gone, replaced by something else. I hope that whatever it is replaced with is equally tender and lovely, but for now I realize I need to lean into the chaos and the six-year-old hanging on my tiny shoulders. He will outgrow me in a split second, the hand being held will be mine in his. Mine as he grows, mine as he goes.

Mine as he steps in manhood, adventure and the unknown. It will get easier, but it will get harder, and then this sweet moment will have passed.