Monday, September 28, 2020

Conversations with Heather M Dixon

 There are few things that can make us feel as helpless as living with a story we don’t like. Life is rarely fair, and things happen beyond our control that impact our lives in negative ways. Maybe our story involves the loss of a loved one, an unwanted transition, a difficult diagnosis, or a dream that fell through. At one time or another, we all deal with disappointments and feel that we are being punished. For women searching for a glimmer of hope, Heather M. Dixon has written Renewed: Finding Hope When You Don’t Like Your Story (Abingdon Press)a four-week study diving into the life of Naomi from the Book of Ruth.

 
Dixon wrote Renewed for any woman that is carrying a difficult and life-altering story they did not choose and cannot change. She also wrote it for the woman who yearns to trust God’s sovereignty and His plan for her life even as she grieves and is angered by her circumstances. She believes that trusting God and grieving your story are not mutually exclusive. Dixon herself lives with incurable and terminal genetic disorder, so understands what it means to live a story that is not easy. With insight from her own journey, she teaches women to flourish even as they live hard stories through a willingness to trust that God can transform them and trade their heartache for hope. They will learn to rely on God’s movement in the details of their story, even when it can’t be seen, gain confidence to act in the part of their stories that they can change, and watch expectantly for God to redeem the parts they can’t.
 
Q: Most studies on the book or Ruth focus on Ruth and Boaz but Renewed looks at Naomi’s story. Why do you think Naomi’s story is such an important part of the book? 
 
I’ve always read and taught Ruth from Naomi’s perspective because ultimately, I think it’s her story. However, there are three main reasons why hers should be explored:
 
One, for all believers, a transformed heart is one of the key identifiers of life with Christ and as readers, we get to experience that journey with Naomi—from bitterness to renewed joy. Ruth and Boaz are beautiful characters, but they are rather stagnant. It’s Naomi that changes, and her transformation echoes that of anyone who has struggled with a hard story and found Jesus to be faithful along the way.
 
Two, from a literary perspective, there are a number of devices the author uses to indicate that Naomi’s story is the important one.
 
And three, it’s my personal belief that Naomi’s response to grief has often been judged too harshly. I wanted to give my readers a safe place to explore feelings of bitterness as they learned to look for God’s movement in their own story.
 
Q: Can you share more about your own story, specifically the part of your story you don’t like?
 
There are several pieces of my story that I could share with you that I don’t like, but the milestones would be when I lost my mother at the age of eleven, when my father died twenty years later, and when I was diagnosed with an incurable, connective tissue disorder that I inherited from my mother. We know now that this disorder is what took her life at thirty-seven. Doctors have told me that my own life expectancy is forty-eight.
 
I understand grief, loss, and life changes where you just have to close the door, determine not to look back, pick your head up, and keep going. But I also know the sweet and life-giving love of a Heavenly Father who fills our story with comfort, hope, and purpose, even when we feel that all is lost. God breathes renewed life into our weary souls, and that truth keeps me putting two feet on the floor in the morning, even when I still don’t like my story.
 
Q: How did your diagnosis change how you look at life? What does “living your life well” look like to you?
 
The answer is always evolving. At its core, it looks like waking up and knowing the next twenty-four hours might be my last. So, living my life well means pursuing ways that I can honor God, love my family, and serve my community until I lay my head to rest for the night. I fail at this everyday! But it gives me a sense of focus that I didn’t have before.
 
My diagnosis also changed my perspective on hardship. Anyone who has walked through any measure of suffering can quickly tell you what matters and what doesn’t. Things that might have seemed like a major problem before are now minor inconveniences that I know will pass. That’s a blessing.
 
Finally, my diagnosis has taught me to pursue bucket-list living. I’m much more spontaneous and carefree than I used to be, and I seek activities that will make lasting memories, big and small. A scoop of mint chocolate chip from the local ice cream shop is just as precious as a spur of the moment family vacation. I am thankful for each moment I have, which is something most people search for their entire lives.
 
Q: You write, “God doesn’t call plays out of a playbook from the clouds in the sky. He wants to walk with us along every step of our story, holding our hand when we are unsure of the plan.” What are some things we need to remember about God’s sovereignty when it comes to our story? 
 
This is one of the deepest blessings I have discovered walking through my hard story. God is a relational God—He seeks to walk every step with us. And we can trust Him with that path because in His sovereignty, He is also compassionate, merciful, and loving. We aren’t puppets in His playroom; we are His beloved daughters, whom He values and cherishes. Walking in intimacy with Him blesses us with peace, comfort, and joy. Another important truth about God’s sovereignty is that He has a master plan—for us and for His creation. We are a part of that plan, treasured pieces in a divine puzzle that will be complete when all things are renewed. He won’t let us stray off course, nor will He leave our lives to chance. Every moment matters to Him and He has a plan to renew every piece of our hard story.
 
Q: Have you always seen God working in the details of your story? Should we be looking for how God is moving or simply trust that he is?
 
No, yes, and yes. I wish I could tell you that I have always been aware of God moving in my story. There were seasons in my life, particularly the season after my father died, that I could not sense His presence. Was He moving in the details of my story then? Absolutely. My regret is that I allowed my earthly then vision to cloud my heavenly perspective. Which is why I am always in favor of looking for how God is moving.
 
I am emotional and fickle—prone to wander if I don’t see results. God knows this about me. It’s always in my best interest to keep my eyes open for God’s fingerprint. But the moments that I can’t see it are faith-builders; those are equally as valuable and help to build our trust in Him. So, yes we should always be looking for God’s movement and yes, we should always simply trust that He is.
 
Q: You share a suggestion for overcoming stress and anxiety that readers might not expect. What has helped you that you encourage others to try?
 
On nights when I am particularly anxious and have trouble going to sleep, a prayer that utilizes God’s gift of imagination often helps to settle my thoughts. I close my eyes and imagine a large field in front of me. Standing in the field are all the things bringing me anxiety, like current stressors in my life, confrontational moments, tensions with loved ones, worry about the unknown ahead, or health concerns. Whatever is renting negative space in my head at the moment, I imagine those things standing in my field.
 
Then, I imagine a giant hand and forearm lowering down to the field from the sky. Slowly, but steadily, the forearm wipes all my worries on the field away. The field empties and the hand gently opens, revealing soft and gentle wings. I climb into them, curling up to rest in their protection as they fold over me. In my imagination, the forearm, hand, and wings belong to God. I take several deep breaths and begin to meditate on verses about God’s kindness and refuge. This simple prayer exercise helps me to remember that God’s refuge and kindness are more powerful than my anxiety.
 
Q: What are some creative ways the study can be done in groups since we’re still supposed to be social distancing? Can a participant get just as much out of the study if doing it alone?
 
There are a handful of technological helps that will assist in group study during social distancing requirements. A few suggestions are:
  • Meet with your group virtually via Zoom, Facebook meeting rooms, or Google Meets.
  • Stay connected with each other, sharing prayer requests and thoughts throughout the week via a private Facebook group or text/email thread.
  • Take advantage of the resources available from Amplify Media, where you can access Renewed teaching videos, Abingdon Women and other Bible study video sessions, inspirational short videos, and children’s content available anywhere from any device. Amplify Media is a streaming service allowing churches large and small unlimited video access in order to discover, customize, and share diverse resources that encourage deeper discipleship and equip churches to pursue their mission with greater impact.
  • If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with pleasant weather, meet outside!
And yes, absolutely, a participant can get just as much out of the study doing it alone. The most efficient way to hear the voice of God is to immerse yourself in His Word. There is no substitute for this. I’ve had some of my most profound Bible study experiences sitting alone on my back porch, diligently walking through a study on my own. The group components for Renewed are there to enhance your study, but are certainly not a requirement.


 I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Heather M Dixon! And be sure to come back for the review of her new bible study. 🤗🤗🤗





Monday, September 14, 2020

Gracie’s Garden

 One of the sweetest children’s books I’ve read is Gracie’s Garden. It’s full of sibling time and working together.



I like that Gracie’s little sister is a baby of color and that there is no difference made between them. That’s just her sister. I like that Gracie as the eldest child is shown as kind and helpful and cooperative rather than bossy.  The story is about Gracie and her siblings, their brother eat all of the tomatoes so they embark on a journey to grow more tomatoes.

It’s a fun story of sibling love and patience.



Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest approach review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. 




Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Belonging Project



In The Belonging Project, speaker and comedian Amberly Neese combines Bible study with delightful humor to create a refreshing and engaging experience that will encourage and equip women to pursue deeper relationships and true belonging by loving and serving one another. She describes The Belonging Project as an exploration of the New Testament as it pertains to biblical community. “God has designed us to live in mutually beneficial relationships and has given us the blueprints to do so in his Word. The study is designed to encourage, empower, and equip participants to thrive in the community to which God has called them,” she shares.
 
Neese provides biblical and practical help for cultivating meaningful relationships that glorify God through an examination of the many “one another” scriptures throughout the New Testament. She groups more than fifty of them into themes in order to lead readers on an exploration of how to:
  1. Find One Another
  2. Fellowship with One Another
  3. Forgive One Another
  4. Fortify One Another
Having women in our lives to help us grow in our capacity to love, serve, and forgive is always important, regardless of what is going on in our lives and our world around us. However, now, more than ever, we’ve become keenly aware of the need to pursue and build an authentic tribe. She shares more about that in the interview below.
  

Q: We’ve been in the midst of social distancing for what seems like forever now. How has this period of time made meaningful relationships all the more important?
 
Social distancing has made us painfully aware of the pangs of loneliness and disconnection. Zoom parties and drive-by encouragement are wonderful, but they are no substitution for sitting knee-to-knee with a friend, sharing our hearts. In addition, for some, having a house full of family in quarantine can be fun (and loud), but it may not be a conducive place to be truly seen and heard.
 
The time away from others has helped us see the need for others in our life. Biblical community is more important than ever as we rebuild from the quarantine. One of my closest friends lost a child during this season and the inability to hug her family, have a service for her sweet daughter, mourn collectively, and support her clan in this tragedy have been salt in her wounds for sure.
 
The Belonging Project highlights some ways to love and serve others from the comfort of one’s living room as well as the sweet discomfort of sitting with a friend in her pain. Social distancing may put a damper on connection, but there are ways to encourage others without breaking quarantine. I am a hugger—more like a tackler—so this time has been hard for me, but it has allowed me the opportunity to explore new ways to comfort, encourage, and connect with others.
 
Q: Sometimes social media is the only way we keep up with our friends. How can social media be both a help and hindrance to our friendships?
 
Social media can serve as a wonderful way to stay in touch, but it can also serve as a source of discouragement. It is easy to get caught up in the “compare snare”—the heartache of being left out and/or comparing oneself to the feed of others. It is easy to believe that someone else’s feed, their social media gallery, is an accurate picture of their lives. I rarely see dirty dishes, marital discourse, unemployment, bad hair days, or depression on Facebook or Instagram. We only share good stuff and only after it has gone through a filter to remove our wrinkles and uneven skin tone.
 
We should avoid comparing our real life to the “reel” life of others because it begins to give us a false sense of reality, and we can suffer from envy, disappointment, and dissatisfaction—mindsets that erode a biblical community.
 
Recently, I found out on social media that many of my cronies (an old school word for friends) had started a Bible study. Without me. To try and keep the numbers reasonable, they had made a list, and I wasn’t on it. It crushed me. The ironic thing was I had already started writing the Belonging Project, my attempt to encourage women to seek community with others in Jesus’ name, and I was not invited. It took me a little while to recover, but my husband and I have also since started a Bible study with an amazing group of folks who were hungry for community as well.
 
Q: What can we learn from the life of Jesus about living in community? How was this so different from the political, social and religious culture of the day?
 
Jesus was counter-cultural as he set an example of including others that others cast aside. He loved those who were hurting, broken, and vulnerable. He chose to invite twelve others to do life alongside him and paved the way for us to do likewise.
 
Throughout his time on earth, Jesus said things that seemed revolutionary (and downright crazy) to his contemporaries. He broke through cultural, political, and social barriers during his thirty years of life and three years of public ministry. His followers (including the apostle Paul, who penned many of the letters in the New Testament) followed suit. Their behaviors, practices, and words often flew in the face of the culture and helped shape history.
 
God has designed us for community. In fact, Jesus was so passionate about community that He not only chose disciples—twelve guys of varying backgrounds, personalities, and gifts, to walk with him in his journey. He also instructed them to do likewise with others. He invited a myriad of others, including many women, to partner with him in ministry along his path. Through his teachings and the teachings of His followers, we have a blueprint for the community that he has designed for us. This blueprint can be found in the phrases in the New Testament that include the words one another, such as love one another, encourage one another, serve one another, forgive one another, and many more. Some of these concepts were certainly counter-cultural in the time of Jesus and are today as well. Jesus spoke these words in times of political, social, and religious tumult and they are so applicable in our current context as well.
 
Q: What are some tips on finding your tribe? As we search, what are some things we also need to find within ourselves?
 
Despite what we see in movies and magazines, where personal strength and winning are celebrated, we are created for community. We are meant to encourage one another, walk ahead of and behind one another, and create connections with one another. Yet even as part of a church, we often fall prey to societal patterns of comparison and competition and miss out on true community.
 
To find one’s tribe, we should first pray about it and ask God specifically for people alongside whom we can grow, serve others, and be willing to step outside of our comfort zone.
 
We need to make sure, however, that we also are willing to be vulnerable, humble, and a safe place for people. Biblical community is not for sissies. We are a broken people, and even when made holy by the blood of Jesus, we sometimes make broken choices. We speak unkindly, we act unfairly, we give grace unequally. Community with other believers can be challenging and can take a lot of faith, but it is a gift and it is worth the hard work of extending and embracing forgiveness.
 
Q: The last week in the study focuses on fortifying one another. What does that look like in a practical, daily way?
 
It can take all shapes and forms, but first, one should commit to spending time to find a body in which you can grow in your knowledge of God’s word, stretch your faith muscles, and be built up by other believers.
 
If we are going to find our tribe and learn to thrive, we need to be committed to encourage others. Not the “Oh my, what a cute dress!” encouragement (although that is always fun, not the wearing a dress part, but the compliment part), but the encouragement of others in their walk with Jesus. Ask yourself: How can I encourage someone in his or her spiritual walk today?
 
We live in a discouraging world. The political climate, the tragedies all over the nation, the starvation of children all over the world, the disregard of the value of human life, the threat of war, the rise in stress and anxiety—it is overwhelming. How do we keep our perspective? By focusing on Jesus and encouraging one another daily. Do one small thing today to encourage another believer. One could also consider encouraging someone you know who has left the church with a text, call, email, or letter.
 
Finally, one can easily develop a habit of gratitude through daily practice—perhaps by writing down all the things one is thankful for each day. Find a friend with which to share that list. It becomes a blessing to both parties!
 
Q: How is The Belonging Project designed to be used? What are the components of each week’s study?
 
The great thing about this study is its versatility. It can be done with a few friends or with hundreds of ladies. The format is designed to be easy and enjoyable—five days of lessons each week for four weeks.
 
There is a daily lesson, memory verses, calls to action, and questions to grapple with for each week’s teaching. The lessons are designed to be completed in about 20 minutes. Each day starts with a “One Another” verse, which sets the tone for the day, includes a scripture focus and questions for reflection, and ends with a Call to Action.
 
Since each of the days in the study covers another “one another” from the New Testament, if those doing the study have extra time, they can also read through the entirety of the chapter from which the verse comes to get a more full picture of the context in which it was written.
 
Then once a week, you’ll gather with your group to watch a video, discuss what you’re learning, and pray together. The session outlines, which provide options for both a 60-minute and a 90-minute session, include discussion questions, activities, prayer prompts, and notes for the video segment (available separately). You’ll find the outline for each session at the end of the personal lessons for that week.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Comparison Girl

So a new book is hitting the shelves and it’s definitely one for self reflection and allowing God to grow us in the ways that may be uncomfortable and definitely humbling but absolutely necessary for our good and God’s glory.



Comparison Girl is a book for the girl who is looking to do something different so she gets different results in life.
It’s always easy to compare ourselves with others even if we don’t know them. It’s even worse when you compare yourself to perfection and Shannon shares her first hand experience on how the attempt at perfection (whether for yourself or for appearances) is just as big an issue as comparing yourself to the lady you follow on Instagram or the lady on Pinterest whose life you never really see but just the carefully curated highlight reel. 

This one that goes in the arsenal for when life gets to the point that I’m comparing or doing ministry for likes or I’m posting simply for likes rather than to simply share something good and beautiful and educating.

So here’s the fun part: a giveaway! 

Here’s the link:  

Women compare constantly—on social media, in their neighborhood, at church, even in the school drop-off lane. They glance sideways and ask themselves, "How do I measure up?" All this assessment feels like a natural way of finding a place in the world. But it pulls them into feelings of inferiority or superiority, guiding them into a trap of antagonism by the enemy.


Satan would like women to strive to measure up, constantly adding to a tally sheet that can't ever be balanced. The way of Jesus is completely upside down from that philosophy. Instead, he says the last shall be first--and the greatest are those who empty themselves, lay down their lives, and serve each other.
 
Through conversations Jesus had and parables he shared, Shannon Popkin has created a seven-week Bible study to address this tendency to compare and judge ourselves and others. Each chapter is divided into lessons, allowing women on a time budget to read a Bible passage, engage in a complete train of thought related to the topic, and then make the content personal--all in one sitting. And the informal teaching tone will make women feel like they're meeting with a trusted friend.


Suited for both individual and group study, Comparison Girl will guide women to leave their measure-up ways behind, connect with those around them, and break free from the shackles of comparison!
 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Big Little Activity Devotional


So there’s a new Activity Devotional (honestly the first time I’ve reviewed one) and we are super excited about it because it’s tons of fun! With cross word puzzles, scripture art to color, and  mazes that we can choose from. My kids absolutely enjoy this devotional. We’ve mostly used it for work they can have fun doing during read aloud time. It keeps their hands busy while their minds are listening.
It is bound across the top to make it easy to flip through the pages, the ONLY thing I wish it had was perforated pages so it would be easy to take pages out of the book. Other than that this book gets 5 ⭐️


Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Seeking Him

So here’s a new bible study that feels more like an experience journal by Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth and Tim Grissom.


So I’ll be honest I had no expectations going into reviewing this bible study because of the personal revival aspect in the title. I didn’t know if it would be super rigorous.
However, what I found is a journal of sorts. The questions in the study are first geared towards scripture then they turn inward. There’s also many passages for additional reading and study. Each week starts with the memory verse and going deeper passages. Then it goes into the study, which broken down into roughly 5 days per week. And studies through several topical passages that are meant to spark an internal revival in us.

I haven’t finished the study yet but I am confident in the writing of it and would highly recommend it for a women’s bible study group as the format of the study is much more conducive to group study (each week has a section to be completed with the group and if you’re doing the study solo you would likely just skip over that section) than to individual study.




Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this book through from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Quiet (Crazy) Easter Day

I love these padded books. They are sturdy like board books yet have good story like a picture book.
And this is one that we enjoyed so much!


So as you can see its bright and colorful, which will hold any toddler or preschooler’s attention.

I like the story because it incorporates animal sounds which encourages my little audience to join in the story. They often get a good laugh from me making the animal noises as I read the book. And there’s almost a request for an encore performance. It’s a fun book to read to little ones who may not yet understand the full impact of the resurrection, but this book is a gentle introduction to our savior’s story. (They also have one about Jesus’ birth which is just as fun and colorful and full of animal noises to act out). 

I really like that this book takes the perspective that perhaps the animals were excited or maybe they somehow understood what was going on. And even if they did not, perhaps they were excited for God. As the Bible says that everything that has breathe worships Him, all creation worships Him. And animals are just as much God’s creation as I am. And they aren’t biased like humans are. So surely they worship God as a default. Their very existence is worship. And during those days, those who were sacrificed worshipped God in their death as well.



As always I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my HONEST opinion. And I am not required to write a positive opinion.

Conversations with Heather M Dixon

  There are few things that can make us feel as helpless as living with a story we don’t like. Life is rarely fair, and things happen beyond...