Tuesday, August 4, 2020

3 Important Grief Resources—Share with a Friend!


Last week, I posted a devotion on comforting someone mourning. I got an email in my inbox from a woman whose friend had suffered a sudden stroke last week. She was spinning from the shock of it and searching for more resources to help. 

As I checked my Twitter feed throughout the week, I was surprised to see many posts on grief from writers whom I respect. 2020 has certainly landed us in uncertainty, and perhaps an offshoot of that is a need to process grief with greater acknowledgement and responsibility. People are hurting.

I wanted to pass along the resources that I suggested to her in my email back. I also wanted to include a prayer for support that I find particularly meaningful. It references the feminine nature of God in scripture, a nature that might feel especially healing when suffering poses more questions than answers:

Hidden God,
You are midwife who works with those in pain to bring 
about new creation. May your healing support us
in our struggle.
You are mothering bird who shelters those in difficulty
under the protective shadow of your wings. Hover over
our troubled hearts.
Come to our help. Bear us up. Be with us in our confusion
and sorrow. Deepen our sense of what remains to us amid
our losses. Strengthen our faith that your divine
compassion is present in ways we cannot see or understand.
We count on your love and mercy. Amen.

This prayer is from Healing Liturgies for the Seasons of Life by Dr. Abigail Rian Evans and is used with permission.

If you're looking for a resource to help you answer grief's questions from a faith perspective, I recommend Jerry Sitter's A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss. If you're looking to support someone who is sick or grieving, I recommend What Can I Say? A Guide to Visiting Friends and Family Who Are Ill by Simon and Karen Fox.

While I do not believe that God wills tragedy, we live in a broken world. Luckily, he experienced that brokenness firsthand too and resurrected. God offers that same power—beauty for ashes—to each of us by faith. No darkness is too dark. Keep straining toward the light; believe in God's promises (Eph. 1:18–21). If you do, God will startle you with his grace, perhaps when you least expect it. When that moment comes, your connection to him will feel realer than anything else. You will know that he lives.

Please share this post with someone who might need it. If you know someone who is looking for new purpose, especially during COVID, please pass along my new book too—its recent publication is timely!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

New Devotion: How to Comfort Someone Mourning

Blessed are those who mourn

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. —Matthew 5:4

I hadn’t heard back as expected from a friend. I later learned that she was overwhelmed with loss. Her neighbor’s husband had suddenly passed away. The young couple had no children, but they did have a beloved pet. Unfortunately, the pet had slipped out of the house during the funeral arrangements for the husband and had been hit by a car. The pet was killed on impact, leaving the widow doubly grieved.

When my friend tried to comfort her destitute neighbor, all she could do was cry. After she left the house, she was beating herself up about it. In her eyes, she hadn’t been the support she had hoped to be. Instead, she felt broken in the wake of such tragedy too. 

I quickly encouraged my friend. Simply crying with someone who is in pain can be a gift to them. Sometimes, there aren’t adequate words to speak. A hand to hold, a hug, or shared tears can be ministries themselves. 

When I served as a hospital chaplain, I visited patients in a multitude of trying situations. The patients heralded from different cultures, faiths, and backgrounds. It would have been impossible to have the perfect word for everyone, though sometimes I felt the Holy Spirit provide one. What I could always provide, however, was a ministry of presence.

A ministry of presence involves emptying our own goals, judgments, and opinions; by doing so, we lay the foundation for a safe space and ensure that the interaction will not be about us. Instead, we provide a listening ear and gentle encouragement to those who are hurting. We allow ourselves to feel with them, and that sensitivity invites connection. In turn, that connection often communicates God’s comfort.

To continue reading how you can help and what God offers you, click here

Thursday, July 23, 2020

5 Essential Insights on Inclusion from an Educator

I'm so excited to share this interview with a true teacher hero as a follow up to my TV show with ABC's Linsey Davis. If you're looking for ways to take inclusion further, these insights and books recommendations are not-to-miss!
multicultural kids standing together in front of blackboard, insights on inclusion from educator

I’ve been looking for ways to navigate the recent racial tensions in America in the spirit of Christ. Seeking to understand, respond with compassion and justice, and help usher the crisis in a constructive rather than divisive direction is key to real growth and change. I recently had the privilege of interviewing an Emmy Award-winning, African-American journalist who penned a bestselling Christian children’s book on inclusion. You might have seen Linsey Davis on ABC as a host for two Democratic debates for this election cycle, or as she covered the recent space launch or funeral for George Floyd. I asked Linsey about her perspective on race in America. I’m grateful that our interview strikes a healing tenor that provides practical steps for any parent, Christian, or concerned citizen in general.

Our sit-down inspired me to do more. I was hungry for more doable ways to affect change that would be supportive of all people. I decided to turn to one of my family’s favorite teachers, an African-American woman with an impressive background in education who has a passion for inclusion that’s fueled, in part, by her deep faith. Jane Attah is a graduate of the prestigious Teacher’s College at Colombia University, has taught in leading independent schools in America for eighteen years, and is the mother of two children. I’m excited to share five insights on inclusion from our interview—as you learn about her story, you’ll benefit from her wisdom, which includes vetted book selections for every age.

1. Build Relationships

I started by asking Jane about her background. Those who are committed to impacting lives today often have interesting pasts; she is no exception. Jane learned the importance of inclusion firsthand through her father’s work. She is the daughter of a Foreign Affairs Officer from Ghana. She explains, “My father’s job involved working in the embassies of commonwealth countries to create, build, foster, and maintain foreign relations between his native country Ghana and whatever country he was posted to live and work. Being a Foreign Affairs Officer entailed living abroad, usually for 4 years. My family moved a lot so growing up, I had to be able to adapt and welcome change. I was fortunate to experience different places, people, schools, cultures, and ways of life.”

When I asked Jane what impact her childhood has had on her perspective, she reflects, “I developed a fond awareness of and respect for people’s backgrounds and heritage. When you make it a point to want to learn all you can about someone who is different from you, that right there is the beginning of a relationship.” Jane’s insight resonates with one of my favorite points from my interview with Linsey Davis. Linsey remarks that it is relationships—not facts—that change people. Finding ways to establish bonds between people is key to meaningful change on any social issue, like race.

2. Appreciate What Everyone Can Offer

Encouraging participation runs deep in Jane’s approach to teaching. She notes, “I came into teaching because I am optimistic about education being a right and not a privilege, truly a right for ALL children. In the classroom, I highlight inclusion through the essential question: How does learning about myself and others help us connect?” Jane addresses this question in a range of ways as a second-grade teacher. She describes, “I do my best to create classroom norms where a diversity of ideas is welcomed through sharing how students solve math problems, celebrate holiday family traditions, write creative stories, greet in different languages for morning meetings, and describe their roses and thorns at the end of the day.”

Jane has one classroom tradition that’s particularly well-received. “One thing I have discovered to be successful is on a student’s birthday, each classmate writes an adjective that best describes the birthday boy or girl. This tradition is called birthday compliments, and for one day on their birthday every student truly feels he/she belongs, is included, and is significant.” This practice could easily be replicated in a variety of other contexts too, like in a Sunday school or youth group.

3. Ensure Everyone Feels “Seen"

A tradition like birthday compliments allows every child to feel “seen,” and feeling seen is an essential building block to creating an inclusive environment for all children. Jane expands, “Whatever the environment may be—the classroom, on the field, or while teaching, coaching, or mentoring—finding something that you can connect with a child on is necessary. This connection does not have to be academic. The goal is to create that trustworthy space where the child can lead, open up, and share his or her amazing talents that make him or her unique. When the child expresses interest to tell you their story, make time to listen and say, ‘Tell me more.’”

The way a child feels is more important than teaching content, for the former opens the door for latter. “When my students feel comfortable to take risks in the classroom without hesitation or fear of making mistakes, they are seen.” That comfort level allows Jane to stretch her students and expand their horizons for comprehensive growth as students and people.

4. Use Empathy-Building Resources 

Books are an essential tool that Jane uses to foster her students’ comprehensive growth. She notes, “Books are powerful and storytelling connects so I am intentional when I choose books to engage my students.” Linsey Davis, author of One Big Heart: A Celebration of Being More Alike Than Different, agrees. Linsey observes that books can provide children with valuable glimpses into worlds that are different from their own, especially when their everyday exposure to diversity may be lacking.

Jane divides her impressive list of children’s resources on inclusion, many of which are bestsellers, by age:

Infants – 5 year olds:
Same, Same, But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
Brown Sugar Babies by Charles R. Smith, Jr.
It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr
Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs
The Color of Us by Karen Katz

6 – 9 year olds (Jane's specialty): 
I am Enough by Grace Byers
I’m New Here by Ann Sibley O’Brien
Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds
The Water Princess by Susan Verde
And to Think That We Thought That We’d Never Be Friends by Mary Ann Hoberman
Throw Your Tooth on the Roof by Selby Beeler

10 – 12 year olds and up:
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Dictionary for a Better World by Irene Latham and Charles Waters
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
My Name is Maria Isabel by Alma Flor Ada

5. Model a Willingness to Engage Yourself

Jane not only offers book suggestions for children, but she actively mines resources herself. Here are four titles that she is currently reading: Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey, I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal, and Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. Books are a practical entry point for learning and meaningful dialogue at any age.

In addition to reading, Jane attends conferences, participates in the inclusion initiative at her school, and encourages relevant conversation. She is aware of the existing gaps in American education—access to quality resources and higher level education is not equal for all students, and minority students and educators often feel greater pressure to prove themselves. Jane urges, “Now more than ever, it’s necessary and important to have conversation about race. God created all of us in his likeness. When the conversation is started early, then we can be assured the next generation will undoubtedly be a more inclusive one.”

This article was published at iBelieve.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

New Devotion: What Does God Promise Us?


Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you. —Psalm 119:89-91

Maybe it’s about a lunch my boys really want when we’re out running errands. Maybe it’s about a movie they want to see at the end of a long day of getting chores done around the house. Or maybe it’s about sneaking in some time at the hockey rink in between their baby brother’s naps. As hard as I try to fit everything in, unexpected curve balls sometimes come up. When I am not able to do what we were planning on, I hear a familiar refrain:

“But Mom, you promised!”

Really, I hadn’t. I had said we’d try to do it. Yes, we had been planning on it, but every parent knows how the day can shuffle around with children.
 
What Are Promises?

Promises are more than a casual commitment involving day-to-day juggling. They are reserved for declarations that you can stake your life upon. Promises provide the scaffolding within which we make decisions and live our lives. For instance:

In marriage, I promise to love my husband and commit my life to him, even though some days are naturally bumpier than others.

In childrearing, I promise to always have my children’s best interests at heart, even though sometimes I make mistakes or let them down. 

In friendship, I promise to make time for the people I love and believe the best in them, although we might have disagreements and life gets busy. 

What God Promises Us

My examples are not exhaustive, but remarkably, the Bible records every single one of God’s promises. His promises are true, firm, and faithful, because they come from the one Perfect Promise Keeper. Our scripture passage today underlines God’s faithfulness. The complaints of the psalmist earlier in the chapter now give way to a crescendo emphasizing God’s sovereignty. God is sovereign for all time, in all places, and over “all things” in these verses. Further, the text gives us a clue as to the tenor of God’s sovereignty—it is merciful and conditioned by love. The Hebrew word for “faithfulness” used here is often paired with the one for “steadfast love.”

Click here to continue reading this devotion, and discover 11 things that God has promised you!

I have been excited to share this devotion with you from the spring! Summer is a great time to drink in the sunshine and remember God's promises. Stay tuned soon for an article coming soon on inclusion as a follow up to my interview with Linsey Davis. For the article, I interview one of my favorite teachers on practical ways that we can "be the healing" at this crucial time! Also, don't forget to snag a copy of my new book, How to Live Your Life Purpose!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Interview on Race in America with ABC's Linsey Davis


The recent news on race in America has been heartbreaking, challenging, for many, awakening. I urge you to watch my new interview on race to find out how it can be transforming too! ABC's Linsey Davis covered the funeral for George Floyd, and she is the bestselling children's book author of two books. Linsey's newest book, One Big Heart: A Celebration of Being More Alike Than Different, is on racial inclusion and has been a #1 bestseller on Amazon. Linsey shares a sneak peek of her book, her hope for America, and practical tips on how we can make a difference right now as parents, people of faith, and Americans in general.

Watch the interview here

Thank you to Zoom for making this interview possible during the pandemic. Exciting bonus! You can enter the giveaway here for a box set that includes both of Linsey's books and 10 art prints to frame, courtesy of the Christian publisher Zonderkidz! This is a find! One Big Heart was sold out on Amazon when we taped! This exclusive box set is only available for purchase at Barnes and Noble. The contest ends next Tuesday, and one winner will be chosen.


Did you know? My first book released this month! How to Live Your Life Purpose: The Six-Step Journey to God's Best is available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback. It's been a #1 New Release in each of its three categories and sold in the top five books in its categories this weekend! Thank you so much for your support!

Friday, June 19, 2020

8 Questions to Ask Yourself at the End of the Day

woman smiling sitting on couch with mug looking relaxed and peaceful
You’ve probably heard some version of the quote, “It’s not how you start that matters—it’s how you finish.” Indeed, the Bible confirms that we are all a work in progress; we are clay on the Potter’s wheel (Isaiah 64:8). As God continues to form us, each day is an important step along our journey. Each day grants us the gift of 86,400 seconds to use that we will never get back. To make the most of God’s gift of time, I wrote these questions as a benchmark to help us finish the day well.

1. What do I need to give over to God? 
For a good night’s sleep, we need to pray our concerns over to God. The Psalmist famously depicts how God guides him beside the still waters in Psalm 23. God offers each of us rest through refreshing stillness with him. Some things are too big for us to do, and some concerns are too heavy for us to manage alone. By entrusting our concerns to God, we acknowledge the ample power and tender mercies of our trustworthy Shepherd. Repeat these words before you sleep each night to affirm this truth: “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8, NKJV).

2. Did I do something outside of my comfort zone today?
That’s exactly what so many people in the Bible did. They weren’t perfect, but they were willing to step out in faith. While it may be easier to stay within our comfort zone, we squander a precious opportunity. God can use calculated risk, or the risk that he is calling us to take, to grow our faith and dependence on him, infuse our life with adventure, and further his plan for the world. One of my favorite Bible verses, Joshua 1:9, reminds us to be brave: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” If you’re interested in learning more about risk, see my new book on life purpose, which includes essential information on the risk worth taking and end-of-chapter Bible studies to help!

3. What remains to be done?
A to-do list often hits me at the end of the day—maybe it does for you too. Once the house is quiet and my children are asleep, my mind naturally takes inventory. I have learned to sleep with a pad of paper and pen beside my bed because of it. That way, I can write down any important items that I missed, and sleep with the confidence that I will not forget them tomorrow. If we do this, we’ll awake with focus while also remaining open to God’s lead. Proverbs 16:9 states, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”

4. Is there one thing that I could personally improve upon for tomorrow?
Truth be told, there are probably many things that we could improve upon, for no one is a finished product. Those who often make the most progress in their life purpose, however, are those who choose to refine their signature strengths rather than focus upon their weaknesses. Along that vein, it can be helpful to choose one thing each day to improve upon. The New York Times bestselling author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, advises his readers to simply get 1% better every day. This bite-sized challenge can make a monumental difference in time. The Bible echoes the fruit of persistence in Galatians 6:9 by stating, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

To read questions #5-#8, click here to continue reading on iBelieve.com.

Exciting news! My new book, How to Live Your Life Purpose: The Six-Step Journey to God's Best is now available on Kindle and in paperback too! I hope you check it out! It was an Amazon bestseller in it's category for one morning last week thanks to your support!

Stay tuned next week for an important and *timely* interview on race in America! I sat down with Linsey Davis of ABC, who recently covered George Floyd's funeral, and we talked practical steps for change, her hope for America, and her newest children's book on inclusion!

TODAY Video Clip