Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Review: Beautiful Feet by Jessica Leep Fick

Every month I write a book review for my church's missions magazine, New Covenant. When possible, I try to relate the topic of the book I'm reading to the topic of that month's issue. I thought I would share some of them here. 

At the beginning of each book review, I share a few Fast Facts: information about the book, its author, its length, the publisher, and where you can find it. I  try to touch on the structure of the book, the intent of the author, and the relevancy of the book to the church.

This one was originally published in the July 2016 issue of the New Covenant. You can read issues published August 2016 to present here.

Fast Facts:
Title: Beautiful Feet: Unleashing Women to Everyday Witness
Author: Jessica Leep Fick
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
Length: 197 pages
Find it: wherever books are sold

When Jessica Leep Fick first felt the Lord calling her to be an evangelist, she was surprised, confused, and emotional. The questions she prayed were, “God, how is this possible? Don’t you only use men as evangelists? I have no idea what this even looks like.”

This month New Covenant is focusing on Ethiopia and the partnerships Covenant is developing with ministries there. Last month I experienced some trouble securing a book on India that explored ministry there. In my reading on India and my growing understanding of the India Gospel League (Covenant’s ministry partner in India), I have been increasingly intrigued by God’s unique call to women in ministry and evangelism. On the first page of her book, Fick dives into this subject asking the question recorded above making it a perfect choice for this month’s book review.

The book is arranged into twelve chapters and they progress from being theoretical about the things which often keep women from pursuing evangelism to being very practical about the tools we need to practice ministry well (including sleep!) and evangelism models Fick recommends. At the end of each chapter there is a short section for response, designed to prompt reflection and prayer on places where women may need to heal or to act in order to grow as disciples of Jesus. This space for reflection makes the book ideal for small groups to use as a study and it makes the book easy to apply to every day life.

Fick is writing as a female evangelist to encourage and affirm other women who question whether the Lord could possibly use them. Fick contends that women often discount themselves as active members of evangelism efforts, either from an assumption that men ought to do the work or from fears of failure or just being weird. In Beautiful Feet, Fick calls on women to embrace the unique ways the Lord has made each of us—intellectual or creative, driven by relationships or a need to understand.

The title, Beautiful Feet, is of course a reminder of the verse in Isaiah where the author exclaims, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news!” Fick records a time of prayer in which she felt the Lord impress this upon her heart: “Let my daughters know they have beautiful feet. Let them know they are sent, called, restored and indispensible to me and to my kingdom. Let my daughters know that I have created them just as I want them to be. I don’t make mistakes. I see their suffering. And in the midst of suffering I making something new in their lives and in the church.”

I found Fick’s book to be profound and relevant, healing and addressing places of doubt in my own heart. I was relieved by her willingness to broach awkward topics like the ways that women need to be aware of their dress and bodies in any public situation because of the ways they are perceived by others.

I believe this book is incredibly relevant to all women in the church. I found myself underlining repeatedly and even tearing up when certain subjects touched on tender places in my own heart. Fick manages to write in a way that is poignant, direct, and honest all at one time. She calls readers to take healthy risks, knowing that in Jesus failures don’t change personhood and that many women, in a desire to be perfect, are unable to take the very action to which they are called. This book is also relevant to men who are interested in learning about the barriers that keep many women from leading in the church.

Fick calls women in the church to act, speak, and bear witness to the goodness of the God that we serve. She sums up her goals in the first chapter: “I want you to see more of what God has for you. I hope that as you read you’ll begin to see that Jesus loves you and has created you uniquely and perfectly to bring good news to others. I want you to walk with Jesus into the broken places in your life where you’ve believed the lie that you aren’t enough and, with him guiding you through those dark places, begin to step into the woman Jesus has made you to be.”

Will you let Jesus walk with you to discover who he has made you to be?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

10 IEP Tips

Two of my three kids have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Between the two of them I've been to at least a dozen IEP meetings in the past three years. So even though they are still in elementary school, we've been around the block a few times and I thought there might be a few people who would find this information helpful.

Truly the heart behind this is to empower parents to advocate well for their children. So many parents just don't understand the system or their rights and don't know what options they have. I love the teams who are working with my children, they're amazing. My kids' teachers are great. But over the course of the last three years we've also had some hiccups. We've had a few moments where I was concerned for my children and needed to know how to speak up for them. 

Without getting too technical, there are TEN things that I want to share with other parents who are navigating IEP meetings.

1) You are 50% of the team. These meetings can be intimidating. You find yourself sitting at a table with 6 experts who share the plan they've made for your child, are all in agreement with it, then look at you to sign on the dotted line. But remember, you represent 50% of the team. So, when you need to, imagine yourself cloned 6 times over, all in agreement, and know that you should be empowered to speak, to disagree, and to contribute.
2) You have the right to call an IEP meeting at any time. If things aren't going well, you don't have to wait for the school to call an IEP meeting. Technically, you could call an IEP meeting every two weeks for the whole school year. That wouldn't do much to endear you to your child's teachers, but it is your right. Just remember that an IEP meeting requires the schedules of many busy people to converge so it can sometimes take a few weeks to get the meeting scheduled. (Also, ask yourself if this is something you can address in a parent-teacher conference or if you need the whole team gathered for questions about accommodations.)

3) You have the right to review results of an evaluation before your IEP meeting. If your child has had an evaluation, you have the right to review the results before the IEP meeting. You will usually have to request them and it's good to ask for them 1-2 weeks before the meeting instead of 2 days before. I would ALWAYS recommend doing this; it gives you the chance to process the results emotionally and intellectually so that you know whether you have any questions. 

4) You can (and should!) offer suggestions to goals and accommodations. This is related to #3. Usually when I show up to an annual IEP meeting my sons' teachers have prepared a draft of the IEP. Of course I'm encouraged to make suggestions, but I'm trying to understand and contribute all at the same time. NOW, I've developed a habit of requesting a draft of the goals before the meeting so that I can come up with my suggestions before the meeting. This way, I can be a real contribution to the team and my sons' education.

5) Try to build a rapport with the team on things you love about your child(ren). As we arrive and are waiting to begin, I try to start a conversation with those who work with my kids about my kids. I've found this to be so important to a good team relationship; we build a rapport with each other and it also gives me the chance to see their love for my child. Essentially, it builds trust.

6) Know your local resources. In Pitt County there are a few people who are incredible resources for parents who either need help understanding the system or are struggling to advocate well. David Holler is the Pitt County Schools Exceptional Children Parent Liaison; he is available to help parents understand the system. He puts on workshops (a recent one: Assistive Technology & Adaptive PE) and can attend IEP meetings and will help make sure you understand all the jargon and abbreviations.  Traci Hopkins is the Pitt County Schools Autism Specialist; she works with teachers for ongoing autism education and can attend IEP meetings as an "autism expert." For me, she was able to back up my personal reports of my son's behavior with "expertise." Katie Holler works for the Autism Society of ENC as an Autism Resource Specialist; she can help you figure out IEP ins and outs and attend IEP meetings with you as an advocate. If you're not in Pitt County, try to find a local Autism Society chapter and ask them what resources are available in your area. If you are in Pitt County, email me or comment below and I can give you the contact information of the people I listed above.

7) LEA, LRE, FAPE. A few commonly used, seldom explained abbreviations. LEA: Local Education Agency. At every IEP meeting there must be an LEA representative which is usually an administrator of some sort who represents the school. LRE: Least Restrictive Environment. Every decision regarding accommodations must be justified as the least restrictive environment in which a child can be educated. A more restrictive environment would be a separate EC class; a less restrictive environment would be a mainstream class. The team must be able to justify any decision which places a child in a more restrictive setting as being the least restrictive environment that child can succeed in. FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education. The state is obligated to provide free education according to the standards of the NC DPI (Department of Public Instruction).

8) Review previous IEPs. For non-annual IEP meetings (to address concerns), review your previous IEP to determine which goals your current concerns relate to. This helps lend credibility to your concerns. For annual IEP meetings, review the previous ones to remind yourself what goals your child has been working on; this will help you have constructive contributions to the meetings. Part B: Keep old IEP documents, copies of progress reports, all evaluation reports, and a couple examples of your child's school work that demonstrate some of his or her strengths and weaknesses. Keep the most recent of each of those documents in a 3-ring binder and file the rest of them at home. Take the binder with you to your meetings so that you can reference specifics if you need to.

9) Get it in the minutes. At the end of the meeting, the LEA should review the minutes of the meeting. Any action steps (contacting people, setting up evaluations, etc) should be listed in the minutes. Anything that you want in writing that isn't in the actual IEP should be in the minutes. Listen to this closely and speak up to ask things to be added if they need to be.

10) Bring snacks :). The goal of these meetings is to help your child succeed, not to tell professionals how to do their jobs. Bringing snacks can help the tone of the conversation stay collaborative instead of confrontational.
Liam's IEP Notebook and our snacks

Did I miss anything? What are your IEP tips?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

10 for 10: A sappy anniversary post

As of yesterday my husband and I have been married for ten years.

Ten years is a decade.

We've been married for a decade.

Can I be honest with you for a sec? I heard someone on the radio a few months ago say that if he had 100 lives he would want to be married 100 times. And I thought to myself, "Eh. Maybe 50-50." Marriage is hard work.

But there is so much good. There's good in the transformation of my own heart and there is deep and abiding joy that comes from the long-term covenant relationship between two people.

So, in honor of a decade of ups and downs, I want to share 10 of my favorite and/or most memorable moments from the past 10 years.

1) Our Wedding Seriously, I had such a good time. It wasn't fancy, we had a Krispy Kreme donut "cake" and a coffee "bar." But we danced all afternoon and it was just so much fun. My advice to any bride-to-be: Try to have fun at your wedding. (Side note: We were SO YOUNG! Who let those babies get married?!

2) Birth of James I remember when I found out I was pregnant, "Uhhh, hun?" I remember when my water broke. I remember saying yes to the epidural, pushing for 2 hours, then holding that sweet boy in my arms and thinking, "I didn't know it was possible to love another person this much."

3) Preaching for the first time I was pretty sure that I was moving toward seminary and pastoring. I was pretty sure the Lord had given me the green light to preach. But actually doing it. Ya'll, I don't even know how to describe it. I felt more right in my own skin that morning than I ever had before. And embracing the way the Lord made me has been such a gift to our marriage (trust me, Nathan 100% agrees... I'm less insecure than I was before which makes me much better to get along with!).

4) Birth of Liam I remember finding out I was pregnant (that time was in a Chili's restroom--gross but super funny). Everything that next year is kind of a blur. Two babies 19 months apart does a number on your memory.

5) Trip to the Transportation Museum For James' birthday one year he asked to go to the NC Transportation Museum. That was before Annia was born so our four person family trecked out there, road on a train and a turn table, we looked through the sheds and had a blast. It was so much fun to celebrate James and watch him light up!

6) Two miscarriages The greatest grief I have ever known came on the heels of losing two sweet babies. Samuel David's due date passes every November 30th and Cora Ann's on March 18th. For many couples grief like this draws them closer together; in our case I think it drove us apart for a time. I needed space from church and God to figure out what I felt and thought about him while Nathan continued to attend services every week. As the Lord drew me back to him our marriage grew stronger and our love deeper. 

7) Trip to the beach One summer before Annia was born the four of us took a vacation to the beach. It was such a sweet time of building sand castles, resting, and enjoying each other's company. The boys have high social fatigue any time we stay with other people. This trip was enjoyable because it was just us.

8) Annia's birth After our two miscarriages, my pregnancy with Annia and her healthy birth are precious to me in a way that is very special. Her name means "inexhaustible grace" and her middle name is Hope. In many ways she reminds us of the eternal faithfulness of the Lord.

9) Trip to Colorado When I was pregnant with Annia some friends of ours generously offered to fly us out to Colorado for a getaway. This trip was just me and Nathan and the Lord used it to remind me of his words, "how great the love the father has lavished on us.."

10) Hurt In the course of 10 years we've each taken turns hurting the other. I'd be lying if I said that some of the landmarks of our relationship weren't instances of sin or pain. Those moments still ache in my memory but the sting of them has faded.

Nathan and I often feel like we're total weirdos. We don't fit into the traditional boxes. He's emotional. I stuff my emotions. His giftings are toward one-on-one and mine are toward public speaking. But I think our weirds complement each other.

This life is hard and we're not perfect. But there's no one else I'd want to do it with.

Here's to the next 10 and many more!

Friday, December 30, 2016

A New Thing

Recently a friend of mine started reading books about psychology. One day she’d like to be a therapist or counselor and so she reads these books in her free time just to give her a sense of what she’s getting into. In one of the books she was reading the author discussed how as humans we are constantly taking in new information. The key to well-adjusted living is in our ability to make maps of the information we are processing, to sort through what information is important and how it might change our decision-making processes.
 I was going to give you an example of the time in our history when everyone knew the earth was flat and when new information as discovered, and that we literally had to re-draw our maps to reflect the new information we had. But my brother-in-law told me this week that that was a myth made up in the 1940s and that everyone knew the earth was round for a long time. 
Whatever the case is about people knowing the earth is round, the fact is that we are constantly gaining new information about the world we live in, about the geography of our world, and we do need to re-draw maps as we gain that information. Unfortunately, as individuals, this process of map-making is more and more difficult as we get older. My guess is that’s because the volume of information we make sense of only grows as we age and this is difficult work. We think we’ve got things figured out then everything changes and sometimes our whole paradigm shifts. Sometimes it’s easier to reject the new information as false and cling to our old maps.
When I think about examples of new map-making in Scripture, I think of Isaiah 43:18-19, when God says to the Israelites :
18 Do not remember the former things,   or consider the things of old.19 I am about to do a new thing,now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Or I think about the gospel of Mark, where for the first half of the book, everyone is trying to figure out who this guy Jesus is until chapter 8 when Jesus comes out and asks the disciples what they think. Peter says, "You are the Messiah." And that's great, but immediately Jesus begins to re-define the role of the Messiah. He teaches them that the Son of Man will suffer and die and after three days rise again. This isn't the Messiah they were expecting. Those who were able to integrate this new information about the Messiah were able to have a relationship with God and participate in building the first iteration of the Christian church. Those who weren't able to re-draw their maps lost those opportunities.
And to be clear, in many ways this wasn't new information. The Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah hadn't actually changed. But their understanding of those prophecies, their interpretation of them, had to change in light of the person of Jesus and the authority he demonstrated.
A few years ago a question began to ruminate in my mind: what does it mean for me (a woman) to be made in the image of God (who is only described with masculine pronouns in Scripture)? This question led me to areas that were uncharted on my map. You see, I grew up in a family and a church tradition that excluded women from church leadership. I was taught, and I believed, that women should probably not preach and definitely shouldn't be lead pastors. This question about the image of God on me led to new information that helped me see the scriptures which had seemed so clear in a new light. All of a sudden, my map was re-drawn, my theology shifted, and I now embrace the idea and the practice of women in church leadership roles. 
About a year ago I began to sense the Lord leading me back to school. I had planned to attend graduate school from the time I began my sophomore year in undergrad, but I was either not in a place where I could move forward or I was unsure what to pursue. As I asked the Lord for guidance, I realized that a new place on my map was now available. Looking back I reflected that if I had been a man I think I would have wanted to become a pastor. Might the Lord be leading me to seminary and full-time pastoral ministry? 
Through prayer and seeking counsel, the Lord confirmed the path. 
I am now one semester (three classes) into a Master's of Divinity degree (32 classes) and I will ring in the New Year preaching at a church in my husband's hometown.
Here's to new things.

P.S. A book I read that introduced me to this new perspective was Sarah Bessey's Jesus Feminist, which I highly recommend. In fact, I may have given it to my 17-year-old niece for Christmas :).

Friday, December 23, 2016

Book Review- Prayer by Timothy Keller

Every month I write a book review for my church's missions magazine, New Covenant. When possible, I try to relate the topic of the book I'm reading to the topic of that month's issue. I thought I would share some of them here. My goal is to post every week and to share things I've written in other places as well as new material.

At the beginning of each book review, I share a few "Fast Facts:" information about the book, its author, its length, the publisher, and where you can find it. I  try to touch on the structure of the book, the intent of the author, and the relevancy of the book to the church.

This one was originally published in the May 2016 issue of the New Covenant. You can read the full magazine for free here.


Fast Facts:
Title: Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
Author: Timothy Keller
Publisher: Dutton
Length: 266 pages
Find it: wherever books are sold and the Pitt Co Library

Since this month’s New Covenant focuses on the topic of prayer I looked for a book on the topic that would be both instructional and firmly grounded in good theology. I found a book by Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and prolific author, at our local library and decided to check it out.

His book is broken into five sections with a total of fifteen chapters. The first three sections (nine chapters) focus on the theology and doctrine of prayer, exploring subjects such as why we desire prayer, how we converse with and encounter God, and what other “masters” have to say about prayer. The last two sections (six chapters) delve into teaching on how to pray, with chapters on three different kinds of prayer and suggestions on daily prayer routines.

Keller rejects most contemporary sources on prayer in favor of older, more historical works by authors such as John Calvin, Martin Luther, and St. Augustine. Anyone who has listened to Keller preach knows that he has a deep affinity for C.S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards and this book proved that to be true once again.

Keller endeavors to teach a methodology of prayer that is typified by both conversation and encounter with God, a kind of prayer that is both verbal and emotional. He specifically mentions a phrase from Scottish theologian John Murray, who describes an “intelligent mysticism” and he explains that this means “an encounter with God that involves not only the affections of the heart but also the convictions of the mind. We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a life filled with spiritual power and experience. They go together.”

This idea of intelligent mysticism sets the tone for much of his book.  Keller indicates that God’s communication to us comes primarily through his Word and the Spirit’s work in us as we read and meditate on the Word. I believe that Keller would reject listening prayer—that is, prayer that focuses on impressions from the Lord rather than on the Word—and styles of meditation that lead participants to empty their minds rather than filling them with Scripture. Even with his strong suspicion of a mysticism that loses its grounding in rationality, Keller still cautions strongly against a purely intellectual pursuit that does nothing to move the heart.

The first nine chapters are a thorough exploration of how this kind of balanced prayer is accomplished. Drawing on works that had formed his understanding of God as a young Christian, he sites historical texts of Christian theology from people he trusts. The last six chapters focus heavily on types of prayer and suggestions for daily routines.

These last six chapters were where I found what I considered the most helpful information. Although the final sections could only come following Keller’s exhaustive instruction on the theology prayer, I personally had some difficulty retaining information from the initial chapters as they seemed to bounce from quote to quote and were filled with caveats and clarifications. I began to feel in those chapters as if there were one right way to pray and that I needed to manipulate my heart to be in a certain way before my prayers could be effective.

Thankfully it all seemed to come together at the end with a pattern of prayer that he suggests each person use in their daily prayer time. This suggestion (listed below) along with his descriptions of different types of prayer are the things that will affect my daily life moving forward.
1.)  Evocation—reminding yourself of who it is that you are praying to and how it is that you are able to come before him (Jesus’ work as our intercessor).
2.)  Meditation—dwelling on a passage of the Bible that you are already familiar with to hear what God is saying to you through it.
3.)  Word prayer—praying through the text of Scripture, paraphrasing each request and filling it out with the concerns on your heart.
4.)  Free prayer—pouring your heart out in prayer, while taking care to develop a habit of moving through adoration and thanksgiving, confession and repentance, and petition and intercession.
5.)  Contemplation—a time of reflection in which you dwell on who God is and invite the Lord to let you experience his presence.