10 ways to avoid burnout.

Burn out: it’s a real thing. I experienced it in the classroom, and I experienced it in ministry. I come close to experiencing it as a mom and as a writer when I don’t have the help I need, or when I spend all my free hours crafting my words.

So, the last thing I want is for the same thing to happen to you. Click here to read ten ways YOU can avoid burnout, or check out the PDF She Loves created of the article below:

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Curious as to the story beforehand, or a further explanation of the ten ways you too can prevent burn out? (I know, it’s so Smoky the Bear of me). Head on over to She Loves Magazine to read the whole article.

In this life of wholeness with you!

So, have you experienced burnout? What did you do to get yourself out of the burnout hole, especially as it pertains to vocation? 

this isn’t about you making a black friend.

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“But how do I join in the conversation about race if I don’t know any black people? And what if there aren’t actually any black people who live around me?” Her questions were earnest, her desire genuine. I’d spoken at her church earlier that morning, on the theme of racial reconciliation. As a white woman and as a Christian, it’s a topic I find myself learning more about every day, even if I sometimes feel like the least qualified one in the room to speak.

I looked at her. I may have gawked.

“Well,” I replied. “Maybe it’s not about you making friends with black people. Or maybe it is – but I think there’s a little more to it than that.”

Here’s the thing: even though people want to be handed answers, I don’t think straight answers can or even should be handed to them. I believed this when I once stood in front of a high school English classroom, and I believe this now, when many of my white friends find themselves grappling with conversations of race, most of them for the first time.

It’s not a matter of having swallowed the wrong pill – the blue pill or the red pill, as one friend accused me of doing a couple of weeks ago (the result of which is a mass of liberal bile he believes now resides in my intestinal track). But it’s a matter of my eyes being opened to the world around me.

It is no longer my privilege to avoid talking about police brutality toward the black community (and toward African American men in particular), when another man is shot by those who are supposed to be protecting him.

And it is no longer my privilege to chalk this up as a problem of the black community, to believe that this only applies to people whose skin is a darker shade than my own.

It is also no longer my privilege to remain silent.

“In the end,” Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” 

I don’t want to be someone who remains silent toward my friends, just as I don’t want to deny a friend the beauty of how their racial identity plays a part in their story.

But when it comes to these questions of friendship, we need to examine our motives.

Almost two years ago, this article ran in the Washington Post. I agree with everything Christopher Ingraham wrote, including his opening line from comedian Chris Rock: “All my black friends have a bunch of white friends. And all my white friends have one black friend.”

But as my friend Bethany pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the point is not that those in the white community have personal connections to the black community.

The point is, regardless of their connectedness – whether they have a black best friend, whether their best friend from high school who adopted a little boy from Ethiopia, whether they know a woman online who happens to write about her interracial marriage – they care, just because. 

That’s it.

They care because every human on this great earth was made and created in the image of God. Imago dei, imago dei, imago dei. 

They care because every person, red and yellow, black and white, are precious in God’s sight.

They care because when there is injustice toward one community, there is injustice toward every community. It grieves each of us at the core, or at least it should.

This injustice, this paralysis, this deep-seeded discrimination within the American system should make us want to raise hell for every single one of our brothers and sisters, especially our black brothers and sisters. 

It’s then not a matter of someone asking me how I’m doing when another black life is wrongfully attacked, because I’m married to a black man, but it’s a matter of asking how every single one of us is doing, because we humans are interconnected, one to every other.

So, how are you doing?

How does this make you feel?

And how do the shootings of the past month affect you, how does this cause a change, a stirring in you to stand up and say, Something is not right. I will not be silent anymore. 

All of this has to be a white cause, just as much as it has to be a black cause and a brown cause and a fill-in-the-black cause for it to really matter.

So, it’s not about you finding yourself a black friend to call your own (even though I guarantee entering into a friendship that is genuine and real will change you from the inside out).

But it’s about you caring deeply for the things God cares about. It’s about you believing Love trumps hate. And along the way, I bet you’ll find yourself entering into friendship with those who don’t necessarily look like you and being changed in the process.

In this with you,

c.

Bring it. Agree, disagree? Find my words (and the pill I’ve gladly swallowed) utterly repulsive? Well, dear one: I hope it makes you think. 

running toward reconciliation (a sermon).

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A number of months back, my friend Brad asked me to speak on the theme of reconciliation at his church. The week before I was set to take the stage, a horrific string of events followed, one after the other: to Alton Sterling. To Philandro Castile. To six Dallas police officers.

Call it what you may, believe what you want about the eight individuals who wrongfully lost their lives, but the issue of race in our country cannot be ignored. Sometimes I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t know what to say and how to respond …but then, when I find myself before a couple services of Jesus-people, eager to engage in conversations about racial reconciliation because this is the conversation we can’t help but talk about, I do know what to say.

I’d love for you to pull up a chair and get cozy. Really, it’s a three-in-one sermon deal: reconciliation + spiritual friendship  through the lens of paralysis in Mark 2 + racial reconciliation (which, for future listening purposes, won’t be quite so broad next time). But the bottom line is this: when we see paralysis in our communities, when a distinct disadvantage that makes achievement unusually difficult happens time and time again to a specific people group, we can’t stand back any longer. We have to join in the conversation of race, even if for the first time. We have to run toward reconciliation.

So, click here and have yourself a listen.

Peace.

3 faith-themed summer reads.

with textIt’s no joke: summer is made for reading.

Now summer, mind you, is also made for grilling and for camping, for swimming in lakes and pools and rivers and not caring what we look like in our suited attire of choice. But mostly, summer is made for pounding through books (and not instead for writing, something I try my hardest to do in this season, but struggle to achieve when the sun is out! The sky is blue! The outside world is calling my name!)

But I digress.

If you’re a reader, you likely read for a number of different reasons: for pleasure and for fun. Because you’re interested in the subject. For learning purposes. Because someone passed along a free copy to you.

I happen to put a check mark next to all of the above, so in an effort to save you some book reading time and energy, here are three faith-themed books that have come out this summer that I’d love for you to check out.

A Woman’s Place (Katelyn Beaty). Katelyn, the print managing editor of Christianity Today, is a witty and wise young thirty-something woman who set out to reconsider women’s work, especially in Christian circles. And I’ve got to tell you: I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time. Three and a half years ago I did something I never thought I’d do: I left the traditional work force to care for my son, and pursue writing and speaking. Leaving full-time ministry proved harder than I ever believed it would (or should) be, partially because of other people’s expectations of me, and partially because I didn’t know what to make of this whole mama-writer-speaker gig (especially when invitations to use my words didn’t roll in as I thought they would). I cringed when people called me a stay-at-home mom. I yearned for someone, anyone to believe that my words held value and hand me a paycheck for the work I did when babies were napping and babysitters watched the boys. And Beaty’s book gives my own journey value: she urges men and women “…into a better framework for imagining career, ambition and calling. Whether caring for children, running a home or business, or working full-time, all readers will be inspired to live in a way that glorifies God.” So, yes, read it.

How to Survive a Shipwreck (Jonathan Martin). Now, I’ll be honest: I ordered this book to review when I mixed up the last name of said author with another well-known online religion writer. We’ll just chalk that up to not having had enough coffee that morning. So, I began reading Martin’s book with a very limited understanding of him: a white guy who wrote a book about shipwrecks and other such harrowing adventures at sea. And that’s when this modern Thomas Merton words captured me from the very beginning of the book:

“The only way to lose yourself forever is to keep hanging on to the life you had before. The storm rides you hard, but the Spirit whispers into the pitch-black that surrounds you, carrying the words Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in the wind: You must be born again.”

He doesn’t go into details over his shipwreck of a situation, but he doesn’t have to – that’s not the point of the story. Instead, we’re transported into a land of mysticism and intrigue, where Jesus is not a pat and dry answer to be realized, but a person to journey on in this wild, treacherous ride called life. So, pick up a copy and enter into the relic that is his story …and yours.

Reading for the Common Good (C. Christopher Smith). Chris has become a friend of mine in the online world: the editor for Englewood Review, he’s a thinker and a reader, a connector and someone who is deeply desirous of community. But what happens when, in our fast-paced 21st century lives, we forget to enter into life with other people? How might reading be the common thread that brings us back together? In this short read, he points out the obvious – but the obvious we’re often times too blind to realize and see is right in front of us. We were created to learn and to read, just as we were created to flourish with the people who are right in front of us, namely in our churches and in our neighborhoods. As someone who’s participated in and led book clubs in both arenas, I can attest to its truth …even if I wouldn’t have figured out that an entire book could be written on the subject. Enter in, and read Chris’ words – and see if they change the way you live. 

So, there you go: three faith-themed reads that you’ve got to add to your list in the remaining month and a half of summer. I’m also eager to read Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women & Queer Christians are Reclaiming EvangelicalismAmerica’s Original Sin, and Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith. They may not be books that may not strike your fancy but have me wholly intrigued.

Happy reading!

What’s on your list this summer, especially when it comes to faith-themed reads? What have you read lately that you just can’t get off your mind?

*Post contains Amazon Affiliate links, yo!

when your spouse isn’t called to ministry.

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Meet my friend, Julie. She has red hair. She’s a powerhouse of a speaker, a mama, a woman, a friend. She also happens to be a pastor at one of my favorite churches in the world – and as luck would have it, her husband isn’t called to ministry.

But that’s not a bad thing, not at all.

So you know I just had to write an article about it, and feature Julie in part of it as well. Click here to read it in its entirety!

I always thought I’d marry a man in ministry. Together, we’d be a kingdom powerhouse. We’d make people laugh, think, feel, and smile, all for the glory of God. Our unique pairing would be used to bring people closer to Christ.

Dreaming about who we’d be was a bit pompous on my part, but I had my reasons. From the time I was a young girl, I knew I’d been called to ministry, so I started to look for a man who fit that plan wherever I went. Would I meet him at camp, or would it be at leadership training? Would we end up sitting next to each other in a seminary class, or would he just happen to be the friend of a friend pastoring the local Sunday night church?

My expectations didn’t lessen when I met the man who would eventually become my husband, but I learned pretty quickly that my dream of ministering together wouldn’t be reality. Although my husband loves Jesus with a fiery passion, he’s found his vocational niche in the financial industry. He serves in the church, both when there’s a need and also when he feels his heart drawn toward a particular ministry, but his heart doesn’t thump for adolescents like mine. And he certainly doesn’t feel called to full-time ministry in the church.

If your spouse is not called to ministry but you are, that is more than okay. So, be encouraged: your relationship has so many other, different gifts it bring to the table. And even though this particular piece of writing is directed toward women, it definitely applies to both genders. Click here to read the whole article! 

So, are you or have you been called to ministry but your spouse is not? Tell me a story! I’d love to hear! 

can the original be improved upon?

What does this…

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and this…

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and this…

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have to do with this?

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I know, it’s like a mean SAT game that doesn’t make sense in any other head but the creator’s own. Here’s what they have in common, though: Pete’s Dragon, Adventures in Babysitting and Ghostbusters are all favorite movies of mine from the late 70’s and 80’s being remade into new and improved 2016 films.

And Vinegar Girl is a newly-released novel by Anne Tyler, and also happens to be a reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew

So, the question remains: can the original be improved upon? 

Click here to read my review of Tyler’s novel over at Englewood Review of Books, and decide for yourself. I, for one, am sticking with Elisabeth Shue, but I’ll let you decide whether you’re a fan of the Shakespearean remake.

So, the original: can it be made better than before? When have you seen this true in books and movies? When has it failed horribly? 

*Contains Amazon Affiliate links, yo!

wearing god (book club podcast #4)

Book club podcast, book club podcast! 

I have been a fan of Lauren Winner ever since I happened to pick up her first memoir, Girl Meets Godat a bookstore in San Diego over Thanksgiving holiday one year. As Osheta and I came to realize, though, Winner’s Wearing God may be more of a winter than a summer read.

You know, like this:

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She’s dense.

Her thoughts are thick. And snowy. And full of fine ice crystals that coat January’s berries, among other unnecessary metaphors. 

She requires a cup of hot tea more than a Mason jar of iced lemonade, if you catch my drift. And as we found out from most of the Shalom in the City listeners, this wasn’t the best pick for the month of June (a month that screams brainless, novel-filled beach reads for the great majority).

So, have a listen to the podcast and check out all the show notes.

Better yet, head over to iTunes if you haven’t already, and subscribe to the Shalom in the City podcast. Otherwise, if you have further thoughts, join the conversation and leave a comment below.

Also, be sure to grab a copy of The Knockoff, our July book of the month. I’m in the middle of it now, and I’m just warning you: it is so much fun. If you liked The Devil Wears Prada back in the day, and if you find yourself wondering what to do with all the millennials of this world, it’s a must-read.

Happy reading!

So, Lauren Winner: are you a fan? If you read Wearing God, what attribute or characteristic she described was your favorite? And would you agree with our “winter” assessment of her writing?

*Post contains Amazon links, yo!

when I don’t know what to say.

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On Wednesday night, I found myself glancing at the clock every few minutes, wondering when my husband would get home.

Actually, I should clarify: on Wednesday night, I found myself glancing at the clock every few minutes, wondering if he would get home. 

I found myself startled by the realization that he could very well not get home, that the “when” I’ve taken for granted most every night of our life together is not a given but a chance reality we both live with, solely because of the color of his skin.

He’d taken a night to be by himself: dinner and walking around a local neighborhood so he could recharge. Maybe my imagination gets the best of me when I imagine him whistling down the street without a care in the world, but what’s to stop him from being targeted, as happened to two fathers who look like him this past week?

As you may know, I’ve dubbed him the HBH (Hot Black Husband) on this blog. It’s a nod to his ethnicity and general level of extremely good-looking  attractiveness that also puts a smile on my face every time I type it.

But all the wit in the world can’t stop police brutality that comes at the expense of thousands of black lives just like his.

I suppose I’m a little shell shocked by this week’s events, to tell you the truth. When my best friend texted me yesterday to check in and asked me how we were doing given the events of the week, my response was simple:

I don’t even know what to say, I replied to her. But maybe not knowing what to say, because we’re in such a shell-shocked state of disbelief is the exact point. 

I don’t know what to say when two innocent black men lost their lives, within 24 hours of each other, from those who are supposed to protect them the most.

I don’t know what to say when people act like this is happening for the first time, as if police brutality toward the black community is a new reality of the last couple of years.

I don’t know what to say when “systematic racism” is claimed a liberal, left-wing agenda, because I don’t know how such blatant facts can be twisted into lies.

And most of all, I don’t know what to say when tears stream down my face as I type these words, because this is my husband and these are my sons. 

But I refuse to do nothing. I refuse to stand in a sea of unknowing.

So, I cry out for justice. I repeat the words of the prophet Habakkuk (1:2-4), whose cries Eugene Peterson hauntingly captures through The Message translation:

God, how long do I have to cry out for help
before you listen?
How many times do I have to yell, “Help! Murder! Police!”
before you come to the rescue?
Why do you force me to look at evil,
stare trouble in the face day after day?
Anarchy and violence break out,
quarrels and fights all over the place.
Law and order fall to pieces.
Justice is a joke.
The wicked have the righteous hamstrung
and stand justice on its head.

How long will we stand for the joke of justice? What will it take for us to heed the call in our land, to stand up and demand justice not for all lives but for the lives of the black community specifically?  

It takes the courage to speak up and speak out, every day.

It takes the tenacity to demand justice and beg for institutional change in our country’s criminal justice system.

And it takes turning our tears into righteous indignation for our black mothers and fathers, our husbands and wives, our sons and daughters who quite simply are our own.

Because here’s what I’ve come to realize: they are my own and they are your own as well. There is not an “us” and “them” – not in the Kingdom of God, not in the ways of this world.

You are mine, and I am yours. We are ubuntu. We are knit together by the common bond of our humanity, for it’s our very humanness that makes us laugh and cry and fight for justice all the same. 

So, Alton Sterling, I stand with you.

And Philandro Castile, I stand with you.

I stand with you. I fight for justice. I seek to understand. And I let my tears be made righteous in their indignation.

Amen.

Black lives matter. So, take steps toward justice: talk to God. Educate yourself. Examine your story. Look for the marginalized who are already among you. And, as Bryan Stevenson says, get proximate. Anything you’d like to add?

reason, season, lifetime.

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My list of best friends used to be long.

I’d prattle off a list of 20, 30 names, believing each person held and knew and understood a different part of my core. I’d count the number of weddings I’d been not only a bridesmaid in, but also a maid of honor in, not-so-secretly believing my ability to maintain close friendships with so many people a rare ability I alone possessed.

Now, hear me out: I’m not necessarily proud of my words as I type them now. But I am proud of the truthfulness with which I write.

Because what I once staked my very identity on – that uncanny ability to hold seemingly intimate relationships with so many people – does not define me anymore. I don’t hold more than a handful of deep friendships now, mostly because I can’t hold and do and be what I used to hold and do and be when it comes to relationships.

And I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. In fact, I dare say it’s a very healthy thing, and how we were designed to operate in the first place. But because I believed this my superpower for so long, it took this relational superhero awhile to realize her limited human capacities.

Sure, little blips on the radar popped up along the way: I moved, a lot, up and down the west coast, for school and jobs and marriage just the same.

the story continues, don’t you worry. Click here to head over to The Mudroom so you can read the rest of the story (and read about moving, lots, and late nineties email chains). Otherwise, how has your list of friends changed as time has gone on? 

a life without bread, with all the weeping & gnashing of teeth.

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New normals.

As most of you know, the HBH (Hot Black Husband) and I, along with a handful of friends, participated in the Whole 30 elimination diet back in May. I knew I could stand to lose a little weight, but more than that, I wanted to get some middle of the night back issues figured out.

Could all this back pain, that’s led to me rarely sleeping through the night for the past two years actually be related to the food I eat? 

I hoped not.

But hope is merely a thing with feathers, for hope proved itself fallible when the reintroduction phase emerged.

If you’re familiar with the diet, you rid your body of alcohol, sugar, dairy, legumes and gluten. Then, after 30 days, you slowly reintroduce all that goodness back into your body (with improved eating habits to boot).

And I should say a couple of things: halfway through the month, I began sleeping through the night (exclamation point), with the help of a little friend I call Advil PM. I’d tried Advil PM, Ibuprofen PM, Tylenol PM, melatonin, Give Me Everything You’ve Got PM before, but my body had never taken to it.

Until it did.

I should also say that I’ve considered bread and cheese a staple food group in and of themselves for the past, uh, lot of years. Some of you may remember this food pyramid from the mid-80’s:

1992foodpyramidBread, cereal, rice and pasta should be the base of what we eat, making up 6-11 servings per day. This is how I’ve always eaten. This is what I’ve always eaten. You probably know where I’m going here.

As soon as I reintroduced gluten back into my diet, my middle of the night back pain returned. Half an Advil PM failed to do what it’d been doing for almost a month by that point.

I’d only had one serving of bread products per day, over a four-day period, but it was enough to bring about the strongest weeping and gnashing of teeth: I have a gluten intolerance. This is what my body’s been trying to tell me all along.

And this is the new normal.

If I want to sleep through the night (which I do, I so badly do), then I can’t have bread products. So, I’m abstaining from the thing I all but lived on for a good portion of my life.

I mean, wouldn’t you?

Interestingly enough, joint inflammation is a common side effect of gluten. I’d never put two and two together, believing stomach issues gluten’s main culprit. But as I’ve begun to read more about it and talk to friends who have a gluten sensitivity, I’ve learned that I’m not the only one.

It just took me a couple of years to figure it out.

So, what about you? Is there a food your body craves that you can’t physically have anymore? For women in particular, how did the food you put into your body change as you’ve gotten older, or as you’ve birthed children? 

I’m not wholly out of luck, though: I hear if I go to Europe it might be a different deal. I’ll be able to order a baguette! straight out of a vending machine in Paris because wheat is grown and processed differently there. (Anyone want to chip in for a plane ticket?)

Take me down to the paradise city, man.
Take me down to the paradise city, man.

Realizing and stepping into a new normal isn’t always the easiest or the most wanted thing – but it can be the best decision we’ll ever make.

So, I’m saying no to the usual assortment of bread and cookies and crackers. But I’m saying yes to sleep, and that is a most glorious thing.

Love,

Cara “Gluten-free, that’s me!” Meredith

So, gluten-free: is that your normal? What have you eliminated from your diet that’s made all the difference in the world? Any favorite recipes you can pass on?