Review | Lead Small

Lead Small by Reggie Joiner & Tom Shefchunas

Summary (from Goodreads)

Five big ideas every small group leader needs to know.

Summary (from Amazon)

If you’re a small group leader, you believe in the power of community. You know that every stage and phase of life needs a unique kind of influence.

But what exactly do you do? What exactly is your job?

It’s possible that you may feel lost at times, like your role falls somewhere between a parent and a friend, a coach and a teacher. Remember, you aren’t supposed to be any of those things. You are a little of all of those things.

Small groups come in many sizes.
Those who wear diapers.
Those who watch Disney.
Those who are learning to drive.
Those who are picking a college.

Lead Small clarifies the responsibility of the small group leader for those who work with children and teenagers. it establishes five common threads so that those who choose to lead in any size church can work off the same blueprint.

When you lead small…
you realize that what you do for a few has more potential than what you do for many.

When you lead small…
you choose to invest in the lives of a few to encourage authentic faith.

With personal insight and practical advice, Reggie Joiner and Tom Shefchunas will show you how to do something small for a big impact.

Review | 5 stars

Reggie Joiner’s guidebook on leading small groups from elementary school through college comes chock full of insight into how to communicate with students and invest in their lives. Lead Small isn’t just about giving you the practical tips to do things well (if that isn’t reason enough to read it!) – it gives you the reasons why those recommended steps and actions work to help you continue to create ideas as a Small Group Leader (“SGL”). Reggie and Shef also offer their personal examples from their leading small groups and being in them, providing valuable perspective and refreshing realism to their suggestions.

The book’s structure is easy to navigate and shows how each piece works in relation to the others. The main topics:

  • Be Present
  • Create a Safe Space
  • Partner with Parents (a favorite section of mine)
  • Make It Personal
  • Move Them Out (arguably the most important piece)

Other topics discussed include: Connect Their Faith to a Community, Clarify Their Faith as They Grow, Nurture an Everyday Faith, Inspire Their Faith by Your Example, and Engage Their Faith in a Bigger Story.

Lead Small contains lots of prompts throughout the book to guide you in taking action instead of merely reading. While I typically never do journal entry responses when called for (just being honest here), I liked the questions and considered them before moving through the rest of the book.

I will definitely keep this short read on hand as a field guide in the future.

A thing to remember: This book is not the only way to having a strong small group. Some of the tips may not be applicable, especially if you are not coming in as the single SGL a student will interact with. Lead Small is spelling out the ideal situation where one SGL leads the same group through whole stages of their groupies’ lives.

Another thing to remember: This book is all about the action of ministry and is not a theology book. It is also meant primarily for the North American church and American culture.


Review | Grace is Greater

Grace Is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story

by Kyle Idleman

Summary (from Goodreads)

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews said, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” Over the centuries much ink has been spilled on the subject of grace. Yet perhaps nothing is as hard to explain as God’s grace. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not fair. It can’t possibly cover over what I’ve done. The best way–perhaps the only real way–to understand it is to experience it. But too often in our churches we’re not getting grace across and grace is not experienced.

Bestselling author and pastor Kyle Idleman wants everyone to experience the grace of God. Through the powerful medium of story, Grace Is Greater leads readers past their hang-ups toward an understanding of grace that is bigger than our mistakes, our failures, our desire for revenge, and our seemingly impossible situations. No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God’s grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story.

Review | 4 stars

Short read with real, relatable stories and good scriptural references. A great reminder of the grace given to us and HOW we can pass that to others. Well-written and practical.

Review | Make it Happen

Make it Happen: Surrender Your Fear. Take the Leap. Live On Purpose.

by Lara Casey

Summary (from Goodreads)

You were created for a purpose, and it’s time to make it happen.

Make It Happen is the story of how I surrendered my fear, took the leap, and got a life. In my case, a perfectly imperfect, fulfilling life as a mama, a working woman, and a grateful wife. This is the story of how I chose to make “it”—a greater purpose than mine—happen, and how you can too.

Make It Happen is for

  • women who find themselves worried, anxious, and completely overwhelmed by the constant chase for perfection
  • those seeking the courage to jump into a new venture
  • working women who are struggling to “do it all”
  • weary wives and moms looking for relief from burning the candle at both ends
  • anyone who dreams of a life lived not by accident, but on purpose

Your time has come to take a leap of faith. Join me as we surrender our fears, end the chase for perfection, and say yes to cultivating the meaningful lives God desires for us.

You know all those things you’ve always wanted to do? You should go do them.

Review | 4 stars

As a person who has not read anything by Lara Casey before, I appreciated the marriage of testimony and practical advice derived from her experiences contained in this book. Lara’s writing is relatable for women in any stage in their lives. The format made sense and was easy to navigate. I also like the writing prompts throughout.

Review | Bittersweet

Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way

by Shauna Niequist

Summary (from Goodreads)

“The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life. Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness. It’s the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, audacious, earthy. This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean that it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all long, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be. I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts, and most useful tools. Change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us. It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways, and also in the best ways. I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and that in many cases, change is a function of God’s graciousness, not life’s cruelty.”

Niequist, a keen observer of life with a lyrical voice, writes with the characteristic warmth and honesty of a dear friend: always engaging, sometimes challenging, but always with a kind heart. You will find Bittersweet savory reading, indeed. “This is the work I’m doing now, and the work I invite you into: when life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.”

Review | 3 stars

As much as I want to say that this book changed my life, it didn’t. It was an insightful yet easy read that was relatable, even though I had not experienced the exact situations and types of loss and change Niequist described. The chapter/essay that struck home for me was entitled “twenty-five”; my favorite line of the book resides in those pages. We must learn to “[walk] away from the good-enough, in search of the can’t-live-without.” This resonated with me unlike the other quotable moments in the book. There’s beauty to each essay, most definitely. I would not say that these significantly altered any perspective that I currently have, however. 3 stars for a nice read and a few great sound-bites.

14 Loves

Hello, loves!

Taking some inspiration from the lovely Lonestar Southern yet again, I’ve decided to commemorate Valentine’s Day 2k17 with a list of 14 random things I love (aside from the given: Jesus, my family, the C/church, & my dog).

Admittedly, this is my cop-out for not writing about my birthday, suddenly being twenty-six, being featured on The Daily Positive’s “Self-Love Letter Round-Up” (woot!), or what’s actually happening in my life. Sorry, y’all.

My 14 loves:

  1. Warm weather and sunshine generally, regardless of the temperature

There’s something about having a beautiful day at any time of the year. I love the warm weather best, though, even if it means suffering allergies and bug bites. I’m not one for the beach, but I’ll take that nice day and get some vitamin E. Warm weather is a battery charger for me. Winter, schminter.

  1. Bookstores, reading, perusing reading paraphernalia*, & talking about books

* Note, by perusing I mean not actually buying in most cases. Also, said paraphernalia includes, but is not limited to: candles, bookmarks, journals, character figurines, art, and décor.

  1. Mexican food, particularly white cheese dip and/or cilantro-heavy salsa with fresh tortilla chips

Yes, I’m lactose intolerant. Yes, I’ll feel the pain later. Queso is a way of life.

  1. The color yellow

I love bright colors, especially yellow. It’s so sunshiny and happy (see #1).

  1. Tea of both primary varieties, hot & sweet iced

Don’t ever try to give me unsweetened iced tea without offering a multitude of apologies.

  1. Waking up early & doing things before everyone else is alive

I love mornings, with whatever dewy fog rolls in. The sunshine resting on my face as day breaks in full. Starting the day slowly, with a cup of tea and a good book and my puppy nearby. The quiet serenity of a new, fresh beginning.

  1. Watching baseball at the ballfield or ballpark

It’s not just the game, but the atmosphere. I love going to Tides Park in Norfolk, getting a pretzel, and having light conversation while looking out for rogue projectiles from the field. Baseball also brings warmer weather (see #1, it’s clearly important).

  1. Organizing and/or cleaning things

Whether organizing my closet or stationery or paperwork or bookshelf, I love giving things their place in my space.

  1. Multi-color pen sets, & other stationery/office supplies

Bright colors. Happy feelings. Organization. Good vibes.

  1. Writing lists

The best lists start with “1. Write a list”.

  1. Waffles

In the true Leslie Knope fashion, I love waffles. They are pancakes with built-in syrup receptacles. Brilliant craftsmanship. Carbs forever.

  1. Chick-Fil-A

I am head-over-heels for Chick-Fil-A’s breakfast, but their salads are also delicious. I can go to CFA daily and get something that avoids the realm of the mundane. They have sweet tea (see #5).

  1. Fashion, clothing, & bargain hunting

Pinterest and blogs are the death (read: life) of me. I love looking at new hairdos, makeup (TARTE just smells so. good.), clothing, shoes, bags, jewelry, and all the trends that come with them. I love a great sale in store and online, and small boutiques featuring U.S.-made goods alongside free shipping. I refuse to pay top dollar, however. Good thing I love the hunt!

  1. Ampersands

They’re beautiful & elegant & sophisticated & dainty & one of my favorite stylistic choices I make in my writing.

And there you have it, 14 random things Heather appreciates and loves. Have a fun Valentine’s!

Self-Love Letter

See Self-Love Letter Challenge from the Daily Positive

Dear Self:

I love the way you give. You give your time, your energy, your willpower, your whole self in so many ways. You don’t do things halfheartedly. People tell you to not take things so personally, but that goes against who you are – someone who invests yourself in your activities, your relationships, your daily interactions with people, your work (volunteer or not). You hold these dear things close to your heart. You pour out your all, unabashedly. And this passion is contagious.

That being said, in doing all the things that occupy space in your agenda, your day, and your heart, you fail to give yourself the ‘thank you’ notes you so often pen to others. It’s time to change that and acknowledge the good you do.

Thank you for volunteering and spending time with the young people in the church. While you get to instruct and guide them, they also teach you.

Thank you for being a positive influence at work, putting a smile on others’ faces even on your worst days.

Thank you for constantly seeking more knowledge of this world, God’s wonderful creation.

Thank you for hearing others’ opinions, and truly considering them. You listen to understand others’ perspectives, instead of just waiting to respond and impose your own views. This is vital in today’s instant gratification world where it’s easy to lose yourself in (and to) the argument.

I know that it’s hard to see where progress is made in the pursuit of perfection. Nothing seems to measure up. Please remember that perfection is never achieved, but excellence results from the chase. Don’t be dissatisfied with excellence because it isn’t perfection, but don’t rest on your laurels or settle for good-enough, either.

You are diligent, intuitive, sensitive, and a visionary.

While these things are true, know that worth is not defined by works or personality. Worth is found in your identity as royalty – a queen – in God’s kingdom. You are a child of God. He loves you beyond measure. Embrace this love.

Be encouraged, Soul. Be refreshed, Spirit. Be loved, Self.

Advice for Myself

3 pm

I’m horrified by the prospect of a new year. I already miss 2013. It was a year packed full of heavy emotions, life-altering events, and honestly some really great times. I miss college and my sorority. I miss doing research for my independent study. I miss my summer off, where I did nothing related to internships or work or school. I will miss being 22 as my birthday looms closer.

Despite all of my desires to remain in 2013, the clock will roll over at midnight. It already has. To my co-workers in New Zealand, Happy New Year! Tomorrow already exists, whether I like it or not.

So, like many people around the world, I’ve decided to write down some ideas for things I want to do next year. Some of these may seem selfish. And frankly, they will be. I want to change so that I enjoy my life a bit more. Ultimately, I must make the changes to affect my life. Other people may be affected, yes. But being static in my own growth will hurt me and others in the long-run as well. So, as a precaution, please accept these few words as my formal apology for anything I mess up for you with my resolutions.

In the next year, I want to make both big changes and small changes. I want to alter my perspective. I’ve listed a few ways how. You may disagree with some, and be totally gung-ho about others. Leave a comment if you feel so inclined. Regardless of other blog posts, columns, or thoughts that are out there, I’m sticking primarily to this collection of resolutions for 2014.

  1. Go shopping alone. Even if you don’t buy anything. You like it, Heather. Go do it. For you.
  2. Seriously, keep texting/ calling/ Facebooking/ communicating with your faraway friends. Don’t lose touch with those you truly care about.
  3. Take a Friday off, and take a long weekend to see some friends in another part of the state. The Friday is to get there and enjoy a night on the town. You’ve never done it. GO DO IT.
  4. Learn the ukulele. Even if you’re bad at it. And don’t stop when someone complains. They should invest in good headphones.
  5. Abandon your phone more often. The only time that didn’t work out was when your parents wanted to surprise you with dinner and a movie at the theater and you missed the calls (plural) because you didn’t look at your phone while driving, and took the dog out for them when you saw they weren’t home. That was a great reason to miss the gift—you were giving to them! How cute.
  6. Plan a vacation. Go on a vacation. Enjoy a vacation. SOMEWHERE ELSE. GO DO IT.
  7. Go on lunch dates. They’re fun.
  8. Tip more. Always tip more. Especially for a server in a bad mood. It will make his or her day.
  9. Don’t be afraid of not being compatible with potential friends. If it works, yay! If not, what’s the harm in trying? You will always feel rejected if you never try in the first place.
  10. Learn about someone else’s dreams/ ambitions. They might just shock you.
  11. Spend time with people, even if they want to do something you hate. You can either be miserable the whole time, or turn the time into a precious memory by making it people-focused and not event-focused.
  12. If you like using glitter on crafts, by George, use the glitter.
  13. Keep blogging. It makes you feel good. Even if what you write isn’t read by an expansive audience. Newsflash, that’s not the point.
  14. Stop thinking that the number of likes you get on Facebook reflects how much people like you. Dude, they click a button, and they like you? I don’t think that’s how friendship works.
  15. Accept that you are a nerd. A very nerdy nerd.
  16. Don’t bring up schooling in conversation; if someone else brings it up, say it and move on. That subject makes you start comparing yourself to others, and then you typically come out disappointed with yourself for any number of reasons. No one wins.
  17. Read a book a month. You already get pretty close to this goal. So make it happen.
  18. Make your t-shirt quilt. You’ve been talking about it for years. Roll out that batting, and get to work.
  19. Take the dog for a walk at least three times a week. It gets you moving, and helps the parents. Win-win.
  20. Save every five dollar bill you have. At the end of the year, put it into savings. You already do this. I think it’s cool, so continue doing it. Easy enough.
  21. Go on a date if you’re asked. Make it a big deal. If you want romance, make it known, girlfriend.
  22. Have a party or a get together for your birthday. It’s been a long time since you’ve had something like that that you’ve planned. Don’t be ashamed to want to celebrate something that’s cool. And make it a costume party. You’ve never done one before, at least that I remember…
  23. Pray more. Don’t expect God to speak if you aren’t listening before, during, and after praying. He won’t ignore you, and He won’t make you feel alone. Don’t give Him a cold shoulder.

Someone recently told me to give myself some advice. So, there you go, Heather. There are 23 pieces of advice for your 23rd New Year’s celebration.