For the past eight years, I have chosen “One Word” to focus on in the new year. It has been a practice that has benefited me greatly and the Lord has used it in many ways to strengthen me and to cause growth. As 2019 was ending, I was hopeful that 2020 would be a better year. 2019 was not an easy year for me. It was full of sickness and death of loved ones as well as personal challenges and struggles. I was hopeful that 2020 would bring resolution to ongoing issues and that there would be more joy than sorrow. As I prayed about what word to choose for the year, the Lord led me to “steadfast” based on 1 Corinthians 15:58, my life verse.
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
I knew that whatever would happen in 2020, the Lord was asking me to be steadfast in my purpose of loving Him and serving Him. No matter what.
It became clear pretty quickly that 2020 was not going to be a year of ease, but rather an uphill climb. Rather than resolving, issues got worse. And worse. And worse. But the Lord kept whispering to my heart, keep being faithful! Be steadfast! And then March came and a global pandemic shook our world. My plans to visit my Mom over spring break were thwarted. Personal heartbreak, attacks on my family, the increase in racial and political tensions, and watching so many loved ones on the brink of despair threatened to overwhelm me. I spent many sleepless nights crying out to the Lord.
And then, through His Word, the Lord shifted my thinking on the word “steadfast” and it became less about me and more about Him. Over and over again, I read in the Psalms about the Lord’s steadfast love. I read about how when everyone or everything fails, he remains steadfast. I read about his steadfast love being new every morning. My perspective shifted and I began to see it everywhere. He would never leave me because He is a steadfast God. He sees my weaknesses and my sins, yet he loves me with an enduring love. I don’t have to earn it. I don’t have to prove that I am worthy of love. He loves me always and forever!
One day in the midst of all of the heartbreak and loss of 2020, I decided to write out all of the ways I have witnessed the steadfast love of God in my life. I filled pages in my journal and it ended up being a beautiful exercise for me. I wrote things like this… “He caused my parents to choose life for me despite the doctor’s encouragement to abort me because of possible birth defects.” “He gave me a close bond with my earthly father so that I came to love the Word of God.” “He led me to Australia and used that time to confirm to me that my life was to be devoted to serving Him.” “He preordained that I would meet the love of my life when he was on my brother floor my sophomore year (at Moody Bible Institute). He lovingly brought Dave and I to the same place of not looking to a relationship to fulfill us, but rather looking to God alone to be our everything. He graciously caused our hearts to be woven together in friendship and then to a deep and abiding love.” “His plans for us led us to Greenwich, CT, where Dave would serve as an associate pastor for four years. The biggest blessing for me personally was living close to Mom and Dad in Pennsylvania and being able to visit them frequently.” “He has always been faithful, why start to worry now?”
This shift in perspective became an anchor for me as the storms of 2020 continued to rage. There would be more difficulties ahead, but I was clinging to the steadfast love of the Lord and as a result, there was hope and joy in the midst of the tears. His steadfast love for me allowed me to respond with a steadfast trust in Him. I knew He would be faithful and I was convinced that I would follow Him no matter where He led.
We had to walk through some dark valleys this year. We continue to mourn the loss of friendships and the deaths of so many that we loved, including my precious Mama. I never did get to see her in person again, but we were blessed with a sweetness in our relationship that is an absolute GIFT to me. It was easier to accept the Lord’s steadfast love for me through the trials of 2019 and 2020, because I was blessed with the unconditional love of my Mom. She would cry with me and pray with me and for me. She was a rock for me this year and when she started to desire more and more to be with Jesus, we were able to share that as well. I told her that I think the Lord kept her here longer than she might have liked because He knew that I would need her. This thought was a blessing for both of us. To the very end, she blessed me with her beautiful life.
As this year comes to an end, I am no longer looking for the new year to be better than the previous one. My feet have been firmly planted on the rock of the Lord’s steadfast love and so I know that no matter what comes my way, He will walk by my side through it all. And that will be enough.
I wrote down this quote from one of the books I read this year- Hope when it Hurts by Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton.
Don’t give up or give way to despair, for there is a glorious treasure to be found when the pain of this world drives us to Jesus and it is of far greater worth than any earthly relief.
I have been praying about my “One Word” for 2021 and have settled on “peace”. I look forward to what the Lord wants to teach me through this focus in the new year!
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. ~John 14:27
Happy New Year! May the Lord overwhelm you with His steadfast love and grant you peace!
Dear Family and Friends,
This year has not been what any of us hoped for when we were anticipating 2020. The unexpected, the uncertainties and the unprecedented nature of this year have left all of us reeling. Yet this year has brought joy in the midst of sorrow, hope when all seemed lost and a deeper love for others. As this year comes to an end and as we celebrate the most important gift that has ever been given, I am choosing to lift my eyes off of the heartache and fix them firmly on the heaven-sent blessings that my Father continues to lavish on me.
It’s been a tough year for my Lindsay girl. She has faced many disappointments and a senior year that looks nothing like what she expected. But as the year has progressed, we have watched her grow and adapt and adjust in ways that we would not have expected from her in previous years. She has learned to be resilient and as a result, this has been one of her best years ever. It sounds odd, doesn’t it? But that is the way God works. Sometimes he strips away all that we are holding onto and asks us to trust him. Then we step out in faith and he blesses us beyond our imaginings.
Lindsay has made the decision to pursue a degree in elementary education, but has decided to take a gap year next year instead of starting college right away. We are happy to have more time with her before she embarks on her next adventure and are thankful for the opportunity to push back on the pressure to make all of the decisions right now! Lindsay continues to pursue her passions for music (singing, playing guitar and ukulele), writing (she is currently collaborating on a book project with a friend and writing a book of her own), working with kids, serving at a local Christian camp every chance she gets and hanging out with friends (virtually for now).
Ethan is in his sophomore year in high school and is still the sweet and thoughtful boy he has always been with a bit of grumpy teenager thrown into the mix! He has been a rock for me this year, listening to me, challenging me when I needed to be challenged and encouraging me when I was brokenhearted. He is wise beyond his years and I am amazed at the work God is doing in his life.
Despite the challenges of this year, he too has had one of his best years ever. In February, our family took a mini-vacation to Toronto to celebrate Gibson’s birthday. The boys went to a car show and it was a dream come true for my car loving son(s)! He is passionate about cars and is extremely excited to start driving next year. During the summer months, he had the opportunity to go on a leadership hike at the camp where Lindsay serves. It looked different than in years past, but he was able to experience the challenges of backpacking in the wilderness and being stretched emotionally, physically and spiritually. He embraced it fully and camp has become one of his favorite things. He too serves at camp every chance he gets! In addition to these interests, he enjoys working out, playing video games with friends and riding his bike off the beaten path.
Gibson started 6th grade this year and the growth we have witnessed in him this year has been amazing. He is becoming more sensitive to the needs of others and will often give me hugs for no reason. He is an insatiable reader and has a passion for astronomy, computer coding and learning in general. As with all of my kids, he has his own unique challenges, but it is an absolute joy to watch him grow into a young man!
The best parts of this year for Gibson were the car show in Toronto, a few days at camp with our family, our vacation in the Adirondacks in August and the increased time our family has spent playing games and watching movies together. He has come out of his shell this year and enjoys playing with friends and helping the younger kids at church and school feel included. He still loves climbing trees, riding his bike, swimming, playing in the snow and soccer.
The biggest news for Ainsley is that she learned to read this year! It has been one of the greatest joys of my life to work with her and watch her master this skill. We are constantly amazed at the words she is able to sound out in our times of scripture reading. The ability to read has ushered in a new season for our family of playing a wider diversity of board games, an unexpected blessing. She also learned to swim this year, but riding her bike continues to be an elusive skill.
Ainsley has been blessed with many friends in our homeschool co-op and at church. These friendships have enriched her life and we are so pleased for her that even in the midst of a trying year, she has been blessed with the gift of friendship. Many of her friends joined her ballet class and that has been an absolute joy for her. Ainsley loves to play video games with her siblings and she loves to draw and color.
To say it has been a challenging year for Dave and I doesn’t quite seem to cover it. Yet the Lord has been faithful in holding us together when we felt like we were falling apart. Our love for each other, for Jesus and for the people He has called us to serve has only grown stronger. For this I am truly grateful, because there were times when the pain and the heartbreak of this year threatened to overwhelm us. We are able to say with more conviction than ever, that the Lord is our refuge and strength an ever-present help in trouble. He has held us close and we are eternally grateful.
We too have enjoyed the trips we have been able to take despite the challenges of COVID. I have continued to write in my journal and with a friend although any public writing has been stifled this year. I’m trusting the Lord for whatever he has for me in the future and am content. I love homeschooling my kids and teaching a couple of classes at our homeschool co-op. The Lord continues to give me opportunities to serve. Dave has been blessed with friends who share some of his passions such as playing board games and video games and a nerdy excitement for all things space related. He has been encouraged by pastor friends as well and I am so grateful for these men who have come along side my husband and encouraged him to keep on keeping on.
The deepest heartbreak for me this year was saying the final goodbye to my precious Mama. By the end, she was in constant pain after battling cancer for four years and so I am grateful that she is no longer experiencing any pain or sorrow or heartache. But oh, how I miss her! She was my biggest supporter, a prayer warrior and a confidante. I can’t type these words without crying, but I know she what she would say. Don’t cry for me, Bekah! I am the happiest I have ever been! But of course, I cry for the hole that she has left. My Mama loved Jesus and she lived her life to shine the light of Christ. There will be many people in heaven because of my Mama’s faithful witness.
If you are reading this and you don’t know the hope that can be found in Jesus, it would by my greatest joy if her example would encourage you to find out what you are missing. This year has left us with no doubt that we are not in control. We can’t keep others from getting sick, we can’t convince people to listen to truth, we can’t even plan the next day with certainty. But there is one thing that has not changed and that is the plan that God has had all along. He never meant for this world with all of its horror and ugliness to be our final home. Our sin separates us from God, but his answer to this divide was to send his Son, Jesus, to be born, to live his life teaching others about God and then to die in our place, taking the penalty for our sins. After that, he rose again, because death cannot have victory over the author of life. Now he is seated at the right hand of God, offering eternal life to all who would believe.
Oh, friend, I hope that’s you! In case you think this life here and now is all that there is, I pray that the truth of Christmas, the truth my Mama lived out with every breath, would penetrate your heart and cause you to run to Jesus. I’m here if you want to learn more about this hope that I have.
From our family to yours, Merry Christmas!
Dave, Becky, Lindsay, Ethan, Gibson and Ainsley
I set out to write a single post about my “Twenty (Favorite) Books in 2020” and quickly realized that the post was too long. If you want to read Part 1, you can do that here. This post contains books 11 through 20.
11. “Hope When it Hurts” by Kristen Wetherell and Sarah Walton
When you go through a difficult season, you discover the value of having mentors and friends who point you to Jesus and to truth. As difficult as this year has been, the love and support of godly men and women has been incredible. One of my friends sent me this book in the midst of a storm and I cannot recommend it highly enough!
Because he cares, God wants to take your anxieties. And because he is God, his hands are big enough to hold what yours cannot. So we are told to “cast” our anxieties “on him”. This is an intentional throwing off of what weighs us down onto God through prayer- a conscious effort, moment by moment, to live not by fear but by faith. He alone is our source of strength when our bodies give way, he alone is our source of help when grief sends its crushing blow, he alone is our wisdom when we have limited vision and life-altering decisions to make; he alone is our rock when earthly security is shaken.
12. “Awe” by Paul David Tripp
This book was recommended by another mentor/friend. In a time when I desperately needed hope beyond my circumstances, this book encouraged me to lift my gaze and to stand in awe of God. It gave new sight to my weary eyes and I began to live in awe of Him and as a result seeking to honor him more fully. I will share two quotes from this book. The first gives a sense of what this book is about. The second seems like it could come directly from my journal. It has been a hard year. But when I read my journal, it is mostly scripture. The Word of God has sustained me and living in awe of Him has been my lifeline.
You and I will only rest in situations over which we have no control if we are in awe of the One who controls them all for his glory and for our good.
This has been a very convicting chapter for me to write. As I have been writing, I have been going through one of the most spiritually stressful and discouraging periods of my ministry life. I have tried to make good choices and have failed more than once. I have been under attack by people who loved me. I’ve had moments when I just wanted to quit. I have thought, “Forget ministry. Forget the church. I just want to go where no one knows me and live a quiet life! I’m tired of trying to help others only to get attacked myself. I’m tired of the burdens and the stress. I’m tired of uncomfortable conversations and tough decisions. I’m tired of private things being made public. I’m tired of praying and praying and nothing changes. In fact, things only seem to get worse. I’m tired of feeling alone and misunderstood.
13. “It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way” by Lysa Terkuerst
Technically, I read this book in 2019, but it has continued to be an encouragement for me in 2020, so it makes the list. I don’t have any quotes from this one, but I resonate with Lysa’s words and thoughts in this book. When life leaves us reeling, it’s crucial to remember that God is still sovereign and he is still good. He always has purpose in what he allows to come our way.
14. “Forgiving What You Can’t Forget” by Lysa Terkuerst
One of the things that has marked my reading in 2020 is the way one book leads me to the next. I had not stopped ruminating on “It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way” when I saw this new book by Lysa Terkuerst and I knew I wanted to read it. I do not want to be a person trapped in bitterness. I want to be characterized by gracious forgiveness. But this takes effort and God’s grace. This book was the right mix of encouraging and challenging. It’s hard to simply share one quote, because I highlighted my way through this book!
We are making sure not one bit of the hurt done to us is multiplied by us.
15. “Conversation Peace: The Power of Transformed Speech” by Mary Kassian
I read this book along with several other women in an online summer Bible study. It was beautifully convicting! It is a workbook with an emphasis on scripture informing our speech. Our words should be used to build others up and not tear them down. One of the verses that we were encouraged to memorize is one that I memorized many years ago. So since I am unable to find my hard copy of the book at the moment, I will share this verse with you instead.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14
16. “Hinds Feet on High Places” by Hannah Hurnard
My sister recommended this book to me reminding me of how our Dad appreciated this book. I can identify with Much-Afraid, the heroine of this story. I too do not want to be content with staying where I’m at, but desire to be changed and made more like Christ. Even when this means walking through the most severe storm.
When she remembered this, Much-Afraid thought with a little shiver in her heart, “He will never be content until he makes me what he is determined that I ought to be,” and because she was still Much-Afraid and not yet ready to change her name, she added with a pang of fear, ” I wonder what he plans to do next, and if it will hurt very much indeed?”
17. “Becoming Elisabeth Elliot” by Ellen Vaughn
If I had to pick my absolute favorite book of 2020 (besides the Bible!!), it would be this one! I have always loved reading missionary stories and have been fascinated by Elisabeth Elliot and the story of her husband Jim and the other men who lost their lives in Ecuador in 1956 when they were trying to bring Christ to the Waodani Tribe. But reading this biography has given me a deeper desire to faithfully follow Christ no matter the cost.
The only problem to be solved, really is that of obedience. As Betty noted, futility- that sprit-numbing sense of despair- does not come from the thing itself, but from the demand to know “why”. It is the question of the child, like little Valerie’s endless “whys?” in the jungle. For Betty, the adult question is “what?” As in, Lord, show me what You want me to do. And I’ll do it. And in that acceptance- “I’ll obey whatever it is”- there is peace.
18. “Suffering is Never for Nothing” by Elisabeth Elliot
After reading “Becoming Elisabeth Elliot”, I wanted to read more from Elisabeth Elliot. This book was a balm for my soul, because when you go through suffering, there is a human need to know that it has purpose, that it’s not for nothing. Knowing that God will take every bit of heartache and suffering in my life and use it for His Glory and my good is a truth I need to rest in.
And I’ve come to see that it’s through the deepest suffering that God has taught me the deepest lessons. And if we’ll trust Him for it, we can come through to the unshakable assurance that He’s in charge. He has a loving purpose. And He can transform something terrible into something wonderful. Suffering is never for nothing.
19. “New Morning Mercies” by Paul David Tripp
I have been reading this daily devotional for three years now and am often amazed at how the devotional of the day is exactly what I need. This was one that was a perfect timing reminder.
Fear lives and rules in the heart of a believer who has forgotten God’s sovereignty and grace. If left to myself, I should be afraid. There are many trials, temptations, dangers, and enemies in this fallen world that are bigger and more powerful than me. I have to deal with many things that are outside my control. But the message of the gospel is that I haven’t been left to myself, that Immanuel is with me in sovereign authority and and powerful grace. He rules with perfect wisdom over all the circumstances and locations that would make me afraid. In grace, he blesses me with what I need to face what he has decided to put on my plate. I am never – in anything, anywhere, at any time – by myself. I never arrive on scene first. I never step into a situation that exists outside his control. I never move beyond the reach of his authority. He is never surprised by where I end up or by what I am facing. He never leaves me to the limited resources of my own wisdom, strength, and righteousness. He never grows weary with protecting and providing for me. He will never abandon me out of frustration. I do not need to be afraid.
20. “The Bible” by God himself
When I say that the Bible has been my lifeline this year, I am not overstating it. The Psalms particularly have helped me to have a language to express my heartbreak, my fears and my sorrow. Through His Word, the Lord has strengthened me, given me joy, protected me and lifted my head. I have copied Psalm after Psalm into my journal along with other meaningful passages. There is nothing quite like the Word of God.
O Lord, I call upon you: hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!
But my eyes are toward you, O God my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless! From Psalm 141
What books would you recommend I add to my reading list for 2021? I am currently reading and loving “Inexpressible” by Michael Card and I am re-reading one of my favorite books of all time, “Stepping Heavenward” by Elizabeth Prentiss. I hope that you will find many quiet moments in the coming year to dig into some good books.
It’s been a terrible year. The worst ever. Yet I read more this year than I ever have before. Scripture, good books and comforting songs became my lifeline. Without Jesus, I am not sure I would have made it through.
It was a terrible year, but God has been so kind. His love for me has not failed.
I just reread my journal entry from January 1, 2020. I wrote this…
The start of a new journal. A new day. A new year. A new decade.
The significance of this moment is not lost on me. The newness of it all floods me with joy. I needed this newness. Desperately! 2019 was not the best year. In fact, it was downright awful.
Oh, I had such high hopes for 2020, but God had other plans. Dave has had funerals for twelve people over the course of these two years, one of those being for my precious Mama. We have had five people whom we love dearly contemplate suicide and we have grieved with friends who were personally gutted by this kind of loss. We have had church issues that have broken our hearts. We have watched families and churches and our country and our world be ripped apart by COVID and political storms. We have mourned the racial divide and the shocking lack of love and compassion.
But there has been light in the midst of all of the darkness. My kids are thriving! My Mom is no longer suffering! And reading kept my eyes off of situations around me and encouraged me to keep my eyes firmly fixed on Christ.
So without further ado, here is my list of my Top Twenty Books in 2020…
- “Dawn of Wonder” by Jonathan Renshaw
Most of the books on this list are non-fiction, but this book now tops my list of favorite fiction books. It is a long book, but if you enjoy epic tales, don’t miss this one!
Nessa implored Aedan to stay on good terms with Harriet. Her frequent appeals for him to be accommodating revealed that she saw the discord well enough, but tried to mend it on Aedans’s side rather than where it originated. Without realizing it, she was repeating the fault she had so recently lamented. Too fearful to intervene and hold back the tormenter, she was pleading with the victim to be more submissive. It was a solution that would resolve the conflict while entrenching the problem. Aedan didn’t have the words to understand, but he could feel the wrongness of it.” (page 151)
2. “Adorning the Dark” by Andrew Peterson
This book is an encouragement to step out in faith and pursue the passions God has given you. It was one of my Christmas gifts last year and it inspired so much of my reading and my focus this year.
All you really have is your willingness to fail, coupled with the mountain of evidence that the Maker has never left or forsaken you.
3. “Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings” by Diana Pavlac Glyer
Referenced by Peterson in “Adorning the Dark”, “Bandersnatch” was the next book I knew I wanted to read. It is long and sometimes dry, but I found it to be a fascinating and inspiring read. It spurred me on to seek out a friend who would keep me on track with writing. Meeting up with this friend has been one of the highlights of 2020 for me!
Go out of your way to cultivate a conversation with people who share your interests but see things from a very different point of view. Learn to listen generously, especially when you disagree.
4. “Treasures of the Snow” by Patricia St. John
When I was in third grade, my teacher read this book aloud to our class and my young heart was stirred with a deeper love for Jesus. I was reminded of it when a missionary visited our church and referenced it. I read it to my kids and rejoiced as they also resonated with this beautiful story.
Perfect love. It means love that goes on doing until there isn’t any more to be done, and that goes on suffering until it can’t suffer any more. That’s why, when Jesus hung on the cross, He said, ‘It is finished.’ There wasn’t one sin left that couldn’t be forgiven, not one sinner who couldn’t be saved, because He had died. He had loved perfectly.
5. “Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy” by Mark Vroegop
My pastor husband shared this book with many grieving church members and one day he came home with a copy for me. It is an incredibly beautiful book on lament. That might sound like an odd description, but the beauty is found in the integral relationship between lament and healing. I learned to lament this year and read more Psalms than I can even mention.
Finding an explanation or a quick solution for grief, while an admirable goal, can circumvent the opportunity afforded in lament- to give a person permission to wrestle with sorrow instead of rushing to end it. Walking through sorrow without understanding and embracing the God-given song of lament can stunt the grieving process.
6. “Hannah Coulter” by Wendell Berry
Last spring, my teens were in a high school literature class and this book was part of their reading list. I read it aloud to them and I am so glad I did. There was one day when I cried as I read to them. Hannah was an older woman at this point in my reading and her three adult children had moved far away and didn’t have any interest in the farm where they had grown up. The heroine reminisced about their childhood and wished that she had encouraged them to have a deeper love and connection to their home. It had a deep impact on all of us as I read. I pray that as my teens pursue the future God is preparing for them that they will remain relationally close to Dave and I.
7. “A Path Through Suffering” by Elisabeth Elliot
I read this book before the severe storms of 2020 set in and I am so glad I did. One of the things I have discovered in walking through this particularly dark season is that God has used my past study and books like this one to prepare me for difficulty and to strengthen my heart. My faith did not waver and for this I am eternally grateful!
Open hands should characterize the soul’s attitude toward God- open to receive what he wants to give, open to give back what He wants to take. Acceptance of the will of God means relinquishment of our own. If our hands are full of our own plans, there isn’t room to receive His.
8. “When to Walk Away” By Gary Thomas
This book was recommended by one of my mentors and was an encouragement to me during a time when I felt like I was going crazy.
Virtually every good work is eventually besieged by toxic attacks. The more important the work, the more you can expect attacks. Thus, to complete your work, you have to learn how to recognize, disarm, or step aside from such attacks.
9. “Critical Spirit: Confronting the Heart of a Critic” by June Hunt
This was a short practical book that contrasted a critical spirit with caring for others. The author uses the book of Job to demonstrate the difference. This has resulted in a personal study of Job.
Wrong Belief: My sense of significance is increased when I point out the wrongs of others. That fact that I believe ‘I am right’ justifies my criticism of others.
Right Belief: When I am critical of others, I am actually exposing my own sin. Because Christ lives in me, continually extending His mercy toward me, I will reflect his compassion by caring about the needs of others rather than by criticizing them.
10. “Get Out of Your Head” by Jennie Allen
I read this book while I was on vacation and it was so good to have the time to work through it. It’s another practical resource that has helped me tremendously.
When we allow our thoughts to spin out of control with worry and fear, either consciously or unconsciously, we try to elbow our way into the all-knowing role that only God can play. We forget that it’s actually good news that He is in control and we are not.
As I was writing this post and it got longer and longer, I realized that my original intention of sharing twenty books was not going to work for one post. So this is Part 1 and I will share Part 2 at another time. If you are looking for some good books to read, I hope that this list will give you some options that you may not have considered.
I wish you many opportunities to get lost in a good book over the coming weeks. 2020 is almost over and this is worth celebrating!