The Problem With Pretty

I filled my new hand lettered mug with the last of the morning coffee, scooped up my official canvas tote filled with notebooks, pens, and my journaling Bible, threw my favorite cozy blanket scarf over my shoulders, and walked to the hotel conference room to listen to the day’s speakers. The beautiful decorations looked fresh out of the craftiest blogs and most followed Pinterest accounts, the worship was richly experiential and full of emotion, and the weekend was filled with heartfelt reminders that God made us each beautiful and unique, and that we never needed to feel anything less than fully enough as we embraced big and powerful callings for Jesus. Women left the weekend feeling refreshed, feeling encouraged, and feeling empowered.

What I never felt that weekend?

Convicted.

brigitte-tohm-187223Sure, there were tweetable quotes from speakers who inspired us and encouraged us – but was there ever time they had really convicted us? Had they ever challenged us? Had I ever felt shaken from my spiritual comfort zone? Ever felt possible disagreement with something that was said from the platform? Ever felt that Holy Spirit punch to the gut that urges us to confession, and repentance, and ultimately to transformational change?

It wasn’t simply this particular weekend either. Looking back over many of the various retreats, conferences, and women’s ministries I had experienced so far, I began to see a common thread take shape. Between the adorable swag bags and the hand letters quotes, amongst the DIY decor and the fellowship around cupcake bars and campfires, and in spite of journal after journal filled with furiously scrawled notes from speakers, I struggled to find a moment in which the experience had been anything but beautiful. Even speakers who were seen as “raw” or “vulnerable” had ultimately shared past-tense experiences and struggles, most of which had an arc mimicking the 30 minute sitcom episodes of my 90’s childhood. Sure, there’s always a problem for our protagonists, but by about minute 25 we find the solution, the lesson to be learned, or the surprise happy ending, and we can put a bow on this week’s episode and see the happy family hug as the end credits roll. We feel inspired, we feel uplifted, and ultimately we feel comfortable and secure.  [Read more…]

We Have a Gratitude Problem


Dear Church, we have a gratitude problem, and it’s not what you think.

We seem to have conflated the concepts of gratitude and worship, and so much so that many of us can no longer tell the difference. When we think about what it means to worship God, all too often our focus is reflecting on all the ways God has been good to us and all the ways we’ve seen His faithfulness in the form of blessings and earthly provision. Even listening to some modern worship songs can often reveal just how much the focus has shifted from who God is to what God has done for us.

As I begin to get deeper into writing my upcoming book about suffering, I’ve had to stop and reflect on this question: why it is that the modern church seems to have lost its way in regards to suffering? Why is my generation genuinely struggling to cope with pain and affliction and still keep the faith? I think part of it has to do with this “gratitude problem.” When our focus drifts away from who God is and we fixate instead on looking for God’s faithfulness in what he does for us? We shift our perspective, and we’ll ultimately weight our understanding of God by our own circumstances and experiences. [Read more…]

Speak Their Names

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I’ve had seven miscarriages.

It’s a sentence I’ve grown too comfortably numb repeating, despite the very real pain my heart still carries from the loss. I think when death comes in measures beyond what we can bear our brain tries to cope by focusing on the number itself rather than people behind it. We can’t fully get our head around the 6,000,000 Jews murdered in the holocaust, but we can’t hold back the tears when we’re shown the story of just one. Why is that?

I think it’s because there is holiness in personhood. [Read more…]

Devotionals Aren’t Bible Studies

quiettimeWith the start of fall and children heading back to school, my Instagram feed is once again filled with snaps of book covers laid next to morning mugs of coffee, captioned with inspirational quotes taken from within their pages. Women are getting back into their morning quiet time routine, moms’ ministries are announcing their new fall event schedule, and Bible Study groups are starting up again after their summer break. With the amazing year that Christian publishing has had, there’s certainly no shortage of quality books to choose from. My own Amazon purchase history certainly suggests it’s been a gangbuster year for female authors of faith. But here’s the thing friends: those inspiring devotional books we all love? Most of them actually aren’t Bible studies, and it’s important we carefully recognize the difference. [Read more…]

When Doctors Hurt Instead of Heal

when doctors hurt
Far too often grappling with a chronic illness is a fight not only for your health but also for your dignity. Many times the medical community can unintentionally compound the pain of those suffering by minimizing their experience or even invalidating them entirely. It can take years or even decades for some patients to get an answer to what is plaguing them, and for some the diagnosis never comes at all. Here are some actual responses I have encountered from doctors in my 15 year journey to getting my diagnosis of Lyme disease.
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Thoughtful Gifts for the Chronically Ill

Since I often blog and speak about my chronic illnesses, I occasionally find myself on the receiving end of an email that sounds something like this, “Hey Stephanie, my friend so-and-so just found out they have insert diagnosis here. I really want to send them a care package or a gift to show them I care. Could you give me some kind of idea of what they would want?” In fact, I get these sorts of messages so often I’ve decided to dedicate an entire blog post to answering this, so I can point people towards this list in the future.

It’s important to remember: whether your friend or family member is facing a life long chronic ailment, is spending the next few months enduring chemo or radiation, is facing a long bedrest for pregnancy complications, or is learning to cope with a new physical handicap – every case, and every person, will be different. Not every gift is appropriate in every circumstance or personality, so above all, don’t be afraid to ask. But in the end, I know first hand how hard it can be to ask for help even when it’s offered, so hopefully this list will offer some great ideas when you have that friend says “it’s ok… we’re managing” (Yeah, guilty as charged on that one!)

Heartfelt Gifts

Caring Crate Subscription Box ($39.95 per month, or discount if ordering multiple months)
caringcrate

Subscription boxes are all the rage right now, and this incredible company decided to create a box specifically to minister to the needs of the chronically ill. Every box has beautiful self care products for the body and mind, each hand chosen with those suffering from long term illnesses in mind. They are the perfect gift for somebody going through cancer treatments since you can arrange a 3 or even 6 months subscription so that when the initial wave of cards and calls start to taper off, they are still receiving beautiful reminders each month that someone is thinking of them.

Spoon Necklace ($14.99)
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Members in the chronic illness community have adopted the spoon as one our most important symbols, often referring to ourselves as “spoonies.” The inspiration behind this comes from an incredible post called The Spoon Theory, that you can read all about here.  A spoon necklace is a touching way to tell your friend that you understand the choices she faces each day with managing her “spoons.” I suggest adding a thoughtful note to let them know you always want them to have an extra spoon for those especially tough days.

 

 

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Mama Has Lyme

mama has lyme“Does your child have any special challenges I should be aware of?”

Two tiny blank lines staring at me, enough for maybe three sentences if I wrote very narrowly. Yes, Aidan is on the autism spectrum, and has a variety of specific learning challenges in the classroom, but there was already an IEP file explaining these things at length. There wasn’t space here to revisit those again.

“Does your child have any special challenges I should be aware of?”

Two tiny blank lines, waiting for me to explain. My face was beginning to flush and I could feel the fog in my brain growing thicker as I grew more and more flustered trying to turn thoughts into words on this cheery yellow paper. The neuropathy in my hands was making it harder to grip the pen and I could see the words on the page start to shift out of focus the longer I tried keep them in view.

“Does your child have any special challenges I should be aware of?”

I scribbled out lightly, “Yes, I have Lyme disease.” [Read more…]

Tortellini Sausage Soup

When the first grey fall-ish day descends upon Oregon, or even the slightest hint of rain can be smelled on the pavement, my husbands eyes light up like a kid at Christmas. “Is it time for soup?”

This soup is quite possibly the most requested item of anything I cook. It’s filling, hits that perfect comfort spot when the cool rainy weather comes to stay, and the recipe is easily doubled (once i even tripled it across two large pots) to serve a large group. This is definitely what we would call a meal soup: its far to hearty to be served as an appetizer course to a regular meal. Just make a side of garlic bread, perfect for scraping every last drop from the bowl, and this soup is a meal in and of itself.

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God Doesn’t Exist in a Niche: Neither Should You

niche

 

Finding your niche. Define your niche. Know your niche.

Niche.

Niche is hands down the official buzzword of the blogosphere. What’s it mean? Essentially, the number one piece of blogging advice given at conferences, classes, and all over Pinterest boils down to this: find a specifically defined and branded area of the internet where you can establish yourself as an expert, and then stay in your lane. If you blog about recipes? Don’t post about home decor. If you’re a graphic designer? Don’t talk about your parenting. Pick an area of expertise, and then streamline your posts to stay within your sphere so that you have a clearly defined audience and an established brand.

So what’s my niche here at The Joy Parade?

I don’t have one.
photo-1461773518188-b3e86f98242fWhen I started this blog, I hired an amazing designer who specialized in branding. I created a Pinterest board while working with her to brainstorm what I wanted my branding to communicate. Sure, some of that work is about color palettes and graphics and such, but much of it is defining how you want to make people feel. It’s imagining what your readers will experience when they go to your website, scroll through your Instagram, or otherwise engage with your brand online.

If you’ve ever clicked on the Meet Stephanie page, you may have seen this verse: “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” The verse serves as a manifesto of sorts for my purpose behind the Joy Parade. It’s a place where I get to share myself with my readers in an authentic way, letting each and every one of you into my story to see what God is teaching me and how He’s showing Himself to our little family. It’s an extension of who I am – spilled out to take form in these words and images, and sent lovingly outward to travel the web and onto the screens of whoever God would have them for.

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Cultivate Community with a Midsummers Soiree

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Each summer I host a dinner for 12 in my backyard. Months of planning go into the event: theme, decor, menu, no detail is overlooked. I figure if we can invest so much time and effort into celebrating events like baby showers, engagement dinners, or birthday parties, why not take one night a year to celebrate the people we appreciate simply for the role they play in making our lives more rich and full. Why not celebrate community itself?

8In selecting the guest list, which varies each year, I deliberately try to bring together a group of ladies who vary in social circles. In fact, many of the guests share only one thing in common when the night begins: they know me. A guest of this years event summed it up perfectly when she posted a photo on social media with the caption, “We ate appetizers with strangers and dessert with friends.” Sure, there’s always a little initial awkwardness as people get to know each other, but by the time the sun had set and the table was lit by the string lights overhead? The conversation was rich, the connections ran deep, and the authenticity with which these women spoke and shared was vulnerable and brave.

This year I used a floral theme, inspired by my desire to create a floral table runner to feature as the centerpiece of my tablescape. I waited until Michaels had a great coupon to combine with the clearancing of their spring seasonal decor to make room for summer. I grabbed some mixed bouquets from the clearance section that caught my eye, trying to keep to a believable color palette to better imitate the look of fresh blooms, and then supplemented with some greenery and single stems from the floral department. When I got home I disassembled everything and placed them all in piles so I could see all of the varying styles I had to work with. 90 minutes later, after placing each bloom individually on the burlap open-weave ribbon I was using as a base,  I had a beautiful faux floral table runner that set the tone for whole evening.

4The 2 sets of china were thrifted at low cost, the glassware was from my own collection but had also been thrifted, and the beautiful gold flatware was actually PLASTIC! Can you believe it? You never would have known until you picked it up. Thanks to some Amazon sleuthing I was able to invest in a very low cost grey table cloth and white linen napkins that are sure to get future use. One of my favorite finds those was probably a set of beautiful flickering led taper candles, so we didn’t have to worry about candles blowing out in the wind. (The set I purchased is no longer available, but was very similar to this set, which actually includes a remote as well.) The beautiful menu cards were designed by the talented Freshmint Paperie on Etsy, and I simply printed them on cardstock at our local copyshop and cut them to size. Yes, there was some cost to the event as not all of the items came from my existing collection, but one of the benefits to planning all year is that you can space out the costs, as well as use the time to search for the best deals. In the end, this is one of the ways I give back to the women in my life who have blessed me over the past year, so the cost is something my husband and I consider a worthwhile investment into the people we care about most.

Here are some photos from this years event:

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