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…]

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…]

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.

[Read more…]

The Prosperity Gospel and the Truth About Suffering


A sweet friend of mine took to Facebook to share the news of a new and difficult diagnosis she was trying to process. She was grappling with news of a condition that will be a life long struggle with pain and disability, and she was turning to her friends online for some much needed support. 
A few comments down, it happened:

“Don’t speak that over you. You do not have *diagnosis*…I rebuke that in the Name of Jesus! God wants you well. Speak healing over yourself.”

photo-1469454547234-df76912db321

Just a day earlier a well meaning connection had sent me a private message on Facebook, suggesting I should listen to a sermon titled that exact same sentiment: God Wants You Well. The sermon description included the lines “[Religion] even tries to make us believe that sickness is a blessing. That’s just not true. God wants you well.” Seems like a pretty positive message right? I mean, Jesus DID go around healing the blind and asking the lame to walk, so clearly He doesn’t want anyone to be sick…right? He only wants blessings for His followers: all the good and perfect gifts from the Father, and everything else? Well those are the attacks of Satan – obviously.

Friends, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as great as that sounds? It’s totally not Biblical – not even a little bit.

Take a seat, grab your coffee and your Bible if its handy, and lets dig in together to see what God REALLY says about suffering. I’m taking on 7 key points where we can compare the teachings of the prosperity gospel side by side with God’s word, and see just how much they don’t sync up.

The Prosperity Gospel says: Rebuke Suffering
The Bible Says: EXPECT Suffering

1 Peter 4:12
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as thought something strange were happening to you.

1 Thessalonians 3:3
…that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.

1 Peter 4:19
Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good

1 Peter 2:21
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps

The New Testament is absolutely littered with references to suffering, especially if you dig in to the writings of Paul. (There’s a guy who did his fair share of suffering. )We’re reminded time and time again of the truth that suffering is to be expected for followers of Christ. When Jesus told us to pick up our cross to follow Him? He was preparing us for the reality that the Christian walk would in no way guarantee us “health, wealth, and prosperity.” Quite the opposite. Paul tells us in Thessalonians that we are destined for suffering, choosing a word that communicates the idea of the very purpose for which something was created – like a salt shaker is made to hold salt. As appealing as it is to believe that a life following Christ is one where we leave our troubles behind us, the truth of Gods word sheds light on a very different reality.

[Read more…]

When God Pushes Pause

 

The blog has once again been eerily quiet.

There was such a year of build up to creating this site, with God opening doors I could have never ever dreamed and with opportunities coming together in the most providential of ways. It was amazing to experience how when you are willing to simply say yes to whatever and wherever He leads, the journey is beyond anything you can ask or imagine. It was all of the truths of “immeasurably more” coming to life and exploding off the page. It was magical.

And then right when the opportunities were most abundant?

HE PUSHED PAUSE.

If you follow my social media channels you will have likely seen the reason behind the recent silence on the blog. After 15 years of continuing health issues a surprising twist has come to light. Countless misdiagnoses and failed treatments and incredulous shrugs from doctors who couldn’t agree on a name for the symptoms that seemed to be multiplying more rapidly than ever all culminated in a unexpected identity for my captor:

LYME DISEASE

With the key finally in hand to the mystery of my crippling illnesses, we set out to finally banish my issues once and for all, only to discover we had been dealt a double edge sword. This particular diagnosis, it would seem, is only a beginning to a very long road indeed. Treatments are difficult and uncertain. Doctors who are knowledgable of the condition are few and far between. Insurance companies all but refuse to cover any of it. The diagnosis isn’t so much an ending to this struggle as the beginning of a new one.

[Read more…]

Why I’ll Never Teach My Children About Stranger Danger

stranger dangerWe hear it all the time: “It’s just not the same world out there anymore.” The world is supposedly a much scarier and more threatening place than the days of old when we would ride our bikes to the store with no parents in sight and blow our allowance money on candy and silly knick knacks with hardly a care. “We know better now,” we’re told. Keep a close eye on your kids at all times. Be aware of the dangers of others adults when you’re at the park or using a public restroom. Be wary of anyone who’s too friendly. Teach your kids about “stranger danger.” The world is so much more perilous these days and you simply cant be too careful when it comes to our precious children.

As a mom of two small boys you might be surprised to hear I disagree 100%. And whats more – I have never, and WILL never, teach my kids about “stranger danger.” Never. In fact, I hope to raise my kids to be ready and willing to interact with strangers in safe and appropriate ways, and I regularly encourage them to do so. I’m not a “free range parent” as they are currently known, but I admittedly make some parenting choices that would make many people these days more than a little uncomfortable.

Now before anyone starts calling CPS (or filling my inbox with hate mail) try to give me a minute to explain.

First off, I just want to take a minute to point out that the idea the world is less safe that the one we grew up in is a common misconception. You might be surprised to learn that all of the crime statistics actually show our children are SAFER today than we ourselves were back in our days. Don’t believe me? The folks over at Free Range Kids have compiled an incredible amount of independent research and statistics on this helpful page to show just how much safer our world really is. So why does it seem so much more dangerous? It all comes down to perception really. Crimes are more widely covered by the media these days in a way you simply didn’t see in our childhood. A child goes missing in a small town in Idaho and it can be national news coverage in the same day, and instantly flooding every social media feed for weeks. Statistics agree though: stranger abductions are remarkably rare, and the alarming majority of all crimes committed against kids are by family members or close friends. In short, the likelihood of a child being grabbed while walking to school or playing at the park is almost negligible.

crowdatparkOn top of all this media coverage we also need to take into account how much internet hoaxes have exponentially compounded the problem. Have you seen the story making its way around Facebook for the past few months about supposed attempted sex trafficking of a child in a Target store with their mom? A little internet sleuthing quickly reveals the story is 100% false, and that both the store manager and the local police have absolutely zero record of any incidences even remotely related to the one described on Facebook (despite the story clearly describing the authorities being the one to tell the mom about the sex trafficking ring.) And this is far from an isolated incident: urban myths have taken on a new level of reach in the social media world, and parents everywhere are bombarded with messages of supposed dangers around every corner. It’s pretty understandable why parents everywhere are feeling afraid.

[Read more…]

Conferences, Canes, and Chronic Pain

The Winshape Retreat, Location of the Pursuit Conference

It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks, but I’ll do my best to condense my overflowing brain in to something resembling a blog post.

Recently I was in Georgia for the 5th annual conference for the Pursuit Community (an amazing nationwide ministry you can read more about by clicking the link in the top of the “Friends & Sponsors” section in my sidebar.) As has held true year after year at this event, God showed up in incredible ways. This year’s verse ruminated on the theme of “a new thing.” I came to Georgia with open hands, ready for God to show me something incredible without my own constraints and expectations getting in the way, and yet I was still utterly blown away by what He revealed through speakers and attendees alike, all speaking the same messages to me over and over.

Mary Marantz at Pursuit Conference

I felt consistent confirmation that God has laid a path before me that is uniquely my own. Sure, this industry is full of experts and mentors and plenty of well intentioned advice, but over and over He spoke plainly to my heart that His plan for me is a NEW thing: not a repeat of anyone else’s story. He hasn’t called me to be the next “so and so,” but rather to embrace the story He has written specifically for me. More than that though, He’s given me a calling that He created me perfectly equipped and suitable for in every way – not in spite of my weaknesses and struggles, but BECAUSE of them. His strength is perfectly displayed in my weaknesses, His story beautiful showcased in His faithfulness and grace to me each day. I felt confident that I don’t need to #hustle or knock down doors to make all my own opportunities, I need only to be ready to obey whenever He says to go, and be patient on His perfect timing. The Joy Parade is going to be exactly what He wants it to be exactly when He wants it to be it, even if I don’t always have an exact vision for what that is. Sometimes admitting we don’t have all the answers is the first step to something so much bigger and better than we could have imagined for ourselves.

[Read more…]

Im Not Ready to Quit Yet

photo-1438480478735-3234e63615bbThere comes a point with most all chronic and incurable illnesses where you reach the stage of acceptance. You learn to let go of your unrealistic expectations and find ways to make life with your particular handicaps livable. You surround yourself with excellent supporters, you give yourself an extra serving of grace, and you make your own definitions for success.

And then sometimes there are days like today; days when you throw all that aside for a minute and take the bravest step of all: you let hope sneak in again.

Today I went to a new doctor. We looked over the history of everything thats been tried already, and then promptly threw it all in the trash. We went back to square one and allowed the hope of new options and answers to come alive. We made the choice to go back to the starting line with a new set of eyes and open ourselves up to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we’ve missed something, or that medicine may have new answers to offer this time around.

And nothing could possibly be scarier right now than hope.

Acceptance is such a healthy phase when you finally reach it. So being willing to let it go, without any assurances that anything will come from it? Thats terrifying. Right now it feels like a huge step backwards – back to a time when my imagination ran wild with possible outcomes and worse case scenarios, when I was bounced from misdiagnoses to failed treatments and back again, and I had no way of knowing what the future might hold. Being willing to let hope in also means letting go of the comfort of having everything all figured out. It means giving up being settled in order to set out on a long and arduous journey – knowing full well that it may come full circle right back to where you started.

Yet that’s exactly what I’m doing. Letting go of it all because maybe, just maybe, there is something better out there for me. Maybe Im clinging to something so much less than I could have if I’m willing to try. And yes, Im fully aware that I might get the same answers, the same lack of solutions, the same diagnoses that will bring the same cycle of grief – all to end up back at acceptance once again. But that’s a risk I’ve decided to take.

So I dropped off most of my blood at the lab (ok not really most of my blood, but it sure felt like it,) and made the difficult commitment to begin the process of weaning off a medication that has been a huge part of my routine for a long time now, so we can start trying new options and see if theres a better outcome somewhere else. In typical fashion, this is an “it’s gotta get a bit worse before it can better” sort of thing. Coming off this particular med is a bit of an ordeal, with a complicated step down regimen and cross weaning process onto the other medication. The side effects of this process alone made me reconsider.

But ultimately, hope is never the wrong choice. I never want to get so comfortable in my acceptance of my condition that I stop being willing to consider Im wrong. Risk is scary, but apathy should always be scarier. It’s simply never time to completely give up; there’s always got to be room for the possibility of hope. And sometimes, on days like today, its time to let that hope out of its hidden corner and let it take the wheel. I have no idea where it’s going to take me, but I know I’m committed to finding out just how far this road goes and where it ultimately ends up, even if thats right back here at the beginning again.

Either way, I’ll know I saw this thing through. And thats worth it.

risk quote

The War on Thanksgiving

War on ThanksgivingThe War on Christmas is getting its yearly spin in the news cycle, from the rampage over red cups to the horror over “happy holidays.” Every year these tirades take over our national dialogue once more; it’s as predictable as clockwork.

Yet we never hear about the War on Thanksgiving.

Where is the hashtag campaign complaining not that Starbucks isn’t Christmassy enough, but rather that its Christmassy the minute of Halloween’s end?

Where is the outrage that a holiday once hallmarked by a family gathered for dinner is now celebrated in the parking lot at Best Buy, holding place in the Black Friday line up?

Where are the news pundits railing about a national culture tearing away more and more at the traditions of a holiday we once held dear – a holiday once marked by conservative values like gratitude, contentment, and the closeness of family?

While the world is debating the merits of this supposed War on Christmas, Thanksgiving is waving the white flag and quietly succumbing to its defeat. And yet no one seems to care.

What can we expect to teach a generation who are growing up in a world where Thanksgiving has all but been replaced with a season that can only be described as “pre-Christmas?” How can we ask them to eschew a culture of entitlement when the Christmas toy catalogs are showing up the week of Halloween and commercials are beckoning them to make lists to Santa before the leaves have even left their fall branches? Are we really prepared to raise children in a culture where a season devoted to the art of gratitude has been replaced instead with a wanton consumerism that threatens to consume us all?

Instead of adding to the tirades about “holiday trees” and politically correct window displays, consider taking a stand instead for Thanksgiving. What better way to put Christ back into Christmas than to spend November focusing on gratitude and preparing our hearts for the season yet to come. The way to experience the fullness of Emannuel, God With Us, is to experience the season of anticipation before Christmas comes on the scene. Thanksgiving prepares us for the coming King – where hearts lined full of thankful prayers take the place of a manger filled with straw. When we skip over Thanksgiving, we find ourselves unprepared to receive the holy child, as if we have no room in the inn of our hearts and minds.

Forget the War on Christmas. Who will fight back for Thanksgiving?