Saturday, February 27, 2016

IF:Gathering 2016

A movement began a few years ago, led by a sweet lady named Jennie Allen in the Austin area.  I don't really have the whole history & background on what made them choose the name "IF" but it is basically a smaller version of Women of Faith.  It's a Christian women's ministry.  While there is an IF:Gathering every year in Austin, the ministry stretches beyond that.

Local groups around the globe (called IF:Local) meet and watch the live stream version of IF:Gathering.  There is also IF:Equip which is a year-round, day to day Bible study you can sign up for via their website.  There are also IF:Tables where you have mini IF:Local get togethers with your local church group or ladies in your community where you eat dinner together & use the IF questions provided to you to create a Christ-centered conversation.  It's a whole big thing, basically.

Last year a local church hosted an IF:Local event on the day of the IF:Gathering in Austin.  I planned to go but then came down with the flu, so I watched the live stream at home.  Fortunately my family wanted to stay far away from me that weekend so they left me alone to listen, pray, worship & digest all the speakers' messages and to sing (quietly, with a croaky voice) in the privacy of my bedroom.  So this year when that same local church began talking about hosting another IF:Local event, I quickly bought my ticket.  That event was last night & today.  I took lots of notes and wanted to share a few tidbits from different speakers throughout the weekend, but decided it was a little too much for a Facebook post.  Although I suppose it wouldn't shock any of my FB friends to see a 400-mile long post.  Let's just be honest.  I talk.  A lot.  So this blog post was born.  If you missed attending the conference or just don't know what IF is like, this are some of the high points that I took away from each of the speakers I heard.

Jo Saxton
Here is her facebook page:

If you're looking for someone who can take a world of chaos & bring it into order, look at Jesus.

He is the redeemer of your life.  When you think about the cross, take it personally.

The word redemption means to buy back what was lost.

He is the one who restores your purpose.

Jennie Allen
IF Founder
Here is her facebook page:

You have to put your dirt out for Jesus to wash you.

Eugene Cho
Here is his page:

The tomb is still empty!

Are you more in love with talking about & singing about Jesus than actually following and living for Him?

5 fears in every human being:  success, power, $$, popularity, beauty

There are so many voices seeking to twist & distort the words of God -- you must regularly hear the voice of God (prayer, reading the Bible) to overcome all the other voices.

The grass might be greener on the other side, but use that revelation as a sign to water the grass you're standing on more!

Shelley Giglio
Here's her twitter page:

It's interesting that Mary Magdalene didn't immediately recognize Jesus when she first saw Him after the resurrection. How often does God do something in our lives and we don't even see Him?

Your words and testimony are powerful because of what you have seen & experienced. People don't seek help, encouragement, friendship in people who are just speaking from words in a book or platitudes.

Jen Hatmaker
It's probably wrong to say, but she's my favorite.  I seriously feel like she & I could be sisters or best friends or separated at birth.  I want to go hang out on her porch and just talk.  Every day.
Here's her website:

Love God. Love people. That pretty much sums up the Kingdom of God.

Love & live so that the world looks at you and have to draw no other conclusion but that you've been changed by God.

Love people with dignity -- no condescension, no pity, no shame.  Love them as friends, not as a project, not a charity case, not a "goal" to reach.

Power & superiority are fueled by fear.

If you love people the way you should, the way Jesus loves, you should expect obstacles, tension & trouble. Often FROM OTHER CHRISTIANS. Who will you stand by when you're not afraid?

Jesus was scandalous from the day He was born. He didn't pander to the popular -- He came to SAVE.

Jesus is not afraid to recklessly love you.  He is not ashamed of you.  He doesn't wish He chose someone less messy.

Lauren Chandler
Here's her facebook page:

(looking at the story of the woman at the well)  The woman's jar was empty & needed to be filled over and over and over.  The jar was fragile and breakable.  What is the jar in your life? Leave it at the well with Jesus and accept His living water --- no more jar to heft around.

Bianca Olthoff
Here's her facebook page:

God is not a genie in a lamp to be rubbed to get what we want.

Faith consists of believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.  (quote from Voltaire)

Angie Smith
Angie is right up there with Jen.  I love her so very much.  I feel like I actually KNOW her.  But of course I don't.  She lives in Tennessee.  She's a little farther of a drive but if she has a porch, maybe Jen and I can come hang out on it with her.  Here's her facebook page:

Her talk was brief, but brave.  She spoke about the story of Abraham & Isaac's trip up the mountain when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son.  One quote stood out:  "You may not be sure of the ram, but you can be certain of the Lamb."

David Platt
His facebook page:

1.  Recognize the unique place God has put you.
2.  Realize what's at stake in the lives around you.
3.  Remember the purpose He has given you.

What will it take for all the unreached people of the world to become totally intolerable to the Church?

Share the gospel even if it makes you look for feel strange.  Love makes you do strange things.

From Jennie Allen's closing:
People want God.  They don't want our hate & condemnation & judgement.  Why would they want to come to God unless they've seen a compelling life with Christ in you?

So there we go.  Obviously there was MUCH MUCH more & there was tons of Scripture referenced, but these were my big high point notes that I wrote down.  I hope they bless you!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Book Review: Hunger Games

I started reading this book a few weeks ago at school.  I had a sick child at home today and we were only a couple chapters from the end in class, so while he rested, I finished the book.

****Spoiler alert:  There will be some details about the book in this review, so if you haven't previously read this book, be aware that you will learn some details of the story if you proceed.***

Disclaimer #1:  I am not typically a fan of sci-fi, fantasy or dystopian style books/movies, so my keep that in mind.  That means I am not the biggest fan of movies/books like The Princess Bride, Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight...and so on.  I have friends who have almost disowned me for this (ha ha), but it's just not my cup of tea.  Since discussing this with a few friends recently, I have really been introspective, trying to determine why these styles don't do anything for me and I think I have come to a conclusion about it.  {Note: this has nothing to do with the book, but I am explaining so you have an understanding of where I'm coming from.}

When I was a little girl, there was plenty of pretend play. I dressed up.  I played house.  I built forts from sheets and blankets.  I mothered baby dolls.  I built elaborate doll houses from cardboard boxes.  I wrote stories.  I drew and colored.  I took dishes and toys outside for tea parties.  I wandered in the woods, floating Barbie dolls on boats (styrofoam meat trays) in the creek.  I played school with my sisters.  But the thing is, all of that was based on mimicking behaviors I had seen in real life.  All of my pretending and imaginative situations of my entire childhood were based in reality.  Having taught preschool for five years myself, I realize now that is very common for young children.  Many children base their pretend play off things they have seen in the world around them.  I had no context for princesses or dragons or fairies or monsters or other things of that nature. I never played pretend with situations I couldn't see replicated in real life.  It's just not how I was wired I guess.  Or maybe my parents were never interested in stories or movies like that, so I never saw it in their entertainment choices?  I don't know but that's how things were when I was little.

So as an adult, it seems that has rolled over into my entertainment choices.  I don't mind fictional books and movies, but if it's so far-fetched that I know it'll never happen in real life, I have a VERY HARD TIME staying focused on it.  The second it goes into something that isn't potentially possible in life, I find my mind wandering, I get drowsy.  I have to constantly pinch myself to come back to the story. It's like there is such a disconnect for me that I have to force myself to stick it out.  And sometimes I do.  Other times I walk away.  There is nothing WRONG with these stories, they just don't hold my attention or entertain me.  When my family wanted to see the new Star Wars movie on Christmas Day, I went. It wasn't awful, but I would've been just as satisfied sleeping through it.  I would never have bothered to see it if it weren't for my family.  I hate to use the words "dumb" or "stupid" or "weird" because that sounds so judgmental and I know lots of perfectly wonderful, highly intelligent people who loved the movie.  But for me, it was really umm.... dumb, stupid, weird.  I left listening to my family cheer and laugh and talk about particular scenes.  I left thinking "Eh.  Whatever.  Now, can we talk about something real?"

So, with that in mind, I just could not imagine enjoying anything about the Hunger Games book.  I'm a big reader and have plenty of other books to keep up with, so it never even crossed my radar to care about this book. If you aren't a fan of those styles either, this book probably won't drastically change your feelings but it's entertaining, and maybe that's what you're looking for.

Disclaimer #2:  With disclaimer #1 in mind, I should say however that I DO love musicals and most Christmas movies, which might have some smidgen of reality in them, but they are largely based on fantasy.  I also have several cartoons I've watched with my kids over the years that are hugely entertaining to me but clearly they are very far-fetched.  Do you know of any high school in the real world where students routinely break into song & the entire school knows all the moves to the dance that happens with the song? (Grease, High School Musical, West Side Story, etc...)  Have you really ever seen an elf, Santa, etc?  How many talking sponges do you know?  I can't reconcile these things, but feel like I need to confess and clear the air and share this truth since I don't tend to like anything else fiction that COULD NEVER HAPPEN.  I'm weird.  I know.  I can't explain it. Sorry.  Please love me anyway.

So.... about that Hunger Games book.

This is the first book in a trio. The second book is Catching Fire and the third is titled Mockingjay.  I watched the first movie a couple years ago and kind of hated it.  I was incredibly underwhelmed, so I had zero desire to read the book version.  While I know that the book version is always far better than the movie, I didn't pursue finding a copy and reading it. So when the classroom teacher told the class that we would be reading this book as a group, I put on a happy face and played along for the sake of the kids.  I didn't want to give them a reason to turn up their nose at the book or not participate in discussions as we read along.  I think one or two of the kids eventually got the picture that it wasn't necessarily my favorite book ever, but for the most part, my lack of enthusiasm didn't cause any issues in class.  I would never want to discourage a child from reading anything.  But this particular teacher and another english teacher on campus were REALLY anxious to see me read the book and fall in love with it.  (Or at least give it a try and make an attempt to enjoy it.)

(Are you ready, Morgan and Tiffany?)

I didn't hate it.  But I really didn't love it either.  I wanted to.  It's hard being one of the few people on the continent who really doesn't care for this style of book.  But try as I might, I couldn't convince myself to adore it.  There were some really great parts.  Then there were parts that I thought were completely ridiculous.  I guess 'indifferent' would be the best way to describe my feelings. Or maybe confused?  I still really don't know how I feel about it.  Let me explain the two sides to that coin.

The book was not entirely different from the movie, but there was way more to the story in the book than viewers saw in the movie.  The book begins by explaining that the Hunger Games were established by the government of Panem, a country divided into districts.  The games are sort of a punishment to the country, a reminder that the government controls everything after a time of rebellion against the government years earlier.  The games are an annual tradition where 2 children (age 12-18) from each district (1 male, 1 female) are trained and then put into an 'arena' where cameras watch them for however long it takes to hunt and kill each other.  Citizens of the country are forced to watch as their young ones fight for survival and attempt to be the last remaining participant. Parents literally see the brutal, graphic, bloody deaths of their children.  Sounds delightful, huh?

Hearing the history and background story before the actual games began was engaging.  At the time, I felt like those chapters were a little dry and boring, but when the rest of the story began to take on an accelerated pace a few chapters in, I realized that I actually enjoyed much more so the dry & boring parts of the book than any of the rest.  {which was completely backward from every student in the classroom!}  The main character, Katniss, is a girl in her mid-teens whose father was killed years before in a mining accident.  She, her mother and little sister Prim remain.  Katniss is a skilled hunter and she spends most of her time in the woods hunting for food to feed the family.  Her district is known for extreme poverty.  People frequently starve to death there. Hearing about Katniss's family and the place where she lives was relatable.  While I've never lived in a place like District 12, I could visualize that being a real place.  Poverty is very real today and there have certainly been times when my own family struggled to figure out where we'd get the next meal. Serving the extremely poor has been the core of several mission trips I've been on.  Meeting physical needs of children I have worked with over the years is such a part of my soul that all of this part of the book just 'made sense' to me.

Hearing the stories of her relationship with her friend Gale made sense to me.  Gale is a boy who also hunts regularly to feed his family in District 12.  Katniss and Gale have a special friendship and they look out for one another.  Their friendship feels tender and sweet.  So when they both go to the Reaping (the day when participants for the games are chosen), you can really FEEL the pain in Gale's heart when he sees Katniss volunteering to be a participant.  {She volunteers so that her very young sister will not have to go.} He is scared he will never see her again.

Learning of her history with her Hunger Games partner, Peeta, was sweet.  Peeta's father is the local baker and there was a time when Katniss's family was on the verge of starvation and Peeta intentionally burned a loaf of bread so that he'd have to throw it out.  He knew he could give it to her to help her family survive.  Katniss feels like she forever owes Peeta a debt of gratitude for his gift.


Pretty much from the moment the selection process began (to choose contestants for the games,) the book lost its thunder to me.  Everything went from feeling realistic and familiar, full of potential and tugging at the heart to being ridiculously fiction-y.  Cartoonish sounding names of characters, items and situations in the book totally distracted me from the story & felt laughable and silly. Characters with names like Effie Trinket, Glimmer; items like trackerjackers, silver discs that lifted the contestants through a glass tube "elevator" into the arena, magic potions; strange situations like images projected onto the night sky for all to see, etc.  While the storyline was engaging enough to keep me curious about what would happen next from day to day, it just felt well... silly.  It was just so far-fetched.

From the moment the games begin, each of the tributes must make decisions about life or death survival tactics constantly.  They are given the very bare minimum in supplies. They must live with these provisions, unless a sponsor chooses to send them a gift along the way.  If they do send something, it arrives on a magical silver parachute that drops from the sky into their exact location. Remember, everything is televised back home so rich people in the Capitol are able to see when they need something & may (or may not) choose to buy it for them.  As the games progress, anytime one of the tributes is killed, a cannon shot is fired for all contestants to hear, giving them a way to keep a death count.  And in the evening, as it gets dark, some sort of mystical film projector puts an image in the sky of whichever tributes died that day.

Katniss is an archer who spends her days mostly hunting for food and evading being found by the other tributes. She has a few close calls along the way.  I hate to give away too many specific details, though.  She is friended by a young girl who reminds her of her little sister, so she feels obligated to protect her. They become allies and she ultimately kills the person who kills the little girl.  Katniss's fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta, is injured pretty badly in the story and we find out later it's because he was protecting Katniss because he loves her. In the midst of the games, the government decides that it would be exciting to see Katniss and Peeta pair up, so they announce a change in the rules that will allow for two tributes from the same district to win. Katniss locates Peeta in the woods and they remain together, doctoring each others' wounds and working together for the remainder of the games, ultimately winning together. (But not without a last minute twist in the story that I'll let you find yourself if you choose to read it.)

There were brief moments in the story while Katniss was participating in the actual games that made me feel connected to her again.  When she talked of survival techniques and trapping food, hiding herself in the trees.  When she nurtured her young friend as she died, when she cared for her District 12 partner's wounds... all that made sense to me.  I have a family of hunters.  We all enjoy watching survival shows on television.  I'm fond of quite a few close friends who are doctors or nurses, and Katniss's care for Rue and Peeta's health felt maternal to me.  Those things make sense and seem real to me.

But when she got a magical silver parachute delivered to a treetop where she was hiding and it held magical burn cream that transformed her horribly burned hands to baby-pink-new skin by morning, it was a big eye-roller for me.  It's like I'd reach a point where I was almost drawn back into enjoying the story and then BAM, another completely outlandish and goofy thing would happen to make me feel like I was reading a Looney Tunes comic book.  I sort of expected an anvil to drop from the sky and hit her, followed by a silver parachute bearing some magic potion that would make her pop back up & keep running.  Ha ha!

While most people would never be bugged by these little details, these are the kinds of things that turn me off to this genre of story.  It feels corny to me. I mean really.... the day I allow my child to leave & go participate in a "fight to the death" game to entertain my horrific government is the day you'll see me shot in the head for grabbing them & running.  They might still be forced into the arena to participate but it would literally be over my dead body.  Everything about the story line of the Hunger Games feels so insane to me that I couldn't really focus because I was seeing a steady stream of holes in the craziness of the plot.  When a story's concept is so far-fetched from the first page on, I have a hard time enjoying it and not looking at every detail through cynical, critical glasses.

Don't get me wrong.  There were certainly parts of the story that even an realist like me enjoyed. I didn't hate the book.  The story just felt well... fiction.... to me.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing if that's what you're looking for.

So can you see my confusion & alternating feelings about the book?  ha ha!

As far as my recommendation (or not?) of the book:  If you like this genre of book, I think you'll enjoy it.  So grab a copy & get to reading!  But for the cynics & realists like me, let's meet in the Biography section of Barnes and Noble.  I'll point you toward some of my very favorite ever books!