Twenty years ago this month on a hot August day I drove my ’89 Ford Tempo (with no air conditioning) 268 miles north, following a procession of U-hauls and cars to my new hometown of Lynden, Washington.
We had only visited Lynden a couple times before the move. The first visit was late spring of ’97. My parents were in the front of the suburban and I was sandwiched in the back with my younger sister and two brothers.
We were hit with the smell before we hit the town. Lynden is known for it’s dairies and berries, which means spring is the season for spreading manure. “Oh GROSS! Roll up the windows! That is RIPE!” We were all gagging.
“Does it always smell like this?”
We looked at each other with wide eyes as Mom and Dad laughed at us. My brother Elijah, known to be slightly dramatic, closed his lips tightly. “I can taste it. It will actually get stuck in my teeth. You can CHEW it!”
“Do you think we’d get used to it smelling like this if we lived here?”
“No way. We better not. No way. Let’s always call it. If we always say “I smell that!” then we’ll never let ourselves get used to it.”
We couldn’t stop laughing. The tension and emotion of the unknown, the questions that needed answering that weekend to determine if we’d move from one end of Washington to another, bubbled up and came out as laughter as we watched cow shit spraying out of sprinklers.
Moving a week before my senior year of high school started was less than ideal and had plenty of heartbreak accompanying it, but still I was enamored with the little Dutch town we had landed in. Everything was closed on Sunday, but the cops were out ready to ticket people speeding to church. The lawns were immaculate. (Yes, the rumors are true–there are laws here about keeping your lawn under 7 inches.) The windmill on Front St. was charming. The entire town showed up for the high school football jamboree and there were an abnormal amount of tall blondes.
I’m Dutch but I didn’t grow up in a Dutch town. Arriving in Lynden had an interesting type of familiarity. The houses were immaculate like my grandma’s house. The Dutch Bakery had treats I recalled from holidays as a kid. The work ethic was admirable. I recognized the Dutch brogue in many of the older generation and it reminded me of sitting at my grandfather’s kitchen table.
Writing a book while raising four children, managing a household of at least seven people and a dozen animals, doing some teaching here and there, while my husband transitions to a new job…has been no joke. It’s no joke but it has, at times, been comical. Sometimes comical in a “Ha-ha” way and sometimes comical in an “Oh my word, I’m losing my hair” way.
Today Brand New; a 40 day Guide to Life in Christ is released! That means I get the “You are Special” plate at dinner tonight. It also means you can buy the book on amazon today (or at lexhampress.com if you want to increase my royalties a bit)!
Due to the craziness mentioned above, I completely missed my deadline to do dedications and acknowledgments. This book needs some acknowledgements because it’s been a work in process for a decade. The perk of doing this on my blog is I can drag it out as long as I please…
Thank you my cheerleading family. Sean–it was our partnership in ministry that opened our eyes to the need for this book. You’ve allowed me the space to keep writing, creating, editing, and listened to me process all of it. You’ve used your platform to further this work and you’ve even moved over a bit on stage for me to have some room. Thanks for that.
My parents who thought my writing was amazing when I was nine and writing stories about the models in the Sears catalogue–thank you for watching my kids, helping me put structure to this devotional, and celebrating every little step.
My kids who love to embarrass me in public by proclaiming, “My mom is an author” to people we don’t know–thank you for being my guinea pigs as you study the Word using Brand New. Thank you for obeying when I put the “Shhh! Creativity in progress!” sign on my bedroom door.
My siblings (and siblings-in-law) along with my extended family–you have held me up not just in writing a book, but in the chaos of life. Jasmine and Sommer–you’ll never get back all the hours of life you’ve spent listening to me think through this book. Just think…I might write another one and we can do it all again!
My lifelong friends–you ask deep questions, grow my faith, fix my grammar, keep me on my toes, and mock me for my boxes of journals. Thanks for bringing this idealist back to earth and for celebrating with me.
Jeanne Halsey–you were my writing mentor before I knew I needed a writing mentor. You pushed me when only a few people knew I liked to write. You taught me endless logistics of writing and publishing. More than that, you’ve modeled using your gifts for God’s glory and allowing Him to use you how He designs. Thank you for answering questions I didn’t know to ask.
The first edition was called A;life. It was half the size and put together by our talented friends so we could use it in our own youth ministry. Thank you Kimberly Martinson, Caitlin Roeter, Rob Hull, and Gerrit Boyle for making a booklet cool enough to pass out to students. I thought that was as far as it would ever go.
Last year when I decided to expand and self publish, Lisa Oliver (and Evan!) came up with the name Brand New and some killer design work. Marti Eide proofread the text. Thank you for using your gifts, for your support, and friendship! I thought that was as far as it would ever go.
Lexham Press, thanks for a fantastic first experience in the publishing world. Todd Hains–I have much respect for your editing work. You were open minded in catching my vision, my voice, and were willing to wrestle through it with me when we didn’t see eye to eye. Jennifer Stair, Joel Wilcox, Bryan Hintz, Brannon Ellis–you’re a great team. Thank you for pouring your skills and enthusiasm into this with me. Let’s do it again…?
It was terrifying to write a simple book on such foundational aspects of faith. I asked God to provide this type of book. When I couldn’t find one I said, “Lord, I’ll write it but only if you show me what it should look like.” When I attempted my first outline I said, “Lord, I have nothing. You’re going to have to get this thing going.” I prayed over each day I wrote. When I sat down to write a day on “God is a Trinity”, I fought it. “Lord, you have some fantastic theologians and there is not a chance I can offer anything here.” I drank ridiculous amounts of coffee in every Woods Coffee shop in town. I wrestled, prayed, asked God for direction. I read until sentences blurred together. Each time I got stuck, I humbly came back, asking God for what’s next. Each time, He graciously answered. I’ll never have words for the sweetness I've experienced asking God to use the small piece I offer, and watching Him multiply it far beyond what I expect.
*Drawing by my daughter, Darla Taylor
When you’re raised in church and have heard the crucifixion and resurrection countless times from all four gospels, even memorizing parts of it, it’s easy to arrive at Easter with a “same ol’, same ol’” perspective. I usually ask God to show me something new–whether in the story itself or the way that it stirs my soul.
Yesterday after reading about the soldiers dividing up Jesus’ clothing and the humiliation that accompanied being bruised, beaten, naked, and mocked in front of the masses, my friend Melissa read an excerpt from The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie and her sister Betsie suffered in a concentration camp during World War II. Corrie lived to write about the experience and God’s presence in it:
"Life in Ravensbruck took place on two separate levels, mutually impossible. One, the observable, external life, grew every day more horrible. The other, the life we lived with God, grew daily better, truth upon truth, glory upon glory.
"Sometimes I would slip the Bible from its little (sack) with hands that shook, so mysterious had it become to me. It was new; it had just been written. I marveled sometimes that the ink was dry...I had read a thousand times the story of Jesus' arrest--how soldiers had slapped Him, laughed at Him, flogged Him. Now such happenings had faces and voices.
"Fridays--the recurrent humiliation of medical inspection. The hospital corridor in which we waited was unheated and a fall chill had settled into the walls. Still we were forbidden even to wrap ourselves in our own arms, but had to maintain our erect, hands-at-sides position as we filed slowly past a phalanx of grinning guards.
"How there could have been any pleasure in the sight of these stick-thin legs and hunger-bloated stomachs I could not imagine. Surely there is no more wretched sight than the human body unloved and uncared for.
"Nor could I see the necessity for the complete undressing: when we finally reached the examining room a doctor looked down each throat, another--a dentist presumably--at our teeth, a third in between each finger. And that was all. We trooped again down the long, cold corridor and picked up our X-marked dresses at the door.
"But it was one of these mornings while we were waiting, shivering in the corridor, that yet another page in the Bible leapt into life for me.
"He hung naked on the cross.
"...The paintings, the carved crucifixes showed at least a scrap of cloth. But this, I suddenly knew, was the respect and reverence of the artist. But oh--at the time itself, on that other Friday morning--there had been no reverence. No more than I saw in the faces around us now.
"'Betsie, they took His clothes too.'
"'Ahead of me I heard a little gasp. 'Oh, Corrie. And I never thanked Him…'
The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom
He hung naked on a cross. Voluntarily, He hung. With all my embarrassment, my shame, my nakedness, my failure, my sin; He hung. With all the power in the world to lower Himself and wipe out the mockers, He hung. Today, on Good Friday, I am struck that there was no reverence, no respect, no understanding that a bigger plan was in motion. There was chaos, devalued life, and nakedness.
Yet, Jesus wasn’t a victim of cruel, hardened soldiers and an angry people group, He was still the Almighty God with a plan. Easter's coming.
I was sitting in my discussion group at Bible Study, still a little distracted from a busy morning getting kids out the door. We were on the cusp of Sean changing jobs, I had a full week of projects, decisions, and the regular ins and outs of managing a household of seven. I had done my study, but a bit distractedly. My mind was already skipping ahead to the Costco trip I was planning that afternoon.
We were parked in John 10, the chapter about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. I tuned in as our group systematically answered the questions, “What would you conclude about Jesus and His identity from His words in John 10?” “What does Jesus give His sheep and why?”
Out of nowhere I was gut punched with a memory.
Hearing the questions out loud instantly transported me to another time I studied John, in this same place but seven years ago. Seven years ago I was living in a different town. I was in a different discussion group that met in a different room, but the set of questions was the same and that’s all it took to jar the memory. All year I’ve gone without thinking extensively about the study of John seven years ago…until the lesson on the Good Shepherd.
Seven years ago sucked. Everything was shaken. I had discovered hard things about my parent’s marriage and ugly things about their past. I felt like much of my childhood must have been a lie. I was trying to reconcile how to forgive the past when the past was bleeding all over the present. I was parenting three very small children while my own marriage had been drilled into the ground. I was stretched paying bills, stretched in the every day, with hard faith questions that needed answering. I was disoriented, defeated and beat up. I was curled up in my quiet time chair with my pile of regrets and “if only”s laid out on my lap. “Lord, I’m trying so hard to be faithful…why can’t I see you being faithful!?”
When I met Sean he was living in Warren Hall at Whitworth University. He loved Warren Hall with everything he had. He was dorm president and somehow managed to be dorm counselor as there was always someone in his room for prayer or conversation. He told me he wanted to finish his master’s degree and return to be Resident Director of Warren Hall. “Wouldn’t it be cool to live in the apartment here and hang out with all the future students?” I didn’t know someone could be so all-in, committed, heart tied to a dorm.
(Yes, this is us in Warren Hall. And yes, this is pretty much what it felt like when Sean was knocking...er...sweeping me off my feet.)
When we got married we had to move out of Warren Hall and into an apartment. Our first year married was the year of radio. Sean started with the school radio station and then landed an internship at the local Christian radio station. He loved radio with everything he had. He dreamed about a career as a radio d.j. and explored different radio markets. After graduation when job options were slim, I suggested we move out and move on. It tore Sean apart to imagine leaving radio. He was all-in, committed, heart tied to radio. I matter of factly responded with, “You can stick with radio but we either have money for one month of rent or a U-haul. Go ahead and pick.”
Ultimately the U-haul won out and we trekked out to Lynden, WA. The goal was to make ends meet as quickly as possible so he landed a bartending job our first week living in a trailer in my parent’s driveway. Sean threw himself into learning drinks, studying technique, and watching Cocktail. He loved bartending with everything he had. It was the challenge, the people who would hang out until after hours pouring their hearts out, and the dynamic of something completely different. The last thing I had expected was him to be all-in, committed, heart tied to what was only intended to be a summer job.
The pastor of a new church in town came to the bar to talk to Sean about youth ministry. He was enthusiastic and had vision for what Sean could do to propel a nearly-new youth program. He was ready to hire Sean on the spot. When Sean came home to talk about it, he was hemming and hawing a bit. “I don’t know…do you think youth ministry would be a good fit?”
I raised my eyebrows. “Umm…yes. For sure. Yes.”
“That means I’d have to quit bartending…”
A wry smile from me. “Yes, but I think that’s ok. I think you’d like youth ministry.” I had a hunch that he might love youth ministry with all he had. I had a hunch he might be all-in, committed, heart tied to youth ministry.
I was right. It took all of two weeks for him to declare he had the best job ever.
For fifteen years Sean has loved youth ministry with all he has; all-in, committed, heart tied. He has grown from an optimistic, fun, zealous, mentor who throws huge concerts and builds epic youth rooms to a strategic, community building pastor who teaches students to have passion for Scripture. He is a dad who understands trauma, hard lives, and comes alongside hurting students. He used to work to inspire students. Today he works to disciple them.
*Adapted from a message I gave at a retreat Fall 2016
Scripture tells me Jesus is preparing a place for me in heaven. Well, since God knows the desires of my heart and the way He’s wired me, I’m sure the place He’s preparing reflects that. So then, let me tell you how to find me in heaven:
My place will be the one with the split rail fence. It has a long driveway lined with willow trees and probably resembles a Craftsman. The lawn is cut Lynden style–edged properly, golf course green, with immaculate mower lines. There are sunflowers and hydrangeas, a wrap around porch, hammock out back. The coffee pot is always on. Around me are fields, acres, quiet privacy. No one’s mansion is too close. Heaven is plenty big for me to have ample space, right? I’m a bit of an introvert. I’m independent. I’m self sufficient. I’m an American, dang it!
We had declared November the month of margin. At the end of the summer, I asked Sean to pick a month to take a break from extra events. We pushed hard over the summer with his d.j. business, projects, and side jobs for both of us. “We can only run hard for so long and I think we're going to need margin.” I was speaking at a women’s retreat the first weekend of November and we planned to have a relaxed month immediately following.
One evening at the end of October I was tucking my kids in and could hear my sister-in-law talking on the phone in the kitchen. “Which hospital? How soon? Let me write that down…” I hurried to the kitchen as she hung up the phone and turned to me. “It looks like Dad had a stroke. They are life flighting him to Portland.”
It turned out my father-in-law had bilateral subdural hematoma; a brain bleed. The doctors made no promises about recovery.
Miraculously, they were able to do surgery and even more miraculously, he is recovering. Sean cancelled his last two events in October and spent two weeks in Portland as his dad began recovery and we began asking, “What next?”
November took a different shape as Sean and his dad sat in a hospital room making hard decisions. Instead of transitioning back to his huge beautiful home a block from the beach in Long Beach, WA,
The first time (of hundreds) I watched Frozen with my kids, I was laughing at the similarities between Anna and Elsa and me and my sister, Jasmine. She’s the composed, elegant, rational thinking, head-turning-gorgeous character (who might seem like the main character). I’m the idealistic, slightly awkward (but in an endearing way, I’m sure), talkative and relational sister (who is actually the main character. Shush, Jasmine. It’s my blog and I can tell it how I want).
When we dressed up for Haley’s birthday in December as what was kind of an inside joke between sisters, it exploded into job offers. We laughed and reminded people that we are moms in our mid thirties, not Disney princesses. One offer was too good to pass up, so we donned dresses, wigs and makeup in 90 degrees to greet kids at the Northwest Washington Fair.
We passed out candy, had fantastic conversations with hundreds of kids (including two 5 year olds who belted out "Let it Go" for us), took pictures until our faces twitched, and then snuck into our break room to drink gallons of water and slip ice packs into our dresses.
I’d love to be a Disney princess. It’s not quite the type of business I imagined, but anything with my sister is a bonus. She’s kind of my security blanket anyway.
As we talked about the princess gig (between people asking for our business cards and website), I began realizing there are simply too many things I love to do…and this might be causing a bit of a quandary.
It was the night before Everett’s eighth birthday and everyone was excited for the festivities to come. I was sitting at the table with all my kids and took a breath for my "Preparing for Big Events and Let Downs" speech. One of my children struggles with differentiating between good and bad big feelings (all big feelings cause meltdowns; including happy excitement) and it has made me intentional about preparing for big feelings.
“Alright guys. Tomorrow is Everett’s birthday and it’s going to be awesome. We are going to have a great time. However–“
“We already know what you’re going to say,” Darla interjected.
I raised my eyebrows and she continued, “You’re going to say that there are going to be good moments but also bad moments. It won’t be perfect but we can still enjoy the good even when there is bad. Right?” She flashed an I’m-too-smart-for-my-own-good smile at me and I laughed.
“Pretty much verbatim, Darla. Big happy feelings can quickly swing hard to big sad feelings.”
I remind my kids regularly that we live in this weird paradox; the world is a fallen, dark, sinful place, yet God leaves His handprints on everything and uses even sinful, dark things to demonstrate His glory. When His light shines into the dark, the contrast awes us. We tend to think of our mountains and valleys separate but that has not been my experience. Often the sweetest comes in the hardest. Many of my spiritual victories have come on the heels of personal defeats.
I used to have this idea that writing a book involved an idea, creating a rough draft, editing, submitting a final draft, and getting it published. Then, of course, comes marketing, book signings, and Today show appearances. Pretty straightforward, right?
Of all the things I’ve written and projects I’ve worked on, none has had so unconventional a life as the devotional formerly known as A;life. A;life started out of a need, a decade ago. Sean and I were leading middle and high school students who were committing their lives to Christ but had no idea where to start in studying the Bible. There were topical devotionals but none that explained the story of the Bible, the character of God, and basics of spiritual disciplines. I couldn’t find a good devotional to meet the need so I wrote one.
A;life was a 29 day devotional geared toward teens. Each day had a little bit of explanation, Scripture to read, questions to answer, and a model prayer. At one point it had a DVD with it and a leader insert so it could be used in a small group setting.
We started realizing the need didn’t stop at our own youth ministry and gave copies of A;life to other youth ministries lacking resources. It circled around for years. At some point we dropped the DVD as it was outdated, and I’m not sure where most of the leader inserts went.
A year and a half ago I decided to rewrite A;life. I extended it to a 40 day devotional and took out teen specific references so it could easily apply to any age. I talked to connections with two publishing companies and was hopeful something would come of it.
For various reasons, I began to doubt publishing would happen. After a series of ups and downs, I was thinking I’d shelve the idea. My writing mentor, ghostwriter Jeanne Halsey (who is the one who pushes me when I think I’ve already pushed enough), taught me about self-publishing and convinced me to give it a try. Between her urging, Lisa Oliver’s exceptional design work, and Marti Eide’s editing, we self-published the devotional, now called Brand New; A Field Guide to Life in Christ.
The beautiful irony is as I’ve received proof copies (first printed wrong… second printed wrong…third time’s a charm!) I also received a contract from a publishing company. It’s a throw-up-your-hands-and-shake-your-head moment when you’ve spent years bouncing around a project and then everything happens at once.
The next turn in the journey will be meeting with an editing and marketing team to see what direction this project may go. I’m slightly giddy not only about publishing this devotional, but the learning curve with it. I’m learning plenty about what not to do next time and trusting that God will still lead and have His hand in this project as I bumble through it.
I’m suspending purchases of the self-published version so that we can officially move forward to improve and publish A;life/Brand New/Whatever we decide to call this devotional! Now for a word from the publisher:
The Lexham Press team is thrilled to have this opportunity to work with Shilo and Sean in such an important area of ministry in the life of the church. Shilo’s book addresses a real need for solid and accessible resources aimed at brand-new Christians who need to learn (and delight in!) the story of their new identity in Jesus. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Lord continues to accomplish through their ministry, and excited for the part we get to play in bringing this fruit of their labors to publication.
Brannon Ellis, Associate Publisher, Lexham Press (lexhampress.com)
Just throwing myself out there a bit...