Book Review: The Jesus Who Surprises by Dee Brestin

img_8482The Jesus Who Surprises: Opening Our Eyes to His Presence in All of Life and Scripture is an excellent study – one I enjoyed from beginning to end.

The author looks at the entire Bible to show us glimpses of Jesus where we may not expect to see Him. She masterfully shows that the Bible is indeed one connected story, one of hope, redemption, and love. She also approaches important topics like suffering, and she shows how those things produce a joy like none other (something I know from experience). I thoroughly enjoyed this study and repeatedly found myself excited and encouraged by her words. That isn’t something I can often say.

Here is one of my favorite quotes:

When we realize that the Lord is in control, a peace comes to us, despite the suffering. We realize that this shaking is temporary and that we have an inheritance that can never be taken from us. (Page 123)

I especially loved – and learned from – the third part, looking at Isaiah and what is in store for us. She summed up the whole study so well in the last sentence:

My hope is that seeing this same story from Genesis to Revelation will give you great confidence in the reliability of the Scriptures and the truths they hold. For the Jesus that surprised the two on the road to Emmaus, and surprises us in our everyday lives, is not at all finished surprising us.”

Dee also challenges the reader to see Jesus at work every day – something I’ve practiced for years thanks to missional training I received. He is always at work, you just have to see it. This practice alone can significantly change one’s perspective.

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This beautiful study can be done individually or as a group. Dee provides thoughtful questions to encourage a deeper study of Scripture at the end of each chapter.

I highly recommend this book and I look forward to reading more of her studies.

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I was given a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Why Intent Matters

Disclaimer: As always, I do not write this as someone who has it all together – I write as someone trying to figure it all out. 

I’ve come to recognize the importance of intent when considering conflict and a hopeful resolution. Whether the conflict happens in the workplace, in friendship, in family, in the Church, or in marriage, I believe it’s important to always assume the best and seek true understanding of the heart behind the words/actions.

We are quick to expect grace but hesitant to offer it. 

I’ve written before about the current situation in which I find myself because of words that were misinterpreted and actions that were made mistakenly. “Mistakenly” is the key word. My intent was never to hurt this person. One of the mistakes I made was truly done innocently, and the other was misinterpreted because of the previous mistake. It didn’t help that these two mistakes were made within the same month.

Both times my heart was in the right place, but this person seemingly refuses to consider that. I understand – and acknowledged – that I caused hurt, but I also understand that it is all a misunderstanding and have sought forgiveness and grace to no avail. I’ve given up trying to explain/prove that my intentions were good and instead have chosen to give this person space. However, all of this has caused me to spend a great deal of time researching/contemplating intent and motive, both biblically and in general, both as an offender and the one offended.


Intention: an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result. The end or object intended; purpose.

Motive: something that causes a person to act in a certain way, do a certain thing, etc.; incentive. The goal or object of a person’s actions.

I posed a multi-level question on my Facebook page and loved the responses that I received. Here is the question: “How often do you consider intent/motives when someone has (intentionally or unintentionally) wronged/hurt you? Do you do this before you respond, or after? Do you think that intent is more important than what was done?”

And here are a few of the responses:

“I have these conversations with myself all the time when someone has done something to hurt me. I ask myself, “what is the likelihood that it was their intent to be hurtful or insensitive?” This doesn’t mean the issue is never brought up, but it does provide context that enables me to see things more clearly. One of the best pieces of advice i ever got was to assume the best about people until they prove you wrong.” – Becky

“This is a huge challenge for me. I’m married to an Enneagram 1, so I have to remember his intent is always for the greater good, but as an Enneagram 4, I’m always “But my FEELINGS!!!” and he’s always reminding me of his intent even if his message is received otherwise.” – Shannon

“Not as often as I should. My tendency is to feel first, act, then think. I am working on being more intentional about thinking about the feeling before I act on it, for this reason.” – Mikayla

“I really have struggled with this. I naturally lean towards adding in my interpretation of their actions. I’m working hard on taking people at face value.” – Alexis

“As I get older (and ideally more spiritually mature) I try to consider motives. Usually I’m better at considering them afterwards but I try to always respond in a controlled manner. I’m not always successful at this. It also depends on how close of a relationship I have with someone who has hurt me. This determines how far I’ll go to try to mediate vs just forget about it.” – Michelle

“I try and consider intent because the intent may have been poorly received by me because I misunderstood. My misunderstanding doesn’t mean they intentionally wronged me. This takes me time to arrive here because I can be quick to respond to my hurt. It’s a learning process.” – Johanna

“I think there’s always a backstory that we don’t know.” – Carla

“I think offense can be a choice, even if someone is being intentional, I can still decide to not be offended….heaping coals or perhaps, ‘let it go’. Definitely easier said than done but brings a lot of freedom when possible.” – Christa

“I find that the more spiritually fit I am, the less anyone or anything affects me. If I am restless, irritable or discontented, there’s something wrong in my spirit.” – Connie

“Intentions are always worth considering but impact really matters more than intentions. We need to own our responsibility for hurtful impact even when our intentions were not hurtful.” – Sarah

“I have come to see just how much communication improves when I take responsibility to make sure my noble intent is clear to the person I’m trying to communicate with.” – Lyndsey

“I am loving the opportunity to teach my children about perspective. About owning the mistakes we make and showing grace and understanding when things happen to us.” – Meredith

“As for the finding out that it was unintentional, it usually makes it easier to heal, unless their attitude about it is a “so what if it hurt you, I don’t care because I didn’t mean it that way” but then the hurt gravitates towards their lack of care rather than what they actually did first.” – Valerie

“Intent has the ability to change EVERYTHING.” – Amanda

“Always only afterward in retrospect. I strive to see the good in other people and I can be really naive about it. That’s not to say I’m a saint but I’ll often question myself and my motives before somebody else’s.” – Melissa

“Intention is everything. I will NEVER hold someone accountable when the consequences are not tied to the intent. However, if there is intent there, my reaction will be a bit different.” – Josh

“I don’t know that there’s one right answer. Intent certainly can be more important, but not always. Every situation is different.” – Bethany

“Intent is so important. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt (whatever it is) but seeing things from another’s perspective is key to healing and ultimately growth.” – Angie

“I think assuming the best of someone is wise in order to further maintain relationships. But, we learn in infanthood to trust/mistrust people according to Eric Erickson so it can be hard to 1) realize we mistrust others and 2) to endeavor to do better and 3) recognize when we aren’t and change our thought patterns in the moment.” – Danielle


Context is one of my favorite things in life. It’s one of my top StrengthsFinder strengths; it’s why I love history, why I love learning people’s stories. Context brings understanding and grace, because a person’s actions often don’t tell the entire story.

Biblically speaking, Peter is a perfect example. Peter had great intentions to follow Jesus but often fell flat on his face because he didn’t execute those intentions well. He had the faith to get out of the boat and walk on the water, but he also lost sight of Jesus in the midst of the wind and the waves and began to sink. What did he do? He called out to Jesus for help. His heart never wavered. He may have failed in the moment but his intentions were good and true. He’s the one Jesus chose to be the foundation of the Church (Matthew 16:18) and I think that’s telling. God doesn’t expect perfection – He expects obedience and faith.

More than once in Scripture we are told that the Lord knows our hearts. One of my favorite verses on this topic is this:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

If God looks at the heart, shouldn’t we?

We tend to get what we look for. If we look for the worst in people, we’ll get bucketloads of it. If we look for the best, we’ll get that.” – Karl Vaters

We all have past hurts that have shaped our view of people and of the world. It’s easy to assume that just because someone in our past intentionally hurt us that anything anyone does is also to inflict pain. But is that fair? Is that the best way to approach relationships?



This is already too long, so here are some resources I found if you want to read more.

Intent and motive are explored in several Bible passages:

Numbers 14: 40-44 (When the Israelites realized the consequences of their actions, they repented but the Lord knew their hearts and the reason behind their actions.)

Joshua 22:11-34 (Great example of not assuming that intentions are bad.)

1 Chronicles 19:2-3 (Our past experiences can make us overly suspicious of others. We should not assume that every action is meant for harm.)

From a corporate standpoint, this is an excellent article.  Here’s a quote from it:

When we make mistakes, we often blame the circumstances of the situation rather than take responsibility for the mistake. When other people make mistakes, we tend to over-emphasize the other person’s role in that mistake–we very quickly blame them!”

Here are some other articles I found on this subject:

https://www.christianpost.com/news/why-god-is-looking-at-your-heart.html

https://www.crosswalk.com/family/marriage/doctor-david/why-you-should-always-assume-positive-intent.html

https://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2017/july/fellow-christian-assume-best.html


After all of this reading, discussion, and contemplation, I still believe that when we are wronged, we need to take the intent of the person into consideration. That doesn’t erase the hurt (and we must own our mistakes), but it can lessen it once we realize that they made a mistake. We ALL make mistakes. We are ALL imperfect. We ALL have backstories. We ALL do and say things we regret because we are sinful humans. Bottom line: We cannot hold others to an impossible standard that we ourselves could never attain. 

As Christians, we are to offer abundant grace and forgiveness because WE have been forgiven abundantly by our Lord and Savior. Who are we to harbor unforgiveness? I am not preaching here – I am well aware I am prone to hold on to resentment and it’s something I struggle with on a daily basis. That’s why I’m so thankful that God has given us His Word to remind us of the standard to which we are called:

“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” – Romans 12:9-18

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” – 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:32

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” – Colossians 3:13

The next time someone “wrongs” me I pray that I can take their intent into consideration before I respond. Was it truly done maliciously? Were they actually trying to harm me in some fashion? Has their track record really been one of causing hurt? Or am I taking things too personally/the wrong way? Because intent matters.

Considering intent can make it far easier to offer abundant grace and forgiveness instead of being on the defensive and choosing anger and hurt. One path leads to stronger relationships; the other leads to resentment and loss. Which do we want more?


Questions for discussion and contemplation: When someone’s intentions and motive are pure, yet hurt occurs, what role should grace play? When the offender is remorseful and expresses that their intent was indeed pure and good, how should the one offended respond?

The Joy of Not Knowing

In our culture of Google bringing instant gratification to our curious minds, not knowing the answer or what is going to happen in life typically makes us feel anxious, unsettled. We think that knowing everything when we want to know it is the key to peace.

I don’t believe that is the case.

I write about this today as I am reflecting on March 26, 2016. We had no idea that would be our last day with Tori on this earth. Part of me wishes I had known…but, then I wonder for what purpose? So we could have treasured her more that day? We already did that well. So we could have been more “prepared” to say goodbye? We’d been preparing for fourteen months.

No, I think it’s this: Knowing would have helped us feel like we were in control of an impossible situation instead of trusting the One who actually IS in control.

I like being in control. I like when things go my way (I recently discovered that I’m an Enneagram 1 and I think I’ve accepted that 😉 ). But living like that doesn’t require faith. It doesn’t require trust. Why have faith if we’re going to just take control ourselves?

In this instance, I am certain that knowing the day and time of her final breath would NOT have brought peace. It would have brought anxiety. Instead, our sovereign and gracious God shielded us from that information and I’m so thankful. 

He was gracious to give us warning signs for about six weeks before she was set free from her earthly body. In the end, that’s all we really needed. We see that now.


Another way I’ve seen this idea of “not knowing being okay” play out is in regards to Newborn Screening.

The Pennsylvania NBS Advisory Panel has spent countless hours discussing the ethics of screening for certain diseases – ones with no treatment, specifically. They ponder whether or not it’s the right thing to tell parents that their child may someday develop a disease for which there is no treatment or cure. They wonder if they should screen for such diseases or leave it a mystery.

You may wonder why they would do that, as did I at first, but now I see it this way: if parents find out that their child will someday become symptomatic with a disease for which there is no treatment or cure, is it better for them to know (which will rob them of joy during the healthy times and fill them with worry and anxiety), or to wait until symptoms occur? They can’t change the situation either way, so for some diseases the panel believes that the ethical thing to do is to NOT screen until a treatment is available. And I believe this is the right thing to do.

Knowing doesn’t always bring peace or joy. Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss.


As followers of Jesus, we must trust the One we serve. We must trust that His way IS the best way, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment. He must be the source of our joy, even when things in life do not go as we would prefer.

If we TRULY believe that God is sovereign, good, gracious, faithful, trustworthy, capable, then do we actually need to know everything? No. What we need is to put our faith into action and surrender that need. Faith brings joy, deep and unwavering joy.

Someday we’ll know, and we’ll praise Him in retrospect; but, I challenge you to praise Him now, in the uncertainty, because HE is certain and HE loves you. 

Expectations and Grace

I had one of those “I feel like I’m failing” moments yesterday when both babies were fussy (most of the day) and I couldn’t figure out what they needed.

All parents have these moments where we feel like we have no idea what we’re doing. It’s a normal part of this journey.

While I try to not fall into the comparison trap, it happens, especially in those areas in which I am the least confident. It’s SO easy to see another mom with her children (whether online or in person) and compare your performance to hers, making yourself feel disappointed and like a failure. When it comes to social media, it’s likely more “performance” than reality, anyway!

When I finally got them to nap, I had a chance to think. How many of these self-imposed expectations are actually relevant to the care of my babies and how many of them are merely an effort to measure up to my perception of what the perfect mother looks like?

And I realized something important: my babies don’t think that I’m a failure, that I don’t know what I am doing most days.

To them, my presence is enough. I walk into a room and (most of the time) they smile wide. They are thrilled just to be in my arms. So why do I compare myself to unfair, self-imposed ideals and expectations?

They don’t compare like we do because they have NO idea what other moms do. I am the only mother they know! If I were actually failing, they would have absolutely no idea. Therefore, there is no way for them to be disappointed (until much later 😉) in me.

Isn’t that freeing?

My babies delight in me. They love me. And their opinion (meaning what brings them joy, security, and comfort) should be the only one that matters (God and my husband aside) when it comes to parenting them as infants.

THANKFULLY they don’t have social media to show them what other moms are doing with their infants, and I need to remember that. And maybe I need to reduce my social media consumption on days when I’m feeling like that.

This realization is the first of many reminders throughout my life to show grace to myself during these (sometimes difficult) days of infancy with twins. And toddlerhood. And childhood.

After all, their joy is what matters right now, not my comparison to what I think others are doing. ❤️

The What or The Who (Not the Band)

Last week’s sermon hasn’t left my mind much since I heard it.

The focus was on 2 Corinthians 5:14-16, 19-20.

“Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!””

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:14-16, 19-20‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This passage highlights a few important things for our life on this earth:

  • Christ’s love should control us. Not influence us, but CONTROL everything we are and do.
  • We are ultimately here to help people know Jesus and to see them as He sees them.
  • We are ambassadors entrusted with this great work!

The pastor commented that so often in this life we (are taught to) stress about the answer to the question, “what am I here for?

We wonder if we’re accomplishing that which we are here to do, and we often allow that question to cause unnecessary anxiety and fear. “What is my purpose? What if I never find it?” We allow that to drive our choices and actions.

I know people who have left their “secular” career to do something more “spiritual” while missing the fact that God needed them exactly where they were to be a light for Him (#MissionalLiving).

Instead of focusing on what we should be doing, the pastor said that we should be focusing on this question: “For whom am I here?

Who, not what.

Who has God placed in our sphere of influence? Our family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers are our purpose here.

Most importantly, we should never pursue the “what” at the expense of the “who” because EVERYTHING we do is just an excuse or a platform to lead others to Jesus. Everything.

We all have gifts and strengths and we have roles to play with those gifts and strengths; and we all have stories that others need to hear. God can use any job, any situation for His purposes, if we allow Him to do so.

In closing, he encouraged us to ask God to breathe mission into our current life and circumstances instead of asking Him to change them, to be content with the what and focus on the who.


This is relevant to me in a unique way:

Lately I’ve been struggling with being content with the sales of my book. Numbers. Rankings. Influence. This part of my journey has not gone as I expected.

Before it went to press, I had a modest goal in mind, one that I deemed easily – and quickly – attainable. I poured my heart into telling Tori’s story and it is the most vulnerable thing I have ever done. Her life and the lessons learned from her life matter and I just knew that I would sell thousands and thousands of copies!

As of today I have only reached 10% of that goal. Ten.

(I don’t tell you that to make you feel guilty if you haven’t bought it – though I wouldn’t mind if you did decide to buy it! 😉 There’s a point to all of this.)

Of course, I’m humbly thrilled that ANYONE has wanted to read it, and each sale means that someone new has learned about Krabbe, about Tori, and about our Heavenly Father. THAT is what matters.

But, if I am honest, I am also disappointed because I thought I would sell more given the number of people who have followed Tori from the beginning.

I’m human, after all. Pride sneaks in when we least expect to see it. I worked hard on the book and emotionally invested myself in it, so I obviously want it to “succeed” in terms of high numbers. But is that success?

I had been trying to brainstorm how to increase sales, how to market it on a greater scale (with zero dollars) in order to get the numbers up. It began to consume my thoughts (when I wasn’t caring for babies).

And then I heard that sermon last weekend and I understood what the Lord was asking of me:

Do I really trust the God of the universe to put my book in the hands of those who truly need the message? Is it about the number sold or about the soul reading it?

As one of my favorite songs says, “You’ve brought me this far, why would I question You now?” He opened the doors for it to be published, but do I trust His intentions? Yes. I just needed to be reminded, to refocus.

It’s not about numbers, it’s not about selling millions (though that would be incredible): it’s about my obedience in telling our story and allowing God to use it as He sees fit. Him, not me.

It’s so much more than just book sales. My book is just another way – not the only way – God is using my circumstances, my story, my faith, and my life to reconcile people to Him.

I have to remember this. Daily. And whenever I am tempted to be concerned with the numbers (often), I need to surrender it all to the One who is in control. And I need to pray that He will continue to use my life for His Kingdom and glory.

That’s what it’s all about.

Reminders of Krabbe and Choosing to Be Joyful

There will always be reminders of Krabbe and its effects on Tori in the least expected places.

The other night, for instance, on The Good Doctor, they had a patient who was unable to smile because her cranial nerves were not working properly.

Just like Krabbe.

This is just one example, of course. These situations always catch us by surprise, and it’s hard to believe that even just four years ago something like this wouldn’t have phased us. We would have enjoyed the episode of the show but it wouldn’t have made us think about anything else.

When times like this happen, we have a choice: focus on what Krabbe stole from her – and us – with sadness, or focus on all that Heaven restored to her with joy.

And, as always, we choose joy.

Her smile was amazing, even though we only saw it for five months. I think we will appreciate her brothers’ smiles far more because of this. Each smile, each expression…such joy.

We remember her smile with such love and eagerly await seeing it again soon – but not yet ❤️

Completely Different

I haven’t changed my phone wallpaper in almost two years.

My dad captured this moment only a couple of days before Tori went to Heaven and it’s the last non-selfie photo I have of me and her together. I have had no desire to change it because it’s comforting to me. I like that it’s always there, easy to find, and that it represents the deep trust she had in me.

I like that it’s the same photo day after day.


This pregnancy has been both similar and different to my pregnancy with Tori. In many ways, though it was still relatively easy, hers was more complicated.

Both pregnancies were/are easy in regards to no morning sickness, little discomfort, no swelling, etc. I do not take it for granted that my body seems to like pregnancy!

But there are some major differences:

  • I had gestational diabetes.
  • I had excess amniotic fluid (because of the GD).
  • I gained over 30 pounds.
  • My hips caused me pain constantly.
  • She would sleep through non-stress tests, triggering multiple ultrasounds each week.
  • I tried to deliver her naturally and ended up having an unplanned c-section.

When we found out that we were having identical twins (mono/di), we immediately assumed that we were in for a rough ride.

And, thus far, we’ve been completely wrong.

  • I passed my glucose test!
  • My fluid levels are normal.
  • I have only gained 20 pounds.
  • My hips only hurt while trying to sleep.
  • We will see about the non-stress tests, which start at 32 weeks 😉
  • Even though I have ultrasounds every other week, everything is going as smoothly as possible! No complications; good, steady growth; very active; healthy boys.
  • This c-section is scheduled, and I am happy about it this time!

I had prayed that God would let us have the easy road this time, and while we’re not in the clear until they are born, so far He has blessed us with a normal pregnancy, and we are beyond grateful. I needed this.

(25 weeks and 29 weeks)


We’ve begun to realize that everything about what’s going to happen in April is completely different than with Tori.

  • Boys, not a girl
  • Two, not one
  • No Krabbe, no genetic issues

And we need these differences, too.

Because it will be completely different, there will be less temptation to compare them to Tori. She has her place in our hearts and they will have theirs. ❤️

We have no reason to fear the future with the twins and yet we are going to be waiting…for the NBS results, for the 5/6 month mark (when Tori’s symptoms surfaced), for them to surpass her life of 19 months and 27 days. I think until we hit that mark we will wonder if the genetic testing was wrong, if the Newborn Screening was wrong, if things are going to be the same as they were with Tori.

The boys are going to learn to crawl, talk, walk, run, play…things we can’t even imagine because Tori was robbed of those opportunities. I can’t wait (and yet I can) until they are mobile and able to get away from us – something Tori never could.

Usually the status quo brings comfort; in this case, the differences are refreshing. And we need them.


I wonder what I will do and how I will feel when the boys are here in regards to my phone wallpaper. I imagine that will be an emotional moment, even if the new photo incorporates Tori in some way, because it will be a reminder that she is in Heaven and not here with her brothers.

But, as we move forward in our new adventure, we know that things are going to change, that change isn’t bad; that things are going to be new and wonderful, even if bittersweet, and we will learn to embrace the change and the joy that these precious boys will bring to our lives.

And we can’t wait. ❤️