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.

Five

Today is Tori’s fifth birthday.

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It’s the fourth one we’ve celebrated without her in our presence, but, for some reason, this one caught me off guard and hit me harder than anticipated.

Five is a milestone. Five is an age little kids want to be (I apparently used to tell people I was five when I wasn’t). Five means kindergarten is coming. Five.

It’s hard to not imagine what she’d look like, what she’d be like.

We should be celebrating our first born’s birthday WITH her, but instead we will celebrate without her. It’s a consequence of living in a fallen world, a harsh reality of living between two gardens (Eden and Heaven), as Lysa TerKeurst has said.

It would be so easy to take the pains of this earthly existence and dwell on them, to allow them to consume us and to derail our lives. But, as Christians, we are given wise and practical advice as to how to navigate this fallen world, and in moments like these we should turn to God’s Word for that wisdom:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

“Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” 

We could dwell on the things of earth – Tori’s absence, the unfair nature of our situation, what we lost thanks to mutated genes that caused Krabbe. But, God tells us to dwell on the things of Heaven – Tori’s eternal presence there, her healed body, her ability to live an abundant life there, the fact that we will join her someday for ETERNITY.

So that’s where we purposefully turn our eyes. Sometimes it comes easily, other times it requires faith. The root of our joy is Heaven through Jesus, so we choose to focus on what’s to come rather than on what has been.


At the Hunter’s Hope Symposium last week, one of the Krabbe -and fellow twin- mamas I greatly admire said this about her son: Jenna said that when Jackson was first diagnosed, she prayed and pleaded with God to let him live a normal life, to let him achieve milestones and do things like graduate from high school. She said she felt the Lord say that those are ordinary things; Jackson’s life would be extraordinary. 

I know the same is true for Tori. This was God’s plan of redemption all along – that she would change lives and make a huge difference in this world – a difference that will be seen in the next. He has redeemed a terrible situation and made something beautiful from it.


Whatever you’re facing today, remember that we are called to something greater and that this world is not our home. This broken, painful, earth is not our final destination. It’s temporary – and we thank God for that!

Focus on the eternal, on the things that come from God – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). When you set your mind on things above, it changes your perspective and you realize that joy comes more easily, no matter the circumstances.

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

–Philippians 4:4-9


We love you, Tori, and we celebrate you today. We always will.

Sitting in the Meantime

When we saw TobyMac in March, he said something that resonated with me. He commented about the length of time between his album releases and said that’s because he needs to live life between albums so that he has something to sing about.

When I wrote the one and only song I’ve ever written, I told God that I was okay with never writing one again because it took sending Tori to Heaven to have the inspiration and ability to write it. If that’s what it takes, I’m good now 😉


I’ve been mostly quiet on here for a while now because life hasn’t given me much content lately – which is perfectly okay! I am completely satisfied with life going smoothly, which it mostly has been (normal mother-of-twins ordeals aside).

However, as I blogged earlier this week, I’m now in a situation providing me with content…a situation I sincerely wish could be resolved but it’s out of my control at this point.

I’ve been sitting in silence, not pressing this friend to reconcile or respond, not offering further explanation as to my intent or my heart. Just waiting.


Someone recently used the phrase “sitting in the meantime” and I loved it. That’s where I am – sitting in the period of waiting for resolution. I’ve relinquished control (difficult) and am being still before the Lord, waiting for His guidance and for my friend to reach out IF they choose to do so.

And it’s challenging.

Because, in the meantime, I just want to fix things. I want to talk. I want to meet up for coffee and explain, yet again, that my words were not said out of anger but love. That there has to be a huge misunderstanding because I thought everything was good between us, but clearly there was some harbored resentment that caused this to blow up. That everyone makes mistakes and grace should be offered abundantly. But I can’t. Not until the other person reaches out.

I don’t like being in the meantime. There is no defined timeline, no rule book, nothing for me to accomplish except to wait and to pray, to work on my own heart and to ask God to use this to grow my own character.

Life will go on if this friendship ends, but not without some grief on my part. Unresolved conflict is so very hard for me to live with especially when I feel I’ve done all I can to live at peace with others (Romans 12:18).

If you find yourself – now or in the future – “sitting in the meantime” with no end in sight, run to the Lord. Read His Word. Trust Him. Remember all the great things He has done in your life and in the lives of others. He isn’t just watching from the sidelines – He is right there in the meantime with you.

The Power of Words

I was in sixth grade when I realized the power of words for the first time. 

For whatever reason, I decided to write a letter – a very mean one – to someone who was a friend of mine, a friend who had done nothing wrong. To this day I have no idea why I wrote it, but I have never forgotten the lesson learned. That girl and I were never friends again and because we had hung out in the same group of friends, it made my life so awkward. I still feel shame when I think back to how I made that girl cry.

It happened again in high school with my best friend. I decided that I didn’t want to be friends anymore (eye roll) and wrote a letter. Sigh. My parents kept telling me to stop writing letters and that was the last time, THANKFULLY. She and I are still friends to this day (31 years and counting) and our friendship is stronger because of it, I think.

I can’t go back to sixth grade or high school (THANKFULLY) but I’ve tried to be very careful with my words ever since. While I certainly still make mistakes, I do what I can to avoid having difficult conversations via text/email because of the inability to read tone. I choose my words carefully and use abundant emojis to convey my emotions.

Everyone has a lens through which they perceive and process life, and we all have our own “settings” and filters through which we process information; because of that, I also do everything I can to assume the best when others write to me and never assume that they are being rude, mean, or angry. I read the tone as being friendly unless proven otherwise. I don’t know what may be behind the words, I don’t know what mood they are in or what is happening in their life, so I choose to believe they are being kind.

This week I was reminded that I can only control my words and my responses. I was reminded that, as well-meaning and good as I may think my words are, they are up for interpretation by the receiver and the result may be less than ideal.

I have, yet again, found myself in a situation where I may be losing a friend because of words (but NOT with a mean letter like sixth grade or high school!) even though that is the complete opposite of what I want. And it has been devastating. Looking back, I can see why this person took what I said the way that they did, and I can also see how this could have been avoided entirely had I done it in person. It was just easier to text, so I did. And now we’re in a mess.

I don’t write this for pity (I made the mistake). I don’t write this for gossip (hence the lack of details). I write this to encourage you to stop having difficult conversations with written words. Pick up the phone. Get together. FaceTime. Hear the person’s tone. Assume the best. Be willing to accept feedback and constructive criticism from those who love you. Offer abundant grace to your imperfect friend/family member. Don’t allow friendships to be destroyed because of misunderstandings that could have been avoided. 

I clearly still need to learn this lesson. Maybe this is why the Bible is filled with verses about using your words wisely.

I’m still praying that things will resolve and that we can grow stronger because of this conflict. But, I also know that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect humans and that may not be the reality. So, while I am grieving this apparent loss, I’m also renewing my determination to be careful with my words and to never have discussions via writing when they can be better resolved in person.

Friendships are too rare and too valuable to be lost over misunderstandings. Be wise with your words.

Three Years: Tori’s Resurrection Day

It’s amazing that it has already been three years since our precious Tori entered the arms of Jesus.

Today could be a devastating, sad day. We could choose to dwell on what we “lost” that day, how our world changed, and that would be an acceptable way to spend the day given the circumstances. I mean, we did lose a child. The world would understand. But, as always, we choose to place our focus on where she is and how she is doing, as well as the fact that we will see her again someday and will never have to say goodbye.

Instead of the worldly form of grief, we choose peace.
Instead of blaming God, we choose faith.
Instead of tears, we choose joy.

We decided two years ago that we would always spend Tori’s Resurrection Day (also called Tori’s Day of Triumph) doing something fun as a family. The activities may vary from year to year, depending on the age of her siblings and their interests, but we want to always celebrate her life and her current/forever place of residence.

So, today we had breakfast at Cracker Barrel and had some fried apples (something she LOVED) together:

We went to see Tori’s tree at the Hershey Gardens for our second annual family photo in front of the tree:

We read “I Can Only Imagine: A Friendship with Jesus Now and Forever” to the boys – something we will do each year as we teach them about Tori, Heaven, and faith in Jesus.

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But most importantly, we enjoyed our time as a family:


I promise we aren’t perfect Christians, nor are we perfect people. We sought out the biblical examples of living after a loved one’s death, and we believe that this is how we are to live. The New Testament, especially, is FILLED with verses about death of fellow believers and how Christians should respond, and it’s always referenced with joy. With peace.

We trust that the God who created the universe can be trusted with every detail of our lives, even when we don’t understand the reasons. 

(If you’d like to hear me go more into depth about this and more, here’s a link to a speaking engagement I had in January. You can also read more in my book, Even So, Joy.)

One of the questions I ask in Even So, Joy is this: If we (as followers of Jesus) truly believe God and His promises, if we truly believe that Heaven is where we belong and where we will spend eternity, then why do we follow the world’s example and allow sorrow and grief to overcome us? It doesn’t have to be this way. 

Would anyone CHOOSE to lose a child? Absolutely not. And yet, we CAN choose our reaction and how we live our lives afterward. We see the example of David losing a child (albeit to very different circumstances) in 2 Samuel 12 and his response:

19 When David saw them whispering, he realized what had happened. “Is the child dead?” he asked.

“Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”

20 Then David got up from the ground, washed himself, put on lotions,[b]and changed his clothes. He went to the Tabernacle and worshiped the Lord. After that, he returned to the palace and was served food and ate.

21 His advisers were amazed. “We don’t understand you,” they told him. “While the child was still living, you wept and refused to eat. But now that the child is dead, you have stopped your mourning and are eating again.”

22 David replied, “I fasted and wept while the child was alive, for I said, ‘Perhaps the Lord will be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But why should I fast when he is dead? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him one day, but he cannot return to me.”

David got up. He worshiped the sovereign God he knew and trusted. He knew he would see his son again someday and chose to live life.

I think about it this way: If it were me that had died, I would NOT want my parents to stop living life. I would not want them to visit my grave (or, as we call it, Resurrection Site). I would want them to remember that the separation is not forever, that I am where we all, as Believers, are supposed to be. That I am finally HOME. 

Brennan and I chose then – and we choose now – to focus on Tori and how amazingly she is doing now. Tori can SMILE. Walk. Talk. Breathe. Play. Be with Jesus. How incredible is that?! Our precious baby girl was so broken here on earth; now she is healed and WHOLE. That is more than enough reason to rejoice!

Brennan and I know and believe that Heaven is real, that she is having an amazing time, and that we will join her someday. Every day is one day closer to that reunion!

You may not be in a situation like ours, but we all have our own challenges and life struggles. No matter what our circumstances, we each have a daily decision to make, a choice for how we view our journey; we have the opportunity to choose for it to be well with our souls and to focus on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2).

Every day, we each have a decision to make: where is your focus?

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. 

Renewed Sense of Purpose

It’s been ten years since I first took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. For the first time, I felt like I knew how to handle budgeting (I used to think it was inhibiting, when it’s actually incredibly freeing) and how to tackle debt. I met Brennan a few months later and eventually taught him what I had learned.

When we got married, we both brought debt (student loan and other debt) into the marriage. Our total amount of debt was $106,929.39. Staggering. Crippling debt. But, we followed Dave’s plan (with a few detours) and committed to knocking that out as quickly as possible.

We bought our first home six years ago because we saw the profit potential and knew it would be a way to become debt-free even faster. And it worked.

In our first six years of marriage we paid off $85,000 and were down to only my student loan. But then we became lazy and, when tempted to take out a large construction loan to remodel our new home, we gave in impulsively to have the instant gratification. While not in debt to the extent we were when we first got married, it’s debt, regardless, and it has been difficult mentally to get over our mistake.

Our new church announced that they were offering the class beginning in January, so we decided that it was time to take it together and get back on track. We have continuously budgeted our entire marriage but it’s time to start the “debt snowball” once more.

Now that we have children in our home again, we’ve realized that THEY are our motivation and purpose. We never want to have to tell them they can’t participate in something because we don’t have the money if debt is the reason. 

Our goal is to be debt-free by the time they turn five. That is fifty months from now.

We have a plan. We’ve tightened up our budget as much as possible – which led us to realize that we surprisingly don’t have a spending problem, but rather an income problem (in terms of having extra to be aggressive with debt payoff). We weren’t sure what to do, but we prayed for opportunities to earn extra money that could be applied directly to our debt.

And, as always, God is faithful to His children.

I was presented with the opportunity for a new part-time job that will not only bring in some extra income but also help us cut our food budget and simplify meal planning (and give me a much-needed break a couple of nights each week).

And then, on Friday, I was offered a promotion at my other part-time job that not only pays more but it’s a lot more responsibility (being the manager on duty – MOD). Not only was this an answer to my prayer, but I was an answer to their “prayers” because it’s only 1-2 weekend days a month and they didn’t know how they would find someone willing to work so few hours. Then they remembered me, my qualifications, and how I’m currently only working there 1-2 times per month, and they said it was the perfect solution all-around. God’s hand is clearly in this. 

This all happened in the last three weeks and we’re still in awe. 

We didn’t pray that God would just hand us money (though we wouldn’t say no 😉 ) – we prayed for opportunities to EARN it, and He came through quickly and amazingly!

I share all of this as an encouragement. ANYONE can do what we’re doing. EVERYONE can become debt-free even though it requires dedication, sacrifice, and hard work. As Dave says, “Live like no one else so that later you can live and give like no one else.”

We are “gazelle intense” and ready to pay off my student loans and this construction loan as soon as we possibly can. The future of our children is worth the sacrifices we make now.