Transformed by the Bible

This is my newest piece for incourage.
You can read the whole article here!

How Reading the Bible Will Transform You www.annswindell.com

I was twenty years old, fresh into my junior year at my Christian college, when Dr. Dorsett — an aging professor with a shock of white hair and thick spectacles — startled me into paying attention.

He held a Bible above his head and asked us, “How can you call yourself a Christian if you haven’t read every page of this book? If you don’t even know what’s in here?” His tone was kind, but his words were piercing. He was asking us to own our faith.

His words dumbfounded me.

I had grown up in the church, and had read parts of the Bible during my growing-up years. But here, as a young woman, I realized that I hadn’t ever read the Bible cover-to-cover. I’d read bits here and chapters there, but I hadn’t read much of the Old Testament, and I’d never read all of the New. It dawned on me, there in that class, that I was basing my life on a book that I hadn’t fully read — and suddenly, that admission stunned me. Who bases their life on a book but doesn’t read all of it? Did I even know what I believed?

Who bases their life on a book but doesn’t read all of it? Did I even know what I believed? Click To Tweet

And so, that very week, I started a one-year Bible-reading plan and began my journey into reading the Bible all the way through.

At first, reading several chapters a day felt overwhelming — going from reading a few verses here and there to actually reading whole chunks of the Word felt like going from talking a walk around the block to training for a marathon. My spiritual muscles were weak, and it was difficult on many days to keep my mind and heart engaged. Don’t even get me started on the book of Numbers; it’s a miracle I kept going!

But what I found, as I kept my nose in the folds of those crinkly, thin pages of my Bible, was that I was meeting God—actually meeting with Him! I wasn’t solely reading about Him or learning about Him: I was encountering the Lord on every page.

You can read the rest of the article here, at incourage!

Still Waiting by Ann Swindell

Still Waiting Cover Reveal

I’ve been writing a book this past year, and have spent the last few months crystallizing edits with my powerhouse team at Tyndale. It’s hard to believe that nine months have passed since I signed the contract; we have less time than that before it releases in April of 2017!

One thing that I’ve loved about the process of seeing this book come to life has been the excitement generated around the cover. I’ll share more later, but Tyndale walked me through a really helpful and empowering process when it came to designing the cover of this book. Although their design team creates the cover, as an author I had a clear hand in the tone and feel of the design, which I was deeply thankful for.

The #stillwaitingbook cover reveal! Click To Tweet

The cover matters so much to me because as much as we say otherwise, the truth is that we really do judge a book by its cover. Whether we’re perusing the stacks at a bookstore or clicking through pages online, it’s the front of a book that initially draws us in or pushes us away. My hope is that this cover will draw you in and thrill you as much as it has thrilled me!

I won’t keep you waiting any longer. Here it is!

Still Waiting book at www.annswindell.com

Isn’t it beautiful? This cover encapsulates so much about Still Waiting in one image. I’m amazed at how the design team captured both the beauty and the ache of trusting God; they nailed the feeling of yearning, and yet the rich colors point to the vibrancy that can be found even in waiting seasons. The handwritten title adds a softness to the cover without being overly dramatic.

In short: I love it. LOVE IT.

This cover blew me away the first time I saw it, and I’m so thankful that it will be the “face” of my first book. I’ll be sharing more about the book-writing process in the months ahead, but I wanted to let you be the first ones to catch a glimpse of the cover!

(If you’re new here and want to stay up-to-date with my work and this book, click here to join in on my monthly updates!)

Oh, and if you want to pre-order Still Waiting, you’re in luck. You can pre-order it here!

So, what do you think? Do you love the cover as much as I do?

Additionally, if you’re interested in writing, too, make sure to check out the course that I offer, Writing with Grace. Registration just opened TODAY, but it won’t be open for long! Click here to learn all about the class:

Writing with Grace course www.writingwithgrace.com

How to Grow as a Writer: 5 Ways

Perhaps one of the questions that gets tossed around the most in writing circles the question of how to grow as a writer. It can feel elusive and unclear–how does one grow in a skill that can’t be quantified, like math? How does one get better as a writer when the skill can’t be taught like teaching someone to ride a bike? There’s no ten-step process to becoming an exquisite writer (although many of us wish there was).

From Hemingway to Dickens, from Voskamp to Niequist, there is a wide and maddening range of what readers love and what any particular reader might consider “good.” That’s why much of writing revolves around the discovery of a writer’s voice and strengths. We have to learn to strengthen our weaknesses and capitalize on our natural abilities. Most of us also need a good editor.

However, I do know that there are things all of us can do to offer ourselves opportunities to grow. There are disciplines that we can adhere to, practices that we can participate in. This is part of the reason why I offer Writing with Grace, the live, online, six-week course that I teach for writers who want to grow in their writing voice, craft, and ability. We tackle a lot of the nitty-gritty of writing well in that class, and I offer a lot of tools that good writers rely on to bolster their work. Head over to www.writingwithgrace.com to check it out–this post will still be right here when you come back.

I thought it might be helpful to create an infographic of some of the ways that all of us can grow as writers. Check it out below, and hang out with me over at Writing with Grace!

How to Grow as a Writer www.writingwithgrace.com

Seeing the Year with Thankful Eyes: 2015 Highlights

Seeing the Year with Thankful Eyes: Choosing Gratefulness. www.annswindell.com

‘Tis the season for year-end round ups, lists of favorites, and reflecting on the last year. I love this time of reflection between Christmas and New Year’s Day–it’s a short window in which many of us take time to think about what’s happened in the last twelve months and start to dream about what’s ahead.

And I love this week. Why? Because before we set our sights on the new year, it is very important to thank God for all that has passed–for his presence, his goodness, and his faithfulness to us for another year. We need to do this, not because God needs it, but because our souls need to recount all that has done.

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
    I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. [Psalm 9:1]

When we recount the Lord’s goodness, it moves our soul to thank him–fitting praise for our Creator!

When we recount the Lord's goodness, it moves our soul to thank him. Click To Tweet

For me, this blog post is one of the ways I am recounting his wonderful deeds to me and our family this year. We have to much to praise him for!

The past year was a year of change for our family, and it was hard in many ways. But it was also very good–and I am thankful for all of it, because it drew us to Jesus.

We moved to another state for my husband’s graduate work.

I left my teaching job at Wheaton College.

We endured serious sickness but emerged healthy.

Michael and I celebrated nine years of marriage!

God provided for our family in miraculous ways.

I signed my first book contract with Tyndale House!

I launched my online writing course, Writing with Grace (class starts in January!).
I also had some writing highlights that I’d love to share!

One of my pieces for RELEVANT reached a very wide audience and was their most-read article the week it was published.

My honest piece about parenting was named as one of Today’s Christian Woman’s top articles for 2015.

I got to write for the Redbud Post–the publication of the Redbud Writers Guild that I’m honored to belong to.

I wrote one of the pieces I’m most proud of for Today’s Christian Woman, about how I’m learning to accept my own body by teaching my daughter to love hers.

I was able to write for (in)courage a couple of times and always love sharing my words there.

Thank you for joining me here in this space. I’m grateful for all God has done and I look ahead to all that he will do in this coming year! What are you thanking him for?

So You Say You’re a Church Lady: An Interview with Marlena Graves

Today, in our continuation of the Church Lady series, we have the opportunity to hear from Marlena Graves, a fellow Redbud Writer and woman of faith! She is the Minister of Pastoral Care at her church, and also a powerful writer! In her writing, Marlena reflects on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus amid the beauty, wonder, and tragedy of this God-haunted world. She is a bylined contributor for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics and Gifted for Leadership blogs and has contributed to many other publications. Her first book, A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness (Brazos Press – Baker Books), came out in June. I am so thankful for her honesty and willingness to share her story with us today!

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Marlena Graves

1. Tell us a little bit about the church that you’re a part of.
My family and I moved here last August. My husband is a philosophy professor and was hired in for a tenure-track position at the local university. So in a week or so, we’ll have lived here one year.

We had a wonderful community where we lived and so we knew that a central part of our lives would be our church community in this new place. The church is our family, a means of grace in our lives. We’ve had wonderful experiences in churches, though we’ve seen the good, bad, and ugly because we’ve been a part of the leadership in one way or another in many of the churches we attended. So it was essential for us to find a good church. At first, we went to a church about a mile from our house because we wanted to be able to walk to church and because we appreciated the liturgy. But after some issues arose, we decided that it wasn’t the church for us. We then decided to go to St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church, a church just over a mile down the street (in the opposite direction). It’s about a twenty-minute walk.

We chose to go to St. Andrew’s because while we were attending the other church, the pastor of St. Andrew’s and his wife (who live close by) invited my husband and me to a small group. We couldn’t both attend because we had no one to watch our girls; we were new to the area. So, my husband offered to watch the girls while I attended the small group. I immediately fell in love with our group and their Jesus life. This past Christmas Eve, we decided to leave the first church and attend St. Andrew’s. It’s the first time we’ve ever left a church (aside from moving away) and I felt guilty about it because we tend to be terribly loyal through thick and thin. We had attended the previous church four months. Yet, St. Andrew’s is much more warmly hospitable and so we decided to attend. We are grateful we did. It has made all the difference in feeling a sense of belonging in this new town. We have a people—a place to belong and where we want others to belong.

2. What does it look like, in your life, to be an active part of your church?
This situation is a bit different. Throughout the winter, Shawn and I started attending another small group at our pastor’s house. This time, the church provided childcare in the pastor’s home so that we (and other couples with children) could both attend. While there, during a time of prayer, I mentioned that I needed to find a job in order to make ends meet (I had left a full-time job last year when we moved). The group prayed for me, and soon after I found out that the church was hiring two new people: a full-time Minister of Discipleship and a part-time Minister of Pastoral Care. Initially, I thought of applying for the full-time job. But, I had become pregnant with our third child, our third girl, and didn’t think it wise to work full-time. I applied for the pastoral care position. And to my great delight, I was hired.

I started in the middle of June. And I love it. My responsibilities mostly involve senior care, hospital and hospice visits, and funerals. My desire is that all of us would be enfolded in to the life of Jesus at St. Andrew’s and that everyone would be rendered visible, no matter one’s age, ability, or disability.

A Beautiful Disaster

3. How are your unique gifts and abilities strengthened by being part of a local church?
You know, I’ve always seen myself as a physician of the soul and others have seen and treated me as such my entire life. I didn’t grow up with rigid complementary roles defined for men and women. It wasn’t until I attended a Christian college that I heard of such things. And in college I embraced it briefly (in theory more so than practice). But then I went to seminary and got my M.Div. and heard the other side—arguments for women in all church offices. I have friends who don’t think women should be pastors, friends who think women can be pastors but only if they are under men, and friends with opinions across the continuum. I deeply respect all of them. I let my life and my testimony speak for itself. I’ve been shepherding/pastoring in and out of the church for years. In fact, when my husband taught at a Christian university where the unofficial view was that women could not be pastors, several male professors asked me to be on the teaching/pastoral care team with them in an urban church plant. It was four other guys and me on this team. They, along with the church, saw and affirmed my gifts. Many of those who opposed my position in theory reconsidered when I ministered among them. And they are my friends. I’ve had both an inward calling and outward confirmation of my gifts.

Now, as I mentioned above, I’m working primarily with seniors. And I am thanking God because we all, at some point or other, render some people invisible. It’s as if past a certain age, we don’t “see” people if they aren’t related or close to us. (No doubt this is partly a function of our seemingly youth-obsessed American culture.) I’ve just been thanking God every day that he is allowing me to really see people – to love them and be loved by them. When we lived and worked on the college campus where my husband taught, I remember thinking: “I love these college students, but I wish there were elderly people around, a more intergenerational culture.” I’m excited to learn from them, be loved by them, and to return that love. They are all precious in God’s sight. We all are.

4. How has being part of a church challenged and changed you?
Throughout most of my church and Christian experience I’ve had the opportunity to be around those who think very differently from me. I’ve been in churches, ministries, and educational institutions where people had different political and theological opinions – not when it comes to the central tenets of the faith, but other issues. Not too long ago my husband and I (and now it is climbing to about fifty others) were treated badly by an aggressive fundamentalist faction in the leadership at the Christian college where we worked. Through their scheming and maneuvering, they were successful in overthrowing the institutional leadership and nearly two departments on campus on which we were a part. Now, by their confession, those aggressive and scheming fundamentalists are part of the church. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ and I had to learn how to love those who treated us and our friends, coworkers, and superiors badly. I had to set aside retaliation. It’s hard to love people in the church who aren’t acting like Jesus. At the same time, it makes me doubly cautious and conscientious. I don’t want to become like that which I despise. So, I am challenged to love the church, not a nameless group of people, but the people around me when they don’t act as I think Jesus would or should. That is a real challenge. And I need grace to do it.

5. Why do you value church? What do you love about church?
I love the church because it contains many of the most beautiful and brilliant souls in existence. Sure, there are those who act like serpents. But there are so many who act like Jesus and have been Jesus to me. They have loved me into resurrection. Most of those who I admire and who have formed me by their lives—whether they be living or dead for centuries—have been a part of Christ’s body, part of that “great cloud of witnesses.” I owe much of the goodness in me to God’s spirit working through them. I wouldn’t be who I am without the church. I also love that I can find Jesus in all sorts of denominations and that he doesn’t play favorites with his affections. He loves our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters (of course!) and our Protestant brothers and sisters. I’ve seen him in all such quarters. Jesus isn’t prejudiced like we can sometimes be, showing favoritism or displaying partiality to a privileged few. So, I love the church because Jesus shows up through his people. In the church, in the members of the church, I see Jesus and I am changed. And I hope that people see Jesus in me and are changed by interacting with him. That is my prayer.

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So You Say You're a Church Lady?

Marlena, thank you so much for sharing your life with us today! Your heart for those who are often not seen in our society is beautiful and reflects God’s heart! Make sure to hear more of Marlena’s heart in her book, A Beautiful Disaster.