During her first year of pastor ministry at the Prince of Peace Church in Brooklyn Park, Minn., Terfa was put in charge of launching a cancer support group, which has been meeting every month since 2012.
While in the group’s second year of meeting, a group member asked Terfa to write a weekly devotion that would give others hope. From there, the Friday Uplift devotion flourished from an email list of one dozen people into a movement. People shared these writings, and interest in them snowballed.
Now, she collected some of these devotions into the book ‘Uplift.’ It was released in November 2016 by W.I. Creative Publishing.
I have had the pleasure of interviewing Terfa for this post. In the interview, she shedded light on the process of writing a weekly devotion, how the Uplift movement has grown, and how it added to her call as a pastor.
Here is the book summary of the book ‘Uplift’ by Natalia Terfa:
No matter how old we are, where we live, or what we believe – there are times in everyone’s life that cause us to struggle. And it’s in those times that we want nothing else but a word of hope and instead are so often surrounded by trite platitudes and false promises.
This is not that.
This small book was written to be something different: to uplift those who need it, to bring grace and love and light to the darkest times, and to be a voice of hope in the world where hope is often at a premium.
Read it yourself and be uplifted, or gift it to someone going through dark days.
We all need a little hope in difficult times. This is just a place to start.
Buy the Book: Amazon
Natalia Terfa is a pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. She is passionate about grace, yoga, and reading. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and daughter – the love of her life.
Interview with Natalia Terfa
1. Is “Uplift” a collection of devotions published on your blog or are these entirely new devotions? What would readers find to be different in the book than on the blog?
Yes. It’s edited versions of the weekly emails. The ones from the earliest weeks aren’t on the blog in the same form as the book. Some are pretty close to an original email, and some are expanded and more heavily edited.
The benefit of the book is that the devotions are titled to make it easy to find what you need on the day you need it. So for example, if you are in need of peace, you’d look for the one with peace as the title, if you need extra hope, you go for that one. It is created so that you can easily find the word of encouragement that fits where you are, when you need it most.
2. Describe the process of conceiving ideas for and writing your Friday Uplift devotions. I understand this is a Christian/biblical blog, but how do you know, for example, what topic to write about for a particular week?
Someone once told me that writing to myself is what will connect to the most people. So a lot of times that is what I write. I have a list of verses that have popped out to me either in church on a Sunday or when I’m working or reading and often I’ll go to that list if nothing seems immediately obvious for a topic. Then I just start writing. I look at the original language to see if there is anything particularly interesting there, or I’ll have a song in mind that fits a text and I can write a post leading into a song. I try to write in an honest and authentic voice, being real about the struggles people are going through and not trying to minimize them or pretend they can just go away with the right amount of prayer or belief. Life can suck. There aren’t magic words that will change that, but I can tell people they are not alone, and that is a good place to start.
3. How did you determine which devotions should be compiled into the book and then edited?
It was a joint effort between my publisher and myself. At the time we started looking at them, I had about a hundred or so, which we narrowed down to 50 and then down again to 36. It was hard to choose, honestly, but we ended up picking ones that were the most universal in theme, not dated by an event or holiday, and that were the most approachable.
4. In today’s world, people are confronted with two issues: they seen an increase of busyness with their lives, and there seems to be an increase in paranoia, fear, and hatred. What is one advice you can give that would remind people about the importance of loving one another, taking time out to interact with each other, and fostering relationships?
Mother Teresa is credited with the saying, “If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”
This is the danger in our media-heavy, work-centered, echo-chamber existence. We have forgotten that we belong to each other. We don’t even see each other anymore. We need to rebuild, reconnect, re-see each other. No matter how different we are. And then when we begin to reconnect and see each other again, we love. And love is the strongest thing on earth. A single act of love is stronger than any hate, fear, or anger. It’s harder, that’s for sure, but it’s stronger. (Got a little preachy there… sorry!) 🙂
5. What was your background in writing before penning the Friday “Uplift” devotions? What went through your mind when you were approached by the cancer support group member to write a weekly devotion?
I write often in my job as a pastor. I write sermons, I write Bible Studies, I write curriculum for our small group ministry. I have always loved to write. I have blogged occasionally, so the ‘Uplift’ devotional was sort of like a combination of all of those things. When I was approached to write the weekly devotion, I of course said yes, but wondered what I could possible say to a group of people going through such difficult things when I myself have not had cancer. But, despite my doubts, suffering is universal, and all the emotions and feelings around grief and loss and illness are pretty universal as well. We all experience these things in different ways, but we all experience them. I have loved writing each one – and have been amazed to watch this little community grow.
6. How and why do you think the ‘Uplift’ movement has grown?
Honestly I think the message of hope is one that was extra needed this year. 2016 was hard. By many standards it wasn’t an easy year for a lot of people. And really, no matter what year it is, there are always people getting sick, losing loved ones, or going through something difficult. People want to be able to “do” something when someone they love is hurting, and this book is a non-threatening and helpful way to be with them. I think having a message of hope that isn’t cheesy, doesn’t place blame or shame or guilt on the one suffering, and doesn’t have horrible theology – those are hard to find. Then add to it an authentic and relatable voice, I think the ‘Uplift’ movement is really unique.
7. How does the ‘Uplift’ movement add to your calling as a pastor? Do you think your ministry would have taken a different path if you didn’t have the movement?
I think it has connected me to people who are suffering in a new way. People know that they aren’t going to get a trite or glib response when they come to me with something painful but a hug and a box of Kleenex to share. I think that’s something important. It’s an honor to be let into the most painful parts of people’s lives, and I don’t take it for granted. Ever.
I’m not sure this has changed the path of my ministry, because I would be writing these devotionals no matter what, but it has expanded the reach of what I was already doing, and that is incredible and kind of unbelievable for me. Each step has been more than I imagined it would become and I am so humbled by each share, each purchase, each email or Facebook post saying thank you.
8. Please quote a few scriptures that would describe the ‘Uplift’ movement and your book.
Oh my gosh, this feels like an un-answerable question. There are so many, but I’ll take a shot at it.
First, I’ll choose Ephesians 3:20: “Now to him be the glory – who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” Because this Uplift, as I’ve said already, started as a small 12 person weekly email. It’s over 200 people on the list now, plus hundreds of followers on social media and over 500 books sold. It’s a lot bigger than 12. And I would have been fine if it had stayed with the 12, but there was another plan and it was a lot bigger.
Second, I’ll choose John 11:35 – “Jesus Wept” I think we need to cry more. And we need to remember that when we are going through the worst things in life, Jesus has been there. And when Jesus lost his friend, he sat down and cried. He didn’t say it was going to be ok. He didn’t say it was a part of God’s plan. He just sat down and cried. We have a God who suffers with us. Who has been through it all. We are not alone in our suffering.
Third, Joshua 1:9 – “Do not be afraid, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” I still don’t know what is going to happen with this movement. I don’t know when it will stop, when the roll will slow, and whatever happens, I’m ok with it. God is with me, God will continue to be with me, and no matter where I go, I know God is already there.
Lastly, Romans 5:5 – “And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
We need hope. We need the promise that things get better. It is sometimes the ONLY thing we have. But it’s there. And it doesn’t let us down. Everything else in the world will let us down, but God will not. And for that we have hope in things to come.