Monday, July 16, 2018

Looking for {my own} lovely

I haven't been in this space for a while...evidently since Christmas. But I should be. Because I have a lot of words swirling around in my brain that need to come out.

Several months ago, April 2nd to be exact, I started walking at lunch. There's a little park very close to my office that has a really nice walking trail. And very few people are there during the day. While I was walking, I began listening to podcasts. I put out a call on Facebook for some podcast suggestions and one that I really enjoy is Relevant podcast. I've always enjoyed what one of my former co-workers & I refer to as "mindless banter" (also a nod to a line Julia Roberts says in Notting Hill) and that's what this feels like to me. I mean it's not completely mindless...but there can be some of that. Take for instance one of their episodes from last week. It was almost 30 minutes of two of the hosts sharing an experience they had at the David Copperfield show in Las Vegas. It was greatness.

At any rate, one of the hosts is Annie F. Downs, who also has her own podcast. So, I started listening to hers as well. And I have found my new virtual BFF. I love her Instagram and her words, both spoken and written. Her podcasts have made me come face to face with some things that I've been struggling with. It's been good and hard and so wonderful to my heart and soul.

She just recently (like within the last year or so) published a 100-day devotional called 100 Days to Brave. I picked it up in May and have been participating in 100 Days to Brave Summer (as she has dubbed it). It's been good and hard and so wonderful for my heart and soul.

I decided I wanted to read one of her books; so I checked the library and I believe the only one they had was Looking for Lovely. I requested it...it came...I started it on Friday and finished it Sunday afternoon.

And it was good and hard and wonderful for my heart and soul as well.

**Also, I WEPT through the first section as she described her descent into "the broken crazy" because it felt familiar and maybe hit a little too close to home.**

The takeaway that I got from the book was that when she began to look for God in everything, not just the "super spiritual", she began to have a perspective shift. As Christians, we have so often put God into the box that says He can only work through quote unquote spiritual songs, books, etc. That the only words He ever gave come in the Bible. Now hear me say...He is SO there. 100%. Completely. BUT, He is in so much more than just the Bible or Christian music or Christian books. Are some songs and books more God-honoring that others? Absolutely. But what we are talking about here is a perspective shift...looking for God in everything and not just reserving Him to our Sunday morning worship service.

So, I've decided. Over the next few weeks, or however long it takes, I'm going to look for my own lovely. I'm going to share the places and things and events where I've seen God. I'm going to look for {my own} lovely (because I don't want to totally rip off Annie F. Downs) and I'm going for a perspective shift.

For the past few years, I've felt like I'm constantly yo-yoing between struggle and joy. There's been a lot of highs & lows and very little of middle ground. There's been some big things going on in my life, both in the seen and the unseen. Maybe some of the swinging back and forth has to do more with my perspective and focus and less to do with the actual events transpiring. My hope and prayer is that in looking for my own lovely, I will begin to heal from the hurts...be strengthened...and be a better vessel for God to use.

I hope you will hang on and check back with me. I know words aren't everybody's "thing" but they are mine. I love to read them, to write them, to hear them, and to sing them. And maybe, just maybe, you will find your own lovely too.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Advent

definition provided by Google.com
Advent..."the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event."

Last year at Christmas, I was consumed and overwhelmed by the thought of the "fullness of time". In the "fullness of time" God brought forth His son...Jesus. It awed me that He orchestrated an entire universe to prepare for the birth of His son through His servant Mary. The concept floored me. It brought me to tears even. It was too marvelous to even comprehend. The entire world at that moment was completely ready for the Advent of the Christ child. Astonishing.

This year, the word "Advent" is making its impression on me. The very word that means "coming" and we use to mirror the anticipation of the coming Messiah. I can't quite get away from it...from the thought of an entire nation waiting and anticipating the fulfilled prophecy...the promise.

Many of us think that Advent begins in Luke with the announcement to Mary that she would be the earthen vessel in which the Lord's Son would grow and be birthed...we reflect on the very nature of Mary...who she had to be...the beauty of her faith and willingness to do what the Lord had called her to do.

But truly, this first season of Advent began in the Garden...with Eve and then Adam...with the fall of man...when sin entered in. I'll be honest - I have a hard time reconciling the events of Eden. I've asked the question (and received good sound answers) "How could God, who is all knowing and loving, allow His creation to walk away from Him?" Even with the good sound answers, my mind is bewildered that He allowed this to happen. But happen it did...and here we are. Dirty, rotten, undeserving...yet...

When Eve and then Adam entered into sin...when separation from God became the new reality...when the world took on the death sentence laid out by Adam and Eve's disobedience...God's redemption plan began. From that moment, God began laying the foundation for His plan to redeem not only the Israelites - His chosen people - but the entire world.

And just as the Jews waited and anticipated the coming Messiah, we as Jesus followers today are in a new season of Advent. Waiting and anticipating the return of our Lord to right every wrong and restore His Kingdom.

Advent...the arrival...the coming...




Thursday, November 2, 2017

I Gave Up Coffee for 31 Days...and Other Things That Happened in October

This title is a true statement. For some of you, giving up coffee for 31 days doesn't seem like a huge deal...but for me it was.

I love coffee. I love drinking coffee. I love the smell of coffee. I'm thankful for the huge caffeine boost coffee gives me most days.

I've been drinking coffee since I was a child. There is a story that my great-grandmother gave me coffee in a bottle. I always envisioned this as little baby me, nursing on a bottle at under a year old. This vision was shattered when my mom told me I was closer to 2. But that's still a young age, no matter what.

But I gave it up...and some other things too.

Why?

Because my world had become increasingly "loud"...busy...overstimulating. And I needed to cut through the noise and get some peace and some focus.

This year I've struggled with decisions - big & small. Things that shouldn't be a hard choice I made harder by over-analyzing and over thinking. I kept coming back to this idea of fasting. Removing some of the "junk" that was taking up the space in my mind. But I put it off...and then put it off again...and once more. Finally in September I was struggling with a decision and I said "OK...I'm putting some of this stuff to rest...I'm going to re-focus." I decided October would be the month. I wanted a full month - 1st to 31st.

I began to make a list of the things that consume my time & that I had made essential that weren't truly essential. And I decided to forego them all, for the most part. I made some concessions beforehand...I'll describe below...but this is the list that came to me - the things I felt like I needed to give up:

1 - Coffee - I will not tell you again how much I love coffee but I do. And I knew that I could not truly fast without giving this up. I would also like to say that I handled this like a trooper...but I have people (or really just one person) who would be able to tell you I didn't. In fact, I'm actually starting this post a few days before the end of the month and on this very day, giving up coffee was the hardest. I literally could smell someone's coffee from the basement of our office wafting up to my office. The fact that I didn't attack said person for the coffee should be commended, though. And what did I learn from leaving coffee out of my day to day? That I go to sleep much earlier.

2 - ALL beverages except water & green tea - I don't actually drink a lot of other beverages other than coffee & water, but I did give up occasional soft drinks as well. I allowed green tea because I need a little caffeine and because of the health benefits. I did have one cup of wild orange tea & one cup of lemonade at a vendor event where they didn't offer water.

3 - TV - I will be honest...Netflix consumes a great deal of my time. I usually have something on when I'm in the house, I fall asleep watching TV, and a Netflix binge is one of my favorite ways to pass a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Instead, during this month I listened to music & podcasts, read a lot, and kept up to date (for the most part) on my Bible reading. I'm seriously considering limiting my TV time to Saturday's & Sunday's. For the most part, this wasn't terribly hard, but I did have a day toward the end of the month that was blah and I really wanted to watch something that was an "easy" watch. Also, I ended this a little early...I wanted to watch Hocus Pocus before Halloween...so I did. But the TV went off right after that.

**Before I began my fast, I did make concessions on weekends when D was at the house. We watch TV together a lot and he's not fasting. So, I didn't want to disappear & leave him by himself when he was watching something. This was the only time I allowed myself to forego the TV fast...but often I was reading while he was watching.

4 - Sweets, desserts, candy - My lunch & dinner are not complete without a little dessert - candy, cookies, cake, what have you. These should be non-essentials & special occasions, but I've made them a necessity. So I cut them out. This one didn't go *quite* as well, though. I had already made concessions for the two birthdays that I knew I'd be celebrating during October - life is too short to NOT have birthday cake; however, I made 5 cakes during the month of October, one of which was a chocolate pound cake for D. I needed to taste it...twice. ;) Instead of sweets, I tried to make sure I had sweet fruits in the house - i.e. grapes - to give me that "sweet" taste.

5 - Facebook & Instagram - I knew if I wanted to give this up, I would have to physically delete the apps from my phone. I am embarrassed to tell you the level of anxiety I felt when I went to bed on September 30th & deleted those apps. So many thoughts went through my head...how will I know what's going on with all my Facebook friends? What if I miss something? And as I battled these thoughts, a growing thought overtook them all...that this obsession with 24/7 information is why I needed to give them up. So I deleted the apps...not my accounts. I did reinstall Instagram to post a little birthday wish for my nephew, which I shared to Facebook as well, but I deleted it as soon as it was posted. The only other time I was on Facebook was for company stuff (I'm an admin on our company page) or if that was the website for a business I was looking for information. I knew this was were the most traffic & noise in my mind was coming from. They had to go. I realized, though, very quickly that this is where I get all of my information - news (both real & fake) on world events. So, I had to look to other avenues for news information. I also realized that this was my "go to" when I was bored. Sometimes it was what I was doing when I should be engaging with people. And for these reasons, I knew it needed to go.

This past month has really been amazing. There were two things I was considering for next year & trying to figure out how to fit them in because hey...I'm gonna have a graduate in May & we need to celebrate that! I have peace that one needs to be left for now...the other needed a "yes". There are still some things that I need resolution on, but I feel like the answer isn't for right now. And I'm OK with that.

Overall, though, I've enjoyed the quiet. And I know that means I need to let some of these things rest more in my life. I need to stop allowing Facebook & Instagram...as well as Netflix...have such a huge hold in my life. Most of all, I am thankful for the peace that I've gained in some areas of my life.

So, now...I'm gonna go get a cup of coffee. ;)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Vacation Book Reviews - "Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work That Matters"

Vacation Book Review #4 - Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work That Matters by Jon Acuff

I'm including this in my vacation book reviews because I started this while on my vacation, today is a Holiday - so technically still vacation, and because this is my blog & I can do that. :)

I started following Jon Acuff on social media a few months ago. I honestly don't know what drew me in but I'm sure that it was some silly picture with a clever caption that was the perfect blend of sarcasm & dry humor. That's my kind of humor. So, he started promoting his next book, Finish, and I'm not sure exactly why but I pre-ordered it. I clicked the "pre-purchase" button on Amazon and in exactly one week from tomorrow it will arrive in my mailbox. And then I found out that he wrote a book called Start...and I'm all about reading things "in order"...so I bought this one.

I enjoyed the book immensely. It's full of humor but, more importantly, it is full of practical advice based on his own experiences in going from average to awesome. I enjoyed the real life examples from his own life, as well as other successful people. What I most appreciated about the book was the action guide in the Appendix. So many books in this genre lay out a great plan for moving toward a goal & then pat you on the back & send you on your way...and 6 months later you the reader are thinking "remember that great book with all that great advice that I'm doing nothing with?"

Also, I think this book would be GREAT for high school/college graduates trying to start their own path toward awesome. Although I would recommend it for anyone who feels like maybe they should be moving in a different direction. I think the book gives some very tangible & concrete methods for determining your own path to "awesome".

I will most likely re-read this one with a notebook & pen close by. I feel like I need some notes...and I will need to use the action item section.

My only complaint about the book has nothing to do with the book itself. I purchased the book on my Kindle because I wanted it instantly and didn't want to hope that Amazon Prime would deliver my book before I was going out of town on Sunday. The Action Guide refers back to page numbers in the book; my Kindle edition only has "locations" not page numbers (this annoys me for every e-book that doesn't provide page numbers). This is going to make it a little harder for me to refer back to the specific sections that are referenced in the Action Guide. Come on Amazon...get it together.

I really blame myself...EVERY time I buy a book like this on e-book I regret it because I can't highlight pages...which I KNOW I can highlight electronically, but I can't flip through the electronic version as easily to see exactly what I've highlighted. I really should have been more patient and waited for the hard copy...

This is the last of my vacation reviews...and I did write this at 11:30pm on Monday night because I knew if I waited until tomorrow at 5pm, the vacation/holiday magic would be over and I would not write it. Life & reality. *sigh*

I am in a weird reading place right now...for months I've had a stack of books (not the same ones) that were next on my reading list...and now...there is no stack! I have a few that I would like to re-read...maybe I'll tackle a few of those while waiting for Finish to arrive in my mailbox. Or I will attempt to read one of the 3500 that I've downloaded (mostly for free) on my Kindle. :)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Vacation Book Reviews - "The Replacement Wife"

Vacation Book Review #3 - The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge

Confession: I'm not sure I really read the description of this book when I saw it on Bookbubs or Early Bird Books...or the description was more vague than I realized. Also, I DO tend to judge books by their cover...and the cover on this one may have caught my eye.

This book was somewhat sad...in many ways. Camille is a successful modern day matchmaker in New York City. She is diagnosed with a reoccurrence of cancer at Stage 4 and has pretty much accepted her death sentence. Using her skills as a matchmaker, she decides to find a new wife for her husband.

As could be predicted, this causes all kinds of issues. It's an interesting idea of a terminally ill loved one trying to take care of her family, even though it's a bit unorthodox for the loved one to find their "replacement". The characters are likable & even if you don't agree with the method, there are back stories for both the husband & wife that help you to understand why this would even been an option.

The book was alright. I can't say I loved it, although I feel it was a very good read. Perhaps my more traditional ideas of family & marriage have influenced my "like" of the book.

Not altogether terrible.

My next book is Start by Jon Acuff. I've recently started following him on social media & actually have pre-ordered his book coming out September 12th, Finish. Although he's made it clear that you don't have to read one before you read the other, I decided to get into it. Probably won't finish this one before the vacation ends, although Monday is a holiday...which means my "reality" doesn't really start until Tuesday! :)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Vacation Book Reviews - "Serafina & the Black Cloak"

Vacation Book Review #2 - Serafina & the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

I was most interested to read this book for two reasons - #1 - It is Young Adult Fiction. I love YA fiction...it is one of my favorite genres. #2 - The book is not only set in NC (I love most books set in my state) but it is set at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. The book did not disappoint.

Serafina is a 12 year old who has lived most of her life hidden in the basement of the Biltmore mansion. Her father is one of the original builders and stayed on to take care of the electrical system serving the mansion in the late 1800's. Serafina befriends Braeden, the orphaned nephew of the Vanderbilts who has come to live at Biltmore Estate. Together they try to discover who is kidnapping the children of the guests at Biltmore and who is ultimately trying to kidnap Braeden.

The book is written for middle grades and follows a great story line. Even while Serafina & Braeden are trying to solve the mystery of the Man in the Black Cloak, Serafina is learning about who she really is. I believe the book also pays proper homage to the grandeur of Biltmore Estate and also to the Vanderbilts, who by all accounts were kind & generous people. Various aspects of the Biltmore house are mentioned in the book, including many of the popular rooms and areas that can be seen on the present-day public tours. It is apparent that the writer has researched the history of the house, mentioning things such as Cornelius Vanderbilt's desire to build a self-sustaining estate with modern amenities including indoor plumbing & electricity, things that weren't available in many the homes of even the most wealthy at the time Biltmore was constructed.

The book almost has a Harry Potter feel, not exactly like HP but the same general feel of a bit of magic, a bit of mystery, and a young adult trying to learn exactly who they are in the world. I believe that this story may have originated much in the same way as HP, as bedtime stories for the author's children; Robert Beatty lives in Asheville. I am surprised that these are the first stories that have been imagined about life at Biltmore. That may be a narrow viewpoint, since I do live in NC & have been to Biltmore several times.

Serafina has been published by Disney * Hyperion, the publishing arm of Disney. I expect this book to be made into movie format in the next few years. I think it would translate excellently to film. I was hoping that filming had already begun - I did find this book trailer on Youtube...which I was pleased to find out features the author's daughter portraying Serafina:



All in all, an excellent read. There is no "language" or "suggestive themes" in this book and has the right amount of mystery without being terrifying. I think that younger children would enjoy the story, even if they aren't old enough to actually read the book on their own. It would be a great read aloud book!

Next book on my vacation reading list is The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge. This is another that I saw in one of my discount e-book e-mails & requested from the library.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Vacation Book Reviews - "Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour"

I read a lot. Not as much as I would like to, but a lot. I'm hoping to read 45 books this year; next year I'll up it to 50. My favorite genres are fiction...non-fiction is a struggle for me but sometimes I'll find a good biography that will suck me in. I posted a couple of books that I had read & was planning to read on vacation & someone mentioned doing a review. I have never done a book review before, not even on Goodreads...mainly because I read the reviews, pick them apart, roll my eyes at the shallow views that these people sometimes have...and...well...you can probably see why I wouldn't write a review.

But since I have a little more time...here you go...

Vacation Book #1 - Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour by Marti Rulli with Dennis Davern

First of all, a confession - I didn't really know who Natalie Wood was. I had heard the name & perhaps a bit about her suspicious death, but didn't really know WHO she was. I was shocked to find out she was little Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street, a movie I've seen at least 100 times. This book showed up in my Bookbub or Early Bird Books as a discount e-book. The description intrigued me & I requested it from the library. I actually renewed this book 4 times before I actually dove in...mostly because I had other things come in that had to be read before I could move on and also because I had read another "true crime" biography that was horribly boring. So, I wasn't sure what to expect here.

This book definitely exceeded my expectations. It was an interesting look at the suspicious death of Natalie Wood Thanksgiving weekend 1981 (BTW...I was only 5 when she died...so yet another reason I didn't know who she was). I thought the writing was done well and the book definitely followed a very logical telling of the events that transpired that weekend. One critique I saw in Goodreads reviews was that the book was too long. It is fairly lengthy, but the book explores how Woods' death affected one of her friends, one who knew more than he originally told. It took years (almost 30) for Davern (former Splendour captain) to be able to reveal everything and to be in a place where he felt comfortable divulging the facts of that night.

If you enjoy "true crime", I would definitely recommend this book. I think you will find, just as many others have, that there were key things overlooked in the very brief investigation of Natalie Woods' death, things that should've given investigators pause & reason to investigate further than they did.

My next vacation book is Serafina & the Black Cloak. Another friend read this over the summer...and when I looked at the description I realized it is a Young Adult Fiction set at Biltmore House...two things I love! Stay tuned! :)