Saving My Life: Spring Edition

As per the phrase by Barbara Brown Taylor, this is a pictorial look at the things saving my life throughout spring.

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Working on my Find Your Fade shawl (now about 85% completed!) at our friends’ during a recent music rehearsal. Their home sits near the Illinois River and is as tranquil as it looks.


A house in our neighborhood usually has their blooming dogwood tree decorated with plastic Easter eggs and this year was no exception. Now that the blooms and Easter have both been celebrated, I still feel myself smiling as I drive past this uplifting tree.


When visiting Seattle a few summers ago, my main souvenir was purchasing this Longchamp purse at the flagship Nordstrom store downtown. The salesman said many ladies in Seattle carry them since they are weather resistant, so loading up my bag with all my earthly possessions I need for the day to carry during the spring rainy season in the Ozarks has been a lifesaver.


After finishing Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott last month, I was inspired to bake a (low sugar) classic apple pie. It had been years since I last baked a pie from scratch, so I was pleased with how well both the crust and filling turned out! And what better time to do so than for Easter Sunday lunch, where we hosted our favorite octogenarian friend for ham, homemade potato casserole, asparagus, and bakery rolls after church.


The line from On the Road Again by Willie Nelson, “The life I love is making music with my friends,” sums up this photo perfectly.  Our church family, namely our praise team family, means the world to The Optometrist and me and it saddens us greatly that one of our dear friends is soon moving away. In light of his forthcoming departure, snapping this photo of our people before a recent Sunday morning late service was a moment I wanted to capture for ever and always.

What are things saving your life this spring?

January Journey

You know, I often think to myself, “Yes! I’ve got it all put together! Watch me go!” and then God gently reminds me, “Wait a minute: you’re not done yet! Remember I’m in control and I want to constantly refine you to make you more like me.”  Oh yeah…

So, January has been quite the month of the Lord refining me, namely working on the way I view myself and the way that I mentally “talk” to myself (come on, we all do it). Having a personality type squarely in the Type A category I am often very task-oriented, detail driven, appreciate competence, and have difficulty giving myself grace when I make a mistake.

As I’m sure I’ve written before, I’m a firm believer that the right book finds you at the right time and right now Self Talk, Soul Talk: What to Say When you You Talk to Yourself by Jennifer Rothschild is the book that has found me. Given to me by my Momma for Christmas (yet picked out when we attended one of Jennifer’s Fresh Grounded Faith conferences in the fall), it’s come at a perfect time to help me replace negative self-talk with positive, truthful self-talk.

Jennifer’s analogy is to picture your internal dialog being organized in a personal “thought closet.” Are these words that are taking up residence kind or self deprecating? She also writes that the hateful words we often call ourselves (stupid, dummy, idiot) are words we would never allow someone else to use to describe or to say about us. That hit home, I tell you.

I feel I work very hard on serving others, but I must remember that if I’m not taking good care of myself mentally, this is eventually going to spill over and impact the well-being of my relationships and my marriage, so taking time to be kind to myself is a healthy investment to myself and others.

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He’s still working on me
To make me what I ought to be.
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars,
The sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be,
He’s still working on me.
Joel Hemphill

What is the Lord teaching you this first month of the new year?

Becoming a Funeral Food Lady

When you grow up in the church, regardless of congregation size, denomination, or locale, there comes a point when the mantle is placed upon you to be called upon to bring food to the church for a funeral.

Sadly, this week, a dear member of our church choir and a neighbor, was killed in a tragic car accident. Everyone who knew her remains in a state of semi-shock and grief, and yet, in those times, food seems to be the most tangible way of saying “I’m sorry for your loss and we love you.” So this morning, I entered our church kitchen, laden with bags of homemade cookies.

I think back to my grandmother and my mother who have both taken their fair share of covered casserole dishes, fresh garden vegetables, and homemade chewy brownies to the church kitchen, where a grieving family awaits after goodbyes have been said and emptiness remains.

When grieving families are struggling to know how they will find strength to make it through the coming days, having a team of church ladies (and some men) to graciously set out and serve food, wrap up left-overs, take out the trash, wash dirty dishes and return them clean, is such a gift.

With all of my grandparents now worshiping at the feet of Jesus, I know how much it meant for food to be laid out on a table where all we had to do was select a piece of fried chicken, gather a helping of potatoes onto our plate, and sit down with family to share memories of our loved one. It took away the guess-work, the stress, and the pressure of managing such details ourselves.

Dear reader, if you or your loved ones are experiencing a time of loss, I pray Jesus, the Bread of Life, will sustain you in the days ahead, and that you also have a loving group of church ladies to draw alongside you and place before you a comforting meal to nourish your tired body and weary soul.

The God Who Sees Me

The first weekend in November, my momma, my aunt, and I joined a host women as we worshiped and were taught during the Fresh Grounded Faith conference in Springfield, MO. It was a sweet time of encouragement, laughter, and spiritual renewal.

The theme was Unshaken and each of the speakers, Jennifer Rothschild, Margaret Feinberg, and Karen Abercrombie shared insight into their personal struggles, all the while trusting the promise that “Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:6). Specifically Jennifer, who is blind, shared that she has made the choice not to fear. She said she just doesn’t do fear.

Never has a theme from God’s Word been more timely, because of all that happened last week…

The election results troubled my soul and made me very anxious.

And then I received word that my dad’s cancer had returned.

During our weekly church choir rehearsal Wednesday night, I shared this diagnosis with our people, many of whom have personally walked or are walking with someone who has cancer, so they know how this news takes the wind out of your sails.

Upon arriving to work on Thursday morning, this note and beautiful leaf were propped against the door to my office. Such a heartfelt, gracious, and intentional gesture from a sweet sister in Jesus who heard the news and took time to reach out to me.

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him ~ Nahum 1:7 (NIV).

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Then a little while later, we had our library-wide Thanksgiving luncheon and in the time it took me to establish my seat and then return with my plate of food, one of my colleagues jotted a little note on the paper table cloth aimed my direction, “We are thankful for you!” He didn’t know who was sitting there, but chose to just leave a little note of encouragement.

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Tears sprang to my eyes as I felt the Holy Spirit saying to me, “I see your frustration and hurt. I see you.

When Hagar was on the run from Abram and Sarai in Genesis 16, the angel of the Lord spoke to her and “she gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13, NIV).

In her despair, I doubt she was expecting to hear a word from the Lord’s messenger, just as I was not expecting to have two back-to-back moments of encouragement. Yet, the overwhelming assurance of peace came over my soul as I realized once more, God sees me.

With so much uncertainty still ahead, I choose not to fear, I cling to unshakable character of God, I continue to thank Him for seeing me, and remember the example of Father Tim in the beloved Mitford series, as I pray the prayer that never fails, Thy will be done.

Ash Wednesday thoughts

It’s difficult for my body and mind to reconcile that today is actually Ash Wednesday. It’s only been 48 days since Christmas and I don’t feel like I’ve had adequate time to nest and fully relish winter since it has been so uncharacteristically warm where I live. We’ve had no snow, the average lows have been just below freezing during the overnight hours, and the days have been warm and windy. I’m a fan of living in the part of the country where I get to experience all four seasons and this year it’s only been closer to three & a half.

Nevertheless, today is a reminder that the seasons do change and spring will come again …even if it’s already gotten a head start. And with the passing of seasons comes the passing of time, which hopefully indicates growth and maturity in my walk with Jesus.

For many years Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, has been a season in my spiritual life where I’ve sought to draw closer to the Lord through a change in my routine. An abstention of something or a time to make a conscious choice to alter what is normal or passive in my life, all for the sake of remembering Christ’s death and ultimate sacrifice for my sins.

I’ve already seen progress with a few areas of my life where I’ve been deliberate in changing physical or spiritual habits over the past few months or years, which has given me no small sense of victory and fearlessness. So this year for Lent, I’m going to keep it simple – focusing on that which is routinely nourishing to my body and spirit: food and music.

Food – since I’m chief-menu-maker in our home, it’s sometimes easy to say “nah” to leftovers we’ve already fixed and be passive in the decision to just eat out, rather than eat the food we bought that’s awaiting preparation in our fridge, freezer, or cabinets. Therefore, I would like to eat more meals in, rather than out. I hope this purposeful time commitment will allow us to focus on God’s gifts of our home, our marriage, and leave room for the Holy Spirit to descend on us and any guests that join us in placing their feet under our table.

Music – our home is filled with many instruments: a saxophone, a trumpet, a guitar, two mandolins, a mandola, a ukulele, and a piano – all of which are played by The Optometrist and/or myself. He’s currently enrolled in online mandolin lessons, but I don’t have a dedicated teacher or practice routine for any of my areas of musical study. God has given us both musical gifts, which was the catalyst in bringing us together. Therefore, I would like to revisit my musical training to play, practice, or pick up one instrument a few minutes each day and offer this somewhat dormant gift as an act of worship.

There is always something wonderful and surprising around the corner on earth and beyond. That is the sacrificial truth of Lent, the music that builds to the miracle of the Resurrection.” ~ Max Lucado via Guideposts

 

Books: January Edition

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Yes, it’s an autobiographical look at Cece Bell’s hearing loss as a child. But it’s more than that. It’s a smart graphic novel that includes topics of friendship, belonging, family, imagination, and standing up for yourself. Plus, it’s a 2015 Newbery Honor Book – deservedly awarded.

10% Happier by Dan Harris

I’ve never read anything about meditation or principles of the Buddhist faith, so this was an adventurous departure for me. While I have been a practitioner of yoga for several years, I have approached my practice with a Christian perspective – meditating on scripture and focusing on my breath (a reminder from Job 33:4, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”). And yet I still often struggle with a negative voice in my head and propensity to over-analyze decisions. These are a few of my take-aways from Harris’ book, which I’m already attempting to apply:

Acronym: RAIN
R: recognize = acknowledge my feelings
A: allow = lean into what’s concerning me, let it be
I: investigate = how is this affecting me/my body, take inventory
N: non-identification = just because I feel this way doesn’t mean this is a permanent state of mind/situation (p. 213-215)

Ask yourself, “Is this useful?…It’s okay to worry, plot, and plan…but only until it’s not useful anymore.” (p. 276)

“Acknowledging other people’s basic humanity is a remarkably effective way of shooing away the swarm of self-referential thoughts that buzz like gnats around our heads.” (p. 341)

See How They Run by Ally Carter

I’m a ginormous fan of young adult author Ally Carter.

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You see, I’ve met her! Twice. Even if this weren’t the case, or if I hadn’t have had her autograph books for me and our Library’s youth collection, or have known that she is a local-ish author, I would still enjoy her books. (The aforementioned things are just the maple glaze on the cake donut.)

See How They Run is the second book in her Embassy Row series, to which I was granted a pre-publication e-galley from Edelweiss.  Secrets, family mysteries, lies, intrigue, and a strong female protagonist make for one exciting read!  Her other two series, Gallagher Girls and Heist Society, are equally as good as this currently developing one. Her teenage female protagonists are smart, brave, and surrounded by caring friends, her plots thick with intrigue, and content includes clean language and chaste romances. I continue to recommended her books time and time again.

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The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse

While I’ve heard of Jeeves and Wooster before, this was my first foray into this cozy mystery series. Earlier in the month I attended a book talk over this selection, which touched on how historical events or the time were not addressed in the stories, how class structure separates the characters, as well as the author’s prolific history. Overall, I enjoyed the quirky humor and silly characters and one passage I particularly enjoyed describes a police officer on his bicycle:

“…he was obviously off duty for the moment, and his whole attitude was that of a policeman with nothing on his mind but his helmet” (p. 82).

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

I was unfamiliar with this title until this year’s 2016 Printz Award was announced mid-January. My academic library didn’t have a copy (I’ve since ordered one), so I requested it via the local public library, which arrived in short order. I picked it up over a recent weekend and easily finished it within days. This young adult novel is a story of perception, persistence, community, family loyalty, love, plus a little bit of magic. And any book that includes bees and honey is always fascinating to me.

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The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook by Ellen McCarthy

This has been on my TBR (to be read) list for over a year now, and after hearing positive comments via the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog, which I love, I requested it from interlibrary loan. Structured in the form of short essays, it was a quick read, but contained deep insights and advice into what makes marriage successful. I would recommend this to anyone entering into the covenant of marriage, or wanting an encouraging read around Valentine’s Day.

And lastly, this month I have also begun re-reading the Bible (last done so in 2011 & 2012), using this reading plan in the English Standard Version (ESV). The YouVersion Bible app on my phone has become invaluable in this process since it provides an audio narration for scripture. This allows me to listen to chapters as I’m fixing breakfast, cleaning the kitchen, or knitting, then I can consult the written Word if I want to underline or re-read anything again. I’m reminded of Hebrews 4:12, “For the Word of God is living and active…” (NIV), and doubt the writer of Hebrews ever imagined how 2016 technology would continue to fulfill this passage when he wrote it almost 2,000 years ago.

Praise is His gracious choice. Alleluia! Amen!” ~ Come, Christians Join to Sing   Christian H. Bateman (1843)

Fall a.k.a. The Whirlwind (or Poop-nado)

My blogging hiatus hasn’t been intentional. I promise. It’s just that the fall semester has happened. And keeps on happening.

The other day the thought came to me, I could sum up the past 10 weeks with one word: whirlwind.

And then I thought of this scene from Parks and Recreation.

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So maybe not as much of a whirlwind as a poop tornado. A poop-nado. Yes, Leslie Knope, that about sums it up.

When I signed on this summer to serve as the co-coordinator for our fall University Strategies freshmen course, I knew it would be a lot of work. But boys howdy, has it ever! As I’ve finished week 10 of the semester, these are a few lessons I’ve learned so far:

  • I’ve discovered I have the skills and abilities to be an administrator at the university level.
  • I’ve discovered I would perhaps rather not commit to serving in future positions as an administrator at the university level. As flattering as it’s been to be viewed as an educator, I’m quite content to be a collaborative, worker-bee, educator, librarian.
  • I’ve been reminded that, try as hard as I might, some freshmen just aren’t suited for college; at least not at this juncture in their lives. As their instructor, I can only do so much, and the extra effort I extend to them may still not be enough to motivate them to come to class, do the work, and eventually pass the class.
  • After a couple of unfortunate situations, I’ve said Amen to the adages, “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” and “a failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”
  • However, I remain thankful for how smooth it is to work alongside my co-coordinator, teaching partner, closest work colleague, and friend. If it weren’t for her, I would not have said yes to this gig.
  • My Type A perfectionistic tendencies have been gently filed down to a solid B+ on several occasions. Editing content + weekly deadlines x 16 weeks = do the best you can and move on!
  • I have come to appreciate good and timely communication skills from others on a whole new level.
  • Coordinating content and updates for 30+ sections of one course means you have 30+ instructors who have to be team players. We have been blessed with a very supportive team!

And beyond my poop-nado analogy, a more spirit-stirring one also came to my mind from the Old Testament. In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah was downtrodden at the Israelites’ destructive behavior and was fleeing for his life. In his hour of great desperation and need, God sent an angel to provide for Elijah food and encouragement. And if that weren’t enough, the following verses show the subtlety of how God personally arrived on the scene.

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (NIV)

Amid all of the howling winds, Elijah found an expectant way to stay attuned to the Lord’s hand at work and His gentle whisper.

And despite (the proverbially-flying poop of) my frenzied fall semester, Elijah’s attitude and encounter with God Almighty reminds me that my daily interaction with Him is the only way I am ensured my thoughts and emotions won’t be buffeted by life’s storms. Because without Jesus, I get the self-awarded A+, gold star, grand prize medal for being She Who Takes Matters Into Her Own Hands and Obsessively Thinks About All the Things.

I’ve now walked with Christ for about 25 years, and I’m thankful this journey has allowed me to see His repeated faithfulness. Like Elijah, I have continually and intentionally sought to attune the ears of my soul to a divine encounter. Of course, sometimes I don’t do the best job at this. But you know what? In each instance I’ve tried, God has met me there. Every single time.

Two resources I highly recommend that help me keep the storms at bay and hear God’s gentle whisper:
Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
First 5 app from Proverbs 31 Ministries