Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thanksgiving week 3 - "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good..." ~ Psalm 106:1

This week I'm being thankful for books. I really love reading. I love books. I work in a library and love being surrounded by books every day. I love having access to books at all times. I love visiting other libraries and bookstores. I love seeing my favorite books on my shelves at home. I love hearing about new books and adding them to my to-read list. I love keeping track of the books I read on my GoodReads list. Books inspire me, teach me, comfort me, humor me. They touch my heart and expand my horizons. They offer me the opportunity to experience things and places I may never get to visit or see on my own. Can you tell how much I love books? :)

 One of my favorite reading tools is the website GoodReads. Through this website, I can keep track of the books I want to read, the books I'm currently reading and the books I have read. I can rate them on a scale of 1-5 stars, I can write a review, I can save quotes I many wonderful things. I am also able to read the reviews of other people (including friends/family who have accounts on Goodreads), see lists of suggested books based on any number of subjects or themes, and they also offer giveaways of books which you can sign up to possibly win - and I've been happy to win three times! It's a really wonderful and valuable tool that involves my love of reading along with my love of keeping lists. Additionally each year, I can look at my stats through the website and see how many books I read that year along with seeing how I rated them and the longest book I read.

In thinking about being thankful for books, I was looking over my Goodreads stats for the year and wanted to pick out a few of my favorite books of the year and share them here. These books are from a variety of genres, both fiction and non-fiction, and include two books which I won through the giveaways.

What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas

This was the second book I won through the Goodreads giveaway. I had never read anything by this author, but heard about in a People magazine book review and had added it to my to-read list. When I received the book in the mail I decided fairly quickly to start reading it and quickly fell in love with her writing. The book is a collection of brief essays, though really more like stories or memories. There is a bit of a running theme, but mostly they are like stream of consciousness memory, quickly moving from one thought to another, one story to another, one memory to another. This quote sums up a lot of what that book was like:

“But life doesn’t arrange itself conveniently into chapters, not mine anyway. You can’t just slice it neatly into segments. And I didn’t want to write a novel. My life didn’t feel like a novel. It felt like a million moments. I didn’t want to make anything fit together. I didn’t want to make anything up. I didn’t want it to make sense the way I understand a novel to make a kind of sense. I didn’t want anywhere to hide. I didn’t want to be able to duck. I wanted the shock of truth. I wanted moments that felt like body blows. I wanted moments of pure hilarity, connected to nothing that came before or after. I wanted it to feel like the way I’ve lived my life. And I wanted to tell the truth.  My truth doesn’t travel in a straight line, it zigzags, detours, doubles back. Most truths I have to learn over and over again.” ~ Abigail Thomas

The book was wonderful and I immediately wanted to share it and so I lent it to my coworker who also loved it and upon her return of the book included this note - "Keri - Thank you, thank you, thank you! I want to be like Abigail when I grow up." We were both hooked and I quickly found copies of all her writings, both fiction and non-fiction and we read through all of them. None had quite the same punch as the first book (her latest book) for us, but they were all good and I am so thankful to have been exposed to this wonderful writer whose writing really touched me.

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

“...what will we someday do, I always wonder, without the pleasures of turning through books and stumbling on things we never meant to find?” ~ Elizabeth Kostova

I already knew that I loved this author because I absolutely loved her first book The Historian. However, I borrowed this book from a coworker and it sat on my shelf for months! Every time I looked at it I never felt in the mood to read and it just seemed like it wouldn't be interesting. Finally I was home and needed something to read and grabbed captured my interest instantly and I was so hooked!!! Many reviewers on Goodreads hated this book, in fact it seems to be one of those that you either love completely or hate completely and don't feel just so-so about it. But I loved it and while I really wanted to figure out the mystery and get to the end of the book, I also never wanted to book to end ever. It was just so readable and enjoyable and wonderful. It's books like this one that help make me love reading so much and I am so grateful.

Bread & Wine: a love letter to life around the table with recipes by Shauna Niequist

I absolutely loved this book so much! I borrowed it first from the library, but fell in love with it and knew I needed to own it so quickly purchased my own copy. I really appreciate this author and her love for food, faith, community and hospitality. So much of what she writes about really resonates with me and feels like she is speaking my thoughts and feelings exactly. This book made me laugh, it made me cry and it made me want to cook and invite people into my home and it made me realize that loving food and hospitality are both things that can be part of who God made me to be as well as ways of sharing His love with others. She has become one of my very favorite authors (as I shared in my first Thanksgiving post) and I am always trying to encourage others to read her books - in fact, I've even purchased copies for some of my friends because I knew they would be encouraged and blessed by them. I am so thankful for this book and this author.

Daring Greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead  by Brené Brown

 “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” ~ Brené Brown

I have been so encouraged and inspired by the writing of Brené Brown and this book was one of my all-time favorites this year. I ended up with 15 pages of typed notes and seem to constantly find things in my life that reference or reflect what I've learned from her studies and writing. This book helped me to see how important it is to be vulnerable and real with the people in our lives and how shame and fear can keep us away from the things we really want. This is the type of book that lingers in your mind, that keeps sneaking up on you in the strangest and newest ways...the type of book that you carry along with you forever on the journey of life. It's definitely one I will want to read again and probably be struck with new insights and lessons as I grow and change hopefully. I highly recommend this book, in fact I lent my copy to my Dad to hopefully he will enjoy it as well.

Furiously Happy: a Funny Book about Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

I was happy to win a GoodReads giveaway of this book. I didn't really know a lot about the author (although I had previously read her blog post about Beyoncé the 5-foot metal chicken - LOL) or this book, but I am a HUGE fan now. This book made me laugh out loud, snort, stop breathing from laughing so hard and so much more. This book made me think about things that I'd never really thought about. This book gave me more empathy and understanding for the wild things your brain can make you think when suffering from all types of mental illness - depression, anxiety, etc. I may not have the same struggles, but we all have things we deal with and if we can be more kind, more loving, and more sympathetic to others...then that is a good thing. I'm so happy to have won this book and look forward to sharing it with others and reading it again.
A Theory of Light & Matter by Andrew Porter

This collection of short stories is exactly what short stories are meant to be. I don't know exactly what it is or how one does it, but they capture your interest immediately and draw you so deeply that although the stories are short they feel far longer and remain with you longer.

Usually the way I decide what to read each year is very open to suggestion. I might hear about a book that sounds interesting, or I might see a book that was returned to the library where I work and decide to read it. Sometimes I borrow books from friends. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to buy some new books and browse the bookshelves for new and exciting options. Sometimes I'll look at my very long to-read list on Goodreads and pick something. Often a book I read, especially non-fiction, will reference other books and I'm inspired to seek those books out to read. This year, in addition to these various ways of choosing what to read I decided to do a reading challenge that my husband saw on Facebook early in the year. It was a list of 50 categories and they were fairly unique and it looked like a good way to challenge myself and my reading. Currently, I have one book left to read.

I really enjoyed the challenge of this as well as the opportunity to read books which I had always kind of wanted to read, but never seemed to make time for or was ever in the mood to actually read. Books like Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and After the Fall by Arthur Miller. Some books were exciting new finds like Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry (along with the rest of The Giver quartet), The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages, and The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal. 

Although I would have never chosen to read Savannah by Eugenia Price, I did enjoy reading the book my Mom loves and my favorite part about it was the natural way the author talked about God and the characters relationship with God and dependence on God. It was not an overtly Christian book, yet God and faith were always presented very matter-of-factly and as a necessary part of life which is a lot how my Mom is and there is one part will stick with me. Upon discovering some bad news that had no easy or immediate answers, the main characters Robert and Eliza Mackay decided to simply pray "God, you know the situation and you know how to handle it. Do what you will and show us what we need to do, if anything. Amen" (something like this). I loved that and will think of it often.

Although it's not the usual way I decide what to read, I'm really glad that I took part in this challenge and enjoyed the opportunity to try some new books and expand my book comfort zones. I ultimately enjoyed just about everything I read and it definitely brought me to some new favorite authors as well as the opportunity to re-read some old favorites.

“Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves.” ~ David L. Ulin

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” ~ 2 Peter 3:18

Though not all the books I read are about God, they all teach me things and help me along this journey we call life. And everything we are exposed to allows us the opportunity to grow and learn and sometimes even things that aren't about faith can help to deepen or expand our faith. I'm thankful for books and all the ways they make my life better.

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for books, for the opportunity to read and learn, and for the ways books can open us up to new experiences and feelings and thoughts. Thank You for parents who instilled a deep love of reading and modeled it often for me and my sister. Thank You for my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Overholt who taught me to read. Thank You for the teachers and librarians who helped encourage me to read and try new books and ideas. Thank You for my job in a library where I can be surrounded by books all day long. Thank You for friends and family who love reading and share new books with me and can get just as excited about the things we learn and read. Thank You for Your Word which is the best reading of all and thank You for helping me to finally make my way through the Bible. Help me to never lose interest in what You have to say. Thank You for loving us, we love you too. Amen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Thanksgiving week 2 - “I’m thanking you, God, from a full heart…” ~ Psalm 9:1a

This week I'm thanking God for some of my favorite things. Some serious and some silly perhaps, but all are things that make me feel blessed, loved and happy to be alive. This list won't include everything I love and enjoy (that would take far too long!), but it's a taste of what makes me, me and what makes my heart feel full in the best possible ways.


“Cooking is not to rush. It’s a prayer. A gift of love. It’s family. It’s standing in the company of your ancestors and feeling their hands, helping you.” ~ Stephanie Kallos

I love cooking. I love trying new recipes. I love inviting friends and family into my home and making something yummy for them. I love when I find a recipe that someone loves. I have one friend who always wants me to make Asian Chicken Salad with Peanut Dressing and Pickled Cucumbers - I've made it for her 5 times in the past two years. :) Our beloveds have deemed my homemade tortilla soup their very favorite, and though I usually change up my soup recipes each time I make them, I had to write down exactly what I did so that it will always be the same. My favorite meal for my aunt to make is her Green Chili Smothered Burritos and I often make it at home and think of her. My mom always wants homemade wonton and lumpia for her birthday each year and my dad's favorite recipe is his mom's Soya Chicken. Food involves memory, community and connection. It can make us happy and it can make us feel loved and appreciated. Here are some of my favorites from this year: French Onion soup, Heavenly Hummus Wraps, OMG Garlic Bread, Quinoa Taco Bake and Salted Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies.

My job & coworkers

“Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship – a different kind of ‘sacrifice’ – that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets.” 
~ Hebrews 13:16

I absolutely love my job and I have the best coworkers. I love what I do and I feel like I am daily doing something of meaning and making connections with people that are important. I feel confident and content in my place and know that this is the perfect job for me. I'm in my 15th year and I can honestly say that each year I love my job more. In the past few years I've really deepened my connections with my coworkers to the point that many of them are also dear friends who I look forward to spending time with outside of work. I enjoy the conversations about our jobs, about our families, about our lives. With one coworker, I enjoy talking about watching the TV shows the Bachelor and Bachelorette. With another, we talk about movies and books and pretty much anything and everything. One coworker always makes sure we have snacks and meals available and does so much for everyone. We all work together well and get along with each other well and it makes life at work such a blessing and joy and I'm so grateful!


“Silently one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.” ~ Longfellow

I love painting and have definitely made more of an effort this year to spend time doing art. This painting was inspired by an evening spent swinging next to the ocean under a sky full of stars. It was a lovely moment that I will cherish forever, and enjoy the ability to have captured it in paint and can look at it every day. In February, I was on vacation with my family and the timeshare we stayed at offered painting classes and my sister and I took all three that were offered in the week we spent there. It was so fun to do something creative together, and now those paintings are a reminder of fun time spent with my sister. This year I've given paintings to several of my friends and family as gifts, and it's been special to be able to think of something they will love and then create it on canvas. I love the opportunity to give something personal and creative...something of myself to them. I'm thankful for the abilities God has given me to paint, as well as being thankful for the art teachers who have taught me so much and encouraged my talents.


“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.” 
~ Stephen Chbosky

I am thankful for blogs. For the fact that they exist. For the many people who write them. For their willingness to be honest and real and vulnerable. For the connection that I feel when I read someone else's words which seem to connect straight to my heart. For the sense of community that can arise when I see so many people struggling with and writing about the same type of issues. For the "me too" moments. For the humor, the illustrations, the stories, the advice, all of it is so meaningful. For the opportunity to write my own blog and share my stories with others and hear their moments of connection and encouragement. This year I've been particularly encouraged by three amazing blogs. The first is Micah J. Murray - I am so blessed by his raw and open stories. He struggles, he fails, he learns and grows, and all along he's really real and I find his blog refreshing and sometimes shockingly honest. But I love it and I'm thankful for his willingness to share. Through his blog, I found Amber Salhus - I love her humor, her vulnerability and our shared love of TV. Her writing helped to bring me back to writing this blog and I have been so encouraged and convicted by her posts. Additionally, I've felt like I've made a friendship connection of sorts - like a pen pal and it's been a blessing to communicate with her through comments and Facebook. The other blog I've been so encouraged by is called Brave Girls Club and I so deeply love it. One of my absolute favorite things is their daily truth emails called A little bird told me - these come daily Monday through Friday and include an encouraging and inspiring message along with a beautiful photo. The words may be simple but there is so much truth and love and encouragement and I just love them. I'm so thankful for the women who started this blog and spend so much time and effort writing beautiful words and creating beautiful art and making such a difference in so many lives.

Date Nights with Josh

“Come, let's be a comfortable couple and take care of each other!  How glad we shall be, that we have somebody we are fond of always, to talk to and sit with.”  ~ Charles Dickens

I'm so thankful for have a husband who I enjoy spending time with, who loves me more than I deserve and who is always there for me. We love our pajama days when we stay home and read books or watch TV/movies and stay in our pjs all day. We love traveling together and trying new restaurants. We love sitting and talking about our days and the things we're learning and discovering. We enjoy cooking together and having friends and family over to enjoy meals with us. Our date nights are also fun because they can range from grocery shopping together preceded by dinner at Rubio's or Five Guys, to fancy dinners at our old favorite French place Les Rendez-Vous, and one of our all time favorites is dinner at Joe's Crab Shack followed by dessert from Krispy Kreme. Yum! Mostly we just enjoy spending time together and that is one of my favorite things about us...and I'm so thankful for the blessing of my hubby! xo

TV Shows

“Each time you happen to me all over again.” ~ Edith Wharton

I really love TV, especially well-written dramas with amazing characters and dramatic twists and turns as well as laugh-out-loud comedies with running jokes and lots of humor. Josh & I have very different tastes in a lot of things, and TV is no exception. But we do have some shows we watch together and Netflix has been one our very best investments. Some of our favorite shows to watch together are The West Wing, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Survivor, The Big Bang Theory, Agents of Shield, The Black List and currently we're obsessed with Scandal. I love my shows and especially the ones I've watched for years I get very attached to the characters and care deeply about them. Many times I am drawn to the darker ones who can be a bit prickly and lash out but over the course of time you see them begin to trust and feel loved and blossom - characters like Alex Karev on Grey's Anatomy or Huck on Scandal. I love shows like Modern Family, The Goldberg's, Arrested Development, The Mindy Project and New Girl because they frequently make me laugh out loud so much that I often have to pause the show in order to breathe again. I also love shows like The Good Wife, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Once & Again and Mad Men because of their continuing storylines, deep and well-written characters and the emotional connection I feel to the stories being told. I also admittedly love reality shows like The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Masterchef, Worst Cooks in America and especially Survivor - even though it's been on for so many years featuring the same basic plot, every season is different because of the people involved - their past/present, their insecurities, their passions, their ability to relate to others, their ability to deal with the crazy elements - it all adds up to one of my all-time favorite shows and I never get tired of it. I'm so thankful for the variety of TV and the many ways I'm able to watch and enjoy it.


“I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more fun.” ~ Charles R. Swindoll

It would be impossible to say all the things I love and am thankful for about friendship. My friends have had such a profound and important place in my life and I really would not be who I am without their presence and impact. I feel surrounded by people who love me and really get me. People who encourage me, love me deeply, listen to me, speak truth to me, make me laugh, are willing to cry with me (or often watch me cry). These friends come from a variety of backgrounds and have come into my life through mission trips, school, church, work, and even the internet. Each of them provides something special and wonderful in my life - they are unique and gifted and incredibly special to me. I am thankful for their prayers, their words, their tears and laughter, their inspiration, their love and support. They have helped to teach me how much God loves each of us, about how important it is to be vulnerable, about how I can trust them and they can trust me and I would not be the same with each and every one of them...and they know who they are. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!


I hate controversy and generally avoid sharing my opinions about anything controversial, but I think this thing about Starbucks red cups is so dumb. I love Starbucks and all I expect from them is that they provide a consistent delicious coffee or tea beverage when I order it. I love my vanilla latte and I love my iced caramel macchiato upside down and I love the holiday treats of peppermint mochas and brulee lattes. My ability to celebrate Christmas is not affected in any way by the cup my coffee comes in. My faith has not been hurt because Starbucks decided not to put any designs on their holiday red cups. I don't need to boycott their business or force them to write Merry Christmas instead of my name. These voices speaking out against Starbucks are not making people want to come to Christ, they are forcing people away or just reinforcing what others think Christians are all about. If you don't want to buy Starbucks, do it because it's expensive or you don't like the taste or you'd rather support small businesses...but don't make it about something that has absolutely nothing to do with it. I'm thankful for Starbucks because I like their coffee and who cares what the cups look like?


“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” 
~ Jacques Cousteau

Oh, my most favorite place in the world is Cayucos! I love the small town, the scent of the ocean, the sound of the waves crashing, the bright reflection of the sun on the water so it looks like diamonds, the yellow green hills surrounding the town with solitary trees that seem peaceful and also melancholy. It is a place of peace and comfort and rest and I love it so much. I first visited the summer of 1996 at the end of my mission trip and we spent 4 days there debriefing from our 8 week summer mission (as a student). I visited again the summer of 1998 after a 10 week mission trip (this time as nanny to the team leaders 3 children). About seven or eight years ago, Josh & I started visiting for our anniversary and he loves it so much too. My family has also developed a love for this small wonderful town after we spent Mother's Day weekend there and now look forward to being there for a week soon. This place is so very special to me and I am so incredibly thankful to be able to visit and love it like I do - it reminds me of God's amazing vastness, His creativity in creation, and His desire for us to rest. I love this place and am so excited and blessed to be able to be there again soon. Thank you God!

“Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds...” ~ Psalm 107:8

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for all the many ways You show Your love for me. Thank You for the many wonderful things in this world to love and enjoy and be thankful for. I hope I never lose the ability to thank You and praise You for the things I love and appreciate and enjoy. Thank You for loving me so much, I love you too. Amen.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Thanksgiving week 1 - “…willing to live in the risky faith-embrace of God’s action for them.” ~ Romans 4:12

I have always loved reading. As far back as I can remember books have always been a favorite of mine. My parents read to us frequently and have always modeled the importance of reading by making time to do so themselves - both their Bible as well as other books. As a child, my Dad would take my sister and I to the public library just about every two weeks and we would always check out the maximum number of books and start reading as soon as we got home. As an adult, I always have at least two or more books that I'm in the middle of at any one time. I love to buy books, borrow books from the library or friends and often recommend or loan books to my friends. I love books and reading so much!

In the past I stuck mostly to fiction, but in recent years I have really embraced non-fiction, especially books for research purposes. For me, the subjects I tend to be researching have covered many topics relating to theology, grace, faith, the church, courage, vulnerability, hospitality, encouragement, etc. I am also drawn to books about travel, cooking and food, memoirs and books about someone doing a year of something. Often times I refer to these books as "thinking" books and read them a bit slower, and always with a notepad and pen nearby to take notes. This is usually because I read so many books from the library and can't highlight or write in them (though I even find that hard to do in my own personal books). After finishing the book, I type up my notes and save it. These quotes help me to remember what I've read, or specifically what meant something to me...and they also serve as a place to obtain quotes to use for this blog or in cards to friends and family. A friend of mine also refers to these typed documents as Keri's Notes (like CliffNotes ;) and often asks me to pass them along to her.

Over the years, I've felt influenced and encouraged by a few specific authors whose writing really touched me. In reading through their bodies of work, these authors have become like spiritual mentors to me and are such a blessing. All of them are people of faith and I feel like their writing lives out the verse in my post title - “…willing to live in the risky faith-embrace of God’s action for them.” ~ Romans 4:12 - which then encourages me to do the same.

Robin Jones Gunn

“[A God-thing is] when something happens in your life, and you look at it and can't explain how or why it happened, but you know there's a reason for it. You know that God is doing something in your life, and it changes you. There's no other way to explain it except to see it as a God thing.”
~ Robin Jones Gunn

I know I've mentioned her before many times, but it's impossible to think about what I believe about God without referencing the fact that so much of it is as a result of her writing. I read her books as a teenager first and their impact is so important to what I believe about God and how much He loves us and lives and moves in our lives. Her way of writing about faith is so natural and her stories are so relatable, and I have been so encouraged and supported in my relationship with God thanks to her characters Christy, Todd, Doug, Tracy, Katie and others.

“So, if I love God, and I mean really love God with abandon, then I must come to love myself, my life. I need to love my story at the heart level. That’s what I believe life is for all of us. A story being written by God. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. When I start to love my story, with all its messed up twists and turns, then I can love other people who are living out their own stories with all their messed up twists and turns…if I’m going to go around saying I love God, then I have to trust him and believe that everything in my life first passed through his fingers. Nothing happens outside of his control. He alone will bring all things to justice one day. All I’m supposed to do is love my own story so that I can love that guy’s story too.” ~ Robin Jones Gunn

Every time I read one of her stories, I find myself and my current journey in the pages. I've made it a practice to reread through her series every other year and each time I find new nuggets of truth and new ways that the words she wrote, sometimes many years ago, seem to speak directly to me in exactly the moment I'm reading them. This is all due to the timeless nature of God, and the gift of storytelling that He has so obviously gifted her with and that she has used so wonderfully for His glory. My faith has been nurtured and strengthened by her writing and I am so grateful.

Anne Lamott

“God can handle honesty, and prayer begins an honest conversation. My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real – really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.” ~ Anne Lamott

When I discovered Anne Lamott's writing, it was like a shock because here was a Christian writer but she didn't sound like all the other ones I'd heard or read before. She was really honest and forthright and it was shocking, but so moving and so meaningful. Whether it's courage or just an inability to be anything but herself, I fell hard for her writing and couldn't get enough. I read all of her non-fiction books about faith and grace and life and love. Then I read all her fiction about real, honest, normal people. I loved it all, loved her. Her honesty shocks you at first, but then lingers in your mind and heart because it's so true and real and you feel that "me too" moment - it's incredible and it makes me want to sit next to her at the dinner table.

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation.  They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.  When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored.  We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again.  It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea.  You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” ~ Anne Lamott

When she writes about her thighs and butt as the wise old Aunties, or about her 6-year old grandson crying out in the dark, or the three prayers (Help, Thanks, Wow - great book, you should read it!),  you feel the connection that her honesty brings - when we're real and vulnerable it allows connection and community and this is a beautiful thing. I'm always so thankful to read her posts and her books because they remind me how important it is to be honest and just be ourselves - good, bad and everything else - let ourselves be seen and known. My faith has been broadened and strengthened by her writing and I am so thankful.

Mister Rogers

“You are a very special person. There is only one like you in the whole world. There’s never been anyone exactly like you before, and there never will be again. Only you. And people can like you exactly as you are.”
~ Mister Rogers

I feel like I have always loved Mister Rogers. As a child, I loved watching his show and as an adult I think I love it even more. My favorite part was whenever they would go to the Neighborhood of Make Believe - I loved the trolley and the people there and the belief in the importance of imagination. The slow pace of the show and the repetitive nature of the beginning and ending of every episode was so soothing and peaceful and I just loved it. As an adult, most of the quotes I used in my cards of encouragement were always from Mister Rogers. I have three books of his quotes and I love them. They are so kind, so encouraging, so affirming and full of love and concern.

“It always helps to have people we love beside us when we have to do difficult things in life.” ~ Mister Rogers

Several years ago, I read a book about his correspondence relationship with the author Tim Madigan called I'm Proud of You. The title comes from the way Mister Rogers would end each letter, often simply using the initials IPOY. This book helped to deepen my understanding of the kind of man Fred Rogers was and the ways friendship and encouragement were so important to him. He was a man who deeply loved God, loved people - especially children, and desired to share that love and concern with as many people as possible. My faith has been affirmed and strengthened by his writing and I am so grateful.

Henri Nouwen

“I do not think of myself as your teacher. I think of myself as a friend who has made a very long journey and has learned something so important that he does not want to keep it to himself.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Through the book I'm Proud of You, I learned about Mister Rogers' relationship with the Catholic priest Henri Nouwen and this in turn led to me reading through most of Nouwen's writings. In him, I felt such a connection and sense of kinship, and he has truly become a spiritual mentor to me. I may not have the opportunity to meet or speak with him, but through his writings I feel like I've found someone else who has been through so many of my own struggles and through his honesty I no longer feel alone. He feels like a friend who has taught me so much about discernment, God's love, feeling broken and wounded, and setting boundaries.

“Real freedom to live in this world comes from hearing clearly the truth about who we are, which is that we are the beloved. That’s what prayer is about. And that’s why it is so crucial and not just a nice thing to do once in a while. It is the essential attitude that creates in us the freedom to love other people not because they are going to love us back but because we are so loved and out of the abundance of that love we want to give. This is where ministry starts, because our freedom is anchored in claiming our belovedness. Being the beloved allows us to go into this world and touch people, heal them, speak with them, and make them aware that they too are beloved, chosen, and blessed. When we discover our belovedness, we begin to see the belovedness of other people and call that forth. It is an incredible mystery of God’s love that the more we know how deeply we are loved, the more we will see how deeply our sisters and our brothers in the human family are loved.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Through my reading of his books, I have come to understand so much more about how much God loves us. This in turn makes me feel even more strongly about the importance of encouragement and my desire to use cards and letters to share my love and more importantly God's love with others. I've also been encouraged by Nouwen's ability to be honest and open about his struggles with loneliness, despair, feeling overwhelmed, and so much more. His words speak such truth and they are so beautiful and loving. My faith has been comforted and strengthened by his writing and I am so thankful.

Shauna Niequist

“I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift, who will use it up and wring it out and drag it around like a favorite sweater.” ~ Shauna Niequist

I don't remember exactly how I stumbled upon Shauna Niequist, but I believe it was through a blog post of hers probably shared by someone on Facebook. One I started reading her words, I was hooked and was happy to discover she had three books and I quickly borrowed them through the library. Cold Tangerines was about the finding God in the smallest details and moments of our lives. Bittersweet was about finding God in the good and bad and how important yet difficult change can be in our lives. I loved both of those, but my favorite was Bread & Wine which was about communion and hospitality. This book made me cry because it reinforced my feelings about the importance of food, family, friends and fellowship.

“What makes me feel alive and connected to God’s voice and spirit in this world is creating opportunities for the people I love to rest and connect and be fed at my table. I believe it’s the way I was made, and I believe it matters. For many years, I didn’t let it matter, for a whole constellation of reasons, but part of becoming yourself, in a deeply spiritual way, is finding the words to tell the truth about what it is you really love.”
~ Shauna Niequist

I love food and having people over to my house for meals and hospitality. These things have been very important to me and part of that is the way I was raised by a Mom who felt the same way and part of that is just the way God made me. In reading Shauna's words, I felt a connection to her because these were just as important to her and she was able to put into words things I'd felt and believed but had never been able to say before. Through her writing, I was able to believe in the worth and beauty of hospitality and how it is a form of communion every time we gather together around the table. My faith has been invigorated and strengthened by her writing and I am so grateful.

Brené Brown

“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It’s about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” ~ Brené Brown

Oh my goodness, I am so encouraged and convicted and excited about the writing of Brené Brown! Once again, I'm not sure how I stumbled upon her writing, but ultimately, as in all things, know God directs my path - including books I read. She is not an overtly Christian writer, but her books on the topics of shame and vulnerability, courage and bravery, the lies of perfection and people pleasing and about the goal of wholehearted living, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong - these definitely speak to our lives and our faith in big and small ways.

“We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us. We’re afraid that our truth isn’t enough – that what we have to offer isn’t enough without the bells and whistles, without editing, and impressing. I was afraid to walk on that stage and show the audience my kitchen-table self – these people were too important, too successful, too famous. My kitchen-table self is too messy, too imperfect, too unpredictable. Here’s the crux of the struggle: I want to experience your vulnerability but I don’t want to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me. I’m drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine.” ~ Brené Brown

Vulnerability and courage seem to be two of the things God is teaching me about right now since almost everything I read seems to come back to these topics. And Brené Brown's writing is all about these subjects and she has so much research and wisdom and knowledge. Sometimes I feel like I want to take notes on everything single thing in her books and have ultimately had to purchase my own copies of them so that they can be written in and highlighted to my heart's content. Although these topics interest me, they are definitely things I struggle with and it's a slow process learning to be consistent and do them. My faith has been encouraged and deepened by her writing and I am so thankful.

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ”
~ Colossians 2:2

What a blessing and how amazing it is that God uses so many people and things and places to teach us about Him. These writers have become mentors to me. They teach me about living my faith, about learning to trust God, about the importance of honesty and vulnerability, and most of all about how much God loves us. I am so thankful for books and their ability to teach us and connect us through the power of words to people we may never meet in real life, but who are still able to impact our lives in powerful and wonderful ways.

“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” ~ 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Dear heavenly Father, thank You so much the joy and peace I have found through these writers and others. Thank You for their willingness to be vulnerable and honest and to share that with the world through their writing. Thank You for the ways my faith has grown because of them. Help me to continue to grow in knowledge of You, to trust and depend on You for all things, and for the courage to continue to share my story with others. Help me to be brave and vulnerable and real. Thank You for loving us, we love you too. Amen.

Friday, October 30, 2015

“…all things are possible with God.” ~ Mark 10:27b

This week I had the opportunity to see a special showing of the Chonda Pierce documentary Laughing in the Dark. My mom had asked my sister and I to see this movie with her as a birthday gift, but since my sister was sick all week my Dad ended up going with us and we were joined by some dear friends. Going into this I didn't really know anything about Chonda Pierce - had never heard of her and didn't know what to expect. Apparently she is the top-selling female comedian of all time! Who knew? :) She is also a Christian and is known for her clean comedy, honest story-telling and making you laugh and cry. I won't tell you every detail about it, but it was a great film!! She was hilarious, vulnerable, spiritually encouraging and very real. Her life has been quite difficult, but she loves Jesus and she loves making people laugh.

Apparently the movie was so popular Fathom Events has decided to have another evening showing on November 17 and I highly recommend going if you have a chance. I think you will enjoy it and come away feeling blessed...and you will laugh a LOT! :)

“There are two myths that we tend to believe about our stories: the first is that they’re about us, and the second is that because they’re about us, they don’t matter. But they’re not only about us, and they matter more than ever right now. When we, any of us who have been transformed by Christ, tell our own stories, we’re telling the story of who God is. I bet God has done something in your life that would make our hair stand on end if you told us about it. I bet the story God has written in your life and your home gives voice and breath and arms and legs to the gospel every bit as much as a church sermon ever did. Preaching is important, certainly. But it can’t be the only way we allow God’s story to be told in our midst.” ~ Shauna Niequist

Before the movie started, I was catching up with my dear friend and spiritual mentor Shauna since I hadn't seen her in a long time and she always wants to know what God is doing and speaking in my life. She and I are very similar - introverted, preacher's daughter's, people pleasers, "good girls", etc. and yet we talked about how as much as we might relate to these things we know God has more for us, wants more for us and is slowly breaking these bonds and helping us become who He has made us to be. Not afraid, not perfect - but real and vulnerable - and unafraid to share the broken pieces of our lives and the ways God is moving in and through them. We talked about how important it is to share our stories and be honest with the people in our lives. When we are able to do that, we're so much more likely to find those "me too!" moments that make us realize we aren't alone. We aren't the only ones who struggle. We aren't the only broken ones. But we have to be brave enough to be real.

“…we have to make the long journey from ‘What will people think?’ to ‘I am enough.’ That journey begins with shame resilience, self-compassion, and owning our stories. To claim the truths about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, and the very imperfect nature of our lives, we have to be willing to give ourselves a break and appreciate the beauty of our cracks or imperfections. To be kinder and gentler with ourselves and each other. To talk to ourselves the same way we’d talk to someone we care about.” ~ Brené Brown

All too often in this world, especially the Christian world, and especially among women we get caught up in the lie that we have to always be perfect, never show weakness, have the perfect house and family and job and life and never struggle or fail. Underneath these masks, we are failing, we are imperfect, we do feel weak and ashamed and unworthy. But we fear opening up about it because what if no one understands? What if no one says "me too!"? What if people judge me? What if all I hear is silence and I'm ignored?

There is definitely risk in being vulnerable. There will be people who won't understand. There will be people who judge us or ignore us. But, sometimes there will be someone who does understand. Or someone who then feels able to share their struggles with you. And then you can experience the beautiful feeling of not being alone. It doesn't necessarily make life better or fix your struggles...but knowing you aren't alone can sometimes make it easier to bear. God provides these people in our lives, and when we find them what a gift it is! Sometimes they will be the people you've known for a long time but maybe something happens that makes your friendship deepen and become more open and real. Sometimes it may be someone you meet in a Bible study or other group setting and you are able to take the risk of being real and find someone who is blessed by your story - and often you will feel blessed in return because of their empathy and understanding. Sometimes it will be someone you may never meet - like a blog writer or book author or documentary star - but they talk about their life and their struggles and you feel a connection that makes you realize you aren't alone and that might make you brave enough to start being vulnerable.

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” ~ Pema Chodron

One of the things I love about Shauna is her willingness to speak truth to me. She knows me and she loves me and I believe that God has placed her in my life for many reasons, but one of them is definitely to speak His truth to me. Of course, I know that God is more than capable of speaking to me directly, and He has...through His Word, through the Holy Spirit...but I also believe that God sometimes uses people in our lives to do this too. My writing this blog was a direct result of her speaking truth to me over a year ago. But the other night, she had more to share with me and I'll admit it's a little scary, it's out of my comfort zone, but in my heart I heard the truth of what she was saying and felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit that she was right. She told me that God has much bigger plans and dreams for my life than I imagine and that means being open and daring to be willing to follow where He leads. She also shared that I need to be more open to receiving help from others which I definitely struggle with, but have been working toward in recent months. I know she spoke truth to me and it's exciting and scary and yet also amazing to think about what the future holds - but I know Who holds my future.

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints and His incomparably great power for us who believe.” ~ Ephesians 1:18-19

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” ~ John 14:26

As I continue this journey, I have begun to see more and more connections between the things I'm learning about God, about courage and vulnerability and shame, about the traps of perfectionism, about trusting and depending on God, about relationships and faith. I just feel like I'm learning again and again how much everything is connected and about how important connection and community is to our lives. I struggle with what it means to put it all together and what that looks like in my life. I struggle with not knowing how to be as open and vulnerable and real as I should be with people in my life. I've spent too much time keeping things to myself, trying to handle it on my own, and not doing anything to rock the boat. But I want to be who I am, to be who God created me to be. And that has been hard because I feel like I don't know who that is and I'm afraid that if it ends up being different than I've been all these years then I won't be accepted or understood or even loved. My head knows not everyone has to like me, but what if it changes relationships with people who currently love me? What if they decide not to anymore because they don't like who I become?

“The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.” ~ Proverbs 29:25

“…the vulnerability journey is not the kind of journey we can make alone. We need support. We need folks who will let us try on new ways being without judging us. We need a hand to pull us up off the ground when we get kicked down in the arena (and if we live a courageous life, that will happen)…Most of us are good at giving help, but when it comes to vulnerability, we need to ask for help too.” ~ Brené Brown

In this season of struggling with who I am, I am thankful for those people who are standing with me and supporting me and walking this journey with me. I know they are a gift from God and one of His ways of loving me "with skin on." I read so many books and often find one leading to another. Recently I needed something to read and found on my shelf a book my Grandma had given me within the last two years. She is part of a book club and usually at Christmas she passes along the books she's read to me and my sister and mom. This one was called Secrets Over Sweet Tea by Denise Hildreth Jones and it was set in the South and talked about secrets, the courage to be vulnerable and healing. I didn't expect a lot out of it, but it made me cry because it hit close to home several times. And at the back of the book there was a note about a devotional the author had written to go along with the themes in this story called Reclaiming Your Heart: a Journey back to Laughing, Loving and Living. I decided to read that book as well and although I hadn't imagined that I was living with a "shut-down heart" I could see myself in several of the descriptions she talked about and it spoke to me powerfully.

"...reclaiming your heart takes courage. It takes work too – the work of honestly examining your life and then being intentional with different choices. But it’s so worth it. With God’s help, you can reclaim your shut-down heart and run headlong into your amazing future...Will some change happen quickly? Possibly…But moments like that are rare. It’s far more likely that reclaiming a shut-down heart will happen slowly and gradually. Day by day, moment by moment, you’ll have to decide whether you will revert to your old shut-down patterns of behavior or fight for your freedom to live as God designed you. And shutting down will always be a temptation because while reclaiming your heart brings joy and freedom, it also puts you at risk for pain...The most important thing you can do on the journey to reclaim your heart is to stay grounded in the Word of God. It’s your dependable source of truth to counter the enemy’s lies. ” ~ Denise Hildreth Jones

I want to live with an open heart. I want to have the courage to be vulnerable. I want to learn to be who I am - who God has created me to be. I want to not be afraid to share my struggles, my successes, my failures and my feelings. While I don't exactly want to be uncomfortable, I know that all growth comes from stepping outside my comfort zones and allowing God to do as He will in my life. And so although I might be afraid, I want to step out in faith and trust in His plan for me. I know I will fail and I will fall. I know I will have moments where I want to stop and let go. I know I will want to hide and run away. But I'm going to try and I'm going to need help at times.

“God’s goal isn’t to make us comfortable here but to help us know him and to intensify our longings for him. Our troubles are not signs of abandonment but are evidence that he is mightily at work. He uses trouble to draw us closer and open our eyes to see more of him (see Heb. 12:5-11).” ~ Carolyn Custis James

“God will strengthen you with His own great power so that you will not give up when troubles come, but you will be patient!” ~ Colossians 1:11

“We simply can’t learn to be more vulnerable and courageous on our own. Sometimes our first and greatest dare is asking for support.” 
~ Brené Brown

I do believe that God has a plan and purpose and a dream for my life. I know it is bigger and more than I can imagine or hope. I know that it will likely involve change and stepping out of my comfort zone and a deep and abiding faith in God. I want to be brave enough to embrace His dreams for me. I want to be vulnerable enough to be myself and allow others to be real about their struggles as well. I'm going to need help. I am asking for help. I may not always be as open to it as I should be, but I am going to try. God knows where this help will come from. I trust Him to lead and direct the people He wants to work in my life. I trust Him to do what He needs to do and I trust Him to lead me where I need to go. I want to be brave enough to tell my stories and open enough to listen to the stories of others.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” 
~ Psalm 27:14

“God will fulfill His purpose for you.” ~ Psalm 138:8

“This is what I want you to do: tell your story. Don’t allow the story of God, the sacred, transforming story of what God does in a human heart to become flat and lifeless. If we choose silence, if we allow the gospel to be told only on Sundays, only in sanctuaries, only by approved and educated professionals, that life-changing story will lose its ability to change lives. It always goes back to the beginning, no matter how far we’ve wandered off course. When Christ walked among us, he entrusted the gospel to plain old regular people who were absolutely not religious professionals. If you have been transformed by the grace of God, then you have within you all you need to write your manifesto, your poem, your song, your battle cry, your love letter to a beautiful and broken world. Your story must be told.” ~ Shauna Niequist

To be really honest, this post was both the hardest and the easiest thing I've ever written. Hardest because I know I was really real and vulnerable and honest - and speaking these truths out loud makes them real. Easiest because the words just seemed to flow out of my head and heart directly onto the page. This isn't the post I had intended to write, but it is the post God wanted me to write and obviously that needed to be written. So I'm putting it out there - raw and vulnerable - asking for support that I'm also slightly terrified of actually receiving. Believing that God has a dream for me, but a bit afraid at what the end result may be. But also excited because I feel peace in my heart and a deep knowledge that this is true and real and although I don't know what the next step is and I definitely don't know what the future holds, I do feel confident that God knows. I know He loves me, He is always there for me, and He will never leave me...and so I believe.

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the lessons you are teaching me. Thank You for the dreams and plans and hopes and purpose You have for me. Help me to be open to Your leading, Your direction, and Your truth. Give me the willingness to be accepting of the help that I need. Help me to be gracious and open and vulnerable, especially when it's hard and when I would rather shut down and hide. Thank You for the wonderful people You put in my life who can be there to support and love me and help me to always be thankful. Give me discernment and wisdom as I learn about You and Your plans for me and direct my paths. Thank You so much for loving me, for loving all of us...we love you too. Amen.