Archives for December 2016

Bread and Wine: A New Year’s Eve Tradition

*Photo courtesy of (in)courage

I fell asleep at 11:53pm with a Harry Potter book nestled into the pillows beside me, the spine still gripped in my hand. My husband snuck into the room and snapped a photo of me sleeping in my New Year’s Eve party wear—a sweatshirt, pajama pants, and tousled hair—then he shook me awake. To celebrate…

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My Top Five Posts of 2016

I gathered a list of my top five posts of the year, a stress-free offering for you to read at your leisure–perhaps when you’re hiding in the bathroom from the children/mailman/to-do list? No judgement here. I hope you find a moment to pause during this final week of Advent as we wait with expectancy for Emmanuel, God with us.

As the year draws to a close, I want to thank you for dropping by for a virtual chat every week. If you’d like to subscribe to receive my weekly posts in your inbox, please do so in the sidebar to the right.

I’d like to try a few new things here on the blog in 2017, namely a monthly newsletter with all the bits and bobs of daily life that never make it into my posts (books! music! photos from the European archives!) I’m also toying with the idea of offering a little something to subscribers. A friend suggested an audio devotional of sorts. And while I am heinously opposed to the sound of my own voice, maybe you won’t be? I thought I’d float the idea to you, my internet besties. Would you like an audio devotional? A short devotional for reading? A literary exploration? My questionable poetry with photos from my travels in Europe?

Be a pal, and let me know what you think via email, a comment here on the blog, or via owl/carrier pigeon. On to the posts.

My Top Five Posts of 2016:

One~ Community Matters

After an afternoon ramble in the sunshine, I checked the mailbox on my walk up to the house. Once inside, I flipped the papers onto the kitchen counter, and a flyer from the local hospital slid out from underneath a pile of junk mail. The words “Community Matters” blinked up at me in brown ink.

I’m a Pennsylvania native living in New Jersey, by way of London and Zurich. I live in the safety of the suburbs, where moms sit on bleachers and chat about their summer plans while our boys run laps across the lacrosse field. Where dads show up to soccer games with their ties hanging slightly loose around their necks…(read the rest here)

Two~ When You Wish You Started Sooner

One after the other, when asked what they would do differently for the next assignment, each student said, “I’d get started sooner and stop procrastinating.” I listened from a seat in the corner of the classroom, and their lament struck a chord with me. They were all of eighteen years old, and even with our age gap, like me, they wrestled with a fear of mismanagement. Their fear manifested in sweaty palms the night before class, and questionable essays constructed between pizza slices and texting. My fear manifested in sleepless nights and rambling journal entries wondering if I’d mismanaged the past two decades of my adult life…(read the rest here)

Three~ There You Are: A Thanksgiving Welcome

She walked onto the stage with a microphone to magnify her slight Southern drawl. She looked into the eyes of the writers gathered in anxious circles below, and said, “There you are!”

She paused to let the words sink in as she opened her arms, embracing the room in welcome. “We’re so glad you’re here!”

With her words, shoulders around the room relaxed. Lips curled into smiles. We nodded at one another and to the speaker on the stage. “There you are!” she said. And we knew we’d left our homes only to arrive at a new one…(read the rest here)

Four~ When Life Turns Out Differently Than You Planned

Twelve years ago, I stood on the precipice of a decision that would shape the future of my family. Staring into the chasm between what I desired and what God desired for me, I wondered which ledge would hold my weight, or if I’d find myself lost, falling in the echo chamber in the center. Our family had made a home for ourselves in London for almost four years, and the tendrils of roots had begun to take hold. We had extended my husband’s work contract twice–this time, we needed to decide whether to stay long-term or go back home…(read the rest here)

Five~ For The One Who Isn’t Wonder Woman and Never Will Be

In my twenties, I attended a company Holiday party hosted by my husband’s then-employer. It was held in a dimly lit ballroom with a dance floor and wandering balloon artists creating phallic symbols to be worn as hats. I was nervous about meeting his colleagues for the first time because of my small-talk allergy, so I tried to make myself as pretty as possible, to offer at least the appearance of being put together…(read the rest here)

My Favorite Books of 2016

Photo from instagram

I spent a good portion of this year dog-earing and underlining required reading books for graduate school. Some of them were fantastic, others made me want to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks in order to finish. I read fewer books than I hoped, and fewer books related to my personal interests, however, I read more widely than I have in years. I consider that a personal win. I give you my top ten books of 2016. Would you share your favorite reads with me too? One can never have too many books piled around the house, waiting to be read.

Best Fiction:

Gilead by Marilyn Robinson

“…an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart.”

This is a book to read slowly and savor the craft of Robinson’s words. The themes resonated with me deeply as the daughter of a minister, and brought me to tears at times. Brilliant and beautiful. Well worth the time it took to read it.

Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

“…a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.”

A story worth telling wrapped up within excellent storytelling. I think about some of the scenes and themes in this book often. It opened my eyes to the varied experiences of black women in America, and the nuances of being born a black American vs an African immigrant vs a black immigrant from the islands. I have so much to learn, and Adichie’s voice is both powerful and touching at once.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

“…sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.”

I typically shy away from fluffier, chick-lit type books, but it’s hard to write fluff about WWII. I loved the strength of the female characters and the arc of the story. I read a fair number of books set in this time period, and this was a less emotionally intense story than my last WWII read–All The Light We Cannot See–which was a favorite in 2015.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

“…a young wife and mother on a failing farm in rural Tennessee who experiences something she cannot explain, and how her discovery energizes various competing factions—religious leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists, politicians—trapping her in the center of the conflict and ultimately opening up her world.”

 Kingsolver’s writing is a notch above almost everything else I read. She writes with a depth of understanding for what motivates us as human beings, what causes despair, what creates change. I found this to be extremely timely given the political divide we’re facing as a nation and this shed some much needed light on rural life in America.

Best Non-Fiction:

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“In a series of essays, written as a letter to his son, Coates confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives.”

There’s not much I can say apart from the fact that this book was life-changing for me. Coates’ experience and concern for his black son brought me to tears and led me to repentance. This is a must read for anyone interested in understanding race relations and what it means to live in the body of a black man in America today.

Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy

“Through stories of planting and preserving, of opening the gates wide to neighbors, and of learning to speak the language of a place, Christie invites readers into the joy of small beginnings and the knowledge that the kingdom of God is with us here and now.”

Christie’s book was a jewel in the dark heart of winter. She is one of my favorite writers–lyrical, insightful, gentle in every way. Read my full review of Roots and Sky here. Then buy yourself a copy.

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

“Rebecca Solnit explores the ways we make our lives out of stories, and how we are connected by empathy, by narrative, by imagination.”

Fascinating, imaginative, and a new way of writing memoir. Solnit weaves in far more than her own life story, which makes this book rich in its telling.

Best Devotional:

At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time compiled by Sarah Arthur

“With a title inspired by T. S. Eliot, this “literary” prayer book is for every Christian who has ever felt led to pray while reading a novel or a poem. These great writers know the things of God but speak in metaphor.”

I can’t speak highly enough about Sarah Arthur’s literary guides to prayer (there are three). She has exquisite taste in literature and poetry, and is finely tuned to the work of the Holy Spirit through the use of such works, accompanied by scripture. Her books have revolutionized my devotional time.

Best Collection of Poetry:

Words for Empty and Words for Full by Bob Hicok

“As always with a Bob Hicok book, fascinating and a book you sort of can’t help but pick up and suddenly, two hours later, find yourself having read straight through. I can think of just about no contemporary poets who publish such consistently great work.” —Corduroy Books

I did read this straight through, and there isn’t much higher praise I can give for a book of poetry. It also happened to be a reading assignment for school, but what a wonderful discovery. Accessible, witty, and profound.

Best Series: 

The Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Series by Louise Penny

“Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montréal and yet a world away.”

Still Life is the first in the series of eleven, and I’m well into reading the fourth book. I enjoy a good murder mystery, and these are some of the best I’ve read. The writing is rich with imagery (nothing squeamish) and deep character development. I’m addicted, and I hope Penny writes more.

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Care to share your favorites of the year? Leave a comment or hit reply from your in-box if you’re a subscriber.

*All photos and blurbs taken from goodreads

**Most of these books contain adult language and adult situations, which I’m down with because–I’m an adult;) If you’re sensitive to either, you might want to research further before purchasing.

Celebrating Advent: A Guide for Beginners

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In our family, life revolves on it’s own little axis around Time. Just as the sun sets the seasons for the earth, Time sets the season of life for us as a family. The years do their work and we adjust our expectations and our decisions accordingly. We may find ourselves in a season of rest or growth or pruning, but as we spin through the seasons, I find myself keeping certain rhythms throughout the year. Rhythms help Time and I keep track of one another. They give me point on which to focus, so I don’t spin out of control.

Growing up in a non-denominational church, I was unaware that the Christian church celebrates its own version of the seasons. My idea of a church calendar looked very much like your average Gregorian calendar with a few extra prayer meetings and pot-lucks thrown in for good measure. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I learned people observed seasons of Lent and Advent. Well into adulthood, I discovered I have lived my entire life spinning in Ordinary Time.

I have so much to learn about the Liturgical year, and so much to gain from it too. I see it as a set of rhythms rather than a set of rules, on which to build my spiritual life throughout the year. But, Time can be a cruel master, and I don’t have the hours to dedicate to studying the church calendar and understanding with as deep a commitment as I’d like. So, for now, I have built a bridge to Advent, one that is helping me stay focused on this season with little time, effort, or know-how.

I offer you Advent for Beginners:

Look for the Light

I find myself rising early to light the candles in the still-dark rooms below. I sit in the candle light, adding the glow of the twinkle lights on the Christmas tree, and I wait for the sun to rise above the giant oak in the garden. The sun cuts through the morning fog, and for a few moments, its rays split the tree in two. No matter how dark the night, I know the light will come. And with it, a longing for peace, a growing hope, and joy in knowing that the Light of the world has already brought the cosmos into our chaos.

“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.” ~John 1:5

Invite Poetry

After the lighting of the candles, I start the day with prayer and poetry. There is a time for storybooks and simplicity, but Advent reveals itself to me as a poem. It is rhythm and metaphor and song. It is the most potent truth revealed through a single Word. It is impossible to understand in one reading, yet the longer I sit with it in the growing light, the longer I roll the words in my mouth, the longer I allow the truth to illuminate my spirit, the more I grow in understanding.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…in Him was life, and the life was the Light of men..” ~John 1:1,4

Embrace Anticipation

Apart from the quiet mornings, there is much work to do in this busy season–so very much to accomplish. However, I am trying to see with eyes of anticipation rather than dread. As I participate in the usual rhythms of this season, I remind myself that the building excitement I see in my children should foster a sense of anticipation and excitement in me too. The Greatest Gift has come, and He will return again. Advent focuses my thoughts on the coming Kingdom, and helps me to live in anticipation of the day when all will be set right, when we will see his glory once again, full of grace and truth.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~John 1:14

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One lovely book I have found invaluable for helping me to center on this season is a compilation by Sarah Arthur called Light Upon Light. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Also, Luci Shaw’s Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation.

**This is a re-post from the archives because I still feel like a beginner when it comes to the liturgical calendar. Maybe you do too? Do you have any resources you’d like to share?

Five Steps to Walking the Path of Peace this Christmas

With the holiday season in full swing, I find myself spending an absurd amount of mental energy on twinkle light to branch ratios and how to hide packages from prying eyes. I also find myself in a tug-of-war with my inner self, the self that longs for peace, and my outer self, the self that lives in the real world of holiday hustle.

As we move into Advent, a time of expectant waiting for the coming Christ, I find myself longing more and more for the arrival of the Prince of Peace. This is the name for Jesus that I want to embody this Christmas. It’s the name I want to hang like a banner over our home, over my family, over my heart.

In an effort to hang the banner of peace over my heart, I’m taking a few small steps of intention this season. I won’t add “Stop yelling at the kids” because we all know that’s a given. Join me on walking the path to peace?

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Five Steps to Walking the Path of Peace

Receive: Set aside time for silence.

Wake up a few minutes before the rest of house, wrap yourself in a blanket, switch on the twinkle lights, and sit with yourself in the quiet. I like to sit with my palms open and facing up, in a posture of receiving whatever God has for me this day. If morning isn’t your sweet spot, turn off the Christmas tunes and the third showing of Elf in the evening. We’re so quick to fill every inch of space with ourselves–our anxieties, our to-do list, our feelings. Find a few moments in your day that allow for your restless soul chatter to come to a still point, and allow it to wait expectantly. Christ is coming.

Reveal: Spend time in Scripture

Eugene Peterson says that reading scripture is a way of “listening to God revealing God”, rather than a means of fact gathering or processing information. Approaching scripture from a posture of listening for God’s revelation of himself has the power to transform our understanding of the Bible. Rather than collecting stories, facts, and rules, we read with an ear to the ground, waiting for the thump and vibration of God’s footprints here on earth. This too is waiting. This too brings us to the still point of peace.

Renew: See God’s handiwork in nature

I think we all know the power of a good walk around the block, but I want to experience more than the wonder of my neighbor’s crooked wreaths and leaf piles. A reading of Psalm 8 is good place to start, so is the starlit fabric of the night sky, the small copse of trees in the backyard, a local pine scented garden center, a hike beside a reflective stream. The Psalmist David writes of nature’s ability to stir him to faith and thanksgiving. I find it not only stirs these healthy emotions, but it also hushes the ones that pull at the fine threads of peace.

Re-connect: Surrender through worship

“The heart of worship is surrender, ” writes Rick Warren, and while I absolutely agree, I also absolutely struggle to find listen-able Christian music. Enter Christmas. I’m currently listening to Josh Garrel’s new album The Light Came Down, as well as a stunning selection of Christmas tunes recommended by Kendra at The Lazy Genius (sign up for her email list. It doesn’t disappoint.), and they are watering my parched, worship-hungry soul. Surrender is allowing God to be fully himself, outside of the boxes we’ve constructed for him. It is resting in his sovereignty, and in his plan for the salvation of this world in the form of a flesh and blood child.

Root yourself: Seek out community 

This sounds counter-intuitive, especially for the introverts among us (raises hand), however peace walks hand in hand with belonging. Loneliness does not lead to peace. Rootedness, a deep knowing that there is space for you in this world, calms the restless heart. Lean hard into your places of belonging during this season, they will be a balm to the wounds and bruises we accumulate throughout the year. Walk with a friend, enjoy a quiet conversation, cozy up with your spouse on the sofa, snuggle the kids a little longer, visit your mama, attend the candlelight service at church. Forget the gatherings that stir up insecurities, and instead gather with those who make you feel most yourself, who also walk the path of peace.