What I’ve Been Reading Lately: Made Well

I’ve been reminded this fall of something that I already knew – that life truly is a mix of sweet and bitter, good things and hard things.  We want life to feel good, all the time.  But rarely is life just sweet and good.  Thankfully though, it is also rarely just bitter and hard.  Rather it is a mixture of both together, all at the same time.  I’ve seen this play out over the years in so many people’s lives, and this fall, I was reminded of it in my own life when I got engaged to my wonderful boyfriend, Dylan, on a Monday night, and by Thursday night, we had found out that the mill where he has worked for three years as an accountant, would be closing down in three months time.  We had barely had time to celebrate the decision to spend the rest of our lives together, and we were quickly reminded that we aren’t always given the luxury of life going exactly as planned.  While we were still excited about our future together, it definitely put a damper on things, as discussions and decisions had to be made, and it added stress to our lives, as we plan and save for a wedding, while he also transitions to a new job.  This wasn’t what we planned – we wanted the certainty of his job for at least another couple years!  And it sure didn’t make our lives any easier.  But I truly believe that God is good – even when circumstances may be hard – and I’ve chosen to trust and see the good in our lives, instead of becoming bitter over the hard or the unexpected. Through it all, I have this man beside me – and for that I am grateful.

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Also this fall, I was given an opportunity to read and review another book, ‘Made Well’ by Jenny Simmons, and being reminded of the truth, that it’s often through the process of the hard and bitter things that we can eventually experience healing and wholeness, made me think that this book may offer some good insight, since that’s what this book is exploring.  The subtitle, ‘Finding Wholeness in the Everyday Sacred Moments’ seemed fitting, as I’ve tried to learn and live that out over these last several years.  All of life is sacred, not just moments in church, and especially not just the big moments – but everything.  Last year, I had read another book by Jenny Simmons, ‘The Road to Becoming’.  I enjoyed it, and I had similar expectations for this book coming in.  And while I also wouldn’t deem this my favourite book ever, I do feel like it gave me some valuable ‘food for thought’ during this season of my life.

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This book was relatable and real – and through Jenny’s stories, I was reminded of the times in my own life that I have experienced healing through things like friendships, nature and music.

One of my favourite quotes from the book was this:

Healing doesn’t always come right away, or right on time for that matter.  It certainly doesn’t always show up in big, flashy brushstrokes like front-row concert tickets.  But sometimes it does.  The important thing is to keep your eyes and heart open, knowing that healing avenues are at work all around you; they belong to you if you claim them.  When we begin to live with a holy awareness, believing that God is at work around us, we unlock a wealth of healing at our fingertips.  Simple treasures in creation and the everyday kindness of another person can serve as healing balms.  The best prayer I can pray is “May I live with holy awareness.” (pg. 94)

I love that idea – may I live with a holy awareness of all the ways that God is at work around me.  And may I always remember that while things may be hard or circumstances less than ideal, that there is goodness to be found around me, should I be willing to keep my eyes and heart open.

I also loved this quote that reminded me of the beauty and sacredness of everyday things, often simple things that may get overlooked because of their ordinariness:

Healing looks like disciples gathered around the table, finding life through community.  Like jumping on trains, going to concerts, planting a garden, befriending a homeless man, or taking a morning walk through winter woods.  It comes in wave after wave of faithful never-ending mercy.  Tiny shoots of grass poking through thawed winter ground.  A kind word reviving a weary heart.  Food arriving, laundry disappearing and coming back clean, a bird perched on your finger, an amazing hospital chaplain, a helpful human on the other end of the medical bills phone call, a letter in the mail, a stranger buying your coffee, the beauty in your grandchild’s eyes, watching the sunset and knowing you are loved — realizing your heart is still faithfully beating. (pg. 187-188)

 

This book reminded me to look for the good things, even amidst the hard things.  To not become discouraged when things might not work out exactly as planned – but to trust in the journey that we’re on, and the process we’re undergoing, and to look for God’s hand through it all.

 

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: Loving My Actual Life

Time for another book review.  The title of this one spoke to me right where I’m at, and is something I’ve spent years trying to get better at – so I knew that I would hopefully find at least some tidbits of wisdom in it.

‘Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me’

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Without even always realizing it, I sometimes get caught up in the ‘what’s next’ mindset of thinking.  As kids, we eagerly anticipate ‘growing up’; in high school,  we can’t wait to graduate and be in university; in university, we look forward to getting to work and start our careers.  If you’re single, people ask when you’ll be married; if you’re married, people ask when you’ll have kids; if you have one kid, they’re asking for when you’ll have your next one.  Why can’t we just seem to pause and enjoy where we are in life fully, without always feeling the need to look to what’s next?  It’s been a theme of my life these past 7 years since graduating university, to learn to be content with where I am, instead of trying to rush on to the next thing.  It’s good, not always easy, but good, to settle in to a place for a while, put some roots down, and invest yourself in the place and people right in front of you.  This hasn’t been an easy lesson for me to learn – but I’ve finally seen the fruit of what this brings.  I finally feel settled and content in this place (thanks in large part to my friends, and of course, the wonderful man that I have as a part of my daily life).  I’m open to where my life may lead in the future – but for right now, I’m embracing the place and stage of life that I find myself presently in.

This book was reminiscent of Jen Hatmaker’s ‘7’ – which was a book that I loved.  While I didn’t love it was much as ‘7’, this book was an enjoyable read, and provided food for thought for how I could apply some of the same ideas to my own life.  The experiment was broken down into nine months, with each month looking on a different aspect that the writer, Alexandra Kuykendall, wanted to focus on in her life.  She worked through Quiet, Mornings, Dates (People), Health, Adventure, Home Organization, Creativity, Meals and Passions.  She’s in an entirely different stage of life than I am in (she’s a wife and mother to 4) – but I could still relate to her daily efforts to savour the little moments of her days, instead of just rushing through them.  It was a good reminder to be thankful and mindful of my present life, and the way that God is working through my everyday – through my work, and my relationships – and to not just try to rush to the ‘next thing’.

If the adventure is greatest when I watch what God is doing and join in, I must also be obedient in the non-epic moments. And recognize God is here in the quiet obedience of sitting with someone.  To not see our changed plans as a burden, something to grouch about, but another opportunity for adventure.  Because where God is, adventure is.  And he is everywhere. (pg. 115)

It is indeed easy for me to praise God when I stop and notice the details of what he has created.  It is the discipline of stopping that is key. (pg. 153)

It’s small moment after small moment that makes up the hours of our days.  Yes, these are the ones I need to pay attention to. (And give myself a little grace when they don’t go exactly as I planned.)  (pg. 189)

We live in a culture of big. Big-box stores, a thousand on-demand cable stations, big dreams.  But what if our big is found in the small?  What if we do each small thing with great passion because we can? Because we are here and we are able to and yet do it with the knowledge we can’t change the world in a day.  But we can leave our small, unique imprint on it. (pg. 199)

 

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and GrafMartin Communications, Inc.

After the Last Tear Falls

For the last 5 years, I’ve had the privilege of submitting an entry to an Advent blog published by Glen Elm Church of Christ, the church I grew up in.  I love reading along and focusing on this season with so many people that I love and respect.  It’s something I look forward to every year.  This year, the theme focused around HOPE, and these were my thoughts on HOPE for this year.

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I’ve lived in Merritt, BC for over 6 years now, and for most of those 6 years, I’ve spent my Tuesday evenings with a fun and quirky group of teenagers. Spending time with them is often the highlight of my week, and I know I’ve gained more from them over these years, than anything that I’ve given to them. We try to give them many things on Tuesday evenings – a safe place to come and ask questions about life and faith, a fun place where they can come and hang out with friends, and if nothing else, a place where they can come and have a snack. But as I look around at these kids week after week, I can see that so many of them know brokenness, hurt and pain intimately. I don’t know all their stories, and if I did, I’m sure my heart would break to know what some of them have gone through in their short lives. I wish I could wipe away all their tears, and get rid of all of the pain that has been a part of their lives, but it’s precisely because of the hurt that I see in them that I know in my heart that one of the most important things we can ever give to them is HOPE. They may not even realize that we’re trying to give it to them – but through our actions and our words, we’re trying to show them there is HOPE in this world. HOPE, through Jesus, that the brokenness you feel in your life doesn’t have to be the end of the story. HOPE for healing, for justice, for belonging.

So how can I show them this hope that we have, that we as Christians have access to? Especially at the end of a long year, and I’m weary and tired, and find it hard to even see much hope myself. How can my heart even dare to feel hopeful when we’re bombarded by brokenness on every side? Does hope even matter in these days?

While sometimes my head tries to tell me that it doesn’t, that hope is just ‘wishful thinking’, my heart knows otherwise. My heart knows that it does absolutely matter, and that we would be lost without it. The other day, I was reading a blog by one of my favourite writers, Sarah Bessey, on why Advent matters. I often find in reading other people’s words that they say something exactly the way that I wish I could, so rather then stumbling through and trying to find those words myself, it’s easier to just share what they have said. You can read the whole blog HERE (and you should!), but the words that particularly struck me on that day were these:

 But how could we possibly celebrate Advent if we are paying attention to this world?

How do we make merry when our hearts are broken by Paris, by Syria, by Kenya, by Beirut, by Japan, by Burundi? When, in response to every crisis, our communities seem splintered and divided in how to respond, and careless words are flung like rocks at our own glass houses? When, closer to home, perhaps we are lonely or bored or tired or sick or broke?

In these days, celebration can seem callous and uncaring, if not outright impossible.

But here’s the thing about Advent: we celebrate precisely because we are paying attention.

 It’s precisely because everything hurts that we prepare for Advent now.

We don’t get to have hope without having grief. Hope dares to admit that not everything is as it should be, and so if we want to be hopeful, first we have to grieve. First we have to see that something is broken and there is a reason for why we need hope to begin with.

 Advent matters because it’s our way of keeping our eyes and our hearts and our arms all wide open.

 ‘We don’t get to have hope without having grief’. It’s in times when we feel like hope is impossible, that we need it the most, and somehow through all sorts of chaos and brokenness, hope is able to spring forth.

Andrew Peterson has been a favourite musician of mine for several years. I often find his music strikes a chord within my heart, and while I can’t even always put into words what it is that touches me about his songs, I think that part of the reason is that so many of his songs have an underlying message of hope. A couple months ago, I stumbled upon this performance of one of his older songs, ‘After the Last Tear Falls’, and I knew immediately that I needed to share this as a part of this blog focused on hope this year. His words at the beginning, while somewhat specific to a particular event from a couple years ago, could just as easily be applied to us today, and the events that we’ve witnessed over the last couple months. The song just gives me hope that yes, this world is broken, and yes, hard, hard things will happen in this life, but we know that this brokenness is not the end, that one day all things will be made right. And if that doesn’t give me hope, then I’m not sure anything else can.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: The Road to Becoming

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I don’t often get these books to review on my blog … for various reasons.  One being that I don’t like to read on a schedule.  I’d much rather pick and finish a book when I’d like, and even not finish it, if it’s not one I’m enjoying, rather than feel the pressure to finish the book, in order to follow through on my obligations and post a review.  With that being said though, this book caught my eye from the list right away.  For one, there’s a suitcase on the front of the book.  Second, it’s a memoir of sorts – my favourite genre of book to read.  Third, one of the endorsements on the book is from my favourite girl, Shauna Niequist – and if she recommends it, then I can definitely take the time to read it too.  And lastly, the content of the book, as described in the subtitle ‘Rediscovering Your Life in the Not-How-I-Planned-It Moments’ seemed to be one that would resonate with me in my life right now.

While this isn’t my new favourite book ever, I did really enjoy this book.  As I said above, I love reading memoirs, and hearing people’s stories.  I connect better with stories than facts and knowledge, and even if our stories are vastly different, I often find some commonality in our stories that I can draw encouragement or wisdom from.  This story was no different.  Jenny Simmon’s story was one of dashed dreams, dead ends, and hardships that led to a season of waiting, mourning what was lost, that then ultimately led to new dreams and becoming more fully who God had made her to be.  And while my life situation looks different than Jenny’s, I think we can all appreciate the process that we go through when life hasn’t turned out just as we thought it would, but we learn to trust God through the process to make it something even better than we could have imagined in the beginning.

One of my favourite chapters was called ‘The River’, where she talks about how rivers have been significant in her journey with God.  She writes:

God meets me at rivers and shows me something about myself an something about His love that I do not seem to hear, learn or know any other way.  It is here that I am most able to fully embrace the love of God.

But she goes on to explain that everybody has their own ‘river’:

The place where you interact with Christ’s love for you, that place where you meet God time and time again — that is your river.  At the river, I am unashamed to be me.  I am free, known, accepted, and loved.  Passed over by a current strong, made smooth by the weathering of water that never runs dry, marked by the beauty of becoming something wholly unknown.  Someone Holy known.  It is here, at the river, that I am most free.  I am not alone.

And to end the chapter off, she says:

In the midst of my perpetual no knowing what comes next, I am trying to do what my friend Shauna Niequist is learning to do. “I want to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude, of groundedness, of enough, even while I’m longing for something more.  The longing and the gratitude, both.  I’m practicing believing that God knows more than I know, that he sees what I can’t, that he’s weaving a future I can’t even imagine from where I sit this morning.”

In particular, this quote from Shauna especially struck me, as I had also read that exact quote just minutes earlier, in a different book.  I think God wanted me to take note of it.  I’ve always struggled with this – learning to be content where I am, while still being able to look ahead and dream for the future – and I feel especially so in this season of my life.  I’ve been living in my current place for over 6 years now, and in some ways, I feel ready for change.  But God gently reminded me to continue to be grateful for where I am, and to trust that He does have my best interests at heart, and does have a good future planned for me.

This book reminded me that the story might not looked exactly as we had planned, but it doesn’t mean God isn’t there through the whole story.  Things don’t always go smoothly, and get wrapped up neat and tidy – but the process of the story, brings us to a place better than anything we could have planned on our own.

The end of the story isn’t dependent on the state of the dream.

The end of the story isn’t about answers and prosperity and happily-ever-afters.

The end of the story is about something more rich and beautiful and constant than dreams, which are here today and gone tomorrow.  The end of the story is about living whatever the story is well.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

‘You do you’

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There’s been a few times in my life where something – a book, a song, or even just some particular words – seems to come up multiple times, usually in a short period of time.  In conversation, maybe something recommended by a friend or an acquaintance, or even just something that I’ve found or read myself.  Sometimes, it could be easy to pass these ‘clues’ over, to never make the connection between them, and to continue happily on my way.  But if I’m paying close enough attention, I can see that these things are often God’s way of tapping me on the shoulder, and saying, ‘Pay attention to this. You have something to learn in here.’

I had one of those experiences recently.  Twice this past week, on blogs that I regularly read, a particular phrase was used.  It’s a simple enough phrase, one that likely would not have caught my attention otherwise, but because I knew that I had just read the exact same words a couple days prior, my ears were suddenly more tuned in to them.

The phrase was simply this:  YOU DO YOU.

Essentially meaning that you do what is best for you in your life, and I’ll do what is best for me in my life.  Life isn’t meant to be ‘one size fits all’.  What works for me in my life, isn’t necessarily going to work for you in yours.  And what makes my heart beat fast probably isn’t going to make yours pound in your chest as well.

Sounds simple enough, right?!

Well, yes.  But also, kind of, no.

Unfortunately, I sometimes fall into the comparison trap.  I don’t even mean to, but then all of a sudden, I’m looking around me and feeling bad or sad that I’m not married and don’t have any kids.  I feel guilty that I have time and money to be spending on myself, without having to worry about being responsible to a husband or kids.  Or on the other side, a nasty pride can sometimes slip in, and I feel superior to others for the path that my life has taken in comparison to theirs.  Yuck.  I hate to even admit that these feelings can pass through my mind.

But I don’t think I’m alone in these thoughts.  We all tend to look around at others, wishing that we were where they are, while thanking our lucky stars that we aren’t back where those other people are.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think it’s wrong to look back on where we’ve come from, and feel grateful for where we are now and for the lessons that we’ve learned along the way.  And I also don’t think it’s bad to dream about what still lies ahead.  In fact, I love to dream!  I’m always dreaming (usually about where my next trip should be – ha!) But what I’ve learned from this simple phrase, YOU DO YOU, is that I don’t ever want to put a box around life, saying, ‘this, this is how life is meant to be lived, this is how it’s best lived and appreciated.’  I want to live in that sweet spot, where I am ever-so-grateful for my own life and the journey that it’s been, but also able to look around at everyone around me and see that they’re living their best life too, even though it might not look anything like mine.

YOU DO YOU. And that’s more than enough.  Lesson learned for this week.

And because you might find some further inspiration in the actual words that inspired me to write, here are excerpts and links to the actual posts that tapped my shoulders this week and caused me to pay closer attention:

From Tsh Oxenreider on ‘The Art of Simple’:

So what’s the solution, then, to making the “best” choices for your family, and therefore eliminating the other options? …

It’s this: you do you. …

Here’s the deal: all of us doing us is a beautiful thing. We’re doing who we’re made to be, and we’re confident in who we are. We don’t feel the need to justify our choices. We’re focused on our own yards instead of either criticizing our neighbor for watering hers differently or wishing our grass looked like theirs. We’re in love with the patch we’ve been given to cultivate. …

So next time you’re weighed down with too many options, too much life clutter, too many question marks about what you should do, remember this: be you. Do you. Honor how you were made with that freeing agenda.

By Hannah Brencher:

If I had written this post a year ago, before I even packed to move, I probably would have tried to jam the idea of suitcases down your throat. I would have told you that you need to be brave. You need to leave. You need to heave yourself straight out of your comfort zone with no map and no manual.

I don’t feel that way anymore. You don’t have to go anywhere if you don’t want to. Some people want adventure. Some people want roots. Some people want an escape. Some people want a treasure hunt. We all want different things that keep us coming and going and staying and living. It’s better to just say, “You do you. You be your own manual. You be your own compass with the help of God that you want– the portion size you’ll take of Him. But I won’t preach at you with a suitcase in my hand. We all have our reasons for staying and leaving, and that’s just fine.”

I only say that because I’ve sat at a table across from my mother and she has said to me, “Not everyone wants what you want.” And I was forced to swallow hard and see her truth as truth– not everyone wants to get out. Some of us are wanderers. Some of us are fine where our feet are. Some of us wander in the hopes that our feet will finally whisper, “Stay right here. Here is where you need to stay.”

Staying is just as remarkable as leaving if you learn to white-knuckle-grip the perspective that lets you look at life and think, “We’re all going to find our way to gold. I believe that. I hope for that. We’re all going to make it out okay.” 

The Beauty of Grace

For several years now, I’ve been an avid blog reader.  I can’t even remember how I found most of them to begin with, but I have a whole list of favourites that I read regularly. The ‘voices’ on these blogs, many of them women, have become trusted speakers of truth into my life, even though I know none of them in person.  Many of these women – Shauna Niequist, Jen Hatmaker, Emily Freeman, Tsh Oxenreider, Sarah Bessey, Nish Weiseth, Ann Voskamp, just to name a few – have started to feel like ‘friends’, as I read their words week after week on their blogs, and especially in their books.  So many of my very favourite books, from the last couple years and even ever, have been written by these women.

So when I had a chance to receive a book to review, filled with short stories written by some of the women listed above, and many others as well, I jumped at the opportunity.  ‘The Beauty of Grace’ is a collection of ‘stories of God’s love from today’s most popular writers’, edited by Dawn Camp.

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I enjoyed the little snippets of stories, covering topics such as PURPOSE, SURRENDER, TRUST and HOPE & ENCOURAGEMENT.  I appreciate these women’s willingness to share parts of their stories, and it encourages and reminds me of the power of sharing our words and our stories with others.  Too often, I don’t share my words and stories, because I let that little lie that they’re not important, and that I don’t have the right words to share them, talk me out of it.  But the truth is that my story matters, and my words matter – and these short stories from a whole array of women helped remind me of that.

While I enjoyed many of the stories, I did find it hard to really get into the book, and found it difficult to sit down and read for long periods of time.  The stories were all quite short, and they were all written by different writers, so there was no overarching story, or consistent voice throughout the book.  While that doesn’t take away from the value of the individual stories, it made it hard for me to become really engaged deeply with the book.  I think it would work well to read as a daily encouragement or devotional, and in returning to this book in the future, that is probably how I would approach it, rather than trying to read large chunks of it in one sitting.

One of my favourite stories from the book was called ‘On Living a Good Story’ by Laura Parker, and I think it speaks well to what I was saying about this book reminding me that my story matters, even if it doesn’t seem like a big, important story while I’m living it:

One of the greatest lies we can believe about our life is that if it doesn’t have the setting and the scenes of a summer blockbuster then it’s not really that valuable, seeped in God-reality, or the stuff of epic goodness.  And that has to be a lie, right?

Because Mary didn’t set out to be Jesus’ mother.  And Peter was just fishing with his buddies.  And I can’t see Gandhi or Mother Teresa clawing for the spotlight at any point.  Those dramatic stories just naturally played out; I’m not so sure they were sought out, from the opening scenes, when the boat first shoved off the dock.

Maybe it’s me.  Maybe I’m the one splitting hairs that don’t really matter all that much anyway, but as I sit and think about my own story and the living of it, I wonder if I haven’t gotten a little too caught up in a quest for drama.  I wonder if I haven’t followed my own idea of a Good Story, assuming that a Good Story has to be Hollywood, on par with with Braveheart or The Last of the Mohicans or Titanic.

Because while it’s true that no one wants to order popcorn and watch a two-hour depiction of a single mom working two jobs, checking her kid’s homework, forgiving the guy who abused her, slipping an extra ten into the offering plate, and cleaning toilets on a Saturday morning, maybe that life has more of the making of a Good Story than we realize.

Or embrace.

I’m always grateful for any words that remind me to embrace and savour my own story, and this book helped remind me of the beauty in doing exactly that.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

WONDER

This past fall, I spent three weeks travelling in Europe.  One of those weeks was spent biking with some family members through Switzerland, Germany and Austria, one week I spent visiting friends in Germany, and one week I returned to one of my favourite places, Estonia, to visit friends and show my parents around a place that has played a significant role in my life over the past 10 years.  It was a fantastic trip for so many reasons, and I have many fun memories from each place that I visited.

On one evening during our bike trip, we stayed in the town of Hochst, Austria.  Just across the street from our hotel was this church, and we all wandered inside to look around.  We nearly ended up getting locked inside (which is funny now, but we didn’t find it so amusing at the time!) – but before that, we had the whole building to ourselves, and wandered up and down its aisles, admiring the beauty found there.  My Uncle Dave took the picture of me seen below, unbeknownst to me as I wandered, and it has become one of my favourite pictures from the trip.

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There’s several things I like about this picture – the simplicity of it being in black & white, the shadows cast by the pews in the aisle, its symmetry.  But one of my favourite things about it is simply this: my posture.  I’m looking up, taking in my surroundings, and marvelling at the beauty of this building.  By no means was this the most amazing building I’ve ever set foot in, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worthwhile to look up in wonder and awe at what surrounded me.

And this posture – of looking up in awe and wonder – is how I want to live my life.  I don’t want to go through life only focused on the ground directly in front of me.  I want to look up and marvel at this world – whether that be a beautiful building, or a majestic mountain, or a stunning sunset – and my own life.  Regardless of what might be directly on the ground in front of me – both literally and figuratively – I don’t want to be focused only on that, and miss something beautiful that could be there, if I just turn my eyes up a bit higher.  I never want to lose my sense of wonder.

I feel like, in its own way, choosing to wonder, must bring God joy, as He sees us finding joy in His creation.  He’s made us this way, and I think He wants us to find joy and beauty in our lives and in our surroundings.

I read the quote below a couple weeks ago, and I was still thinking about it a couple days later.  I think it says well what I’m trying to say here about wonder.

We must not cease to wonder at the great marvels of our God.  It would be very difficult to draw a line between holy wonder and real worship; for when the soul is overwhelmed with the majesty of God’s glory, though it may not express itself in song, or even utter its voice with bowed head in humble prayer, yet it silently adores.  Let your soul lose itself in wonder, for wonder is in this way a very practical emotion.  Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship and heartfelt thanksgiving.  You will be moved at the same time to glorious hope.

– C.H. Spurgeon

West Coast Wanderings

Last summer, I headed to the east coast for the first time.  It was a great trip, and I loved seeing the Maritime provinces!  Now this summer, I had the opportunity to do some more exploring, but this time, a bit closer to home, along the west coast.  In early July, with my parents, and Jonathan & Sarah, we made our way from Vancouver down to Seattle, then Portland, along the Oregon Coast, and into northern California to see some of the coastal redwood forest, before making our way back to Canada.  It was a great trip – we had fantastic weather, explored some great places, saw some stunning scenery, and made lots of fun memories together.

Aside from Seattle (which my parents had been to before), it was all new territory for all of us, so it was fun to see these places for the first time together.  The beauty of the coast, and the sound of the ocean never grows old for me – so I soaked up my days spent driving along the water, with a stunning new vista around every turn.  Definitely good for my soul! 🙂

Here’s a few of the highlights from our trip:

IMG_8252Pike Place Market, Seattle

IMG_4887Gum wall in Post Alley

IMG_4913Rachel the pig at Pike Place Market

IMG_8247Coffee at the original Starbucks

ChihulyGardenAndGlass_Seattle-2182227-5753484-624-HBeautiful art at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle

SpaceNeedle_Seattle-2186540-5757574-942-HThis is one of those cheesy tourist pictures … but it makes me giggle, because Jonathan was wearing a green shirt, and thus, just kind of disappeared into the background with the green screen

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At the top of the Seattle Space Needle

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Chihuly Garden and GlassIMG_5016About to ride the Columbia River Gorge highway to Multnomah FallsIMG_8260Multnomah FallsIMG_8270A highlight in Portland for me – exploring Powell’s Books (which takes up an entire city block, and has 4 floors). I think I could have spent a couple days in here.IMG_8258Happiness in Powell’s BooksIMG_8272Getting some delicious donuts at Blue Star Donuts!IMG_5079Cannon BeachIMG_8286 IMG_5082 IMG_5086 IMG_2618 IMG_5114 IMG_8355Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, OregonIMG_8356 IMG_8339 IMG_5155 IMG_5264 IMG_5218Sea Lion Caves, OregonIMG_5257 IMG_5295 IMG_5304We met a few ‘cruel fates’ along our trip as well!IMG_5289Drove through a tree in California!

IMG_5323Fun times exploring the California coastal redwoodsIMG_8473 IMG_5374 IMG_5385 IMG_5391Cooling off at a river in Oregon, en route to Crater LakeIMG_2680Beautiful Crater LakeIMG_5403Along the rim of Crater Lake

IMG_5408Setting out to cycle the rim of Crater LakeIMG_5476

I’m really thankful for these days spent with my family!  It’s always great to spend time together, and I can’t wait for my next trip with them!

Life Lessons from the Gran Fondo

735725-1008-0007sOne year ago, I was spending my weekends and any other spare moments, preparing for the Gran Fondo in Banff.  For those of you that don’t know, a Gran Fondo is basically a marathon for cyclists, and in my particular case, I was preparing to cycle 144-km from Banff to Lake Louise and back, on the Bow Valley Parkway.

Looking back on my decision to ride the Gran Fondo last year, I know it was one of the best ‘spur-of-the-moment’ decisions I’ve made, and I feel like I learned some valuable lessons from it.  So, in honour of the one-year anniversary of completing the Gran Fondo Banff, I give you some life lessons that have come from it:

735722-1002-0025s1. Sometimes life is surprising.  I’ve always enjoyed riding a bike.  But three years ago, I never would have thought I’d own a road bike, and enjoy cycling so much, let alone actually wear a pair of padded bike shorts!  I had never heard of a Gran Fondo until two years ago, and it was only at that time that I added it to my ‘bucket list’, to be completed ‘someday’ in the future.  I never would have guessed that within a year, I’d be checking that item off my list!  Just another reminder that life is constantly changing, and that sometimes, it’s just best to let it surprise you, and see what it brings your way.

735727-1036-0006s2. I can do hard things.  This isn’t a new lesson.  I strive to take risks and do hard things in my day-to-day life.  I’ve never been one to crave a life of comfort – I want to look back at my life and know that I didn’t always take the easy road, but tried to stretch myself and push myself, even if it’s not comfortable.  But sometimes, it can be easy to slip into a ‘comfortable’ routine, where you keep putting off things that you want to do until ‘someday’.  I don’t want to reach the end of my life, and realize that I never did anything, as I waited for that ‘someday’ to arrive.  I want to make the most of my days now, not the elusive someday.  Riding and completing the Gran Fondo was a good reminder of this for me, and I’m glad that I pushed myself, and accomplished a goal.

735728-1044-0040s3. Sometimes, you don’t need a lot of time to make things happen.  You just need to make a decision, and then follow through with it.  I trick myself into thinking that in order for something to move forward or work out, I need to have an abundance of time, and everything lined up neatly in place.  But, sometimes you just need to make a decision and take the first step forward.  I only decided to ride the Gran Fondo just over two months before the actual ride, and bought my road bike one month out from the ride.  It would have been easy to say that I couldn’t do it, because there wasn’t enough time to prepare adequately.  Preparation is good, no doubt, but I think I rob myself of so many opportunities just because I don’t feel prepared enough.  But who ever feels prepared enough?  By pushing through, allowing myself to learn on-the-go, and giving myself the grace to possibly fail, I learn more lessons than I would from sitting on the sidelines and waiting until I feel ready.

4. Look up.  We started riding around 7 AM from downtown Banff, and the first stretch of our ride was out towards Lake Minnewanka.  As we were riding, I remember being stunned by the beauty of the sun rising over the tops of the mountains.  Had I just kept my focus on the pavement directly in front of me, I would have missed this entirely.  While it is important to stay focused on what is right in front of you (both in cycling and life), there’s a lot we’ll miss if we never look up.  Sometimes, we just need to lift our eyes a bit, and see the big picture.  Often, it’s a pretty beautiful sight!

735725-1017-0003s5. We all need cheerleaders in life.  I remember getting choked up by the spectators along the route, who came out to cheer everyone on, not to mention having my parents cheer us on from every possible point along the route that they could.  It makes a difference.  Having people behind you and beside you, saying ‘good job’ and ‘you can do this’ makes a big, big difference.  Surround yourself with people who believe in you, and cheer you on.

IMG_73066. Most things are better when shared with those you love.  Could I have completed the Gran Fondo on my own?  Absolutely.  Would it have been half as much fun?  Definitely not.  Basically, it would have just been a really long bike ride, giving me a mild sense of accomplishment for completing it.  The thing that made the Gran Fondo so memorable was that we all did it together.  We rode it together, finished it together, and we all shared that same feeling of accomplishment from completing it.  Life is so much richer when you’re doing things side-by-side with those you love most.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: Atlas Girl

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Memoirs, and particularly spiritual memoirs, have become one of my favourite genres of books to read.  In the last year, I’ve devoured books by Anne Lamott, Lauren Winner, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Addie Zierman, just to name a few.  I find it powerful and encouraging to read pieces of another person’s story, and while our overall stories may be vastly different, I can almost always find pieces of my own story in their story as well, ‘me too’ moments, when I realize that I wasn’t the only person who felt that way.

So, when I had the chance to receive a copy of Emily Wierenga’s new book, Atlas Girl, in exchange for writing a review on my blog, I jumped at the opportunity.  I’ve read pieces of Emily’s writing at various places around the internet the last couple years, so she wasn’t a brand new name to me, but I was still curious to read more about her story.

Emily’s story did not disappoint.  I became wrapped up in her story, spanning across Canada and around the world.  A story of her struggle with an eating disorder, of dealing with her mother’s deteriorating health, of her marriage, and becoming a mother, and the finding of faith through it all.  Like I said before, my story is very different from hers, but I could identify with so many different parts of her story.

It seemed fitting that I read this book while I was on a road trip myself.  My copy arrived a couple days before I left for a holiday down the Oregon Coast and into northern California with my family, so I read Emily’s words as I drove through beautiful new scenery, and soaked up exploring new places.  I was wrapped up in her story, but it also gave me a chance to think more about my story, particularly as I was nearing my 30th birthday, taking stock of the ‘places’ of been, and where my future may take me.

I think part of the reason I identified so much with Emily’s story is because my story is also woven across many different places – from Saskatchewan to Ontario to BC, to Africa and Estonia.  I can’t separate myself from those places – they all play a crucial part of who I am.  But like Emily, I’m not solely defined by these places.  I’m defined by who I am in God, regardless of where my journey in life takes me.  I’ve thought a lot about the concept of ‘home’ in the last couple years, feeling like I have lots of different ‘homes’, but struggling to feel at ‘home’ since I feel divided between all these different places.  This quote sums it up well:

I know God is here in the nature and the people, but more than that, he is within me.  The kingdom of heaven is where I belong.  It is where all my journeys have been taking me.  And no place on earth can match the welcome that is found in God’s arms.

pg. 222

One of my favourite themes throughout the book was Emily learning how God takes care of us.  At different times, she hears God whisper to her, ‘watch me take care of you’, but as most of us are prone to do, she sometimes has difficulties trusting Him to provide for her through everything.  Yet, He was always faithful to provide for her and those she loves.  Some of my favourite quotes relate to this:

Watch me take care of you.  God’s voice is a whisper as I work in the garden. …

What does it look like, when God takes care of you? Does it look like me sobbing into my pillow because it’s one of those days when I realize I’m not strong enough to save my mother? Does it look like manuscripts rejected, paintings uninspired, birds eating the raspberries in our garden, and the brokenhearted world weeping outside my window?
Perhaps it looks like rain on dusty soil.
Like the International Justice Mission, freeing victims of injustice.
Like the tomatoes, carrots, zucchini that weren’t attacked by the birds.
Like the poem on my blog that connects me with a complete stranger across the waters.
Like my husband, who, when we’re together, asks me what he can do to make me happy.
Like the mornings mom isn’t fuzzy and wants desperately to have a cup of tea with me.
Perhaps that’s what it looks like when God takes care of us.
So I take it in strides.  Life.
I’m learning to wake up and anticipate moments instead of fretting over the entire day.  I’m leaning to relax, because if something’s meant to get done, it will, and if not, it wasn’t.  I’m learning to live in community and to create, because for me, that makes life meaningful.  We were born to create.  We are creators in his image.
The world may not be perfect, but we can make it seem perfect for the people we love.  Home is where the heart and heaven reside, collide, and inscribe themselves on us.

pg. 123-124

And this one, when she finds out she is pregnant again, after struggling through a miscarriage:

I know then that God is good in spite of evil, that we are going to be okay.  That he does give good gifts, and he does turn ashes into beauty, mourning into comfort.  He is the author of all things redeemed, and this child is a prayer that is being answered.

But the thing about God is, he sees the big picture.  And that big picture is framed by grace and it includes us in it, and he cares more about refining our character and our spirits than he does about acknowledging our feelings.  So sometimes he risks us not liking him for the sake of the bigger picture.  For the better picture.

pg. 221

All in all, I really enjoyed Atlas Girl.  It was an easy, enjoyable read, and the themes of faith and home resonated greatly with me.  I can’t wait to read more of Emily’s writing.

 

“Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books , a division of Baker Publishing Group”.