Book Review · Devotional · faith · Life Lessons + Books · poetry · Uncategorized

Hustle or Rest?

For the past couple of weeks, I have seen conflicting messages on social media about how we should spend our time during COVID-19. People are telling us to “seize the day,” and become better, faster, stronger, and happier during this current season. Basically, do ALL the things; and if we don’t do ALL thing things then maybe we never really wanted to do them after all. Others are encouraging us to slow down. They remind us that we aren’t meant to hustle all the time; we should take this time rest and savor. Basically, stop trying to fill every single hour with something. I can see the value of both perspectives. I have made a mental list of ways I can make this prolonged time at home more useful. Organize that closet, clean out my pantry, etc. Other times, I want to take part in the world’s slowing down. Read a book, or put my hands to work on a puzzle or craft, with a generous mug of tea or glass of wine. Spend more time in prayer and reflection. To allow myself to rest and just BE. To enjoy living life.

So, which is it?

Which is the best course of action for us to leave our time of quarantine less frazzled than when we came into it? Do we take advantage of the flexible schedule and hustle, or do we linger and allow ourselves to feel the shift and process all that it means?

Friend, I think the answer is to do whatever feels right in your heart for you to do.

Tune out the shouting voices of the world and listen for the still small voice to guide you. 

If you feel a quickening in your spirit that NOW is the time to move towards fulfilling your purpose, then seize the opportunity. Work hard, but set boundaries to include things you love to do. If you have been feeling frayed around the edges for much too long, then now is the time for you to rest guilt free, friend. Allow yourself to breathe, allow yourself to be loved by God, trusting in His love in all seasons.

Truthfully, regardless of whether or not you find this to be a hustle season or a rest season, moving the needle towards more balance is a healthy goal. (Keep in mind that balance does not mean a perfect schedule.) The LAST thing that any of us needs during a global pandemic is to have a massive guilt trip about productivity. Friends, let’s not put any more pressure on ourselves than we would if there wasn’t a stay at home order. This has nothing to do with laziness, but it does point us to Sabbath.

I listen to the BEMA Podcast hosted by Marty Solomon and Brent Billings, and it examines the Bible within historical and cultural contexts. I love the definition of Sabbath presented in one of the earliest episodes: “we rest, we play, no work, God loves us.” They reminds listeners that God loves us regardless of circumstances, accomplishments, or even an ordered life. I love this. How often do we think that God’s love for us is based upon what we do or how much we accomplish? How wonderful to be reminded of the truth that we are loved simply for being His beloved.

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Today you and I have a choice:

We can stop,

Be still and breathe.

Rest with Jesus and hear him whisper,

Be beloved, not busy. Come away with me. Today. – Day Three, Whispers of Rest by Bonnie Gray

This week’s encouraging read is Whispers of Rest: 40 Days of God’s Love to Revitalize Your Soul, by Bonnie Gray.  Whether you are in a quiet season due to stay at home orders or continuing to work, this devotional will invite you on a journey of resting in God’s presence without agenda. Beautifully written, Whispers of Rest walks us through forty days of unhurried experience in becoming the beloved of Christ. This devotion is unique in that each day is composed of a scripture and passage reading, reflection questions to apply the Word to your life, and a prayer. Bonnie also includes Soul Care Tips that invite rest and increase joy. I especially love the prompts to enjoy nature and art. It was nice to read that looking at photographs of happy memories can increase our joy in the present. Although I’d already read this book a while back, I recently decided to pick it up again for a second read. I can’t wait to slow down and receive spiritual, emotional, and physical rest.

So go forth and dream, if that’s what your heart is calling you to do. Whatever you choose, choose to rest in God, knowing that we are His beloved, regardless of our output or accomplishments during this time.

You are loved.

 

Book Review · faith · Life Lessons + Books · Transition/Change · Uncategorized · Year in Review

Home is Where the Heart Is

Hello, world! I’m back! Did you miss me?!

I certainly missed being here with you. I am excited to return to my corner of the world where I can share my stories, good reads, and encouragement. So grab your cup of tea (or coffee!) and join me for an update.

The past year and a half has been a whirlwind, to say the least. The last time I wrote was shortly after relocating back to Memphis, and I was reflecting over the past year. Relocating proved to be a bittersweet and, at times, challenging experience. Four months in, I was adjusting to a new job, crashing temporarily on my mom’s couch, and acclimating to a new city culture (Regardless of what people say, DC may be south of the Mason-Dixon line, but it certainly ain’t the South!). The safety net of my community of fourteen years, and my beloved church family were behind me. I went from a place where I was loved and known to a place where I’d need to build new relationships from scratch, aside from family and a couple of friends.

For those first few months, all I could think about was what I’d lost, what I’d left behind. I’d start looking for a favorite book, or an engraved spoon, some trinket that held sentimental value to me. A book that I just knew I would never give away was not there. I would frantically search the boxes for it again. Then, I’d remember. I’d given it to a good friend, donated it to goodwill, or, simply forgotten to pack it and left it behind in the furnished apartment. It may sound silly, crying over an object as small as a spoon or a book. But when you have left everything behind, sometimes it is the little things that bring comfort and make a place feel like home.

The grief of loss was so heavy on me that I could not fully celebrate the new beginning I was being given. Make no mistake – I love my family dearly, and I am so happy to be closer to them. I can actually attend my nephew’s special school events, and be here for all the family fun. One of the best times this year was celebrating my mom’s birthday and retirement. SO thankful that I could be here for this day, one that I have prayed for many times!

I knew this move was God’s plan based on how everything worked out so quickly (talk about a testimony!). In talking with friends and mentors, I was encouraged to stop going through the motions of life, to put my heart into Memphis. And so I have. They said that these things take time, and so they did. What they say is true: home is where the heart is, and my heart is in Memphis. The grief of lost things has subsided, friendships are being rekindled and new ones forming. I am active in my new church home, and life is moving forward. I am excited and expectant for what the future holds. Now, I realize that sometimes for even deeper healing and growth, we have to go back to where our story begins. Even if that means walking into the unexpected – which leads to my book recommendation of the week.

 

Unexpected

Unexpected: Leave Fear Behind, Move Forward in Faith, Embrace the Adventure by Christine Caine is a book about dealing with life as it comes, especially when something happens that we didn’t see coming. We can all relate to this right now. I read this book with Propel Book Club last year, and it was so encouraging. In light of our current unexpected times, it felt only right to recommend this book to you too.  Christine Caine covers multiple facets of the unexpected, such as when the unexpected brings fear, disappoints, requires risk, or interrupts. Armed with scripture, she walks us through how we can handle unexpected situations and emerge stronger. In the chapter “When the Unexpected Brings Fear,” Caine writes, “perhaps in the days in which we live, we can confound people by responding in faith instead of fear, by letting our lights shine so bright that they dispel all the darkness around us.”  Friends, now is the time for us to let our lights shine and push back the darkness.

Wherever you are on your journey, regardless of your current situation, I pray that you are able to face this unexpected season with faith, courage, and boldness, and that you come out stronger on the other side. May God grant you peace, give you hope for the future, and restore all that has been lost. On the difficult days, just remember: these things take time. This too shall pass.

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#OneWord365 · Uncategorized · Year in Review

Finding the Joy {in Pictures}

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Joy. That was my #oneword365 for 2018. I sat in the bathtub on New Year’s Eve trying to remember what it was.

I’ve been choosing one word to guide my year since 2014, and not once had I reached year’s end without being able to recall which word I had chosen that year.

Gosh. Where had I gotten off track?

I remember choosing the word and not really telling more than a couple of friends. I chose a one year devotional about how to find joy everyday. Maybe somewhere deep down I felt like it was doomed from the start. Unhappy with my current season, things seemed to get worse instead of better. Where would I find joy?

One prompt of the journal was to interview others on what joy meant to them. I asked my person, and she said joy, to her, meant “deep seated happiness.” I didn’t understand what she meant, and I didn’t ask.

I never made it past the three or four month mark in the devotional.

Fast forward several months later, less than two hours before the New Year, I struggled to process whether or not “deep seated happiness” had shown up in my year. At that moment I remembered something from one of my favorite devotionals, Whispers of Rest by Bonnie Gray. She mentioned that looking at pictures from the past has been shown to lift one’s mood. I thought if I reviewed my pictures from the past year I could get a sense of where the joy may have shown up in 2018.

So I picked up my phone, and as I (carefully) reclined in the hot water, I scrolled as far back as I could go in 2018 in pictures.

As I looked at all my pictures – at all of the life I lived these past 12 months – I saw it.

 

Not always a loud and in your face joy. But I found joy in the little (and sometimes big) moments of my life that I shared with those around me. Many of them were not even public or publicized events, but I felt the joy just reflecting on the moments that I captured.

I remembered the bittersweet and painful moments too. Those were not absent by far in 2018. By mid year my stress and anxiety had reached an all time high, and I cried out to God wondering where the answers were to all my questions.

Even still, I found the joy of the Lord, present and active in my life. Waiting for me to acknowledge it.

I found it while celebrating with and being celebrated by my beloved community over coffees, dinners, and bonfires. In framily reunions that spanned airports, states, and continents.

I also saw evidence of joy in the random moments on the stoop talking with my neighbors, and playing with their dogs, and later in sharing my neighboring story with others in my church.

I welcomed joy with open arms when my niece (who we thought was a nephew – SURPRISE!) was born, and when I finally got to meet her in Ghana!

 

Even in saying goodbye to a home I’ve loved for 18 years, there was joy to be found – the joy of a season well lived and well loved.

And finally, I found that joy has also been part of my journey as I rediscover my hometown, my family, and myself.

When I found the joy this New Year’s Eve, I cried. I thanked God for joy. Even when it isn’t apparent and we have to search it out. Everyday life moments are filled to the brim with joy – if we open ourselves to it.

2018 taught me to take the leap and build wings on the way down. 2019, I look forward to catching the wind and flying high.

Cheers to a new year, with new opportunities to search out the joy. I hope you find it too, friend. Just keep looking.

 

Book Launch · Guest Post

GUEST POST: When Your Perfect Plan Doesn’t Pan Out – and Why That Might Be a Good Thing

Today’s blog post is my first guest post! It’s written by none other than Jennifer Dukes Lee, author of It’s All Under Control Book. For the past month I’ve been on her book launch team, and I’m excited that today is book release day! Check out what Jennifer says about when our plans fail.

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Back when I was a news reporter, I wrote a four-day series of articles on the state of rural America.

I capped the series with a personal essay that said, in no uncertain terms, that rural life held nothing for me, even though I had grown up there. I had my own plans—and they would unfold in a city, end of story. Well, let me tell how that turned out. Right now, the view from my kitchen window is a farm.

Yep, I am the wife of an Iowa farmer. We’re raising corn, soybeans, pigs, … and two beautiful humans. This is also where God raised up my faith.

God planted me in a place I never wanted, and that’s where I found what I really needed. From tiny seeds, my faith grew. This is the part of the world where Jesus captured my wandering heart. I shudder to think what would have happened if my take-charge self had steamrolled her way toward her own plans rather than surrendering to his.

Today, I’m wearing a baseball T-shirt screen-printed with the words “Keeping It Rural.” God willing, I’ll be “keeping it rural” and keeping it real for many years to come on this patch of Iowa. But I know that I don’t get to decide any of that. It’s “all under control,” and that control is not mine.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21). Let that verse fall upon your heart today.

What are your plans? Do you ever sense that your plans don’t always perfectly align with God’s?

As you consider your plans, I offer these gentle words: Tend your seeds wherever they may fall, my friend. You never know what might be growing, even now, in unexpected places.

When we live surrendered to God, we don’t have to stop making plans. Instead, we hold those plans loosely. We may look into the rearview mirror one day and be relieved that our well-laid plans never came to pass.

Let me give you an example.

A few months ago, I found an old prayer journal that I kept for many years. I’d written down names and just enough details so that when I looked back on it, I remembered afresh what I had prayed for. I flipped through the pages to find evidence of broken marriages, severe illnesses, addictions, betrayals, prodigal sons. There were prayers for new jobs, church moves, and absurdly bold dreams.

With the gift of hindsight, I can see the hand of God. He moved some mountains just the way I asked him to, and he moved some mountains farther than I thought possible.

I also saw that he didn’t move every mountain. He didn’t part every sea. He didn’t fulfill my every desire and bless my every plan. And some of that stings. There are still unresolved conflicts, great unknowns, and ginormous “whys” when I turn the pages in my prayer journal.

But through this journey, there are four things I’m beginning to believe about our prayers and our plans:

1.     Not a single second is wasted when we take our plans and desires before the Lord.

2.     We will never regret praying bigger than we dared think was possible—the kind of prayer that a smiling God might remark about when we get to heaven: “Wow, child. You remember what you prayed for way back when? That was one ambitious prayer!”

3.     We will someday thank God that he didn’t always do what we wanted.

4.     He won’t move every mountain. He won’t part every sea. But we can trust him still. One day, his plan will make total sense. “As for God, his way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30).

May these words encourage you as you hold on to your plans, and seek God for his.

BIO: Jennifer Dukes Lee is the wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, and an author. She loves queso and singing too loudly to songs with great harmony. Once upon a time, she didn’t believe in Jesus. Now, He’s her CEO. Jennifer’s newest book, It’s All Under Control,and a companion Bible study, are releasing today! This is a book for every woman who is hanging on tight and trying to get each day right―yet finding that life often feels out of control and chaotic.

Adapted from It’s All under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible by Jennifer Dukes Lee, releasing this fall from Tyndale House Publishers.

Book Review · Life Lessons + Books · Love & Relationships · poetry · Uncategorized

Review: HIM by Pierre Alex Jeanty

HIM

Today is a much anticipated day! If you’ve been following me on Instagram over the past several weeks, you’ll know how excited I’ve been to share my review of HIM – Pierre Alex Jeanty’s newest non-fiction poetry book that releases tomorrow. (I received a free copy of the book to review for the release).

Pierre writes about his journey through manhood and relationships. In his own words, Jeanty wants to “inspire men to become better, and to be a voice of hope to women who have lost faith in good men.” In a world that degrades women, he speaks words of life, value, and appreciation that go far beyond the physical. Where society works overtime to present men in a one-dimensional light, Jeanty’s writing adds flesh to the bare bones that the world would have us believe about men. Through sharing his journey, he opens the door for us to see a multi-faceted view of men – one filed with great depth, richness, and breathtaking vulnerability.

HIM is not as different from HER as the mirror of society paints it for their eyes to see… – Pierre Alex Jeanty, HIM click to tweet

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HIM is a compilation of poems that honors men and their stories, their perspectives, their voices.  I love the inscription on the back, “There are words in his heart.” After reading two of Jeanty’s other books, Unspoken Feelings of a Gentleman and To the Women I Once Loved, I couldn’t wait to read HIM. I received my copy of the book just before I went on my family vacation, which was perfect timing. As I started the book, I decided to pace myself. The poems vary in length, and it can be easy to read many of them in one sitting. I wanted to take my time with it and give each poem the space it deserved, and give myself time to process all of the feelings that came with it: hope, pride, joy, sadness, and even conviction.

Love isn’t always the easiest thing to harvest. If this truth has settled in your veins already, you must not act blind to the contradictions that are swirling in your breath when you’ve grown angry at him for not being in love with you so soon. You can’t just shake a growing tree saying, “I am a good woman,” and expect fruits of love to fall. How many seasons did yours have to endure before it bore a harvest?

-Pierre Jeanty, HIM

One unexpected result of reading HIM (and other books by Jeanty) is that it encouraged me to pray for my future husband in an entirely different way. It challenges my thinking. Relationships are so complex, and Jeanty’s writing does a great job of capturing that complexity. I am hopeful – that what I and so many singles have been looking for – is out there, and that communication and vulnerability are possible. Pierre Jeanty has a way with words, and his words have the ability to bring healing, if you let them. I highly recommend this and other of Jeanty’s books to anyone who is in a relationship or seeking to be in one. I think it would also be a great conversation piece between couples. Simply put, I am so glad that I discovered HIM! I think you will be too.

I want to apologize to the men who the boy in me once mocked for being too loving, for holding onto their virginity, for having pure hearts, for valuing commitment; for befriending vulnerability, for being loyal to one woman. Only fools find reasons to mock the softness of men and the voice of love on their tongues. – Pierre Alex Jeanty, HIM

To learn more about HIM, and Pierre Jeanty’s other works, please visit his website here or find him sharing his writing on Instagram. See below for details on the upcoming book tour!

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HIM is available for pre-order on his website, and will be released on August 16, 2018 where books are sold!

 

 

Life Lessons + Books · National Book Lovers Day · Uncategorized

National Book Lovers Day: Favorite Books

Happy National Book Lovers Day! {This post was supposed to go live earlier today, but I got distracted by all the things – including a trip to the local library for more books!}

There’s no better way to celebrate National Book Lovers Day than by sharing one of my favorite books with you!

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There are years that ask questions, and years that answer. – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

In high school, I remember reading different coming of age stories (and let’s be real – sometimes the Cliff Notes). I don’t think I even finished chapter one of Catcher in the Rye, though I do remember painfully drudging through The Awaking, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and The Grapes of Wrath (whose ending I’ll never forget).

At the time, the assigned book list felt unnecessary and awkward; in retrospect I realize I never felt any connection with the characters. As in life, a connection with the characters and the story is just as important in the books we come to love, which is why representation matters. In no way am I saying these are not great classic novels that we can learn from – they just didn’t resonate with me.

Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves. – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

But I remember reading Their Eyes, and the connection was instant. I didn’t just read it – I inhaled it like precious air for my lungs. I loved reading about Janie’s awakening, which seemed to jump off of the page and speak to my own life. Maybe because I read it during a time in my life where I, too, was learning how to become independent and find my way in the world. I really do believe books can have a timing that makes their impact even greater.

Janie’s first dream was dead so she became a woman. – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

One of my favorite quotes from any book, Their Eyes made me consider – what does it mean to have a dream, and for that dream to die? What does it mean to be a woman – in your own eyes as opposed to someone else’s? What does it mean to be independent and free? As a “questioner” who asks all the things, Their Eyes is one of my favorite books to re-read and ponder. This is a great classic work about a woman becoming through her search for love and life on her own terms. If you haven’t yet, grab a copy and give it a read!

What’s one of your favorite books, and how did it change your life? Share in the comments!

Life Lessons + Books · Uncategorized

Propel Book Club: Unexpected

Hey guys! I am popping in briefly to share about a book club that starts on Monday. In case you’re interested I wanted to make sure you had plenty of time to grab a copy of the book.

Propel Women is hosting an online book club for Christine Caine’s latest book, Unexpected: Leave Fear Behind, Move Forward in Faith, Embrace the Adventure. The title alone is enough of an invitation for me. I don’t know about you, but in this current season, I can use some fear-slaying, adventure-calling wisdom (and probably a kick in the pants too) from Chris Caine, one of my faves.

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The book club will span the course of five weeks, and when you sign up you’ll receive one video each week. No book club would be complete without a community to discuss it with, so you’ll also have the opportunity to connect with others online who are reading the book.

We start this coming Monday, July 23, 2018, and it’s not too late to join us! Visit Propel Women to sign up. The book can be purchased here, and if you have Amazon Prime you could have it in your hands in 2 days!

Will you join me for this book club?