Weekend Reads

Each weekend, I like to share articles or posts that I consider noteworthy during my week of reading (blogs or otherwise around the web), whether they encourage, challenge, inspire, or just flat-out make me laugh. Sometimes these are “current” links (recently written), and sometimes they’re older articles that I just happened to stumble upon in the past week. I hope you enjoy!

How to live an exceptional life, even when life doesn’t feel exceptional by Kat Lee – This quote says it all:

“So how do we live wildly, bravely and exceptionally in the midst of the ordinary? The dinners that need to be cooked, the noses needing to be wiped and the bills that need to be paid?

We do it by living with wild, exceptional excellence in the small things.

The One Thing You Can Do by Edie Wadsworth – Edie is always a breath of fresh air, but especially in the midst of all the sorrow and ugliness that has swirled around us recently, on a domestic and an international level, her comforting and centering words brought tears of gratitude as I remembered that we still serve a sovereign God, One Who shows up in our lives in spite of the ugliness.

Less internet – but more what? by Crystal Ellefsen – I don’t necessarily read a lot of poetry (although I should, and I love Crystal’s reasoning behind why she chose poetry!), but recently, I have started to intentionally pull a book out of my purse instead of my phone when I’m waiting for something and have a few minutes to absorb some good words.

Thoughts on She Speaks 2014

I have tried numerous times to sit down and write out some thoughts on the She Speaks Conference, which I had the privilege of attending last month, but I every time, I have found myself overwhelmed by the task, every word and sentence I write so inadequate to express the overflowing encouragement that I received from She Speaks.

I have finally realized that perhaps I will never fully express in words everything that I gleaned from the conference, and you know what? I’m okay with that. After all, what a wonderful thing to have experienced something so magnificent that words simply will not describe it!

I walked away from my computer in frustration last week, after trying and failing again to summarize my trip, and my husband gently said, “Well, whenever you talk about it to people, the exact same words keep coming out of your mouth!” I realized that he was, of course, absolutely right, so here are some of the highlights that I keep expressing verbally whenever someone asks me, in person, about the conference.

1) IT. WAS. LIFE-CHANGING. I don’t like to throw that phrase around lightly, but the first evening, when I texted my husband after the pre-conference sessions, I blurted out, “This weekend is life-changing. Already.” And even though I hadn’t really thought too much about those words, I kept saying them all weekend, and they were not an exaggeration. I had my vision for the future of my writing clarified in some truly amazing ways, and the whole weekend was affirming and encouraging for me in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

2) Seeing 800 women from 42 states and 5 countries come together for 3 days with one sole purpose: to learn how to better use our gifts and talents for Christ and His kingdom… Well, that was pretty phenomenal. To put it mildly! When I registered the opening morning of the conference, the sweet lady behind the counter told me to make sure I put some Kleenex in my bag, because “Jesus and estrogen is a powerful combination, and this weekend, we’re gonna have a lot of both!” She couldn’t have been more right, and I was shocked by the frequency of my own tears as I basked in the experience of standing next to so many women from all over the world who wanted to honor God with the gifts He has given them. Even now, the memory of 800 women singing “In Christ Alone” makes me a little teary-eyed just thinking about it.

3) The teaching was truly excellent, but the relationships formed were, without a doubt, the best part of the weekend. When Lynn Cowell got up for the opening devotional talk at the pre-conference on Thursday and said, “Look at the women around you. These are your people!” I had an overwhelming sensation of community, which did not diminish for the entirety of the weekend. I realized that she was absolutely right; everywhere I turned, I met women who shared my passion for words and the power of communicating through language, and most of all, who shared my passion for Jesus and seeing His kingdom come through the “smallness” of our daily lives. The connection and community that we formed throughout the weekend was truly tremendous, and I know I made friendships that will last a lifetime.

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{A wonderful group of friends! Vanessa LeRow, Dana Hurst, Melissa Newport, and myself.}

4) The greatest gift of all, in terms of friendship, was the fact that this trip allowed me to finally meet my dear friend Melissa in person, after 7 years of long-distance friendship [from Sacramento to Orlando] that started the year that she was my college English teacher. I was taking distance-learning courses to complete my degree, and we quickly discovered what kindred spirits we were, and have kept in touch ever since then through every form of communication imaginable, except actually meeting in person. We roomed together for the conference, and I really think the only time we shut up and stopped talking was to sleep — and even that wasn’t very long! We had an absolute blast together, and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity, after all these years, to sit across the table from her and have real, face-to-face fellowship and conversation. Technology has allowed us to form a beautiful friendship that we never would have had otherwise, but after spending time in person, I know the long-distance version will never replace the joy of “in real life”!

So incredibly grateful for this sweet friend and the gift of her friendship!

So incredibly grateful for this sweet friend and the gift of her friendship!

In short, it was an amazing weekend full of rich and visible blessings straight from the Lord’s hand, and I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to take this trip. Without my husband’s gentle nudges to register and his unwavering support in all my endeavors leading up to the trip, I would never have made it, so thank you from the bottom of my heart, my love!

My only concern is that choosing She Speaks as my very first writing conference has spoiled me for life on any other conferences I might attend, since I know nothing else will ever match this experience!

Weekend Reads

Each weekend, I like to share articles or posts that I consider noteworthy during my week of reading (blogs or otherwise around the web), whether they encourage, challenge, inspire, or just flat-out make me laugh. Sometimes these are “current” links (recently written), and sometimes they’re older articles that I just happened to stumble upon in the past week. I hope you enjoy!

Because Choosing Your Battles Saves Your Sanity :: How Having One Decent Space Makes all the Difference by The Nester – Such a simple concept, but such absolute genius.

The Power of the Written Word by Angie Warren – As a lover of words, and especially of the power of words on real tangible paper, this post struck me in a way that has haunted me for weeks now since I first read it. “How many handwritten letters will my loved ones have from me? Or is it all buried within the walls of my Instagram account?” 

A Tour of the New Office by Ree Drummond / Pioneer Woman – An incredible transformation, and can I just say that I would absolutely love to work in this space?! [Who wouldn't?!?]

Every Platform an Altar by Ann Voskamp – It goes without saying that I love every word Ann writes, but this post was particularly thought-provoking. It reminded me of a post from Emily Freeman that said essentially the same thing: the human soul is not made for fame. The human soul is made for humble service.

In honor of Robin Williams, I went and found my favorite scene from Good Will Hunting on YouTube, the brilliant monologue that is just one small demonstration of Williams’ genius. {Warning: there is some very strong language in this scene, but it is well worth the 4.5 minutes it takes to watch it} The world lost a brilliant artist this week, and although it always feels odd to grieve for someone you never personally knew, I agree with Emily Freeman that “to deny the effect someone has on your life, however small, is to lose a little bit of being human.” Read the rest of Emily’s post here; her thoughts are, as always, both insightful and touching.

When someone shares their art with the world, they share a bit of themselves. And when they die, especially when their death reveals a pain that runs deep and wide and dark, you see their art differently. The lens shifts and we get a glimpse of the person beneath the actor, of the soul within the person.”

Weekend Reads

Each weekend, I like to share articles or posts that I consider noteworthy during my week of reading (blogs or otherwise around the web), whether they encourage, challenge, inspire, or just flat-out make me laugh. Sometimes these are “current” links (recently written), and sometimes they’re older articles that I just happened to stumble upon in the past week. I hope you enjoy!

I’ve been a bit obsessed with Miranda Lambert’s new hit “Automatic“, despite the fact that it’s getting over-played on the radio right now. What a great song.

Then I started thinking about how much I enjoy country music these days and wondering why, and then “This is Country Music” by Brad Paisley came on – and this is exactly why!

A Difficult Generosity” by Sarah Clarkson – I “stumbled” onto The Rabbit Room this week, and I have devoured the archives, especially this fabulous piece on the earth-shaking importance of an artist’s work. This paragraph says it all:

Every work of art reaches out across the centuries, and each is a vision that casts a flame into the darkness. The wonder is that one great light wakes another. The song of one wakens the story of another. The story she told becomes the poem he made that kindled the painting in yet another’s hands. Each is a work of obedience. No artist can cast their flame of vision without a twinge of fear that it will simply fade or even pass unseen. But each is also a work of generosity, precious, private worlds offered in a self-forgetfulness that pushes aside vanity, insecurity, perfectionistic pride.

 

Because a tasmanian devil wasn’t available” by Melanie Shankle – All of Melanie’s recent posts about her new puppies have had me giggling, but this one had me flat out rolling around with laughter.

Stop saving your stickers” by Brooke Mcalary – I hoarded stickers as a child, too, just like Brooke describes. I love the profound beauty of the truth she illustrates with something as trivial as stickers.

Happy weekend, y’all! :)

Forgiveness and Fear

Recently a dear friend and I had the opportunity to give and receive forgiveness, and the experience has inspired me to reflect not only on the nature of true friendship but also on the elements of true forgiveness, and I have deeply pondered why we can sometimes be so slow to forgive and, especially, to seek true restoration.

It took nearly a week after the “inciting incident” before my friend and I sat in Starbucks and confessed how absolutely miserable we had been the entire day and how desperately we wanted the relationship restored–and also how we had each convinced ourselves that we had marred the friendship forever. This, I rejoice to say, is actually the opposite of the truth, but it goes to illustrate how an attitude that refuses to grant forgiveness (even subconsciously) can blow a situation completely out of proportion when we stew and wallow in our angst rather than confronting a situation head-on and truly making the effort to restore harmony.

Why are we so loathe to grant forgiveness? And why are we often so fearful to ask for it? In all my pondering, nearly all the answers I can come up with (apart from something like bitterness, which is another issue entirely) point back to fear, specifically the fear of rejection. What if this person just spurns me? What if they don’t see me as genuine or think I’m just sucking up to them by asking for forgiveness? What if I bare my soul and admit my wrongdoing… and get nothing in return?

And then there is the uncomfortably dreadful situation where you receive an apology but do not feel that the other person is truly seeking reconciliation. Perhaps they apologize simply because they think they have to, in order to maintain a relationship, but they don’t truly see themselves in the wrong, and thus they don’t even ask for forgiveness. This is the sort of mumbled “sorry” apology that does nothing, in the long run, to restore the relationship. In such situations, no apology at all is almost better!

But despite these fears and misgivings, when we do have an experience of giving and receiving full, free forgiveness, it serves as a beautiful reminder of the gift of forgiveness that God has given us through Christ. As my friend and I exclaimed “why didn’t we just TALK?!?” and laughed together, I felt a keen sense of the freedom that comes not just from admitting my own culpability in a breach of a relationship, but also from a heart filled with the willingness to forgive. I know the human heart does not tend toward forgiveness very naturally, but I am so grateful to God for the heart He has given me – a heart that wants to be reminded of how very much I have been forgiven, and therefore, a heart that is willing and eager, always, to forgive.

Weekend Reads

Each weekend, I like to share articles or posts that I consider noteworthy during my week of reading (blogs or otherwise around the web), whether they encourage, challenge, inspire, or just flat-out make me laugh. Sometimes these are “current” links (recently written), and sometimes they’re older articles that I just happened to stumble upon in the past week. I hope you enjoy!

Less” by Shauna Niequist – This post is a breath of fresh air that has me absolutely motivated to purge my house, my schedule, and my life! “It’s all connected: our stuff and our dreams and our fears. Clean out a drawer and you’ll find your attachments and longings. Let go of the half-finished projects or drawers full of art-y things you intended to get to all year long, and what you’ll find is a little more breathing room. That’s what this is about: clearing away all the excess to make space for what needs to come to life.”

Kids React to Old Computers – this video just cracked me up. I dare you to watch this without smiling! “WHAT?! ERROR?!?”

For When Your Soul Needs Whitespace” by Emily Freeman – I love Emily’s meandering reflections like this post, and I have been hearing about Bonnie Gray’s book all over the blogosphere. I need to add it to my to-read list.

A Life of Beauty” by Edie Wadsworth – First of all, Edie is one of my favorite bloggers, and I am absolutely LOVING her new podcast series. This week’s episode is her third so far and focuses on creating and living a life of beauty. I simply cannot even formulate my thoughts to express how much I love this episode, and how many times I want to listen to it.

 

Monday Morning Musings

Several weeks ago, our pastor made a statement in the middle of his sermon that had me furiously scribbling in my notes and has had me thinking ever since:

“There is no such thing as a strong Christian who is not abiding in the Word of God.”

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/elvacano/6473875239

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/elvacano/6473875239

It seems so simple–even so obvious–but sometimes the “obvious” truths are the ones that seem to be the most difficult to embrace and to live in light of. On the one hand, it makes absolute sense; why would we ever think we can live as Christians without the daily discipline of spending time in God’s Word? It would be like me trying to live as a writer without ever practicing the daily discipline of writing. What an oxymoron: a writer who doesn’t write–clearly absurd!

And yet, sometimes the clearest and simplest things are the thoughts that most easily slip our minds in the midst of the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I know (in my head, at least) the vital, essential nature of daily quiet time with the Lord, and yet when things get hectic in my life, why do I so easily tend to drop that time of reflection and devotion?

It reminds me, in stark contrast to myself, of Martin Luther, who said that he would pray for an hour every morning, unless he anticipated having an exceptionally busy day–and then he would pray for two hours.

I know this is how I need to live my daily Christian life, recognizing that I must immerse myself in God’s Word even more when my life gets busier and more hectic. Why is it so difficult to remember this in the first hours of my day, when those times of study and prayer are so terribly important?!

It all brings me to my knees as I remember, once again, my constant, daily need for the intercession of my Savior on my behalf. My sin nature will cling to me until the day I leave this earth, and in light of that fact, I know I need the Lord’s daily grace to overcome the sinful impulses that try to make “anything but Him” my day’s highest priority.

“There is no such thing as a strong Christian who is not abiding in the Word of God.”

 

Weekend Reads

Each weekend, I like to share articles or posts that I consider noteworthy during my week of reading (blogs or otherwise around the web), whether they encourage, challenge, inspire, or just flat-out make me laugh. Sometimes these are “current” links (recently written), and sometimes they’re older articles that I just happened to stumble upon in the past week. I hope you enjoy!

Lighten Up, Christians: God Loves a Good Time” by N.D. Wilson – I simply cannot say enough good things about this article. It vividly evokes the great C.S. Lewis as he related his search for “joy” in his life, and not only is Wilson’s article brilliant from a literary perspective, but it is also tough, thought-provoking, convicting, and absolutely inspiring from a spiritual perspective. I was trying to find a line or two to copy here as a teaser, but I simply can’t choose one. JUST READ IT.

Why Christian Artists Don’t Want to be ‘Christian Artists‘” by Alissa Wilkinson – This past week, I listened to an interview with Alissa Wilkinson on the CiRCE podcast, and afterward  I went down a handful of bunny trails reading various articles she has written. She is the  chief film critic at Christianity Today, and I absolutely love what she says in this article about art and the Christian community. This is something that I have felt strongly for years now, and although this article just scratches the surface, there is something truly brilliant about the way she expresses what I’ve felt myself trying to say for so long. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops when I finished reading.

How Abortion has Changed the Discussion of Miscarriage” by Becky Thompson – This is one perspective on the abortion issue that I, quite honestly, had never really thought about, and Becky’s words here are both enlightening and sobering: “It is hard for a society to embrace a mourning mother for her loss of tissue when it is busy defending another mother’s right to dispose of it.” Truly a worthwhile read.

On Finding One’s Voice [and letting go of perfection]

For years now, I have struggled with “finding my voice” as a writer–something I know I have to achieve before I can seriously pursue writing full-time, but something that has caused me endless frustration. I’ve read all the blog posts and articles about the 10,000 hour rule, the principle that you have to practice something for at least 10,000 hours before you truly become an expert (or, applied directly to writing, before you truly find your voice), and sometimes it feels like I’ve spent far more than the requisite 10,000 hours banging out words to find my voice, although I know I really haven’t. Even considering all the practice I have had, I still struggle with consistency, constantly grasping for my “one, true voice” in my writing–and I run up against a brick wall over and over again.

I’ve had various incarnations of blogs over the past 6-8 years, each one starting out with what felt like a unique perspective, but each eventually abandoned when I realized that yet again, I had not “found my voice” with whatever particular emphasis I had chosen for that current blog. The problem, I have discovered, is that even though I know that I do have (somewhere) my own unique voice, I also have various and distinct tones of that voice, which I think has caused many of my struggles. Instead of allowing myself some leeway in my writing, making way for experiments with different styles and formats, I tried to box myself in with one particular, specific tone for every single post. I’m beginning to see how this unrealistic limitation brought each blog to its untimely but inevitable demise.

Because you see, the truth is that I actually do have several different “voices” in real life. When I spend time with my sister, for example, I tend to bounce back and forth between serious conversations and absolute silliness with her; after all, she is one of the few people who has known me for her whole life and who knows me perhaps better than anyone other than my husband. If I wrote the way I talk to her, I would end up with a mix of insightful and deep conversations, juxtaposed against wild and hysterical goofiness. Those two extremes simply sum up our relationship, which would not have the same dynamic without a mix of both “voices” in our interactions together.

Similarly, my conversations with my husband include both deep and reflective conversations where we discuss our thoughts and dreams and plans together, as well as a healthy dose of silliness, directly resulting from the freedom and lack of inhibition that comes as a joyful aspect of the marriage relationship.

I am learning, then, that my writing does not always have to reflect the same tone in every single post. I can still write in my own voice without writing every word in an identical style. Sometimes I sit down at my keyboard in a deeply contemplative mood, and the words that pour from my fingers will reflect that mood. Other days, though, I might be experiencing an entertaining amount of playfulness, and I have to learn that it will not negatively impact my writing voice if my words reflect a playful mood for that day’s writing. It doesn’t make me any less consistent in the overall quality of my writing. I don’t “break” from my voice simply by embracing different inflections from one day to the next.

I suppose this goes hand in hand with my ongoing struggles with perfectionism and the compulsion I constantly fight to want my writing to be perfect before I find myself willing to release it to the world. At the very start of my new blog here, I resolved to embrace the concept of permanent beta, working to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and focusing instead on creating solid content rather than perfect content that would never surface and would keep me in a state of constant paralysis rather than consistently posting.

I have focused on various voices over the course of my blogging “career” thus far, some far more formal than others, but I have learned that my personality encompasses both formal and informal voices, and my writing will inevitably reflect this–and shockingly, that is really okay with me now. Instead of stifling myself in my attempts to maintain a “consistent” and “professional” voice, I have resolved to simply write with my own voice, whether it feels sophisticated or not; after all, only then will my writing remain genuine, and only then will I free myself to continue creating content that inspires me (and hopefully my readers as well!), rather than obsessing over the tone and whether or not I have effectively “found my voice.”

Weekend Reads

Each weekend, I like to share articles or posts that I consider noteworthy during my week of reading (blogs or otherwise around the web), whether they encourage, challenge, inspire, or just flat-out make me laugh. Sometimes these are “current” links (recently written), and sometimes they’re older articles that I just happened to stumble upon in the past week. I hope you enjoy!

[This weekend's installment is delayed because I am currently in Tennessee, having celebrated my brother's graduation from UT Knoxville School of Law this past weekend. Priorities, people.]

A Mother’s Day Book List” by Shauna Niequist – Shauna is a book lover after my own heart, and when I read this list, I started adding titles to my Amazon wish list one after the other, until I realized that I might as well just go down the list and add them all. Also, how did I miss the memo that Ruth Reichl has a new book out – and it’s a novel?!

What They Will Remember” by Emily Freeman – Beautiful thoughts in light of Mother’s Day weekend, and these lines resonated with me especially:

“[My mom's] presence was a deeply safe place for me as a girl, something I’m not sure I realized until this very day. And it’s not because she mothered us like some kind of super-hero. She didn’t. But she was there, she was with us, she loved us, and I knew it.”

I just love Emily’s writing and her thoughtful perspective.

Conquer Your Small Fears” by Tsh Oxenreider – I’ve been thinking a lot about momentum and productivity lately (in fact, I have a blog post on that very topic sitting in my drafts right now), and I love Tsh’s thoughts here. She is, as always, eminently practical and inspiring at the same time.