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.

Weekend Reads

I have decided that I would like to start sharing 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. I hope you enjoy!

On Laundry & Love Stories by Shauna Niequist – Shauna is one of my favorite Christian authors, and this beautiful post about embracing the everyday moments to write one more line of your love story each and every day… well, it is both convicting and inspiring. I loved it.

Myquillyn Smith’s new book released this week, so of course, the blogosphere is all aflutter with gushing reviews everywhere I look. I pre-ordered The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful, and the fact is, quite simply, that it is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen – and I’m taking the reading slowly so that I can enjoy every sentence. Myquillyn is better known as The Nester, from her blog by the same name, and she has richly blessed everyone who ever felt that their home (or life!) was inadequate in comparison to the magazines [and let's face it, that's ALL OF US]. Go buy the book today. You won’t regret it. And here are some more eloquent reviews from Edie, Sophie, Emily, and Melanie. And even more here. Have I convinced you yet?!?

Fairer Than Day by Edie Wadsworth – “We are stewards of a string of magnificent moments in a land that is fairer than day.” Read this post slowly. Enjoy every word. Edie has reached her sweet spot with her writing, and I LOVE IT.

Enjoy your weekend, friends!

3 Lessons From 3 Weeks Without Social Media

Back in January, Austin and I decided to go on a 3-week “fast” from social media, something we had done last year in January as well, but only for 1 week instead of 3. I’ve heard and read in many places that it takes 21 days to establish any new habit, so 3 weeks seemed a reasonable period for this experiment. We each have our own personal pitfalls when it comes to social media (mine are Instagram and Facebook), and we both know that social media can hamper productivity all too easily if we don’t maintain constant vigilance against it. So Austin changed settings on our router to literally block all our chosen social media outlets (no opportunities to cheat!), and together we stuck to our goal of 3 weeks “dark” in the social media world.

Surprisingly enough, for me, the break this year was not nearly as painful as I found it to be last year. After the first day or so, I found myself almost relieved to not be checking Instagram or Facebook or Pinterest at any point during the day. I read more. I wrote more. I slept better. And not only did my productivity skyrocket–which I fully expected–but I learned several other lessons as well.

First, I was more fully “present” to daily situations. Ironically, the very first day of the 3 weeks, I had an unexpected day in San Francisco with my dear friend Kate, and I desperately wanted to Instagram for most of the day. I had not set foot in The City for awhile, and I do love visiting for the day (although I can’t really imagine living there full-time as Kate has for the past 3 years!), and I do usually post photos when I remember to take them. However, despite my twitching fingers that kept reaching for my phone all day, I instead felt myself more present to Kate and to our surroundings and conversations throughout the day, which I had to admit was infinitely superior to sharing photos with my virtual world.

I find it fairly easy to be “fully present” in larger social settings, such as after church on Sunday mornings, but more often than I’d like to admit, I have found myself on the reclining leather couch at my in-laws’ browsing Facebook instead of being present to family fellowship and activities. I have known for a long while that I want to avoid this sort of situation, and this is one of the reasons why (even 10+ weeks later) I still have not reinstalled the Facebook app on my phone. It’s all too easy, when silence descends in a social setting, to whip out my phone and pull up Facebook instead of actively engaging in conversation with the “real life people” who sit beside me.

Second, I found myself communicating more directly during the 3 weeks. Instead of posting an update to Facebook or a photo to Instagram, which would (admittedly) have been seen by a far larger audience, I would instead send a text message (or better yet, make an actual phone call) directly to the person to whom I knew the update would be the most relevant. I cannot say that I have not updated my Facebook status messages since the 3 weeks ended, but I have (when I am paying attention, at least!) tried to be a bit more discerning and not post updates that would be better suited to be sent directly to the person(s) I truly want to have the information.

Third, I found it easier to go to bed earlier without Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter on my phone at night. Instead of browsing social media “one last time” before bedtime (as if anything there is truly urgent!), it was easier to power down and go to bed at a more reasonable hour–and it’s also easier to get out of bed more quickly when I don’t have social media to browse before my feet even hit the ground. This is another large part of the reason why I still no longer have Facebook on my phone. I want to dedicate my early mornings and late evenings to pursuits more significant than obsessing over who Instagram’ed what they ate for dinner or what vague (but always mysteriously significant) song lyrics someone posted as their Facebook status.

In short, I fully admit that social media has a place and a time, and I will even still admit that I enjoy it, probably more than I should. However, I never want to allow social media of any variety to take over my life, and I know that my natural tendencies, unfortunately, could allow that to happen much more easily than I might like to admit. An annual “cold turkey fast” seems like a good idea, therefore, and I have to admit… A part of me already looks forward to next year’s 3-week break.

Lessons from “Supernatural”

My sister and I have always enjoyed good television together–whether movies or actual TV shows. Sharing the same room as we grew up meant we spent lots of time together, and many late nights watching something or other on our computers together, often sharing one earbud each from a pair of earbuds.

Since Megan got married and moved to Colorado, our time watching TV and movies together has obviously dwindled significantly, but last year when she got me hooked on Doctor Who, we discovered a new method of long-distance sharing: we would call each other on Skype or FaceTime, sync up our Netflix to the same timestamp, give a countdown, and hit play at the same time so that we could watch and give commentary together. Since then, we have spent many happy hours together sharing our enjoyment of a good TV show.

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Most recently, she introduced me to Supernatural, a fantasy drama show that pushes the envelope on horror. Now first of all, I should state that while I enjoy a good thriller or pulse-pounding action flick as much as the next bloke, I will almost never cross the line into the horror genre; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that truly qualifies as a horror movie. I can deal with action quite well, even intense action, but I just don’t do horror with its typical gratuitous content on so many levels. That said, after Megan assured me that “season 1 is the worst!” in terms of the horror-esque content of Supernatural, I gritted my teeth and occasionally dove into my blanket to get through the first several episodes. I kept telling her that I didn’t know if I could keep it up, but after 6-8 episodes, I had to admit it. I was hooked. We are currently making our way through the fifth season, and it just keeps getting better.

I can hardly admit this [that it gets better and better] without cringing, and I still cannot wholeheartedly recommend it to almost anyone because it IS graphic and chill-inducing on a level that I’ve never really experienced in a TV show before. As Megan and I will say after particular episodes, “CREEPY!”

HOWEVER. I have found it to be extremely compelling on many levels, and as we have blown through these opening seasons, I find myself trying to analyze and articulate exactly what makes it so compelling. Why do I keep coming back? What makes me willing to suspend my usual disdain for this type of story? Especially as a writer, I continually see this in terms of the writing: what makes the show work? What makes these characters so engrossing? What makes the storyline so genuine and gripping?

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As Megan and I have discussed and analyzed a thousand times by now, we keep coming back to one central element, the true heart of the show: the relationship between Sam (brilliantly portrayed by Jared Padalecki) and Dean (played by the equally brilliant Jensen Ackles) Winchester, two brothers who have found themselves caught up in a life they didn’t necessarily plan or choose for themselves, but from which they cannot seem to escape, even if they try. Yes, they fight monsters and save the world and even occasionally save the girl here and there, too, but the show always comes back to the relationship between two brothers–something I have found truly unique for a TV series. (I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I don’t remember hearing of another show whose primary protagonists are siblings.) It’s such an interesting element in the sense that it’s not a stereotypical romantic relationship that drives the show, or even a friendship, but the notion of FAMILY: yes, Sam and Dean drive each other nuts, but at the end of the day, family is family, and they will do anything for each other. The love they have for one another is not often explicitly stated (sometimes we forget to tell even the people we’re closest to how much we love them), but over and over again, each brother proves himself willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of the other.

To me, this is the heart of the show, and it’s also what keeps me coming back and makes it incredibly emotionally compelling. From a writer’s perspective, these character also come across as completely genuine because they act like “real” people: they screw up and make horrible decisions and hurt the people they love, but in even the most dire circumstances, they always fight for forgiveness and redemption. They learn the difference between justice and revenge, between selfish independence and self-sacrifice, and between hard-nosed “fairness” and true compassion. Sam and Dean grow and mature and change over the course of the show, which certainly helps to maintain the dynamic and progressive feel of the storylines.

In short, although I can’t say that I would recommend it to everyone I see, I do have to admit that it has turned out to be one of the most thought-provoking and compelling shows I have seen in a long time. I love to watch with an eye to glean whatever writing lesson I can learn from the story as a whole–and I certainly have come away with many! Most enjoyable of all, though, is sharing the experience with my sister, even across the miles. Three cheers for technology!

What about you? Have you discovered any great new TV shows recently? Is there another TV drama centered around siblings that I have missed?