Beholding and Becoming


Ruth Chou Simons has done it again. Her first devotional that I got a chance to review, Gracelaced, was beautifully done. The artwork within is simply stunning, and I enjoyed the whole thing.

Beholding and Becoming is no different.

There are 32 reflections in all — one to help you behold, and one to encourage you to become — all surrounding by gorgeous artwork and thought provoking quotes.

It’s a book I’ll be recommending and/or gifting for years to come to those looking for something to help them dwell on the creativity of God.

The teaching pastor at my church described God in a sermon on creation recently as riotously creative. And it’s true, I think — I mean, you’d have to be riotously creative to think to create something like a duck-billed platypus. But I think that He’s also riotously creative in the ways He blesses us with gifts. The author of this book has been blessed with skills of painting and drawing like I will never possess, and with the art of flowery prose. I can write, but when writing is an art form in and of itself I tend to just fall silent in awe, and that’s what I’ve done here.

One of the pieces of art that hit me hard was right at the beginning of the book. There’s a beautiful piece of art, and the words painted on it say “Chase sunrises and sunsets. Be mesmerized by the moon. Count the stars, not one goes missing. Stop toiling and spinning.” It made me stop in my tracks. Reading the book stopped becoming something I was doing so that I could write an honest review, and became instead something I needed to do. I needed to soak in that moment, because spinning is exactly what I call the act of freaking out over something and spinning around in circles. I get frantic. I get stressed, and I can’t think straight. And when that happens, if I can remember how close my God is right away, I can calm and be still. But if I can’t remember? If I’m quick to forget? I start to spin. What a timely reminder as things in my life keep changing. I don’t need to spin; He’s got this! This was in a selection on “God’s faithfulness in a day.”

I love that I serve a God who loves us, who chases after us, and who invites us to stop striving, to be still, and to rest. That’s the beauty of the Grace we’re given is that we don’t have to fight for approval. It’s ours. We just have to rest.

I am really enjoying this devotional/reflection book, and I hope that you’ll check it out as well.

Book has been provided courtesy of Harvest House and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

The Next Right Thing


I’ve been a fan of Emily P. Freeman’s for a while now, so when offered the chance to review this book I jumped at it. I’ve read other books of Freeman’s, and I’ve listened to her podcast a while, so her beautiful, flowy, almost lyrical writing was not a surprise to me.

What did surprise me, though, was how deeply parts of this book touched me. It’s tagged as “A simple, soulful practice for making life decisions.” It’s dedicated “for anyone who’s ever made a pro/con list in the middle of the night.” Have you ever done that? I sure have!

Have you ever been stuck, feeling like you’re spinning your wheels and you can’t make a decision about something? Felt a little paralyzed by all your options? I feel like that regularly.

Many of the chapters felt like common sense to me, but the thing about common sense is that it isn’t that common, and in the moment when we’re faced with gigantic decisions to make, even though some of these practices would be really helpful and seem like they’re just SO simple…. we forget to do them. I would recommend digesting this book slowly and letting the information soak down into your roots, especially if you’re actively trying to make a decision.

Chapter 6 was where I had to just slow down and chew, so to speak. I had to really let it settle into the creaky places in my soul. Be a Beginner. This chapter was all about how it’s ok to recognize that we don’t know everything, and we don’t have all the right answers when we’re just starting out at something. Have you just started a new job? I have. It’s overwhelming and mostly exhausting to think of all that I don’t know. Are you in a new relationship? Or a new stage in a relationship? I keep changing stages, and with them come all kinds of “beginnings” that I have to navigate. My biggest takeaway was that you can be excited and thrilled at all of these thing but it doesn’t mean it isn’t overwhelming in its newness. It doesn’t mean it’s not hard to admit we don’t know what to do. It doesn’t mean it isn’t hard to ask questions. The permission to say “I don’t know, I’m going to think about that and get back to you” to my classroom full of 10-12 year olds was life giving. The permission to not feel like an impostor in a staff meeting when I say “wait, I don’t get it” about a school policy that seems to make sense to everyone else was liberating. And the permission to navigate the newness of each stage of my relationship with a bit of a sense of “I don’t completely know how to do this, but I’ll figure it out” was really freeing.

Wrapping up each chapter with a prayer you can pray to help you involve Jesus in this process, and a practice you can implement to make this practical instead of lofty and unattainable, I think you’ll find that this book, while simply written and easy to read, is packed full of excellent advice borne out of Freeman’s own life experience.

I highly recommend both this, and Emily’s podcast. Check them out 😀

Source

Whose Waves These Are


Amanda Dykes crafted a stunning breakout novel with this one. I couldn’t stop reading it. I carried it around with me everywhere for a little while, hoping to have some time to read wherever I’d have to wait. It was just beautifully done.

It’s a time-slip novel, jumping back and forth between World War 2 era and the present, covering the lives of a couple of brothers and their stories. It’s so beautifully done, I almost don’t have words, but I’ll try to come up with some or this would be a terrible book review.

I think the think I liked the most was Dykes’ writing style. Her writing is almost lyrical, and it’s breathtaking in its delivery. I’m not usually one to be able to picture the scene of a novel well — it’s why I avoid reading fantasy — but I could picture this. Amanda Dykes so vividly described what was happening around the characters that at times I felt like I was there. I finished reading the book a couple weeks ago and there are still a couple of parts that jump out in my brain.

I’m also not usually one to cry while reading. I’m pretty detached from most fictional characters, and I don’t love crying period, ever, so to cry over a book is not normally enjoyable. But in this one I just couldn’t help it. Some of the plot twists were so unexpected that I would gasp, or silent tears would leak down my face. I can not say enough nice things.

Amanda Dykes has secured herself a place in my “buy the book without reading the synopsis” author list, for sure. If her next one is anywhere close to as good as her first, I’ll read anything she writes.

I highly recommend this book!

From the back cover:

“In the wake of WWII, a grieving fisherman submits a poem to a local newspaper asking readers to send rocks in honor of loved ones to create something life-giving but the building halts when tragedy strikes. Decades later, Annie returns to the coastal Maine town where stone ruins spark her curiosity and her search for answers faces a battle against time.”

Living Lies by Natalie Walters


From the back of the book:

“In the little town of Walton, Georgia, everybody knows your name — but no one knows your secret.

At least that’s what Lane Kent is counting on when she returns to her hometown with her five-year-old son. Dangerously depressed after the death of her husband, Lane is looking for hope. What she finds instead is a dead body.

Lane must work with Walton’s newest deputy, Charlie Lynch, to uncover the truth behind the murder. But when that truth hits too close to home, she’ll have to decide if saving the life of another is worth the cost of revealing her darkest secret.”

This was a good read. It was a quick, easy read that flowed nicely along the plot line. The characters were well developed, and I enjoyed getting to know them better as the book unfolded.

I’ve not read Natalie Walters before, but I certainly won’t hesitate to read a book of hers again, so it’s always nice to find a new-to-me author! To have the book endorsed by Jamie Jo Wright sure didn’t hurt, either. She is one brilliant writer, so if she’ll endorse a book, I’ll read it!

I really appreciated the under current of finding hope again after a devastating loss. I also appreciated the way Walters handled the tricky subject of mental health and depression. I was afraid it wasn’t going to be covered well, but I am glad to say that I think it was done very tactfully.

If you’re looking for a good suspense, a plot line that flows well, and interesting, well-developed characters, I recommend this romantic suspense novel by Natalie Walters. Living Lies will be one you want to finish as fast as you can so you can figure out what becomes of that dead body Lane Kent finds at the beginning of the book.

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

Fair warning: While dealing with some mental health issues and depression, there is talk in the book of suicide in the book which may be hard for some to read.

Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (a book review)


I do not have a history of loving the writings of the Apostle Paul. You see, his writing has been used in some of the circles my life has found me in to put women “in their place” and to tell me what I can and cannot do. Particularly when you look at some of the most famous passages like the one in 1 Timothy 2 and the one in Ephesians 5, at first glance it can seem like Paul was on a mission to squash women down into a manageable package where we could easily be controlled.

But I’ve come to learn that that’s not true.
And I’ve come to love the things Paul has to say.

The beginning of this journey found me assuring myself that we were likely taking everything out of appropriate context, and being able to reconcile most of his teachings, but ultimately ending at the idea that Paul is not Jesus, and while Paul’s writings were inspired by God… ultimately he was writing to specific people in specific times, and I didn’t have to listen to the people telling me I couldn’t lead because I was a woman and that my only job, as a woman, was to get married and serve my husband. How far that is from the truth…. goodness. If I believed that, I’d be a failure on so many levels!

But I’m not a failure at all.

Back in February, the church I call home did a series on Jesus, Women and the Church called Her Story. It was sheer and utter brilliance and I don’t have other words than that to describe it. I was so excited for it. I was so honoured to be a leader within my church community during that time so that I could be involved in facilitating conversations in my home churches and so that I could participate openly within a community that not only valued my voice but wanted to hear it. Not only did we do a series on it, but we brought in guest speakers who brought. it. home. I am not a vocal person in church while people are preaching, especially because the way my church is set up, we watch a video from the main site on a movie theatre screen. The person preaching will never hear my “Amen!” or any other call I might throw into the open. But one Sunday I audibly muttered a “that’ll preach!” in response to something Jo Saxton said (catch the whole sermon here — sheer brilliance) because I just couldn’t help myself. It would preach. It could. It does, and it did. And I was just here for it all over the place.

One of our guests during this particular series (p.s. can I tell you how thrilled I was that they were all women? Imagine….) was Dr. Cynthia Long Westfall. She is an assistant professor of New Testament at McMaster Divinity College. She participated in a Podcast conversation with a few pastors from my church, and though it was two hours long I couldn’t help feeling like I needed more. She scratched the surface on what she knew about the context and the meaning behind what Paul had said in his writings, and you could tell. She was knowledgeable but also candid and witty — everything you’d hope someone dropping theological truth would be. I soaked up every word, then began a quest to get my hands on her book, which is why I’m writing here, now.

Upon finishing listening to that 2 hour long podcast, I looked all over the place for a copy of Westfall’s book, Paul and Gender. Through a contact with Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing, I was able to get my hands on it, and so here I am now — reviewing it.

To start, it’s long and it’s heavy. But please don’t let either of those things deter you. If you’re interested in the freedom that knowledge on this topic can bring you, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s an academic text, so please don’t approach it hoping it’ll read like a novel. It won’t. But if your expectations are in the right place, the beauty and freedom of a well-educated voice on this topic will shine through. It brought water to a part of my soul I hadn’t even realized was so thirsty.

I’ve been in church communities where my gender has been a total non-issue and I’ve been allowed to thrive based on my gifts, not my gender (where I am now, and I’m SO thankful for that!). I’ve been in churches where my voice felt silenced and I felt that I couldn’t come up for air, purely because I’m a woman. And I’ve been in the middle, where I wasn’t silenced but I wasn’t encouraged to speak up either. I can speak from experience that the freedom that comes from knowing who I am in Christ and then being able to use the gifts I’ve been given to serve my community for the betterment of the Kingdom is unmatched.

Paul and Gender will take you on a deep, deep dive through Paul’s writings. It will examine the stereotypes, the traditional interpretations, and the historical views on the passages. It will then take you through the cultural implications, the linguistic nuances (which, for a word nerd like myself is amazing), and the relationships between all of Paul’s writings to show you that Paul is not anti-woman at all. Westfall looks at Culture, Stereotypes, the Creation narrative, The Fall, Eschatology (a study of the theology of the end times — I had to look it up), the Body, our Callings, Authority, and the passage in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 which seems to prohibit women from leading in the church. It’s brilliant and I cannot say enough wonderful things.

I’d be here for days, and you’d all check out and stop reading if I quoted all the things that blew my mind and opened my eyes to a different view on Paul’s writings. The quotes wouldn’t make a lot of sense out of the context of all of Westfall’s research, anyway, and so I hesitate to drop them in without that context. But I assure you that despite this text being academic and heavy, I have exclamation marks and the words “mic drop!” written in several places, and I will recommend this book over and over and over again.

It took me a long time to read it. It needs time to soak in. I needed to process sections of it at a time. I started reading it in April and finished it mid-July. It’s not an easy read, but if you’re interested in the topic — it’s a great read.

5 stars from over here, and that’s not an honour I bestow to books very often!

Source: Also you can buy the book HERE at Amazon.ca

A great big thank you to Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and to Baker Publishing for helping me get my hands on this book.

Between Two Shores


I really wanted to love this book.

It’s set in Canada. It’s set in New France. I’ve been trying to teach a bunch of Grade 7s the history of New France, and I’ve been trying to make it sound interesting. It IS interesting! So I really wanted to love this book.

And I wish I did.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t get into it. It is rare that it takes me a month to finish a book, but I have been working on this one for a really long time. It’s just not grabbing me. I’m disappointed about that, because I’m in a couple avid readers groups where people are just raving about this book. They love it. Can’t get enough.

This was my first Jocelyn Green book. I will give others a shot — this book is well written, the plot is developed well, the characters seem to make sense to the story. I don’t know what to say, honestly, it just didn’t hold my attention. Maybe I’ll have to take another run at it in the summer when I have hours to just read and read, but unfortunately, this is currently one I can’t personally recommend.

I think I’m in the minority, and I sincerely believe it’s probably me and not the book, but as I’ve promised again and again to be honest, I guess it just is what it is. This book was not destined for my hands, and yet it ended up here anyway.

If you’ve read it, did you enjoy it? Am I the only one who didn’t? Because it seems that way to me so far! I’ve yet to find a review that isn’t glowing, so it’s probably just me, and you should probably go read it despite my thoughts 😉

From the back of the book:

She Has Always Moved between Worlds,
But Now She Must Choose a Side

The daughter of a Mohawk mother and French father in 1759 Montreal, Catherine Duval would rather remain neutral in a world tearing itself apart. Content to trade with both the French and the British, Catherine is pulled into the Seven Years’ War against her wishes when her British ex-fiancé, Samuel Crane, is taken prisoner by her father. Samuel claims he has information that could help end the war, and he asks Catherine to help him escape.

Peace appeals to Catherine, even if helping the man who broke her heart does not. But New France is starving, and she and her loved ones may not survive another winter of conflict-induced famine. When the dangers of war arrive on her doorstep, Catherine and Samuel flee by river toward the epicenter of the battle between England and France. She and Samuel may impact history, but she fears the ultimate cost will be higher than she can bear.


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

A Desperate Hope


I’m an Elizabeth Camden fan. I have been since the first book of hers I read, and she continues not to disappoint. You can certainly tell that Camden’s other job is as a research librarian. Her stories are so well put together, and they flow so nicely.

Apparently I missed book 2 in The Empire State series, as I’ve read book 1 (A Dangerous Legacy). This book will stand alone, though. I didn’t find I was lost at all having not read book 2. Characters from Book 1 were familiar, but having read the first book wouldn’t likely have been integral to the plot — I like that about a series.

As much as Elizabeth Camden is a brilliant writer, I also really love books with strong female characters, and this is no exception. Especially for the time period in which this is set (1908 New York), a certified accountant with a mind of her own is refreshing.

Eloise Drake’s prim demeanor hides the turbulent past she’s finally put behind her–or so she thinks. A mathematical genius, she’s now a successful accountant for the largest engineering project in 1908 New York. But to her dismay, her new position puts her back in the path of the man responsible for her deepest heartbreak.

Alex Duval is the mayor of a town about to be wiped off the map. The state plans to flood the entire valley where his town sits in order to build a new reservoir, and Alex is stunned to discover the woman he once loved on the team charged with the demolition. With his world crumbling around him, Alex devises a risky plan to save his town–but he needs Eloise’s help to succeed.

Alex is determined to win back the woman he thought he’d lost forever, but even their combined ingenuity may not be enough to overcome the odds against them before it’s too late.

http://elizabethcamden.com/books/a-desperate-hope

I can’t say the book wasn’t predictable — but I can say that if you weren’t expecting that in a Christian romance, I’m not sure what else I can tell you, haha. This story was well crafted, had great details about a plan just crazy enough to work, and featured a relationship that weathers the test of time. Especially if you’re a fan of Elizabeth Camden’s historical details, I think you’ll really like this book!

Have you read it? What did you think?


http://elizabethcamden.com/books/a-desperate-hope

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

We Hope for Better Things


I just did not see this book coming. I will be surprised, shocked, nay… flabbergasted… if this book gets unseated through the rest of 2019 as my favourite fiction pick for the year. I’m not sure I even thoroughly read the description when I agreed to review it, as I’ll usually yes to historical fiction, and even more willingly to one that will slip back and forth between time periods.

This is Erin Bartels’ debut novel, and I will certainly watch for more from her in the future. She has another one, The Words Between Us, set to release September 2019. And she has a short story collection called This Elegant Ruin and other stories which I’m going to have to get my hands on.

This novel was expertly woven, tying the same story together across three different time periods, all set in Michigan (Detroit and in the country outside of it). From a farm used for the Underground Railroad, to the height of volatile race riots in 1960s Detroit, to the present in both places, Erin Bartels takes you on a journey through a story that I don’t even know that I could adequately describe to you.

“In this powerful first novel . . . Bartels successfully weaves American history into a deeply moving story of heartbreak, long-held secrets, and the bonds of family.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request—that she look up a relative she didn’t know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos—seems like it isn’t worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time.

At her great-aunt’s 150-year-old farmhouse, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think.

Take an emotional journey through time—from the volatile streets of 1960s Detroit to the Underground Railroad during the Civil War—to uncover the past, confront the seeds of hatred, and discover where love goes to hide.

https://erinbartels.com/home/books/

You’ll both love and strongly dislike some characters; You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll grieve. You won’t want to put the book down, because just when you think you have pieces of the story figured out and could take a break, Bartels will drop another clue and then flip time periods to go back and explain more of the details. Granted, I will admit that if not done well this can be really frustrating, but it is accomplished nearly seamlessly in this book.

Long story short, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s a beautiful, compelling story, and it is expertly crafted. Please do yourself a favour, book yourself a whole day in a hammock (since spring has now theoretically sprung), pick up this book, and disappear from the universe for a while. You won’t regret it. 5 Stars from me.

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

The Curse of Misty Wayfair


As per usual, Jamie Jo Wright does not disappoint in this gothic feeling time slip novel. I was introduced to Wright in the fall with The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond. I definitely still need to catch The House on Foster Hill, and I will read it, I assure you.

Wright is a master storyteller. I don’t think I’ve ever been gripped by a book quite like I have been by the two of hers I’ve read. She is gifted with the ability to tie details in across a century long span, keep her readers guessing, and delivering an engaging story at the same time.

This story is not heavy on the romance, though I think the nuances and elements of it woven throughout both timeline stories lend really nicely to the story itself, which is not always the case in mystery novels.

I loved the stories of Heidi Lane and Thea Reed, separated by 100 years, but both looking for answers about Misty Wayfair and how they’re connected to it.

If you like engaging, well-written stories, especially historical ones and especially mysteries, this book will be for you. I don’t always love time slips, as they can be kind of hard to follow depending on the author, but that is not a concern when Jamie Jo Wright is the storyteller.

It’s not often that I get my hands on a book that I’m content to read for hours straight. Sure, I’ll read for hours straight, but I’ll often switch books to keep my brain engaged. I flew home from Calgary, Alberta this past Friday, and I read from the moment I sat down and buckled my seatbelt to the moment the flight attendants told us we could get our bags — about 3:45 without stopping. My only complaint was that my flight wasn’t 25 minutes longer so I could have finished the book! (haha just kidding, I finished it the next day at home and was just fine with that)

Along with being gripping, fascinating, and engaging, Wright weaves in the profound truth of what we can accomplish when we root our identities in Christ and learn to trust our Creator.

Fair warning: while I believe Wright handles it very tactfully and does a great job in this book, there is a fair bit of mental health and anxiety dealt with within these pages, so if you’re sensitive to that you may want to proceed with caution. Again, however, I felt that Wright did an excellent job with her research so as to approach the topic carefully and respectfully.

From the back of the book: Left at an orphanage as a child, Thea Reed vowed to find her mother someday. Now grown, her search takes her to Pleasant Valley, Wisconsin, in 1908. When clues lead her to a mental asylum, Thea uses her experience as a post-mortem photographer to gain access and assist groundskeeper Simeon Coyle in photographing the patients and uncovering the secrets within. However, she never expected her personal quest would reawaken the legend of Misty Wayfair, a murdered woman who allegedly haunts the area and whose appearance portends death.

A century later, Heidi Lane receives a troubling letter from her mother–who is battling dementia–compelling her to travel to Pleasant Valley for answers to her own questions of identity. When she catches sight of a ghostly woman who haunts the asylum ruins in the woods, the long-standing story of Misty Wayfair returns–and with it, Heidi’s fear for her own life.

As two women across time seek answers about their identities and heritage, can they overcome the threat of the mysterious curse that has them inextricably intertwined?

I can’t recommend this book highly enough! If I were a bestower of stars, I’d give this one 5 🙂

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

On Enjoying the Ordinary (Lent 2019)


Lent started today.  I’ve been historically terrible at observing Lent. It’s not a liturgical tradition I grew up practicing, but I can see its value, and I’ve picked something every year for the last several to give up, but my follow-through is admittedly not great.  There’s my confession for the day.

Back at the end of December, 2018, I picked a word for my year (as I do every year).  I picked “Present.”  It has occurred to me in the last little while that I am not exceptionally good at being present.  I’m not skilled at living in the moment I’m in, and I tend to be constantly looking toward the next fun thing.  The next big thing.  I suppose this is likely tied to my Enneagram number (7), but it was pointed out to me last night during a conversation about this very topic that we could all learn about this, and so it’s not likely exclusively a “7” experience.  The biggest places I notice it in my own life might be 7 experiences, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all learn from what I’m learning, so here it goes.

Present.  I looked it up.  I’m going to be SUPER cheesy and give you a dictionary definition.  Present:  in a particular place; existing or occurring now; the period of time now occurring.  I think the last one resonates most with me.  The period of time now occurring….. how often do I look toward the period of time coming up, and therefore miss the period of time now occurring?

I looked up some synonyms, too, because if you’ve been reading anything I’ve written for any length of time… or if you’ve had more than one conversation with me… you know I’m a language nerd and breaking down language is one of my favourite ways to understand anything. Some of my favourite synonyms — the ones that resonate with me the most — are as follows: accompanying, observing, participating, available, breathing.  There’s so much depth to these words, and forgive me while I nerd out hard here.

When I am not present, I am not any of those synonyms.  

I am not accompanying.  If I’m in a situation, but I’m focused on and thinking about what’s coming next, what will be more exciting, where I’d rather be, and what I’d rather be doing… I’m not with whoever I should be with.  If they want time from me, I’m not giving them all of it, even if I appear that I am.  It can be hard for me to sit in the present and not be drifting toward thinking about what comes next. 

I am not observing.  I miss things.  I miss important pieces of conversation.  I miss details and nuances.  I miss the minute.  And often, this means I miss the incredible that lies in the ordinary.  I’ll explain that further in a bit.

I’m not participating.  If I’m not present, even if it’s just in my spinny, spinny brain, I’m not fully participating.  And if I’m not fully participating in my life, am I even really fully living it?  If I’m out somewhere, and I’m a little bored, so I start scrolling through Facebook… what am I missing?  Who could I be talking to? Does Jesus have something for me in that moment that I miss because my face is staring down at my phone? If I’ve just come home from something and instead of enjoying the quiet, the down time, the chance to refresh and reboot… what do I miss? 

I’m certainly not available.  If I’m caught up in whatever comes next, as is my unfortunate tendency sometimes, then I’m not available.  Not when someone asks for my time, not to the task I’m trying to complete, not really even to myself.  When my brain is occupied elsewhere, I’m cheating those around me, but I’m also cheating myself.  It feels harmless to constantly envision how great the next fun thing is going to be, but I’m cheating myself out of that moment right then and there.  Out of how great THAT moment could be.

I’m not breathing.  Not literally.  I don’t literally stop breathing.  And as much as I love it when things are both literally and figuratively true, this is not one of those times.  But I’m finding more and more, especially the more self-aware and introspective I get (and there’s been a dramatic shift in that direction in the past year), that when I’m not present I’m instead rather frantic.  I’m stressed, I can’t focus on what I’m trying to do, I talk too fast, I rush, I miss things — both things I wanted to say and things I needed to hear, and I don’t do much all that well.  Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself.  Certainly this is an example toward the extreme end of my lack of presence, but it can be true nonetheless, and that’s why I’ve been working on it, and why I’ll continue to until I’m good at it.

What this looks like for me is a lot of time spent on my phone.  The literal second I get bored of something, I’m looking for something more fun to do, and so I wonder how many opportunities to interact with actual human beings I might miss while I spend my grocery store line time scrolling through Facebook on my phone.  But I don’t just do this while I’m standing in line.  Sometimes I do it while I’m watching TV, which means that I’m not really, truly, paying attention to either thing. I do it sitting in the car (parked) waiting for someone I’m picking up.  I do it in the airport waiting to board my plane. I do it if someone I’m with gets up to go get something or leaves to use the washroom. I do it in the staff room at lunch. In fact, had I not already been consciously trying to make a choice about this area, I’d have missed a conversation today at lunch about Lent and why it’s practiced and how so many people use it to diet.  I might not have chimed in.  I might not have shared what I intend to do over the next 40 days.  And I can’t know for sure, but maybe that would have been someone else’s loss.

And it’s not just my phone.  It’s not just Facebook.  I’m that person who has always been counting down to something.  Since I could count as a little kid, I’d have countdowns running, either written or just in my brain, to how many days it was until the next thing I was excited about. And what I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that not everybody does that.  That’s not a big deal, though… to learn that one of your quirks is unique to you, or unique to those similar to you. More importantly, it distracts me from the right here.  The right now.  The beauty of the ordinary.  What’s right in front of me.  I miss the fun of being able to enjoy my down time because it feels like it takes forever to get from Tuesday to Friday.  I miss the grandness of the ordinary spaces between Christmas and March Break because the second the plane lands after Christmas holidays, I’m wondering how long before I can go back to my parents, my brother, my sisters, my mountains, my waterfalls (though in theory I could find some waterfalls in Ontario, too….).  I miss the ordinary beauty of winter because I’m desperate for spring. Had I not been paying attention the other day, I’d have missed the hoarfrost on these trees.

Had I not been willing to go for a walk to pray and sit with my thoughts because I had some down time, I’d have missed this sunset. 

I end up missing the new growth of spring, if/when it ever arrives, because I’m mad at the mud and I’m desperate for heat.  Then when summer does finally arrive, I miss some of its ordinary beauty because I pack it so full of so many activities that I can’t sit and bask in its wonder… because I know it ends, and I dread its end, so I just must. keep. busy.  Must do it ALL before the snow comes again.

I’d grown tired of missing so much, so for 2019 I picked the word Present. That looks different for everyone (in fact, I found out recently that my mother also picked Present, but she’s using it differently). For me it definitely has to include a sense of delayed gratification and a sense of the ability to rest in where I am at any given moment.  Not just waiting for the next grand adventure and enthralling experience.  Because ordinary can be exciting, too.  It can.  If we let it.

So back to the point.  Lent 2019.  While I’ve not always given things up well, I like to try.  Back in the summer, I gave up sugar.  Quit it cold turkey.  I feel like if I can give up sugar (mostly) for 8 months, I can give something up for 40 days.  And if it’s anything like sugar, if I’m successful in giving it up, I won’t likely want it back.  But also if it’s anything like sugar, there will need to be some divine intervention to make me OK with it, and to help remind me of why I’ve decided to do it.

I was out for tea last night and was sharing that I was toying with the idea of deleting Facebook off my phone for Lent. Not giving it up entirely, still being able to check it from my computer (if I’m even on it), as it houses events, some groups I use frequently, and pictures of friends and family and their kids that I would miss if I didn’t see them every once in a while, since I don’t get to physically see the people as often as I’d like.  I like the idea of what Facebook can give us.  It’s not terrible in and of itself.  It can connect across thousands of kilometers.  Continent to continent.  One side of the country to the other.  But when the app version on my phone gets used to distract me from ever being bored, it takes away from my ability to be present.  It doesn’t fit with the goal of who I want to be by the end of 2019.  And, truthfully, when I spend that much time scrolling through it, it can be kind of toxic.  The politics, the ads, the Momo warnings, the “don’t eat this, it’ll kill you” and then the next day, the “how that very same food is the secret to living forever….” all of it.  It gets into my head and it unsettles me.  It rattles me.  It makes it hard to live a life that’s not stressed and anxious but rather is trusting and leaning on Jesus and patient.  It just seems that all the bad in the world is concentrated on my Facebook newsfeed and I’m not here for it anymore.  And so, over Peach Tranquility tea at Starbucks, we decided to do it together.  Forty days without a mobile Facebook app.  We deleted it then and there. 

And then, ten minutes later, when I was left alone at the table for a very brief amount of time, I immediately grabbed my phone and went to open the app to scroll….. and it wasn’t there.  It might be a long 40 days.
But I know that this, along with the other daily reminders to be present, be present, be present… I know that they will grow me.  They’ll stretch me, for sure.  But they’ll grow me. They’ll leave me a better person than I was before, because that’s always the goal.  More growth.  I’ve found it’s just a natural shift in desire that my brain wants so much, this idea of being present.  I’ve found that I hardly watch TV anymore — so much so that I’m contemplating *gasp* cancelling Netflix.  Who has time for TV when there are so many books?!  And if TV was just another thing to distract from wanting to move on to the next, better thing (which I strongly believe that it was), then I don’t really need that either. 

It’s better to do things in community, isn’t it? Many of the things I’ve done that have yielded really positive results in the last couple years have been done in community. Quit sugar? Sure, if a friend is going through it with me. Intentionally set life goals and plan for their execution? Sure, let’s buy the same workbook and talk about it as we go! Journal through Psalms? Done, as long as I’ve got someone to talk to about it. Remove Facebook from my phone? Yup, let’s delete it at the same time. So it would stand to reason, then, that not only is it better to do life together, and to work toward growth in community, but also that being present in those spaces is intrinsically valuable. When you’re present, you share life. And when you share life, get vulnerable, and get real, people come alongside you and hold you up.

My FitBit has the ability to buzz, via Bluetooth, whenever I get a notification through text, Messenger, What’s App, email, or my work email.  I know many people who never turned it on in the first place, but at first I really liked it.  I liked the ability to know what was happening without appearing to check my phone.  I liked the ability to decide whether or not to pull my phone out of my pocket to respond to the notification.  But I’ve been finding that all it does is distract me.  Mid-conversation, my phone buzzes and then a split second later, my FitBit buzzes on my wrist.  I then read whatever it is on my wrist, but by that point, I’ve either missed something someone was saying, or I’ve lost my train of thought and I have to ask whoever I’m talking to what I was saying.  So last night while I was out, when the first notification buzzed, I turned off the notifications from my wrist.  And low and behold, the world did not come to an end because I didn’t know what my texts said until I got home.  The universe did not implode because I didn’t see the first bit of the email Pinterest sent me to tell me a friend had sent me a pin. Can’t that wait?  Isn’t a deep conversation with a fellow human being better than that?  It was so freeing that I didn’t turn the notifications back on on my wrist when I got home.  And I didn’t turn them back on when I woke up this morning.  And I just might not turn them back on ever.  Time will tell.

And so, at the end of this first day of Lent, at the end of this first day of denying myself something so that I can focus more on Jesus as I start the descent into the Easter season, now I’m off to make a lunch for tomorrow and go to bed with a book instead of my phone. And every time I think about scrolling through Facebook, I’ll instead think about the wonderful ways God has blessed my life, and the wonderful things I have to attend to right in that moment.  Because that’s what Lent is for — a time to focus on growing in God, not just making a new, healthy life choice for forty days. A time to lean in to just a little bit of the suffering that Jesus endured for me so that I can have relationship with Him. So that I can lean on Him. So that I can trust Him to help me be Present.