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.

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.

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.

Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way ~ A book review


Have you ever found a book that enraptured you? Grabbed your attention and wouldn’t let you go? How about an author? Have you ever been so into what the author had to say, and related so distinctly to a text that you’d swear you could have written parts of the book yourself?

That’s how I feel whenever I pick up a Shauna Niequist book. I don’t even have to review this book – I just so desperately want others to find it, that I’m going to anyway.

It could be that Niequist is a fellow Enneagram 7, and therefore the way I see the world is similar to the way she sees hers. Some of the struggles and the way she describes things feel like a breath of fresh air to me — it means I’m not alone. I don’t personally know any other 7s, or at least not any who know they’re 7s, and so to read from someone who’s aware of why she thinks how she thinks is so refreshing.

Bittersweet is a collection of essays, written in Shauna’s beautiful, lilty, almost lyrical style. She talks about change, leaning into pain, grace, living through hard (and she’s lived through lots of it), and embracing all of it. She never once uses a Scripture reference, and yet you can tell she’s doing her very best to walk life hand in hand with Jesus through it all.

“The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life. Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness. “It’s the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, audacious, earthy. “This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean that it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all long, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be. “I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts, and most useful tools. Change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us. It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways, and also in the best ways. I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and that in many cases, change is a function of God’s graciousness, not life’s cruelty.”

https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/0310335280/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1, taken from the prologue of the book

I listened to this book using my Scribd subscription while I commuted this week. I started it on Tuesday morning, and finished it Friday on the way home. The timing of this book’s arrival in my life is kind of funny, though. I’m a firm believer that God can speak to us in all kinds of ways, but I’m pretty sure He uses books a lot of the time for me. I mean, why not, when my nose spends a good chunk of time buried in one or my ears are listening to one while I drive? It won’t surprise me at all if, when I get to Heaven, I ask if He’s been using books all this time and He smiles and says “I’m glad you caught it.”

Thursday, on my way into work, something profound caught me, and I paused the book to reflect on it for a few minutes. It directly related to something I was wrestling down and needed to dig into in my own life. And if that wasn’t enough, on my drive home, a line hit me so hard that I pulled over, put the car in park, rewound the book by 30 seconds, listened to the line again twice, and then scribbled it down quickly in a note in my phone. I nearly cried, it was such a relief to know that I was not the only one who thought this way.

It was such a profound moment that I bought the book in hard copy on Amazon when I got home. I needed to have it in my hands. I need to read it again. And again. And again. In fact, I think I’ll read it out loud myself, because while it was beautiful to have Shauna read it to me (she narrated the book herself and it was wonderful), I think I will need to find the places that it makes my voice hitch and my soul hurt, and lean into them myself. I need to soak it in. I need to write all over it, and underline and highlight and flag it with stickies, as I have with Cold Tangerines and Present Over Perfect. But most importantly I need to learn to live it. I need to learn to live in Bittersweet better, because I’m not awesome at it. I find it hard, but we have to do it. Because if we can’t experience sadness, grief, and pain — then we can’t really, truly, experience joy and delight.

“When life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.” ~ Shauna Niequist

*fair warning: This book contained a good chunk toward the back half about marriage, pregnancy, miscarriages, and babies. Knowing what the author has walked through, this didn’t surprise me. I just want to be sure that I let someone know for whom that might be really hard if you’re not expecting it to be there.

Deep Thoughts…. (this is not a book review)


As tends to be the case, I get a wee bit introspective right before I get on an airplane. I jet off tomorrow to rejoin my family in the great land of the Canadian West, and I’m thrilled.

School ended today. And by ended, I definitely mean took a hiatus until January 7th. So there’s that. And that never really feels real until about 3:30 pm the day it happens. So we’re four hours out and it feels real now.

I’m packed, my bags are by the door. I’ve unpacked and repacked my carry-on approximately 6 times, in 2 different bags, trying to make it fit the best and avoid having to leave the camera behind. One does not travel to the Rocky Mountains without a camera (or if they do I just don’t understand). My suitcase is done with the exception of the toothbrush and toothpaste that I will still need tonight, and by some Christmas miracle managed to come in not only under the 50 pound limit, but under FOURTY pounds…. on the first try…. I didn’t have to repack it one single time! I don’t believe this has ever happened before.

The dog is at her home away from home and my house feels empty, but I know she’s well taken care of.

And lastly, I’ve convinced myself that the dream I had earlier this week about having to land the airplane on the Saskatchewan River was utter nonsense, and I’ve shoved my passport in my purse and I’m ready to get up at 3:45 am (that’s not true. I’m never ready for that. I’m theoretically ready, but not emotionally haha).

But I’ve been having some deep thoughts these past couple of weeks. I’ve just been amazed at how powerful our brains are. At all of the processes that run seemingly without thought in the background and we don’t have to “think” about it.

If you’re reading this without breaking down the chunks of each word and having to use what you know about letters and sounds, blends, diphthongs, digraphs, and ridiculous English vowel rules (yes, I teach English for a living, you caught me haha), then your brain is running so many automatic processes. I got the chance earlier in the week to do a read-aloud to a couple of classes. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that because I’m in more of a support role and I just don’t get the opportunity that often. So when the classroom teacher I was working with asked if I wanted to read The Grinch for the activity she was running so that she could watch and assess her kids, I was thrilled to. Now, I know the story of the Grinch. But that didn’t change the fact that my brain knows what to do with the letters, the punctuation, the stresses, and the tone with which the story needed to be presented. How cool is reading!? Writing is much the same way. I don’t have to think about many words anymore, and the structures that form good sentences come pretty naturally. Our brains are incredible! I just wish I knew how to bottle this skill up and find an easy way to deliver it to the kids I support and teach. Anyway, I’m rambling.

But we’re all so different. Where I am amazed by my brain’s ability to read quickly; play the piano using only guitar chords, which to many people look like random letters on a page; play the violin without looking at music; and type without looking at the keyboard while carrying on a conversation (this blows 5th graders’ minds, you should try it sometime!), other people may not have these automatic processes nailed down but can mentally solve math problems or have incredible spatial reasoning skills. They can picture something in their minds and draw it (well — that’s where this skill loses me :p ). They can look at something and innately understand how it works.

Our brains are so cool!

I’m so thankful that our brains are so incredible, and that God has given each of us something that we’re great at and that runs seemingly effortlessly in the background.

I listened to a talk once, I can’t remember where. But it was called something along the lines of Everyone is Incredible at Something. It’s so true. You and I may not have the same skill sets, but we each have something wonderful to offer. It reminds me of the passage in 1 Corinthians 12 that talks about the body having many parts, and that each part is important because what would our bodies be like if we were all hands? I love how diverse humanity is.

Does your brain ever blow its own mind? (haha that sentence sounds ridiculous….) Are you ever amazed at the things you’re able to do without thinking about them first? If you’ve never thought about it, I encourage you to give it some thought. What are you incredible at that not everyone is? What do you bring to the table that the world needs? And if you follow Jesus, how are you using those things to give Him all the Glory?

Merry Christmas! I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Deep Thoughts with Laura.

It’s Okay Not to be Okay


This book hit me kind of hard.  There were many, many nuggets of wisdom throughout.  Written by Sheila Walsh, this is an author who can drive very important points home in a way that sinks in, but does so without alienating the reader and making you feel judged or condemned.

Taglined “Moving forward one day at a time” this book was full of wisdom and tips to lean into our hard parts in life and really embrace who we are in God.

We’ve all experienced that moment where we wish we could start all over again. Failed marriages, lost friends, addictions, lost jobs. This is not the life we imagined. Yesterday can sometimes leave us stuck, sad, shamed, scared, and searching. Sheila Walsh encourages readers to face the pain head on and then start again, from right where they are. She shares that when she discovered “I’m not good enough and I’m good with that,” everything started to change.

In It’s Okay Not to Be Okay, Walsh helps women overcome the same old rut of struggles and pain by changing the way they think about God, themselves, and their everyday lives. She shares practical, doable, daily strategies that will help women move forward one step at a time knowing God will never let them down.

There are many quotable parts of this book, and I wish I could share them all with you, but that wouldn’t be fair to Sheila Walsh because she’d have written a book that no one who read my review will buy, haha.

 

But here are a few:

“Think about it for a moment. How many times do you feel like you’re not enough?  It makes me wonder were we got the idea of what “enough” is.” (p. 22)

“It’s okay not to be okay because we’re not home yet.
It’s okay not to be enough because God doesn’t ask us to be.” (p. 24 — whoa…. this is a point that was hammered home throughout the book and it has the potential to be SO freeing!)

“It might feel more ‘Christian’ not to bring our anger, pain, or disappointment to God, but I believe it’s actually the antithesis of a real relationship with Christ.  We become a little less authentic with every experience we bury.” (p. 40)

“We’re not perfect, but we are redeemed, so give yourself a break.” (p. 70)

 

I won’t quote any more, because most of the profound wisdom I have underlined and have drawn arrows to in the book are more powerful when kept in context of the stories Walsh uses to illustrate her points.

Filled with scriptures, this book will settle into your hurt places, and, if you let it, it might convince you to open yourself up to the idea that it’s ok not to be ok, and we were never meant to be enough.

I encourage you to check this book out.  It wiggled its way right into the core of me and whispered soft, comforting words to a heart that needed to hear them.

(As an aside, I read this book a little differently than I’ve read others.  I have a long commute and a subscription to unlimited audio books, so I listened to it while driving, but then to really sink in the points, every day when I got home I read through the chapters I’d listened to that day and underlined everything that stuck out.  So essentially, I read the book twice.  I actually really enjoyed doing it this way because listening to Sheila read this book was like having a deep conversation with a good friend.  Plus, her Scottish accent is great fun to listen to!)

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

Little Women (2018)


Confession:  I’ve never seen nor read any previous version of Little Women.  Please don’t tar and feather me.  I apologize profusely on behalf of my lack of culture.

That said, I was given a chance to review this current version of Little Women, a modern retelling based on the classic book by Louisa May Alcott.  Apparently this year is the 150th anniversary of the original book, so of course it was time for a modern re-imagining of this story.

I was hesitant, because often modernization ruins a story.  But then I shook my head and realized that I haven’t seen or read the original story, so I’m a blank slate and can objectively review this movie on its own merits and not hold it to a standard set 150 years ago, haha.

At any rate, this movie was beautiful.  I’ve been accused a few times in my life of having a heart of stone and no romantic bones in my body (thanks Sharon, if you’re reading this lol!) because I don’t cry at sappy movies and stories don’t usually work me up.  This one got through the walls, though, and it hooked me all the way in and you’d better believe I cried.  And if you’re familiar with the story (like everyone but me seems to be), you’ll know exactly the couple of spots that got me.  What a beautiful story of family and sisters and dreams, and what you can accomplish when you stay true to yourself and your hopes.

This is a great modern twist on an old classic, and I hope that those of you who are purists and want your classics left well enough alone will be gracious and give it a chance.

Check out the trailer:

I invite you to watch it, and please do reach out and tell me what you thought!  I’ll have to watch an older version (I hear the Winona Ryder one is good?) or read the book to compare, but I did really like this version.  I thought it was well written and well acted, even though sometimes I find Lea Thompson can be overly sweet.  She did a great job with this role.

Unfortunately I seem to have missed it being in theatres 😦 and I’m really sorry my review wasn’t out soon enough for that to happen, but hopefully when it comes out on video you’ll get a chance to sit down with some girlfriends and have a good cry.  Or better yet, watch it with your sisters (if you have them).

Thanks to Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Faith Films for providing me with an advanced screening link.

 

The Lady of Tarpon Springs


Judith Miller is an excellent writer.  This is my first of her books, but I’ll be glad to read another in the future if this was any indication.

Set in 1905 Florida, Zanna Krykos works as a lawyer — almost unheard of for a woman at such a time, but even more so for a woman in a traditional Greek family (who naturally pressures her to find a husband).  A friend of hers inherits a sponging business, and Zanna agrees to run it for her, despite not feeling entirely qualified to do so.

In doing so, she meets Nico Kalos, a Greek Diver given the opportunity to lead a sponging crew in the US.  Imagine his surprise when he arrives in Florida only to find a woman running the business — at a time when men still believed a woman’s mere presence on a ship would doom them and would likely get them killed.

This book showcases a strong female personality, which I love (especially in historical fiction when it wouldn’t have been popular), and a playful, charming male character who you can’t help but love.

Filled with not only witty banter between the two main characters, but also some suspense and fear for the lives on the crew at a couple points, this story weaves together to keep you coming back for more.

The research that must have gone into this book blew my mind a little bit.  I knew very little about sea sponges.  In fact, I only really knew that they existed.  I had no idea what it takes to harvest them, nor how much more intense that process would have been a century ago.  So not only was I entertained by a great story, but I also learned a lot and it prompted me to hit up Google and learn some more.  What a crazy experience it would have been to work on a sponging boat in the Gulf of Mexico.

If you’d like to purchase this book on Amazon.ca you can do so here, or head over to wherever you tend to find books to check it out.

the lady of tarpon springs

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

River to Redemption


Ann H. Gabhart is a masterful writer.  I knew this about her, but I didn’t expect this book.  It was wonderful.

Orphaned in the cholera epidemic of 1833, Adria Starr was cared for by a slave named Louis, a man who stayed in Springfield, Kentucky, when anyone with means had fled. A man who passed up the opportunity to escape his bondage and instead tended to the sick and buried the dead. A man who, twelve years later, is being sold by his owners despite his heroic actions. Now nineteen, Adria has never forgotten what Louis did for her. She’s determined to find a way to buy Louis’s freedom. But in 1840s Kentucky, she’ll face an uphill battle.

Based partly on a true story, Ann H. Gabhart’s latest historical novel is a tour de force. The vividly rendered town of Springfield and its citizens immerse readers in a story of courage, betrayal, and honor that will stick with them long after they turn the last page.

I’ve always loved American Civil War era stories, and so to find out that not only was this book set in the years leading up to the war, but that it was based on a true story, I was even more in love.

In some ways it made me a little bit furious, as it always does, to read stories of a time when people could be bought.  It just baffles me that this was acceptable practice at any time, and then it hits me that it still happens, but that’s a post for another day and time.

This story about young Adria Starr growing into a strong, fiercely independent woman who will fight for what she knows to be right deep down in her soul is refreshing.  Along with historical fiction, I also love stories about strong women, especially in time periods where being strong, outspoken, and an advocate was not only not encouraged but actually discouraged, frowned upon, and called out.  Adria Starr did indeed have an uphill battle in her quest to set Louis free, but she had to try to do what she knew to be the right thing.

This story will warm your heart.  It’s a wonderful read from beginning to end, and I highly recommend it.  I’ve known Ann H. Gabhart to be skilled at character development, and this story is certainly no exception.  You’ll fall in love with these characters (where you should) and be apprehensive about the others instantly.

To grab a copy of this book on Amazon.ca, click here!  Or head to your favourite book retailer to check this out.

river

 

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