Sunday, July 6, 2014

Summer Reads

Almost every summer when I was growing up, I participated in the local library's Summer Reading Program.  By reading a certain number of books, you could earn a coupon for a free personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut or other various prizes.

Nowadays, there's no need to even have the lure of a prize; reading itself is the reward.  Each book is like a mini vacation, or at least most of my selections attempt to fit in that category.

So my main objective at the beginning of each summer is to make a summer reading list.  The hard part isn't coming up with a list; the hard part is cutting it down enough to make it practical.

I start with books that I need to finish.  Next, I write down the books that I've wanted to read for a long time and add in books that friends have recommended.  Then, I add a few of the books that I've seen recommended on multiple blogs.  And for the past two years, I've added in books from Modern Mrs. Darcy's Summer Reading Guide.

I kicked off my summer reading program by finishing Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges, which  I have mentioned previously.  It was eye opening to see how many of my daily behaviors are actually sins that the world has conditioned me to think are acceptable.  In a word, convicting.

Next, I started a book that's been in my stack for quite a while called Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.  This book has received rave reviews by just about every mainstream media outlet, and authors I've read in the past have spoken highly of the prose in this book.  They were all correct.  The prose is amazing, and the story is one that I wouldn't have thought would have received rave reviews from mainstream media.  But that just goes to show that miracles appeal to all.  [Note:  The book has some dark characters and is a bit of a thriller, which I don't normally read, so I had to break it up and read it during the day.] 

At night, I read The Little Book Store of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch.  This was on Modern Mrs. Darcy's list for memoirs, and it is a treasure.  It's a fun read about a couple who opened a used book store in a house in a small town.  If you love small book stores or books in general, this is a great book.

Last summer, I found the genre of food memoirs and was instantly hooked.  So when Modern Mrs. Darcy recommended Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl about a food critic in New York, I knew that I'd be reading it.  I found this book fascinating, and it fostered an even deeper desire to travel to NYC some day and eat at the restaurants that she awarded three-star reviews.

As briefly mentioned in my previous post, I learned a great deal from The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith.  It was the right book at the right time for me.  But her theme of "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful" is one for every season of life.

One of the food memoirs I devoured last summer was A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg.  It was recommended by both Shauna Niequist and Modern Mrs. Darcy.  This summer, they both recommended Wizenberg's follow-up that just released in May entitled Delancey, which is about the pizza restaurant that the author and her husband opened.  I didn't love this book as much as the first, but she ties it together well at the end, includes great recipes, and provides a whole new appreciation for those who run family restaurants and the work that goes into making them succeed.  I kept thinking of Cane Rosso here locally and had to go pick up a Capricciosa pizza, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I just started reading The Book Thief and will hopefully be able to finish it on the train in the near future, along with Love Idol that is on order from Amazon. And there are two other books on hold at the library.  The old saying is true:  Too many books, not enough time!

What books would you recommend for summer reading?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Perspective: Loss of a Label

In the two months since I last posted, the closing date for selling my house changed five times.  Every time I made peace with staying in my house, things would start to look like I would be moving.  And every time I made peace with moving, it looked like I would be staying in my house.  It was quite an emotional ride.
But on May 28, everything came together, the paperwork was signed, and the buyers’ loan funded.  And the fees that the buyers incurred for all of their delays allowed me to cover the cost of the movers.

I had envisioned selling my house and moving to a garage apartment or to a rental house with a yard that would allow me to adopt another Golden Retriever.  My vision did not match up with the market:  garage apartments are difficult to find, and rental houses near downtown are crazy expensive due to what TCU students are willing to pay.  The result was that I ended up moving to a third-story apartment. 
I lived in a third-story apartment for three years before I bought my home, so this isn’t new territory.  And maybe that’s what has made it hard.  I’ve already done this before, and I wasn’t planning to do it again.  It feels like taking a step back. 
I know that it takes time, but it’s been difficult to make this third-story apartment feel like something other than a hotel room that I come back to at the end of the day.  But it’s kind of a catch-22:  even though I want to decorate or do what is necessary to make it feel more like home, I don’t want to spend a lot of money on things for this space because I don’t know how long I’ll be renting here. 

I had no idea when I sold my home that I’d miss the label of “homeowner” as much as I have.  The world has been pressing in, and some acquaintances have not been shy about voicing their shock and dismay that I sold my house.  It's as if it defined my worth or gave me standing as an adult.
I recently finished reading The Nesting Place.  In that book, author Myquillyn Smith describes how she took on making each of her houses a home, including “The Apartment I Thought I Was Too Good For.”  That phrase got my attention because that's exactly what I was/am feeling. 

After living in a house with an attached garage for eleven years, it truly felt like home.  The decorating was done.  The rooms were familiar.  Memories had been made there. I had spent money for a new refrigerator, a new dishwasher, a new hot water heater, new landscaping, and a new roof, as well as having the exterior repainted.  All of that was left behind.

And yet, this apartment is serving a purpose.  It allowed me to sign a lease at the last minute and enabled me to move only once, instead of having to store my things while I waited on a rental house to become available.

This whole process has given me a couple of great reminders.  For one, the only label I should ever stand on is that I belong to Christ.  No other label will stand the test of time.  The other reminder is this earth is my temporary home; nothing here—no matter if it is on the ground floor and has an attached garage—will truly ever feel completely right because my soul was created with a longing for Heaven.

And so I’ve tried to retrain my mind to think about the perks that this new season of renting an apartment encompasses:

--I no longer have a mortgage, a lawn bill, a gas bill, or an alarm monitoring bill.

--The area feels much safer than the old neighborhood.

--The commute to work is about half of what it was when I lived at my house; additional bonus:  a tank of gas can last two weeks.

--Maintenance requests are submitted online, taken care of without my taking a day of vacation, and are not billed to me.  I no longer carry around the fear of having to pay $8,000 to replace an air conditioner.

--There is no certain trash day; trash can be taken to the dumpster every day, and thus raw meat trimmings and eggs do not sit in the garage in 100-degree heat fermenting until Friday (my former trash day).

--UPS packages are delivered to the leasing office and do not sit on the door step waiting to be stolen.

My prayer is that I will continue to see the gifts of this new season of apartment dwelling and that no earthly labels are necessary.

"This one will say, 'I am the Lord's,' . . . and another will write on his hand, 'The Lord's,' and name himself by the name of Israel." - Isaiah 44:5

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Perspective: In the Palm of His Hands

For the past several weeks, family and friends have asked for updates on whether I'm moving, and I've had to answer, "I don't know."  That's hard for me to say because I'm not normally indecisive, but this decision is not dependent on me.

In the first two weeks that the house was on the market, I had ten showings and had three offers, and while I was so grateful that people were finding my house and liking it, that was just the first hurdle. 

When I decided to accept one of the offers, I then had to clear the next hurdle of making it through the inspection.  That, too, was no easy task because many of the windows are foggy due to broken seals between the double panes and because the house is almost 30 years old and has weathered its share of droughts.  Thankfully, the Lord helped me make it over that hurdle.

Last week, the appraiser came, which is another big hurdle because there are no comparable floor plans in my area.  And unfortunately, with less than two weeks to go until closing, I don't know if the house appraised for the selling price because the appraisal hasn't been posted with the lender.  So that has made for an interesting weekend of trying to figure out what I should be doing:  should I start packing or should I just relax?

Another hurdle is that at this point, I haven't found a place to move.  The places that I had in mind have been rented.  And the other places I've looked at have been far away from work, haven't had a garage, or have been way more expensive than my current monthly payment (which includes my mortgage, taxes, and homeowners' insurance).

So as of right now, it kind of feels like God is telling me to stay put.  And so I have not packed a single box, nor have I acquired packing boxes.

But that could all change tomorrow if the appraisal is released and states that the house appraised for the selling price. 

And then, everything could change again at closing if the buyer's loan doesn't fund.

Have I lost you with all of the hurdles? 

Sometimes it's hard to write when I'm in the midst of trying to process a situation, but I wanted to try to capture this place I'm in.  It's foggy, but it's not dark.  It's unsettling, but it's not necessarily unpeaceful.  I'm just trying to figure out what my role is and what parts I'm supposed to do, but the Lord hasn't made that clear to me just yet.

What has been very obvious is that I am not in control and that the Lord is.  My prayers are before Him, and I look forward to seeing what He orchestrates. 

But as for now, the view is fuzzy when I try to peak through His fingers from my vantage point in the palm of His hands.  So I think I'll just sit back and rest in His presence and allow Him to work.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Things I Learned in March

1.  I will fall prey to watching weeknight television in the form of Dancing with the Stars if it features the gold medal ice dancing couple of Meryl Davis and Charlie White. 

2.  I will get foot cramps every Monday night from subconsciously pointing my toes during every dance.

3.  I will cry during almost every tribute dance.

4.  I will have to backdate blog posts because of watching DWTS because the show consumes my Monday evenings.

5.  Cooking chicken in the crock pot is my new favorite thing, mostly because I never cooked chicken until now due to having the curse of pink chicken at restaurants and to being a wee bit uneasy about cooking meat.  Thank goodness Mix & Match Mama put a link in her recent menu plan that taught me how to do it.

6.  I love hearing about what the Lord is doing in my mentee's life.

7.  People who come view a house like to turn on random lights, close random doors, leave your pantry door open, sit at your table and on your bed, and use two of your toilets; they have trouble following showing instructions such that they set off your home alarm (4 times and counting); and they are not afraid to track mud all the way to the bath mat in your master bathroom.

8.  The Type A/OCD part of me has a very hard time handling #7, especially when it requires me to re-vacuum and re-mop the floors and to sanitize the bathroom.

9.  The movie God's Not Dead is worth driving 20 miles or more to see.  It's a shame that it wasn't showing in more theaters.

10.  The true baseball experience involves sitting with friends in the stands, cheering on a ten-year-old outfielder, watching him get a great hit, and eating peanuts out of the shell.

What did you learn in March?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Perpective: Bravery

Over the last few weeks, I've developed a new perspective of bravery.  A friend of mine once shared that she heard Jill Briscoe say on the radio that bravery doesn't mean you aren't scared, it just means doing it scared.  In saying "yes" to whatever Christ has called us, it doesn't mean that everything goes perfectly smooth or that it will all turn out perfectly.  Instead, it means saying "yes" and trusting that He will be with you every step of the way.

To my friend who said "yes" to God's prompting to adopt a close relative's baby, knowing that it was risky, you are brave.  And when the birth parents changed their minds a few weeks before the baby arrived and you chose to show up and love on the birth mother and the baby anyway, your bravery was astounding.

To my friend who said "yes" in the form of "I do" over twenty years ago and who chooses to continue to say "yes" to upholding that vow that was made before God even though your husband has done something tragic, you are brave.

To my friend who said "yes," not once but three times, to foster adoption of some little ones who came from birth parents who were incapacitated due to addictions or mental limitations, you are brave.

To my friend who is daily saying "yes" to God as she leans on Him to walk through the storms of dealing with two parents and a husband who have all had major health issues in the past few months, you are brave.

To my friends who have said "yes" to raising their children to know and love the Lord and spend time on their knees on behalf of their children so that they would not get swept up in the culture, you are brave.

And to my mother who said "yes" to raising two girls as a single mom when our dad got sick, you are brave.

I've heard the phrase "obedience produces blessing," and I pray that each of you would be blessed and shown favor by the Lord for your obedience in saying "yes" to what God has called you to do, even if you are doing it scared.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Perspective: Empty versus Emptying

Now that the season of Lent has begun, I keep reflecting on the empty tomb.  The fact that Jesus's body was no longer there meant bad news for the guards who were charged with keeping watch, but it meant good news to all who believed:  Jesus had conquered death once and for all.

As I've thought about the empty tomb, I've wondered about what emptying needs to take place in my life during Lent.  Things that come to mind include bitterness, frustration, selfishness, anxiousness, discontentment, and the list could go on.  I know that in my own power, I can't rid myself of these behaviors or reset my default to joy.  I need to tap into the resurrection power that Jesus displayed in emptying the tomb and that He gives to me.

And the best part, even better than being emptied of those things I listed above, is that once they are gone, I then have the capacity to better live out the fruit of the Spirit, showing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Who doesn't want that?!

So as you go through Lent, if you decide to give up something, think about what you are making room for and all the good that can be accomplished with His power when you are empty.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. - Philippians 2:5-7

Monday, March 3, 2014

Things I've (Re)Learned in January & February

Emily Freeman tries to do a post at the end of each month with things that she has learned.  And although I may not do it monthly, I like the idea of thinking back through what I've learned or relearned recently. 

1)  I relearned just how much I like rules.  And I really like when people follow the rules.

2)  Along those same lines, I relearned that I love rules that are absolutes at all times.  For instances, periods and commas ALWAYS go inside quotation marks; there's nothing subjective about that.

3)  I learned that I like keeping Sundays completely task free, meaning that I no longer even attempt to blog on that day.

4)  I was reminded that my prayers are not in vain and that I want in on the Kingdom rewards that come with praying without ceasing, no matter what the circumstances are.

5)  I learned that my allergies are not a fan of 2014's crazy winter weather that can span from 80 degrees to 19 degrees in a matter of twenty-four hours and that the pattern can be repeated multiple times during a month.

6)  I learned that meal planning is not as easy as it looks on blogs.  Tips on successfully doing this weekly are welcomed!

7)  I learned that there's an essential oil to help with just about every ailment but that I'll also gratefully add in the occasional steroid nasal spray when I start itching all over due to #5 above.

8)  I learned just how quickly I devour memoirs after polishing off The Antelope in the Living Room in a matter of hours and Notes from a Blue Bike, which I finished over the span of a few days.

9)  I learned that Ellie Holcomb's new album As Sure as the Sun can brighten up an afternoon or make running errands a lot more enjoyable.

10)  And I've learned that I can't end a list with just nine things.

What fun thing have you learned over the past two months?