Tuesday, November 30, 2010

#5: Read a Book on Writing

One of my childhood dreams was to be an author.  I didn't know what I would write, only that I loved writing.  I felt sure that someday I would write a book. False starts have occurred over the years and I started to think I didn't have a Good Idea in me.  Blogging became a form of creative expression since I was sure it would be the extent of my writing capabilities.

Only...writing begets more writing.  A couple of years ago I started to wonder if perhaps there was a book in me after all.  I have a few ideas that haven't let me go.  In the spring, amidst packing all my belongings and saying goodbye to friends and family, I wrote an outline and first chapter for one of those ideas, then submitted it to a writing contest.  I knew it was a long shot but I thought the feedback would be worth it.

It was and wasn't.  The contest had quite a few stipulations of what needed to be included in the first chapter, which turned out to be details I didn't want to reveal so soon into the story.  These parts, of course, turned out to be what the judges didn't like, which I found frustrating.  One judge, in particular, appeared to relish doling out the criticism.  It was rather deflating in a sense. 

I know it's a a good story, or at least the start of one, but I haven't written since submitting the piece back in March or April.  Yes, I've been a bit busy but I was also irritated with the contest.  Apparently they're more concerned with cliches and formulas than they are with developing new ideas.  Very disappointing over all.

I wrote a blog friend who's an author for words of advice and maybe a writing book recommendation.  She told me I must read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which I'd intended to do awhile ago but never got around to.

Timing is everything.  I love the way Lamott writes and she especially excels in this book about the writing craft itself.  Whether discussing [crappy] first drafts or the difficulty in sitting down to write, I found myself responding and nodding in agreement.

By the end, I felt that writing is still a part of my future.  There's still a story in me and the book I started deserves some good solid attention.  No more contests.  No more thoughts of publication.  I honestly don't care if anyone reads it other than friends and family.  I want to know that I can write something worth reading.  I want to be taken over by my characters and plots the way I was when I first sat down to work on this. 

Lamott captures why we write so perfectly:
"Because of spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship." -p. 237
My first step is to get back into the habit of working on this book.  My second step is to find a writing group or establish a small group of people who will read the book a chapter at a time and provide timely feedback. For the record, this is fiction, in the contemporary/chick lit vein. If you know of a writing group in Nashville or would like to provide feedback, please email me.  It's scary to let others read what I've written outside this blog but this is part of the process.

Bird by Bird has given me the courage to take this project up once again.  I don't know when I'll start or when I'll finish but it will happen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Outlive Your Life review

I don't remember where I read this but just before Outlive Your Life came out, there was an interview with Max Lucado in which he said he had realized in all of his years preaching and writing, he had not devoted himself to social justice issues.  He hadn't devoted himself to why poverty exists and what Christians should be doing about it.  Outlive Your Life examines how God changes the world with ordinary people like you and me.  Notably 100% of Max's royalties will be used to benefit World Vision and other faith-based compassion ministries.  I think it's safe to say that this book has diverted his life in a new direction.

Max mentions 3 questions in the first chapter and spends the rest of the book answering them, specifically addressing the church's role with the poor and needy.
1. Had you been a German Christian during World War II, would you have taken a stand against Hitler?
2. Had you lived in the South during the civil rights conflict, would you have taken a stand against racism?
3.When your grandchildren discover you lived during a day in which 1.75 billion people were poor and 1 billion were hungry, how will they judge your response?

The point of these questions is not to make us feel guilty but to start conversation.  To start movement. To ensure that we know we cannot just rest on our laurels as Christians living in America.
"But this much is clear: the storehouse is stocked. The problem is not in the supply; the problem is in the distribution. God has given this generation, our generation, everything we need to alter human suffering." -p. 6
I was in the midst of the Radical Read-Along when I sat down to read Outlive Your Life.  As I expected, Lucado's words nicely complimented Platt's message.  Lucado has a very relatable writing style.  Whether he's sharing a story about a hardworking Ethiopian farmer or reinterpreting a page from the Bible, I find myself understanding these concepts better than I did before.  In some ways I feel that Max shared his heart more here than his other works that I've read.

He makes good points.  We must first of all pray.  We must second of all do our part.  We cannot solve the problems of the world individually but we can do something.  We can make a difference in our corner of the world.  I may not be able to feed a million people but when I start serving at the Soup Wagon, I'll be able to feed the homeless that come for the meal.  Most importantly, when we serve others, we are bringing glory to God's name.

While I think Max could have offered hands-on ideas to supplement each chapter, he has saved that for the Discussion and Action Guide in the back of the book.  I'm glad that it's in there because sometimes we need someone else to jump start the conversation and give us ideas of what to do next.

Do I believe that I was made to make a difference, as the subtitle suggests?  You bet I do.  I'm making changes in my life to reflect that.  Do you believe you were made to make a difference?  And what are you going to do about it?

Disclosure: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon from HopefulLeigh, any purchase you make supports this site.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Sentiments: Favorites

Sunday Sentiments is an attempt to record what God has been teaching me and the way in which He does it.

I love the bookshelf I designed and my dad built for me many years ago.  It's in need of another coat of paint and there's no longer room for all the books I've held on to but it is a treasure regardless.  Every bibliophile has their own organization system.  I tend to group books together by author, then by size, then by theme, always paying attention to the aesthetics of the shelf.

The other day I decided I needed to do a little rearranging.  I wanted to group my favorite nonfiction books together.  The middle shelf, which is about eye level for my short stature, became their new home.

A few are missing from the middle shelf because they are too tall- Generation Kill (an embedded reporter's account of the 2003 invasion of Iraq), A New Kind of Christian (which helped me reconcile my faith during college), What's So Amazing About Grace?, and In the Grip of Grace.  They're not all Christian books but they did teach me something.  Overall though, I reread the majority of these, whether my favorite portion of the book as a whole, compulsively.  When I first read them, I knew the author understood what he or she was writing about because they had experienced it firsthand.  Discussing matters of the soul always benefits from the author's vulnerability and willingness to get messy.

*God's Politics- Jim Wallis-  Wallis helped me reconcile my political beliefs with my faith.

*Savage Inequalities- Jonathan Kozol- I read this for a college sociology class and the accounts of economic disparity continue to haunt me.  It is unconscionable that children do not have equal access to public education, even those living in the same city.  And we wonder why impoverished children tend to make poor decisions past high school, if they even graduate in the first place...

*On Death and Dying- Elizabeth Kubler-Ross- I would be a poor excuse for a former hospice social worker if I didn't reference Kubler-Ross's efforts.  Even if end of life issues aren't your expertise, her work is definitely worth reading.  We all face death, loss, and grief at some point.

*The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically- AJ Jacobs- First of all, Jacobs is funny.  Second of all, whether he's reading through the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica or taking a more literal approach to following the Bible, you can't help but learn all manner of things along the way. 

*Animal, Vegetable, Miracle- Barbara Kingsolver- Kingsolver and her family documented a year of deliberately eating food that was produced where they lived. The book is chock full of information on processed food, farmer's markets, and more, as well as delicious recipes. It definitely made me reassess where my food comes from and I've been trying to change my food consumption and purchasing habits ever since.

*A Walk with Jane Austen-  Lori Smith- Yes, I love Jane Austen but that's not why this book is dear to me.  Smith's account of her travels in England retracing Austen's steps directly impacted her faith and her experience as a Christian single.  I couldn't help but resonate with her experience and it definitely made me want to go to England as soon as possible.

*The School of Dying Graces- Richard Felix- I read a few books after Grandma died in 2007 but none spoke to me as much as Felix's experience through his wife's battle with cancer. His examination of the gifts we gain from persevering through suffering was both inspirational and encouraging.

*Sacred Thirst- M. Craig Barnes- I often reference Barnes' words here.  I go back to this book time and time again when I am in need of refreshment.

*When the Heart Waits- Sue Monk Kidd- I read this during a dark night of the soul.  Kidd writes from a place of part mentor, part sojourner.

*Bittersweet- Shauna Niequist- A recent review. I've already started buying copies for my friends.

*Evolving in Monkey Town- Rachel Held Evans- In so many ways, I feel Evans' story is my story, from our shared childhood eczema to wrestling with faith. We came up with a few different conclusions but overall I appreciate this memoir and exploration.

*Radical- David Platt- Do I really need to say anything more about the book that kicked my butt this year?  Here are my thoughts on the final chapter.

*The Beautiful Ache- Leigh McLeroy- The subtitle is Finding the God Who Satisfies When Life Does Not.  This author has a great first name.  But she also has a great way of exploring the tension between the imperfections of earth and the perfection awaiting us in heaven. 

*Crazy Love and Forgotten God- Francis Chan- Crazy Love ultimately inspired my decision to take a leap of faith and move to Nashville.  Forgotten God solidified my desire to pray crazy, courageous prayers and see how He will use them. Chan writes; "I don't want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit. I want people to look at my life and know that I couldn't be doing this by my own power...God wants the praise for what we do in our lives. But if we never pray audacious, courageous prayers, how can He answer them? If we never follow Him to positions where we need Him, how can He show up and makes His presence known?"

*Traveling Mercies- Anne Lamott- Lamott's writing is not for the faint of heart.  She is irreverent while being reverent.  Her story of conversion does not fall into the nice cookie cutter shape of other conversion stories.  Yet. She is dynamic, and she is honest about her issues. This is a beautiful exploration of faith. 

Any thoughts on my favorite books?  What else would you add to this collection?

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon from HopefulLeigh, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Six Months: Blessing

Pumpkin Pie Crunch is baking in the oven right now, scenting my home beautifully.  In a few hours I'll head to a friend's house.  My first Thanksgiving apart from my family.  While I'll miss gathering around the table- and they'll miss my fantastic green bean casserole- today is not about sadness but reflection.  Awe. Gratitude.

I look back on the past six months and I honestly have no idea why God has blessed me with so much.

My dream job?  Living on my own in a duplex just blocks away from my best friend?  A church that grows and feeds me in so many ways?  A new community of friends?

So much more than I could have ever asked for or imagined.

Last weekend we sang Great is Thy Faithfulness, which is one of my favorite hymns.  This time the chorus struck me in a whole new light.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
All I have needed. God provided a job, a home, a church, and friends- and abundantly so.

Sometimes at the holidays it's overly evident that I'm not sharing this one with a special someone.  Especially as my younger cousins pair off, another friend gets engaged, someone else is pregnant.  As much as I want to be married, it's not my reality.  What I realized as I sang the hymn, God really has provided everything I need.  In those terms, my life is complete.  While I would tend to disagree (because I want to get married), I don't need to get married.  If and when it happens, my husband will enhance my life but he won't complete it.  Only God brings completeness and wholeness to our lives.  Anything else He does is the icing on the cake. 

My Daily Word devotional the other day said something to the effect of this.  If God never did anything else in your life, never answered another prayer, would Christ's death on the cross and incomparable grace be enough?  It's not a question you can answer glibly. 

Today I am grateful for the blessings these past 6 months and the 6 months before that.  I realize how much I don't deserve them though.  Without Christ's sacrifice though, these blessings mean nothing.  So yes, His grace is enough.  God, thank You so much for Your work in my life, from my salvation to my sanctification.  May my life be used for Your glory!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  (Or should I say, y'all?)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Six Months: Nashville

Here are some thoughts about the city I now call home.
  1. I have picked up a bit of a Southern drawl.  I knew I'd pick up an accent fast but I didn't think it would be this fast.  I started noticing a lilt 3 months ago.  And it's only gotten worse.  My parents actually make fun of me.  I promise I'm a Yankee at heart!
  2. Every time I go to Whole Foods, an American Idol contestant is shopping there.  I don't watch the show so Tracy will nudge me and say, "do you know who that is?"  I'll covertly consider them, because it's not polite to bother/stare at local celebrities, and think they look vaguely familiar only because I watch E's celebrity news show.
  3. One of my coworkers has yoga with this person.  Now that's somebody I'd like to see shopping at Whole Foods.  I mean, I'd totally still be covert but it would be exciting!
  4. A benefit of Southern living is much easier access to one of my favorite food groups.  Fried pickles!  There are so many places to choose from and I know I'm only scratching the surface on options.  I had dinner at Rotier's the other night and their spicy spears are still in my top 5.
  5. A drawback of Southern living is the news.  I am a faithful subscriber to The Tennessean, the only newspaper for this fair state.  Let's just say that the Chicago Tribune has ruined me for all other newspapers.  On the plus side, there's still a crossword puzzle!
  6. A benefit of Nashville living, in particular, is the music scene!  As a reminder, I do not like country music.  And while Nashville is known as the Country Capital, it really should be known as Music City.  This is a musician's playground!  I love that there are a million shows going on every night, often for just $10-20.  What a deal!  Now, I'm an old person, so I'm not going to shows every night, especially when I have to work the next day, but I get out my fair share.  I love that I can see all my favorite indie bands for less and usually just a 15 minute drive from my house.  It's a wonderful life.
  7. Cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes.
  8. Have I rhapsodized about the food lately?  I went to Sopapilla's last night for the first time and was blown away.  The guacamole was so beautiful I took a picture with my Blackberry.  I had the Blue Corn Enchilladas and just about went to heaven. The service was impeccable and the conversation (the only thing not provided by the restaurant but certainly enhanced by the atmosphere) was both stimulating and hilarious.  Get thee to Sopapilla's stat. 
  9. There are so many quality restaurants to explore.  I think for my 32 Things next year, I will see how many of the Nashville Originals I can try.
  10. I bought a membership to the First with Groupon that includes a free guest pass.  So you know who to call if you want to check out the Impressionism exhibit!
  11. Fun festivals like Hot Chicken Fest.  Talk about celebrating the simple things in life!
  12. Another drawback is certainly the brown recluse spider population.  And the snakes.  Luckily, no snake sightings yet.
  13. Lots of fun coffeehouses every where.
  14. I'm still on the hunt for a good resale shop.  I'm not sure anything will live up to Village Discount but I'm not giving up hope yet.  If you live in Illinois, I hope you're taking advantage of the deals and steals at Village Discount for me.  Hmmm.  Maybe I should schedule a little trip there when I go home for Christmas...
  15. I went to the Christmas Village the other weekend and was blown away by all the crafters and creators.  There were food samples galore and some truly impressive jewelry/frames/bakeware/gift ideas.  My mom is a calligrapher and used to participate in craft shows when I was growing up so places like this always bring back fond memories.  Still, after a couple of hours, I was good to go.  Shopping makes me tired.
  16. I got to meet author Shauna Niequist on Saturday!  She read a few chapters from her book, answered questions, and then signed copies of her book.  We only got to chat for a few moments but when I mentioned the review I did here, she not only came up with the name of the blog but said it was beautifully written.  Big grin.
  17. The roads and highways don't seem to have any rhyme or reason here.  Chicago at least has a grid system.  In Nashville the streets change names five times within 10 miles.  I've been warned about the nefarious ways of Old Hickory- thankfully haven't gotten lost using it yet.  
  18. On the other hand, routes I use regularly have become familiar.  The other day driving to church, I realized I had spaced out for a few moments, which sounds dangerous but it's not.  I was simply on autopilot and comfortably so.  Do not feel you need to avoid the roads in my presence.
  19. Nashville would benefit from a few stores.  Like Ikea, H&M, and Crate and Barrel.  Just to name a few.  
  20. The long and short of it is that this is my home.  And it really does feel like home.  I may not know my way around directionally and there are still things that Illinois knows best (like White Sox baseball!!!) but this is where I'm meant to be.  These six months have flown.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Six Months: Work

    I received one of the highest compliments of my career the other week.  I'd been meeting with the mother of a little girl who had a recurrent brain tumor.  Therapy was underway but the overall prognosis wasn't good.  A week or two before that, this girl had been in remission for three years.  This family is used to the hospital, clinic, chemo, the whole 9 yards.  But this was my first time meeting with them.  I didn't do anything different than usual.  I listened, I advised, I responded. Within the first 20 minutes of talking with her, she told me she'd had two "aha!" moments. I thought it was going pretty well.

    And then came the question.  "Do you have any children?"

    Oh, crap.  It could go one of two ways.  She's asking because she wants to know more about me and it won't matter that I don't have kids.  Or she's asking because what the heck do I know about anything if I don't have kids?  I was hoping for option #1.

    I hadn't considered option #3.

    This mom thought that I did have a child because I was so "compassionate, knowledgeable, and caring."  She went on to say that she had liked my predecessor but she knew that I was going to be a fantastic fit for her and her family. 

    When I relayed this story to Tracy, she made a comment about how neat it was that I had found the perfect fit for me.  It's true.  This job is the perfect fit for me.

    When I first moved, I was riding on the high of being offered my dream job just 4 days before I moved.  God was behind this completely.  I honestly can't take any credit for how I came into this job.  From the moment I saw the listing on the website, I felt it would be a long-shot.  Without any pediatric hospital experience, I was hoping my health care background and child and teen bereavement work would be enough.  I found out later that my background in hospice is rather impressive, as in, "if she can do hospice, she can do anything!"

    After I'd returned the offer letter and had a few weeks before starting to work, I emailed or spoke with various friends that had personal experience with pediatric cancer and asked them about their experience, especially concerning their social worker.  I was excited to start work because it was my dream job.  However, I was terrified to start work because it was my dream job.  What if it turned out that I was horrible at this?  

    Then I made it through orientation and feeling overwhelmed by all the newness of starting this job.  I got my office situated.  (My office!!!  I still can't believe I have my own desk, much less a window view.)  I started meeting patients and families.  I figured out the rhythm of hospital and clinic.

    What I've realized is that no matter where I work, I'm a great social worker.  However, there's something about this current work that is absolutely the right fit for me.  I don't fully understand how or why God gifted me in this way.  All I know is that it happened in His perfect timing.  I wouldn't have been ready or able to do this right after grad school.  Hospice and bereavement work, along with personal loss, turned out to be the preparation I needed.  These things cannot be rushed.  I pinch myself everyday that I get to work here and do the things I do.  I've gotten such great feedback from my teams and from the families I work with.  That means more than anything.

    The last few weeks have been crazy at work.  It's by no means a perfect place to work (hello, on-call!) and sometimes the patients/families are crazy themselves.  But...I readily admit I'm still in the honeymoon phase.  I'm part of an amazing institution.  I have amazing coworkers.  I have amazing patients and families that trust me during their most vulnerable moments.  I have learned more about brain tumors and sickle cell disease in the last 5 months than I ever thought was possible.  I have a vision for where I could take my programs.  I have a professional goal to start supervising other social workers next year.

    I have been given so much by working here.  Every day I pray that God will give me the strength and that my work would bring Him glory. I'm five months in and can see myself doing this for some time to come.  Whatever happens though, I want to remain open to what God has before me, whether it's staying here or moving on.  I can't imagine how He'd top this but seeing as how He's proven His faithfulness, I guess I'll have to wait and see.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Six Months: Community

    This week I'm celebrating my first six months in Nashville.  Of all the things I was worried about, making new friends was at the top of the list.

    I was unbelievably lucky to already have my best friend here so it wasn't as if I had to start completely from scratch.  Visiting Tracy and Joel over the past six years had also allowed me to become friends with some of their friends, another blessing.  Still, I didn't want to become a burden to them.  It was important for me to become friends with other singles, as all my Nashville friends were married and mostly with children.  This doesn't mean that married folks and single folks don't understand each others' differences but that sometimes you want to be with other people in the same life stage as you.

    I'm an excellent listener and I'm horrible at small talk.  I love finding out people's stories.  However, I feared that no one would want to hear mine.  I worried that Tracy and Joel would get tired of having me around.  I was scared that I'd move here and find myself without community.

    My fears were quickly laid to rest.

    1)  One of my favorite things about any visit to see Tracy and Joel pre-move was attending their church.  No matter who spoke that morning, I always left feeling I knew God better than I had before. It would be one of the highlights of the weekend.  Sadly, that's not something one can say about every church.

    It was a relief to not have to go church shopping. Few things make a single person lonelier than checking out a new church.  Fellowship's membership class started 2 weeks after I moved and so I dove in with both feet. 

    I cannot even express how blessed I am to attend this church on a weekly basis.  I always walk away fed.  The sermon series on Genesis blew my mind on a regular basis- no small feat for someone born and raised in the church.   The worship portion of the service often brings me to tears.  I cannot help but be thankful and praise God for bringing me here. 

    2)  My community group is newly formed, although the leaders led another CG before this.  We're still getting to know each other but my sense is that these are people that will challenge and encourage me.  I'm the only single in the group, which lends an interesting dynamic, but I believe that I am able to challenge and encourage them too.

    3)  In September, I started going to a Beth Moore Bible study at church on Monday nights.  One of my coworkers had been looking for a B. Moore study and so she is there too.  I seriously love our discussion group.  We've had some amazing conversations and really fostered intimacy quickly.  When I told them the other week I wasn't sure I wanted to do the winter/spring curriculum because of the subject matter, they kindly listened to my concerns and then told me I had no choice but to do it.  We have become a feisty yet vulnerable community.  I was so touched that they wanted me to keep going that I decided to sign up for the next study.  It may challenge me or not but I know I'm not ready to stop meeting with my discussion group!  Tonight we plan to have dinner at Sopapilla's since the Breaking Free study has ended.

    4) I have amazing coworkers!  First, I work with well over 20 other social workers who are fabulous.  From orientation to on-call situations, everyone is supremely helpful, no matter what else they have going on.  I am so not used to this!  It's been fun getting to know everyone, whether grabbing a quick lunch at Mr. Burrito Fresh (best nachos ever!) or going out for drinks after work.  Second, the sickle cell and brain tumor teams have been great about pulling me in on patients and families.  I've especially enjoyed getting to know the case managers and NPs better. 

    5)  Then there's the random connections.  Neighbors.  Friends of friends who live in Nashville.  Chance meetings at church or concerts.  Face-to-face get togethers with bloggers I've followed.  Such a small world we live in!

    6) Finally, one of the best parts of this move has been living by Tracy once again.  She moved to Nashville right after getting married in 2004.  While we managed to still see each other a few times a year, it's not the same as living in the same town.  She has reassured me again and again that I am not a burden to her, that she enjoys that I'm not as busy as I will one day be because right now I am available to hang out with her more.  She is one of the people who knows me best, even if I have to remind her of some of our shared memories.  (Incidentally, Tracy, why do you remember all of my blackmail-worthy memories instead of the more random stuff which is really much more interesting?)   Doing life together once again has added a new depth to our friendship.  I have found myself opening up on some subjects I previously held back on and she has been there to encourage me as I've processed life's changes.  I am so glad that I can be here for her too!  Witnessing her as a mother is a beautiful thing and I'm honored that she lets me be a part of Anna's life.

    Joel is the older brother I never knew I always wanted.  He has graciously allowed me to be a part of his family.  I am so grateful for his wisdom and still find him to be one of the funnier people in my life.

    And then there's the icing on the cake.  My sweet niece-in-love Anna.  She brings me such joy!  I have loved watching her grow.  I was just looking at pictures of her in May- she is so much bigger now!  Being an auntie is the absolute best.  While I miss the other kiddos in my life that are back in Illinois, I am so glad that I get to see this little girl as much as I do. 

    So there you have it.  This is the start of the community I'm forming in Nashville.  I'm starting to become busier as these relationships have developed.  It's exciting to see how God has placed some of us together, what I can bring to their lives and what they can bring to mine.  Music buddies, book lovers, and more.  I think this is just the beginning...

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Sunday Sentiments: Six Months

    Sunday Sentiments is an attempt to record what God has been teaching me and the way in which He does it.

    Six months ago my life upended.  On May 21, my parents, cousin, and his wife unloaded the moving truck and got me settled into my new house.  I spent the weekend unpacking, moving furniture, and trying not to think about when they would all head back home.  Leave they did, amid many tears on my part.  Until that moment, it wasn't quite real.  I wasn't really moving to Nashville.  I was just coming for my usual visit with a bit more stuff than usual.

    Suddenly I had to begin making this my home.  With a month between moving and starting my job, I had plenty of time to continue unpacking, hanging pictures, get a TN drivers license, find a new bank, and a host of other details that accompany moving to a new state.

    So much happens in six months.  In fact, I can't believe that I've only lived here that long because it seems like longer.  Nashville truly is home.

    There's still much to do.  The office is still mostly a mess of boxes.  I haven't faced my first weekend call at work yet. Friendships are being formed and tested.  I can't quite make sense of the roads and highways, which tend to change names every few miles.

    Yet, this is 100% where I'm meant to be.  While it's strange, it matters less that I've missed out on some of my favorite annual activities or that I won't be with family this Thursday for Thanksgiving.  I have a long visit planned at Christmas, which should take the sting out of creating holiday traditions here. Part of moving forward means sometimes leaving things behind.  I have a good sense of which of my friends back home will be forever friends.  I've adjusted to calling my parents instead of dropping in at them at home whenever I felt like it.  I've adopted my friends' pets whenever I need a pet fix, instead of seeing Tucker and Buzz.

    Everything from my house to my job to my new friends has been perfectly orchestrated by God.  I could never have asked or imagined anything as God as what He has planned.

    More importantly, God is weeding out the dross from my life and character.

    Last night at church, a song contained these lyrics:
    All You have in store / is all I want O Lord
    That continues to my prayer through this journey.

    I came to Nashville to learn how to be more dependent on God.  He has stretched and grown me in so many ways these past six months.  I'm not the same girl from Illinois.  I am a new creation.  And He's not done with me yet.

    Join me this week as I reflect on all that God is doing and has done since my NashVegas adventure began.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Fashion Week: Shoes

    (This post was originally written for Fashion Week at Windy Poplars but the series is now on hold.  Enjoy anyway!)

    Today we're focusing on shoes.  Who doesn't love a good shoe?  When I moved, I invested in plastic shoe boxes from The Container Store.  I love looking at the uniform stacks, catching glimpses of color here and there.  My beautiful, beautiful shoes.  The boots are in their original boxes still mostly because of their size.

    I'm currently on the look-out for some interesting flats, either patterned or in a certain color.  I haven't spotted anything yet that I have to have.  Sooner or later, the right pair(s) will come along!

    My favorite shoe-related purchase of this year would have to be this pair.

    Green suede from Juicy Couture that were a steal at $29.99 from Marti & Liz Shoes.  The 4-inch stacked heel means I can't wear them for long but they're perfect for an evening event.  Love them!

    Have you spotted any cute flats recently?  What was your favorite shoe purchase this year?

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Fashion Week: Church Clothes

    It's Fashion Week at Windy Poplars...hop on over to join the fun!

    I go to a more casual church where jeans are completely acceptable.  In the summer, I might wear a dress or skirt but come fall and winter, I wear jeans or dress according to whatever the rest of the day's plans hold.  I get tired of professional attire so while some people welcome the chance to dress up, I welcome the chance to keep it casual.

    Here was my look this past Sunday:
    purple long-sleeved shirt, Express
    navy tank top, Old Navy
    scarf, boutique? (I can't remember which one)
    jeans, Banana Republic
    chandelier earrings, gift

    The church of my childhood was much more formal- dress clothes required.  However, I enjoy getting to choose whether to dress up or not.  I know God doesn't care what I wear- it matters more that I go to church than what I'm wearing.

    Is your church more casual or formal?

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    #3: Flambé something

    When I created my 31 Things, I thought I'd add something culinary-related that I'd never before attempted.  I'm a rather adventurous cook in terms of trying new techniques and ingredients.  Yet, I'd never flambéed anything.  30 seems an appropriate age to learn how to utilize alcohol and a match when it comes to food.

    I've had a deep love of Jameson since my trip to Ireland a few years back.  I am a certified expert whiskey taster, thanks to the tour.  My Whiskey Cake is renowned (among my friends and family) and delicious.  Therefore, I knew Jameson had to be involved with this cooking experiment.

    I headed to The Tasty Kitchen and searched for "whiskey" and "flambé."  When Gaelic Steak Flambé showed up, I knew it was meant to be.

    The cast of characters:
    The pretty yellow- and long- matches were scored in Leipers Fork last weekend

     Jameson goes in...and now for the scary part!

     Do you enjoy the look of trepidation on my face?

    OK, so it took two attempts.  The first time I didn't empty out the juices from the cooked meat.  When I added the whiskey and lit the match, there was a little sizzle and then nothing.  I took the steaks out, emptied the liquid (bye bye beautiful whiskey!) and started over. 

    Presto changeo! 

    The flame was never as impressive as the one featured with the recipe.  But...there was a flame!  And the steaks were delicious, especially the mushroom sauce.  Thanks, Tracy, Joel, and Mama W for being my guinea pigs!

    If you need something flambéed any time soon, let me know.  I think I can certify myself as an expert flambéer now.  Right?

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Where Rubber Meets the Road

    It's hard to believe this is the final chapter of Radical.  The Read-Along has gone by so quickly.  I may have to pick another book and post my thoughts every Tuesday just to keep up the discipline!  God has used this book, along with the recent sermon series at my church, to really stretch me.  I've made some changes in my life as I've read through Radical.  I'll be starting to volunteer with the Soup Wagon soon (surprise- I made my choice!) and I've been tweaking my budget, as well as sponsoring a new child through Compassion.  However, David Platt has taken a step to ensure that every reader can commit to making a radical change.  So much for resting on our laurels...

    The Radical Experiment will take place over the next year and consists of 5 steps. 

    1. Pray for the entire world.
    "When Jesus looked at the harassed and helpless multitudes, apparently his concern was not that the lost would not come to the Father. Instead his concern was that his followers would not go to the lost....What happens when you and I take these words from Jesus and put them in a world where more than a billion people have still not heard of the gospel? A fundamental reality snaps into focus: we are not praying."  -p. 187
    A practical way to pray for the world daily is to use Operation World.  My mom has an old edition and I've flipped through it looking for specific countries.  But to use it to pray for a different country each day?  That seems radical indeed.  How could God use my prayer?  I have no idea. 

    I, Leigh, commit to buying Operation World and using it as a daily prayer guide.

    2. Read through the entire Word.
    "If we want to know the glory of God, if we want to experience the beauty of God, and if we want to be used by the hand of God, then we must live in the Word of God." -p. 192
    I've been reading through the Bible a chapter each day for the past several years.  Sometimes I read a few chapters at a time, other times I focus more on a Bible study but there is consistent time in the Bible each night.  I don't feel the need to increase the pace of my Bible reading but it wouldn't hurt to try.

    I, Leigh, commit to continue reading at least a chapter of the Bible daily, if not more.

    3. Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose
    "Sacrifice is giving away what it hurts to give. Sacrifice is not giving according to your ability; it's giving beyond your ability."  -p. 195
    I support missionaries, sponsor children through World Vision and Compassion, and give to other good causes.  However, it doesn't hurt me to give.  I haven't had to think twice about buying concert tickets or the book I want. I can give to others and give to myself without much thought. I hope to change that in the coming year.  I think there's a balance to this. I don't think we're to deprive ourselves of any good thing but I do think I can learn to do more without so that I can give more to others who need it.

    I, Leigh, commit to tracking my spending and giving habits in order to figure out a lifestyle cap by the end of this year.

    4. Spend your time in another context.
    "If we are going to accomplish the global purpose of God, it will not be primarily through giving our money, as important as that is. It will happen primarily through giving ourselves. This is what the gospel represents, and it's what the gospel requires."  -p. 198
    As I mentioned above, I'm in the process of becoming a volunteer with Salvation Army's Soup Wagon program, which ministers to the homeless.  I've wanted to somehow work with the homeless community for some time so I am excited by this opportunity, although nervous at the same time.  I've never done anything quite like this.  The moment I read about the program, my stomach did a flip and I felt almost certain that this was where I should be serving.  I want to get to know these people...to go from "the homeless" to names and faces. I want to share the hope that I have, as our relationships grow.

    Platt has emphasized that serving locally is not enough. The 4th challenge is to spend one week, outside the context of your own city, making the gospel known.  Part of me resists this but I'm not sure why.  I went on a mission trip to Ecuador 5 years ago and it was a powerful time in my life. I thought about being a missionary at one time. I love traveling and experiencing other cultures.  So why not go on another mission trip either domestically or internationally?  Why not see if I can serve alongside one of the missionaries I support?  I have no idea where this commitment will lead- and this scares me too.  Still...

    I, Leigh, commit to volunteering with the Soup Wagon and going on a mission trip of some sort.

    5. Commit your life to a multiplying community.
    "If we are going to live in radical obedience to Christ, we will need the church to do it. We will need to show one another how to give liberally, go urgently, and live dangerously...The global purpose of Christ was never intended to be accomplished by individuals." -p. 206
    I was blessed to know which church I wanted to be a part of when I moved so I went through the membership class about 2 weeks after I moved.  I've been in a Monday night Bible study the past few months and have grown to love the women in my small group.  I wasn't certain if I would continue with the winter curriculum because of the subject matter- although they told me I had no choice but to keep coming.  Now as I considered this 5th challenge, I know that I definitely don't have a choice. Winter curriculum it is.

    I'm also in a new community group.  We are still getting to know each other and I'm the only single. There are two infants who are often present during our gatherings. I like the people and appreciate their vulnerability and depth.  Yet, it's still awkward at times. I'm not sure that I fit in.  I'm choosing to fight the awkwardness because I feel that this group will be good for me and perhaps I can be good for them.

    I, Leigh, commit to purposefully connect with my community group and Bible study small group.

    "What happens when radical obedience to Christ becomes the new normal?" -p. 216
    I have signed and dated the commitment page in the back of my copy of Radical.  Come November 13, 2011 my life should look different than it does now if I keep to these commitments.  Please hold me accountable!  This is where the rubber meets the road. 

    God, let this not be a book that I read, think great thoughts, and then remain the same.  Do a mighty work in my life in the next year and may Your name be glorified through it all!

    If  you've read the book, would you consider signing up for the Radical Experiment?  If you haven't read Radical yet, might you consider starting today?

    This post is part of the Radical Read-Along hosted by the fantastic Marla Taviano.

    Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon from HopefulLeigh, any purchase you make supports this site. 

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Fashion Week: Work

    It's Fashion Week at Windy Poplars...hop on over to join the fun!

    Confession time: I posted these two outfits for the first and only time I participated in What I Wore Wednesday, which is hosted by  The Pleated Poppy.  This week is shaping up to be quite a doozy and I tend to write most of my posts over the weekend.  Since I forgot to take a picture of any of my work outfits since Kristin announced Fashion Week, these two examples will have to suffice for today.

    They really are good examples of my work wear.  Add a cardigan or scarf as needed, some fun shoes, and I'm good to go.  I do a lot of walking between the hospital and clinic so comfort is key.  Some days I brave a chic heel.  It's finally boot weather so it's fun to switch it up with tunics or a dress and leggings.

    3/4 length sleeved shirt, Old Navy
    pants, J. Crew
    cropped hooded cardigan vest, clothing swap
    scarf, AliKat boutique (Glen Ellyn, IL)
    silver leaf earrings, Kohl's
    shoes, Target
    long sleeved gray t, Old Navy
    scarf, World Market
    pants, Old Navy
    shoes, Target
    chandelier earrings, gift

    If time allows, I'll post a picture of what I actually wear on Monday once I get home from work.

    Update: Today's Outfit!

    The outerwear:
    sweater cardigan, Simply Vera Vera Wang
    fingerless gloves (mid-arm length), Simply Vera Vera Wang

    dress, Juicy Couture (e-bay score!)
    gray t-shirt, Gap
    belt, Kohl's
    gray tights, Anthropologie
    boots, Steve Madden
    earrings, Etsy

    Another look at the boots:

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Sunday Sentiments: Commission

    Sunday Sentiments is an attempt to record what God has been teaching me and the way in which He does it.

    The past 8 weeks my church has been doing a series titled Disciple: Dying to Live.  Many of the sermons have tied well into the Radical Read-Along. Different people have shared their story of being a disciple of Christ.  At the end, they say their name and announce, "I'm a disciple and I'm dying to live." 

    Dying to live.  I mean, that is the epitome of the Christian faith when you stop to think about it.

    The final sermon focused on our calling to proclaim Christ.  We don't have to know all the answers. We don't need to worry about the outcome.  We simply need to open our mouths and proclaim. That's all that is asked of us.

    I am called to proclaim Christ where I am.  I have been commissioned.  I may not be a missionary in the global sense but I am one right here, right now. 

    You've probably heard the same thing at some point.

    Here's where the point hit home.  Our three teaching pastors commissioned the congregation this weekend.

    The congregation was divvied up into 7 categories, from Students and Education to Moms to Business and Professionals.  When your category was announced, you stood up.  The pastors then read something unique to your position in life.

    I stood up for the Non-profits and Social Service category.  The one thing that really stuck out as the words were read over me and others in my category is that we are the very hands and feet of Christ as we meet with people that are in pain.  Hearing that really touched me, although it isn't a new thought.  Maybe it's because this past week was heavier than usual or maybe it's just something I needed to hear and reflect on.

    After everyone in the congregation was accounted for, we read 8 statements of faith, that were the take-away message from each sermon.  I wish I had a copy of it!  We closed the commissioning by saying, "I'm a disciple and I'm dying to live."

    What would happen if each person at my church, myself included, took this commission seriously?  I'll share more of my thoughts on Tuesday with the final chapter of Radical but I am marveling at the possibilities.

    How could God use me?  And more importantly for you, how can God use you?

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    The Brokenhearted

    When I was about 10 years old, I decided I wanted to work with children with cancer. My interests changed over the years but this one idea always stuck with me.  Twenty years later God has placed me in my dream job: a mix of pediatric hematology and oncology patients.  I know many people wouldn't want my job but, for whatever reason, it is a perfect fit.  (Please don't tell me I'm a special person for doing this work. I'm pretty sure I couldn't do your job- this just happens to be mine.)

    My job draws from my social work skills, my personal life, and my previous background in hospice and bereavement.  Most of the children I work with are either headed toward remission or have stable disease.

    But not all of them.

    And though my heart is heavy with this knowledge, I am driven to walk that road with their loved ones.

    This week especially I am glad that I do not walk this road alone.  This verse continues to come to mind.
    The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.                        -Psalm 34:18
    Brokenhearted. Crushed in spirit.  Apt descriptions of parents, of families that are forced to let go of a child they love.  Even if the prognosis is good, no one imagines learning about their child's chemo and radiation treatments.  It's a brand-new world of information parents never wanted to know.

    I know this is what I am meant to be doing but sometimes I feel so helpless.  I can only do so much.  I can't cure their child.  When faced with raw grief at the point of diagnosis, my gifting doesn't seem like much.  As my friends are quick to remind me, my gifting can help a horrible situation be a little less horrible.

    So when I meet with parents and listen to their fears and concerns or when I'm talking to a patient about facing their disease or even death, I am doing something. I can't prevent the worse from happening but I can help shoulder the burden.  I can listen. I can counsel.  I can help them find resources.

    I don't often share about my professional world here. However, the magnitude of what I do has really sunk in this week. It is one thing to envision yourself working with terminally ill children and it is another to be doing it.  I hate that families need my services because no one wants to be in that position.  The reality is that until a cure is found, children will continue to be diagnosed with cancer and families will continue needing support to get through it, no matter what the outcome may be.

    I know I am exactly where I am meant to be.  I can only pray that God will give me the words to say or the wisdom to stay quiet. Pray that these families will have quality time together. Pray that God will comfort them. Pray that no matter what happens, they will be drawn them closer to Him and know that He is close to them.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    A Yearbook You'll Love

    I've been a fan of Sleeping at Last from the beginning.  It helps that I went to high school and youth group with SAL's bassist Dan Perdue.  Dan always played in the worship band, as you can see from this picture at our youth group Senior Banquet.  Something about this makes me want to yell out "DDP."  (Sorry, Dan.  I couldn't help myself.)

    Dan had the kind of talent and dedication where it only made sense that he would be in a band.  It was no surprise when I found out about the formation of Sleeping at Last.  And it's no surprise now that SAL has a loyal following of listeners.

    Sleeping at Last is comprised of Dan, who also plays the piano, and Ryan O'Neal (vocals, guitar, piano).  Head here to listen to songs off their 3 albums, as well as pick up a free sampler via NoiseTrade.  As Evade the Noise wrote in a review of their last album Storyboards: "Everything they create is beautiful...it’s a sad thing if you haven’t heard them." 

    When Dan and Ryan announced their latest project Yearbook, I was, in a word, excited!  Three songs a month for a whole year. It's ambitious and slightly crazy but I was intrigued by the possibilities. When October released, I knew I needed to share the music love.  Then I started thinking about what might make a musical post more interesting.  What about an interview with the band themselves?  Dan and Ryan kindly agreed to answer my questions.

    1) How did Yearbook come about?

    DAN: We were kind of thinking about what our favorite thing to do as a band was. And the answer was making music. It sounds funny but a lot of times as a band you don't get to make a lot of music. You record an album and then the next year or two is spent touring and promoting that album with little to no new music being made. So Ryan had the idea for "Yearbook". We felt like it would be really great to really challenge ourselves and get to make a ton of music along the way. Also we thought it would be fun to experiment with how we release music.

    2) How far in advance do you write the songs? Do you only write the month before?

    DAN: We started really focusing on writing new material in about July or August this year. So we have a few songs in the bag to start with but we are definitely working from month to month on a lot of the material. In the next month or two it will probably become completely from scratch every month.

    3) I know you're only two months in to this project, but how has it affected you thus far? Is it stretching you musically, creatively, mentally, etc.

    RYAN: it's been a really rewarding experience so far! certainly not without stress and chaos to meet deadlines and such, but just incredibly rewarding as a whole. in typical "band" situations, the gears are always shifting... tour... make an album. tour... make another album a couple years later, and so on. it's been wonderful to not only focus solely on writing music and recording, but we also get the privilege of receiving feedback and response frequently through the process. it's been just great to work hard on something and not have the pressure of "these are the only songs we'll be playing for the next few years"... and creatively, it's been so amazing to be in this environment! so much fun to just explore whatever we want to explore, and to do it everyday.

    4) How did you decide to use Geoff Benzing for the artwork?

    DAN: He's a brother of one of Ryan's wife's friends. Is that confusing? Ryan was just on his website one day and really just fell in love with his work. He's amazingly talented and we really wanted to work with him. The funny thing is, that he had done two of our album covers before we ever met him or even heard his voice. All communication had been through email up until about a year ago. He's a great guy and an amazing artist.

    5) Does each month have a certain theme or is it more whatever inspires you in the moment?

    DAN: It is definitely whatever is inspiring at the moment. We really wanted the project to be a document of the year and what was capturing our interests from month to month. I'm sure because of that approach themes will probably materialize from month to month but it's definitely meant to be whatever is going on at the time.

    6) My friend Laura entered your handwriting contest but you didn't pick her. What gave the person you (wrongly) chose the upper edge? Why all the involvement from the fans?

    DAN: We just loved Brandon's handwriting. It was really a tough choice. We received a lot more submissions than we ever thought we would. So it was really tough to go through all of them and pick a winner. There were so many good ones. I don't know if I could put my finger on it but something about Brandon's writing really caught our attention. We really enjoy getting our listeners involved. When you're just recording and not playing a lot of shows, sometimes you forget that there are actually people out there that are listening to what you're doing. So it's a nice way for us to be reminded that people are interested in what we're doing and also I think people really get a kick out of being able to take part in the process too.

    7) How do you decide what to blog about?

    DAN: It's really just a day to day thing of what's on our minds. Sometimes it's talking about the recording process or songwriting process and sometimes it's just about our thoughts on the movie we watched the night before. We didn't really set out with a specific goal of what the blog should be about. I guess it's really just another way for us to connect with our listeners. It's always fun to hear from people in the comments section about their reaction to whatever we've written about.

    8) How do you think you've grown as musicians from when you first started out?

    DAN: That's a tough question. I think probably the biggest thing that's changed since we first started is that we're much more thoughtful about how we write and how we put songs together. When you first start I think you just kind of play stuff because it sounds good and it's fun for you to play. You don't really think about how listeners are experiencing it. Now I think now it's become much more of a craft. We work hard to try and create interesting compositions as opposed to just jamming around. Over the past couple years our writing has become much more recording based. Instead of playing around in a live setting until we find something that works, we start recording and try and figure it out from there.

    9) What influence, if any, does faith play in your music?

    RYAN: it's always been important to me to make our music as personal and sincere as possible. faith is certainly a large part of my life, so it will inevitably find its way into our songs, but it's always seemed critical to me that faith should only displayed organically. so, i've made a rule in my writing to never tone down or to amplify my beliefs. same rule applies to every aspect of my life in the songs.

    10) What do you think about "Christian musicians" vs. "musicians that are Christian"?

    RYAN: along the same lines as my answer to how faith is incorporated into our songs, we've just always felt strongly about playing our music wherever anyone is kind enough to listen to it. whoever they are, whatever they believe in, etc. Christian or not. so, i suppose we don't consider ourselves a "Christian band," anymore than we consider ourselves "Christian food enthusiasts." an author by the name of david dark wrote that he doesn't believe there is a single secular molecule in the universe... i've always liked that a lot.

    11) What on earth will you do when Yearbook ends?

    DAN: I'm really not sure. I think by the end of the year, this way or working will have become the new normal and it will probably feel very strange to not have a deadline looming and not be working on new music constantly. It will be very interesting to see how our way of working has changed by the end. I think we'll definitely deserve a vacation by then.

    Here's "Emphasis" off of November:

    Want to get on board the Yearbook train?  Go here to buy all 12 months (a deal at $30) or buy individually.  Each month is available via iTunes about 2 weeks after subscribers get their download links. Plus, they blog about how each song came to be, such as Homesick, which happens to be the first song written for Yearbook.

    And can I just say that I am obsessed with "Bright & Early" from November?   Love, love, loving it.

    Thanks, Dan and Ryan!  If you'd like to hear more from Sleeping at Last, check out their blog, follow them on Twitter, or Like them on Facebook.

    So tell me...are you a Sleeping at Last listener?  What do you think about Yearbook?