Thursday, March 31, 2011

Worshiping in Weakness

I have felt fragile for far too long.  My eyes sting. I inwardly threaten myself. My throat feels the way it always does when I am prepared to cry. I do not want to cry here.

Each week that I choose to attend church, it's more of the same.  Music lifts the veil and suddenly my heart is pierced.  The things I have wanted to pray, scream, beg of God roar to the surface as the lyrics splay across the screen.

But I do not want to cry here.

Yes, Lord, "heal my heart and make it clean. Open up my eyes to the things unseen. Show me how to love like You have loved me." 

But can we save this moment for another time?  I feel raw enough. I don't want to draw any attention and I don't need to cry here.

I marvel that, "no sky contains, no doubt restrains, all You are, the greatness of our God. I spend my life to know, and I'm far from close, to all you are the greatness of our God."  I am undone at His vastness and my smallness.

Then the message begins and I find myself turning to familiar passages and viewing them in a whole new light.  I am ashamed of my pride in believing I know the Bible so well before those moments. It is readily apparent that I have much to learn.  Humility, being humbled by these teachings and stunned by His grace, this too lifts the veil.

Song after song, week after week, worship leads me to confession.  This confession stretches me, not just in admitting to God who I am, where I've been, and how I want to be open to His hand.  It's more than that and I know why.

Some weeks I weigh whether or not I want to almost cry in church. This means that for every 2 or 3 weeks that I go, there's one or two weeks I stay home.  I'm not always ready to be that vulnerable.

Really, I'm not ready to show my weakness in the midst of my weakness.

No ribbon-wrapped present of the lesson I've learned but the messy business of doing life where there are no answers .There is no mask to wear unless I choose to put it on.  

Then, surprising myself, tears fall. Relief in this communion with Him. The people fade away. With kleenex in hand, I am made new.


This post was written for the Remarkable Faith link-up at Giving Up on Perfect, a series of memories and posts as we approach Lent.

Have you ever felt like crying in church?  What is your typical response to worship?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dijon Mustard: A Litmus Test for Online Dating

My grade school friends and I loved quoting the Grey Poupon commercial to each other.  "Pardon me, sir. Do you have any Grey Poupon?" Always uttered in the most posh and sophisticated of voices.  Then the reply, "But of course."  As if there were any other type of mustard one would keep in the car!

I'm not sure that I ever tried Grey Poupon, or any dijon mustard for that matter, while I was a kid.  My house was more of a yellow mustard place and I would use it on just about anything.  I wouldn't come to understand the deliciousness of dijon until I was a grown-up.  I know this, however: that commercial was playground gold.


I've tried on-line dating three times.  The first time was during graduate school, when I really didn't have time to meet anyone.  It should surprise no one that no dates resulted during that hectic season.  I tended to think of this as my non-experience with on-line dating and would actually answer no if anyone asked me if I'd tried it.  Why do people seem to believe on-line dating is the cure-all for singleness? (Answer to that question: it's not.) (Also, if you're married, do not ask a single person if they've tried on-line dating. We have. It didn't work. This conversation does not help.)

I decided to give on-line dating another try about 5 years ago. This attempt actually led to dates.  As I'm still single, you will correctly surmise that these dates did not work out that well.

Case in point.

I met Norman (not his real name) at one of my favorite brunch spots one snowy December day.  I had reservations but decided it wouldn't hurt to meet him and see. 

He did not look like his pictures but I tried to keep in mind that we all tend to choose our most flattering options when putting ourselves out there.  He wasn't unattractive but he wasn't necessarily my type either. 

He was extremely nervous, which was cute.  I set to putting him at ease, falling back on my ability to have a conversation with just about anyone.  I asked questions and ended up directing the conversation.  Either he was that nervous or he didn't know how to ask me any questions about myself.  Ah, the lost art of conversation.  This didn't bode well for Norman.  

At this point, still relatively early on in the date, I was relatively sure that we would not be a good match for a few reasons.  But a date is a date and so I soldiered on.

We perused the menu, commenting on how it would be difficult to choose.  Norman was debating two options and asked for my input.

He pointed at one of the sandwich descriptions.  "Do you know what Die-john is?"


My heart sunk as I looked at the word in question. 

"You mean, dijon?" I gently asked, trying to cover my shock, trying not to giggle at his expense.

"Dijon?"  He looked utterly baffled.  "What's that?"

Oh dear Lord.  He didn't know what dijon mustard was?  Did he live under a rock?  Did he not venture down the condiment aisle when grocery shopping? What did this say about his powers of observation?

"It's mustard. Like Grey Poupon," I ventured, hoping this would spark some understanding, hoping I could then reference that most excellent commercial.

Silence.  Deafening silence.

I knew in that moment that we were not meant to be.

Now I know dijon mustard is small in the grand scheme of things.  And if Norman had been wonderful in every other way, I would have overlooked this gap in his culinary knowledge and happily taught him about the wonderful world of mustard and marketing at its finest.  

However, nice as he was, Norman was not wonderful in every other way...for me.

Some women have champaigne wishes and caviar dreams.  Apparently I'm a mustard girl.

What's your opinion of on-line dating?  Any good stories to share?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Meeting a Meat and Three

Wednesday night I posted on Facebook that I was headed to my first Meat and Three, something I'd never heard of prior to moving here.  True to form, all my friends and family back home responded with "What the heck is a Meat and Three?"

A Meat and Three is pretty much just as it sounds. You have a choice of meat and 3 sides, ranging from mashed potatoes to lima beans, though sometimes it's 2 or 4 sides.  Wikipedia defines this as a staple of rural cuisine, with a prix fixe menu. 

In the Single Ladies Supper Club, the hostess has the option of cooking in her home or selecting a restaurant for our dining pleasure.  Rebecca suggested we head to Southern Bred, which is one such place.

Located in East Nashville, Southern Bred comes across as unassuming. The decor is simple and diners are seated at wooden family tables or booths. Drinks are served in glass canning jars, a nice touch.  And then they bring out the bread basket and you know you're in the right place.  The small biscuits and cornbread muffins were amazing!

The menu offers many options, from the traditional Meat and Three to salads.  I also hear they serve a mean brunch.  Since this was my first Meat and Three experience, I opted for that day's special: Poppyseed Chicken served over Saffron Rice, with a side of mashed potatoes and broccoli. 

My friends all ordered different things and seemed pleased with their choices.  Paige, Rebecca, and Elizabeth insisted that Rachel and I try the fried okra since neither of us had experienced that particular delicacy before.

Hello fried okra!

Love fellow Midwestern transplant Rachel's expression as she figures out a kind way to say 
she wasn't feeling the fried okra.

I, on the other hand, absolutely loved it!  What's not to love about a fried vegetable? 

I don't normally take pictures of my food but I wanted to be sure the folks back home have a mental image to accompany today's lesson on Southern culture

In short, I loved Southern Bred.  The only way it could improve would be if they added fried pickles to the menu.  (Hint, hint.)

Now I don't think that all Meat and Threes are as wonderful as Southern Bred. In fact, I live a few blocks from one that looks all kinds of sketchy. However, since I love to eat meat and I love most of these sides, I think Meat and Threes will remain a part of my Southern culinary experience.

Are you pro-Meat and Three? If you live in the Nashville area, what is your favorite Meat and Three?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Sentiments: Link Love

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

I can't formulate my thoughts today so instead I will share with you some of the posts that have resonated with me this past week.  Mind you, this is just a partial list, the ones I haven't been able to get out of my mind.
  • When God Answers Yes from Stephanie Bryant at (in)courage: "But why do you pray? To get an answer? To have that answer be “Yes!”? To change your life? To change the world? Or to be with the One you long to glorify, verbalize soul-praise? No matter how you answered, it can be difficult to be loved with a “Yes. Often when I pray, I don't expect that God will answer "yes."  Instead I prepare myself to dwell in the purgatory of unfulfilled dreams.  When God comes through, I'm always shocked and wonder why He chose to say "yes" this time.
  • Interview with an Introverted Therapist (Adam McHugh):  McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church, was a guest poster on Rachel Held Evans last weekend. In the comments, someone mentioned that therapists tend to be introverts, which I'd never heard before and frankly explained a lot about my tendencies. McHugh kindly linked this interview he did on his blog and I was blown away.  I've always been a good mix of introvert and extrovert but the longer I've worked as a social worker, the more I've needed to recharge sans people.  Many people incorrectly define introverts and extroverts, so it's always interesting to hear from others who are outgoing, total people persons, yet need their own space to feel refreshed. Just like me!
  • You Are Not a Lie (Sarah Markley): A good reminder. Let it sink deep into your soul.
  • Velveteen Heart by Alece at A Deeper Story: "So I learned to be authentic in past tense. To speak of what I’ve overcome, how much I’ve changed, what I used to struggle with. But past tense authenticity isn’t really authenticity at all, is it? The present tense, bare-boned kind is vulnerable and exposing. Naked, with nowhere to hide. Just me, broken and battered."  With these words, I felt Alece perfectly captured my struggle. From my comment: "I am so good at sharing how God has worked and my past struggles but the moment I experience present-tense pain, I retreat from friends and family...I rob them of the opportunity to be there for me, to do life together, over and over again. I’m realizing that I’m not OK with that anymore and so carefully, slowly I’ve been opening up to my inner circle in the moment. It’s awkward and I don’t like it and yet it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself."
  • What To Do When You Are Forced to Wait (Michael Hyatt):Very aptly put.
  • She Names Herself Thankful (Emily at Chatting at the Sky): "She chose a better way. She chose a life of beauty, of thanksgiving, of trust. She has lived that better way for many years alone."  Oh how I pray those words will be said of me someday.  There are so many lovely bits that struck me in this piece- trusting anyway, living beautifully anyway, all while God is orchestrating on our behalf.

What posts have resonated with you this week?  Please feel free to link any worthwhile posts below- even your own!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Becoming Sticky

"The testimonies of grace, forgiveness, redemption, and new life are echoing through cyberspace- if you listen." -p. 165
"[This book] is, however, a wake-up call about how you spend your time online- connecting, serving, and leading the conversation in such a way that others will seek to know Christ personally."  -p. 171
It's hard to believe that the @StickyJesus Read-Along is through.  Toni and Tami's words have given me much to think about the last couple of months. 

When I started the book, I was trying to figure out my purpose with this blog.  As I end the book, I feel I have some clarity on my blog's purpose but I'm also looking at how I can further connect with all the social media I regularly engage in.  It's not just about my purpose here, but also Facebook and Twitter, and realizing that it's not about me.  Even if that's how social media can sometimes make it seem.

My purpose is found in directing people to Christ.  I've always known that, some years more clearly than others.  But to apply it online, even when I was blogging about what God was teaching me, didn't seem as obvious. 

I realized that I don't always see myself as a Sticky Person when it comes to the kingdom.

Toni and Tami have taught me that my story is sticky indeed but not because of who I am or what I've been through.  It's because of how Christ has redeemed that story and because I am open to how He will use it in the lives of others. 

Thank you, Toni and Tami, for writing @StickyJesus and engaging your readers with its truths. (My memory of meeting you both at Blissdom still makes me giggle.)  Thank you, Michelle, for hosting the Read-Along.  And thank you, dear readers, for sticking with me, a girl who is flawed yet hopeful about how her story will unfold. Your encouragement means more than you'll ever know.

This post was written for the @StickyJesus Read-Along hosted by Michelle Sarabia.

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What the History Books Left Out

Thoughts of the South might tend toward associations with the Civil War, slavery, and the Civil Rights Movement.  I wasn't sure what to expect when I moved to the Land of Dixie.  The South is so much more than its stereotypes and yet we cannot deny these associations or that racism still exists in this country.

While I haven't witnessed any overt racism since living here, institutional racism is sadly alive and well.  But this isn't limited to the South.  Stereotypes continue and at times foster a sort of paternalism that makes me cringe.  Look no further than the machinery behind Cabrini Green and sadly even gatherings in my hometown where racist jokes are lobbed without care.

We are all impacted by the history of slavery in the United States.  To believe otherwise is foolish.

Almost proving this point, I recently realized that I was never taught our nation's true history.  
"We cannot address the place we find ourselves because we will not acknowledge the road that brought us here.  Our failure to confront the historical truth about how African Americans finally won their freedom presents a major obstacle to genuine racial reconciliation...The civil rights movement knocked down the formal and legal barriers to equal citizenship, but failed to give most African Americans real power in this society. In the intervening years, the nation has comforted itself by sanitizing the civil rights movement, commemorating it as a civic celebration that no one ever opposed. The enemies of the struggle ascended to national power and sought to diminish its memory, often by grinding off its rough edges and blunting its enduring critique of a dehumanizing economic and political system. The self-congratulatory popular account insists that Dr. King called on the nation to fully accept its own creed, and the walls came a-tumbling down. This conventional narrative is soothing, moving, and politically acceptable, and has the only disadvantage of bearing no resemblance to what actually happened." -Timothy B. Tyson, p. 318-319, emphasis mine
I became interested in reading Blood Done Sign My Name when Mary Kathryn offhandedly mentioned a story in which she was standing in line at the theater to see her cousin's movie.  A movie that was based on his book about a black veteran killed in cold blood by three white men, in front of witnesses.  It was 1970 and though the murderers were eventually taken to trial, the all-white jury found them not guilty.

Tim Tyson grew up in the town where this occurred. His story is irrevocably bound with that of Henry Marrow, the black veteran, and the Teel men, the murderers.  His father was a Methodist minister who sought to reconcile his congregation with their bloody history and forge a new relationship between blacks and whites.  Tyson gives an overview of slavery and all that led up to the civil rights movement, as well as how little whites did to make it happen. Not only just how little some did but also how much others did to keep it from happening, even after the law was changed.  Worst of all, they twisted Christianity to fit their cause, as if God condoned their actions. Tyson's account is both mesmerizing and horrifying.

The murder happened a mere 10 years before I was born and the struggle for integrated schooling, work opportunities, and more continued throughout the 1970s and beyond. I had never heard anything of this before.  This, all of this, was missing from my history books.

There was no "come to Jesus" moment after Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream.  Towns didn't set aside their segregation laws after the Civil Rights Act was passed.  That was the only civil rights history I'd been taught, history books handing out one more slap in the face to those who fought for rights they never should have needed to fight for.

Blood Done Sign My Name makes me wonder what else in our nation's history has been watered down or glossed over. It's forced me to look at myself and my own history. It's tempting to think that Yankees are exempt from racial discourse but we're not. Lord help us if we ever believe that we are.

Mary Kathryn, Kim, and I are discussing the book offline.  We're talking about our own experiences with race, racism, and prejudice.

It is easy to hesitate when talking about these things.  We don't want to offend our loved ones that have perhaps pointed us in the wrong direction.  We don't want to speak ill of people we know who blatantly worked to stop integration, especially if their character seems so incongruous with such actions.  We don't want ourselves to be seen as racist or prejudiced- what if we say the wrong thing?

We say nothing and we wind up perpetuating the same messages.

What messages did I receive over the years?  My immediate family has always counted those of other races and backgrounds as friends.  I don't remember at what age I realized we had different skin color and even so, it never mattered to me.  (Though I now wonder: did it matter to them?)

On the other hand, I remember insinuations from people I loved and respected that it would be best not to date any African American boys. I wrote about my high school crush Doug last summer; I didn't mention that he is African American. It had no bearing on why we never dated- that turned out to be more of a timing issue. But I know I'm not the only one who has been told that before, even though we live in an age where interracial relationships are more common.

I can't help but wonder if we are a product of our times and, if so, why we are content to remain there despite the disparity.  What do we say to the elderly who refer to African Americans as colored or dispense their prejudice and stereotypes as givens?  What do we say to our peers who speak racial jokes?  What do I say to myself about my friendships with those of other races?  Am I proud that I "don't see color"?  Can I admit that I'm just a white girl who might unintentionally hurt the people of another race because of that very lens? What can I do about institutional racism?

Blood Done Sign My Name is undoubtedly one of the most important and eye-opening books I've ever read.  I cannot view our nation's history in the same way.  There are no tidy answers but I pray there is no more going backward either.

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

If you grew up during the civil rights era, what was your impression of race relations?  If you're like me and grew up after the fact, what messages did you receive in your family about majority and minority races?  Have you been personally impacted by racism?  Does the United States have hope for reconciliation?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Quenching Thirst for the Water Revolution

Every morning before work, I fill my Nalgene with water from the tap.  I drink it throughout the day.  I don't think twice about where it came from or that I can refill it whenever I want.

I don't worry about what's in my water. If I'm thirsty, it's only because I didn't stop to take a drink.

It kills me that this is not the reality for everyone in the world.

Today is World Water Day.  And today, along with  more than 100 other bloggers, I'm asking you to take part in the Water Revolution.

The Adventure Project is now working on another initiative: Keep It Clean.  This time the focus is on bringing clean water to people in need in India.

Did you know that:
  • 4,000 children die every day from lack of clean drinking water.
  • Tragically, 1/3 of all wells drilled in the last 20 years are now broken.
  • Often there are no tools, spare parts, or trained mechanics to fix them.
So, what's the solution?

WaterAid set up a Handpump Mechanic mechanics business about two years ago.  Now, when a handpump breaks down, villagers can call to request a mechanic.While fixing the well, the mechanic educates the villagers on hygiene and well maintenance in an effort to prevent disease and future breakdowns.  The mechanics also bring water samples to the lab to ensure that the water is safe to drink. Click here to read the awesome story of Ram Rati, one of the first female handpump mechanics, and see how this program is making a difference.

The Keep It Clean Campaign's goal is to help WaterAid increase well repairs so that 700 more people have access to clean water each month.

And here's where we come in!  4 bloggers have set the goal to raise $10,000 dollars today to support a well mechanics program in India. 

100 bloggers are challenging 10 of their readers to give $20.  Would you consider giving $20 today?  Your $20 would ensure clean water for 3 people!  Raising $10,000 means mechanics will be able to repair wells for years to come, turning water back on for 300 people per month.

And if $10,000 is raised today, the Prem Rawat Foundation has decided to match it, meaning we will have $20,000 to go toward providing clean water!

That is huge! 

Your donation is 100% tax-deductible, will be matched by the Prem Rawat Foundation, and will support The Adventure Project's Keep It Clean Campaign for India.  Click here to donate.

Don't miss out on the Water Revolution!  Please let me know if you decide to donate $20 toward this worthy cause, either in the comments or by email.  And please spread the word by linking to this post on Facebook and Twitter!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Got Coal?

You may remember that I'm a part of the Adventure Project Tribe.  You may also remember that I gave my brother coal for Christmas so that a Haitian family could have a charcoal-efficient stove.  This may be the only time my brother was happy to get coal for Christmas.  I kid, I kid.  He is all about generosity and helping others.  This gift was the perfect fit for him and his "I don't want any Christmas presents" ways.

The Adventure Project has undertaken a new initiative that I'm super excited about!  We are being given an awesome opportunity, not just here, but uniting with 100 other bloggers and their readers to make a difference.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for details.

And now I have to know: Did you or your siblings ever get coal for Christmas?  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Sentiments: At the Core

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

Friday night I submitted a piece to A Deeper Story about my recent struggles. (Do you read A Deeper Story yet?  Because you totally should.  Always excellent and thought-provoking.)  I've been praying about "next steps" and God had revealed one to me, which I've been trying to put into practice.  I felt good about what I wrote and about this new direction. 

Saturday morning I perused the usual suspects instead of working on my book (oops) and landed on (in)courage (another one to add to your Reader), where Sarah Mae unveiled the free e-book she wrote: Core Lies.  The subtitle is compelling: Discovering and Dealing with the Lies We Don't Even Know We Believe.  Yes, I thought.  That's me.

For the last few years, I've been frustrated with my inability to move past a part of my life that I know I have freedom from.  But since that's one of the biggest puzzle pieces of my life, when some of my issues come back, I assume that that's what it's related to.

Core Lies clarified this for me.  Different spokes from the same wheel.  That stuff from my past is in my past but it is connected to a core lie that hasn't been dealt with.  Mostly because I didn't realize that there was a core lie.  That's their nefarious nature- they are such a part of our normal, every day lives we don't even realize we're living out untruths.

Our beliefs about ourselves are impacted by these core lies, which then shape our goals, behaviors, and emotions.   Which, of course, impacts every other aspect of our lives.

I read the e-book in one sitting, often with tears in my eyes.  I can't say that I've figured out the root issue yet but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I plan to go through the section on working through core lies, giving it the time it deserves.  I know it's not going to be pretty or easy.  Now is a time for continued prayer and talking these insights through with my trusted inner circle.

I'm ready to understand and put the old ways behind me.

*No one asked me to review this e-book.  I'm sharing it with you because of how it has already impacted me.  Perhaps it will be helpful to you, perhaps not, but this is something that God is using to  provide a glimpse into my heart.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In Search of Content

Whatever your niche in life, when you join social networks, the goal is to pepper your biblical content with interesting, culturally relevant, humorous, entertaining posts that uniquely bring God's voice into your area of wonderment of expertise.” -@StickyJesus, p. 160

This week I've been trying to answer two valuable questions for anyone involved with blogging and social media.
  1. Where do I get my ideas from?
  2. How do I decide who (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to follow?
As we've discussed throughout this @StickyJesus Read-Along, there are many things clamoring for our attention, both on-line and in real life. It's important to sift the good from the bad, as well as identify your go-to sources for inspiration...
I'm guest-posting at Michelle Sarabia's in a continuation of our @StickyJesus Read-AlongClick here to read the rest...

The Consummate Bridesmaid: A Wedding Story

I have been a bridesmaid 6 times now and I'm good at it.  I help with the invitations, the errands, the dress fittings.  Whatever the bride needs, I do my best.  And then on the special day, I do my best to be the hottest bridesmaid I can be *ahem.*  Still, the day is not about me- it's about them.  

I can think of few happier moments than standing up for my best friends' weddings.

Erin's wedding almost 5 years ago stands out especially.

The day started early after getting little sleep.  Getting hair done, make-up, and finally dressing.  The wedding itself was beautiful.  Erin and Mark made a point to center the ceremony around honoring God and it showed.
I'm not sure that I ever stopped smiling that day.  I glowed in witnessing my best friend marry her true love.  I should note that Mark was the first guy that Erin dated that I liked.  I knew the first time I met him that he was the one for her.  I have a knack for those things.

Being there on their wedding day, and not just there but a part of it, made me burst with the most positive of emotions.  

At one point during the reception, Erin and Mark were outside taking pictures but Erin was needed- for what, I don't remember.  I headed out to find her and the two of us walked back inside, hand in hand.

The photographer caught that moment, both of us unaware.  It has turned out to be my favorite from that day.  The smiles on our faces, my attention completely on her.  I look like the consummate bridesmaid- and I was.

Weddings tend to make me sad because they are reminders of what I do not yet have.  I am happy for my friends, to be sure, but there's a part of me that wonders if or when it will be my turn.

I didn't feel that way once when Erin and Mark were married.  My joy was complete.

My blogging- soon to be real life- friend Lindsay posted this yesterday: "...God telling me that I would never receive the fullness of life He wanted to give me unless I could rejoice with someone over the very thing I longed for."

I don't always get it right but I certainly rejoiced the day of this wedding five years ago.  And this tells me that it's possible to continue rejoicing, even if my dream of marriage is never realized.  

This post was written for the Remarkable Faith link-up at Giving Up on Perfect, a series of memories and posts as we approach Lent.

How do you rejoice when others receive that which you're longing for?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Meet Stella

My new car and I have been getting to know one another.  Since it was just an upgrade, I didn't bother to read the manual, preferring instead to figure out any changes along the way.

How does the CD player work?  How do I get the windshield wiper fluid to work?  Which side is the gas cap on? 

This car and I have become good friends the last couple of weeks.  I'm happy to report she also has a name now.

Meet Stella.  Has a nice sassy and Southern ring to it, doesn't it?

While Mark, Erin, and Katelyn visited, we collectively put our heads together with Joel and Tracy to Name The Car.  After discussion at breakfast, Joel suggested Blanche. 

Blanche.  I can't hear that name without thinking of Tennessee Williams and A Streetcar Named Desire.  I took a class on the playwright and his works during college.  Absolutely fascinating.  In any case, if you say Blanche, I will naturally think of Stella.  Well, really I'll hear Stanley/Marlon Brando bellowing "Steeeellllaaaaaa!!!"

Stella in the play may have been a browbeaten, timid wife but Stella the car has all kinds of personality.

When I stop to think of it, a car can seem an extension of who we are, reflecting our own personalities.  Stella, already adorned with a White Sox car magnet, is stocked with some of my favorite mix CDs.  A blanket for spontaneous picnics is stashed in the trunk, along with cloth bags for groceries and the giant snowscraper that is a souvenir from Midwestern winters.  I keep my cars neat and tidy, which is similar to how I keep my home.  Both get dusty at times but there is no certainly no clutter.

It seems fitting that I'd want a sassy and Southern name for my car.  Because while I've always been sassy, I'm now starting to think of myself as a Southerner in the best possible way.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Shape of Mercy review

I have a new favorite author.

I don't make that proclamation lightly.  For all the reading I do, one might think I end up with lots of favorite authors but it doesn't seem to work that way.  I love nothing more than finding a new voice and then reading  the rest of their work.  It is safe to say that Susan Meissner's books will be holding my attention for awhile.

I was drawn into The Shape of Mercy from page 1.  Lauren is a rich college student, struggling to figure out who she is apart from her wealth and her family.  To that end, she goes to a public university and decides to forgo her monthly allowance in favor of a job.  She's hired to transcribe the diary of her employer Abigail's ancestor, who was a victim of the Salem witch trials.

Mercy Hayworth's diary paints a picture of her life in 1692.  Though Lauren and the reader know Mercy's fate, she does not and it is heartbreaking to watch the events unfold.  Because Lauren is transcribing the diary and updating the language, we are saved from wading through the "thees" and "thous" of that time. Because of this, we can focus more on Mercy. Mercy's story is as much about first love and family, as it is about the hysteria of that time.

Lauren cannot help but see similarities between herself, Abigail, and Mercy.  We learn more about Abigail and Mercy through Lauren's eyes.  And in the learning, Lauren learns more about herself, her assumptions, her interests, and what really matters.

The Shape of Mercy is beautifully written.  I should note that beautifully written novels are not always interesting and don't always move the plot forward (therefore negating their beauty, in my mind).  However, The Shape of Mercy remained intriguing and plot-driven.  I wanted to know more about why Lauren thought the way she did, what mysteries Abigail's past held, and what would seal Mercy's fate. 

There are three separate love stories but they are entirely different from one another.  Each brought tears to my eyes at various points.  What each woman learns from their experience with love can be a lesson for us all.

While this book is categorized as Christian fiction, there is not an overt spiritual message.  Mercy references what God would make of all the false accusations of witchcraft and is the most vocal about her beliefs but in a way that is natural.  Prayer is mentioned occasionally but otherwise the reader is left to draw their own conclusions about what the characters believe.   I don't think that's a bad thing as the characters go through quite a transformation.  I reacted to their experience in terms of my own beliefs and I believe this is the mark of a good book.

Now that The Shape of Mercy is over, I feel let down, as if I've lost a friend.  I wish that I was not quite finished reading it so I could continue to savor Meissner's words.  But I take heart because Meissner's other books sound equally booklover worthy. 

I can't wait to acquaint myself with her other characters!

Disclosure: I  received this book free fromWaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group  as part of their Blogging for Books 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. 

What have you been reading lately?  Any new favorite authors?

Monday, March 14, 2011

When Shamrock Shakes are Scarce

 Photo Credit: Pavone
I remember the first time I laid eyes on a Shamrock Shake from McDonald's.  My class was on a field trip and had stopped for lunch.  Kim ordered one and brought the green concoction to our table.  I was a bit dubious.  What might a green shake taste like?  Why, minty deliciousness, that's what. 

I've been hooked ever since.

Every March, sometimes February if I'm lucky, I've tracked down a Shamrock Shake or three.  Mostly in honor of St. Patrick's Day, which is my favorite holiday.  All right, mostly because they are obsession-worthy.  Why else would there be a Shamrock Shake website solely devoted to helping people track down the shake no matter where they live?

Sadly, I learned a couple of weeks ago from a friend that TN McDonald's do not carry our favorite minty treat.  How would I face March without a Shamrock Shake?

When life hands me lemons, I whip up my own Shamrock Shake recipe.  And just in case the shakes are scarce in your area too, I'm sharing it with you.

Leigh's Shamrock Shake**
2 cups good vanilla ice cream
1 cup milk (less if you like a thicker shake, more if you like a soupier shake)
1/4 t. green food coloring
1/2 t. vanilla
1/4-1/2 t. peppermint or mint flavoring (creme de menthe would be amazing!)

 Blend and enjoy!

Feel free to play with the flavoring amounts, as well as the amount of green.  I found this to be perfect for my tastebuds.  Part of McD's Shamrock Shake is the chemical-ness of it all, which I could not replicate here.  This is definitely a "healthier" version of the seasonal treat. 

**I'm sure other versions of this recipe exist but I came up with this one on my own.  Start with a simple milkshake base and start mixing your flavors.  Maybe I'll take on the Egg Nog Shake come Christmas.

If you're a lucky duck with access to Shamrock Shakes, how many have you had this season?  I'd like to live vicariously through you.  

What do you do to celebrate St. Patrick's Day?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Sentiments: Depending

Sunday Sentiments is an attempt to record what God has been teaching me and the way in which He does it.
Another week has gone by since I tripped headlong into the rubble that clutters my heart.

Another week has passed since I began to count the gifts.  My journal contains 31 such moments, finding joy is here even in uncertainty and pain.  Open elevators when I arrived at work.  Repetitive hugs from my niece-in-love.  Best friends that have known me longest and best.  Hot tea on a chilly day.

31 moments from the week of a 31 year old.  It seemed oddly appropriate to realize this last night.

This past week I allowed the tears to come. I've listened to angry music, then sad music, trying to soothe my soul.  I forced myself to tell my parents and then Tracy about this current struggle.  I am practicing the art of sharing pain.  It is not easy for me to open up about the lies I still believe or my fears about myself.

I keep praying for clarity about where to go from here.  What does last week's breakdown mean?  How do I move on?

I keep listening but so far God has not spoken.  A friend commented that this may just be a time for me to lean on Him and draw close.  There may not be a next step or a step after that for awhile.

Ah, back to waiting.  My old, familiar friend frenemy. 

This is stretching me, perhaps more than moving to Nashville has done.  My issues followed me here but maybe now I am in a place where I am ready to deal with them.  Or maybe I'm finally recognizing them by name. 

Though I'd like to gloss over my hurts once again, though I'd prefer a quick fix, it's time I learned how to be dependent on God with this collection of rubble.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sprinklings and Soakings: A Baptism Story

The memory is hazy but the impression lingers to this day.

Sitting in my parents' bedroom as my mom stood before their closet.  Two piles of clothes on the floor, one for her and one for my dad.  She was trying to figure out what they should wear for their baptism that night.

My parents decided to leave the Catholic church when I was a few years old.  We landed at a charismatic church, quite different from the traditional liturgy they'd been raised on.  My first memories of church are Sunday School at this new church, my only knowledge of Catholicism amassed from family get togethers.

I knew that I had been baptized as a baby.  There were pictures to prove it.  My mom explained that she and my dad had been baptized when they were babies as well.  They were realizing this was not enough.

Tonight they would stand before their church and proclaim their faith.  I don't remember mom's exact words but can still picture her shining face, alive with her beliefs, alive with her love for God.

She stood among the piles of clothes, weighing the wisdom of a bathing suit and t-shirt or perhaps a garbage bag with holes cut for head and arms.  But it wasn't the wearing that mattered so much, as the wording of faith made public.  Even as ones that had been sprinkled as babes, my parents saw this as a step to grow and a way of owning their relationship with Christ.

I don't know that I was present for their baptisms.  For whatever reason, mom explaining their decision mattered more to my memory than the action itself.

Several years later I would choose to be baptized at another church.  My moment of owning my faith.  It is no coincidence that my parents' decision planted the seeds for my own.

When it was my turn, I went in with a t-shirt and workout shorts. Though soaked with the weight of a robe, I left the baptismal with a light heart.

This post was written for the Remarkable Faith link-up at Giving Up on Perfect, a series of memories and posts as we approach Lent.

Do you have any memories of baptism?  What are your thoughts on baby baptism vs. adult baptism?  I have many friends across the spectrum on this.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Seeking: A New Kind of Conference

She Speaks Conference

After attending a blogging conference a couple of months ago and feeling let down as a result, I was pretty sure the only conferences in my future would be related to social work.  I left that experience ready to focus on writing, both on the blog and off.  That was the end of that.

However, I kept hearing from people about She Speaks and this made me curious.  I have no interest in speaking so when I went to the site, I just sought to learn about what my friends had experienced.  I read how She Speaks helps attendees "receive the tools and the confidence to answer God’s call on your life."  This resonated because I've started to think that social work is no longer what I'm meant to do.

This bold claim stirred my heart: "She Speaks is not just another conference … it is a true experience with God and a revival in your calling."

And then I saw the She Writes tab and my heart began to beat a little faster.

Because I don't want to write just any book.  I want to write the kind of Christian fiction that I want to read.  Something that speaks to my generation, something with characters who look like me and my friends. I started writing a fiction book last year, then put it aside when I moved.  I picked it back up a month ago.  I'm not in a place where I can write full-time but I am allowing myself to believe that my crazy dreams may not be that crazy after all.

The She Writes portion of this conference will help me hone my voice and better understand the world of publishing.  Plus, there's an option to join a peer critique group, as well as meet with publishers.  Knowing that I'm headed to a conference where I could meet with a publisher that would like to publish me would ensure that I keep writing.  Could I have my book written by July?  The mere idea makes me giddy!

Everything I read on the She Speaks website made me feel that this was the conference I'd been waiting for.

Only, my budget has had to change the last couple of months for a few reasons.  It's changed for mostly good reasons but even good reasons lead to a tighter belt.  Which means there's less to spare for conferences, even worthy ones like She Speaks.  I've been praying about it and trying to figure out whether I can scrimp and save my way there.

Then I learned that two scholarships are being offered.  With this post, I'm putting my hat in the ring.  I'm declaring my hope that I'll be able to go to She Speaks, by either winning the scholarship or a God-sized "coincidence."

Either way, I'm going to keep writing.  I can no longer not write.  I don't know what God will do with this but maybe this is another chance to live expectantly.  So that's what I'm choosing to do.

Have you ever gone to She Speaks?  Are you planning to go this year?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Counting the Gifts

I've followed Ann's blog for awhile and have loved her idea of marking joy by writing down 1000 gifts though I've never participated.   

Now I am savoring her book.  She paints such powerful imagery with her words.  At times I feel she is speaking directly to me, though I know she ministers to so many.
"As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible.  Joy is always possible.  Whenever, meaning- now; wherever, meaning- here. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be- unbelievably- possible! The only place we need to see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now." -Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p. 33
"The gift list is thinking upon His goodness- and this, this pleases Him most! And most profits my own soul and I am beginning, only beginning, to know it. If clinging to His goodness is the highest form of prayer, then this seeing His goodness with a pen, with a shutter, with a word of thanks, these really are the most sacred acts conceivable." -p. 61
As I've been picking through the rubble, I find myself coming back to these gifts.  It is far too easy for me to focus on what I don't have.  Tracking these every day joys will not undo all that I must work through but I can't help but believe it will pave the way.  At the very least, it will be the start of heart change.

Occasionally I might blog my 1000 Gifts but for now it's between me, God, and my journal.  I sense I might be quieter here for awhile.  This is a time to listen to what He might say and to follow through on what He has been wanting me to do. 

How do you count it all joy?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Sentiments: Rubble

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

 Grand Canyon, Havasupai, 2007
"and still i dance around the fortress with jesus and look at all that he shows me, all i am allowed to see, and i just walk around and over the bricks and who cares if they’re in the way or i have to climb over them to get to the other side, la la la i’m not in my tower, but roaming my fortress…with all of these bricks. laying in a pile of rubble.
the thing is: freedom from anything -in this case, my trauma- is counterfeit if i don’t grab my shovel and haul the rubble out.  that is to say, yes. yes, i have experienced a level of freedom from my relationship trauma. only now i have to get to sift through the areas of my life which the trauma affected. to learn how to live without it successfully.
because who wants to really look at a pile of rocks on top of what otherwise might be a pretty garden?
{eventually we might get used to them, but those who don’t live with our rocks would take notice of them when they come for a visit.}" -Mary Kathryn Tyson "Beauty for Ashes"

My friend MK has an uncanny ability to write posts about things that I'm currently pondering...or about to.  I strongly encourage you to read her whole post on Sifting Through the Rubble. It proved to be rather timely once again.

I've become pretty good at ignoring the rubble in my life. For so long I've focused on the boulders that have been removed, choosing to overlook the rocks and pebbles that continue to clutter the garden.

On a weekend with dear friends in town when my heart should have been fuller than full, I tripped headlong into it.  My knees are a bit bloody and bruised from the experience and I'm not sure what to make of it.  The usual triggers weren't there. As the tapes played over and over in my head Friday night, I couldn't find the truth to counteract them.  I would instruct myself to stop thinking about this, weakly calling to God.  I craved numbness.  I actually was tempted to track down a cigarette- and I quit more than 10 years ago so this stress-related craving came out of nowhere.  Instead of smoking, I tried to go to bed but my insomnia decided sleep would be too kind.

I was left to cry and pray instead.  I did not want to deal with this rubble.  Truthfully, I don't even know how. 




If I don't deal with this junk, I will continue tripping over it.  I will continue holding on to my collection of pebbles.  I will keep beating myself up over things I can't control, over my past, over my fears. 

Today I'm trying to quiet myself so I can listen.  I want to see how the Holy Spirit might lead me.  I want to utilize the support around me.  I don't want to be chained to my moods and destructive tendencies. 

It's time for me to remember that I'm Beloved.

In any remodeling project, the old has to go before the new can begin.  In the meantime, I'm going to accept my tears and anguish.  I'm going to confront my pain.  So if you see me and I look a little worse for the wear, know it's temporary.  There's some rebuilding going on. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

#8: Did Dessert Die?

When I decided to give up dessert during the month of February, I wasn't sure I could do it.

I knew telling friends and family would help and that announcing it on my blog would take it one step further.  I purged the ice cream, cookies, and M&Ms from my house.  I gave myself two cheat days so I wouldn't feel like a complete failure if I fell off the wagon.  I continued with the Made to Crave Read-Along.  I did whatever I could in January to stack the deck toward success.

I'm happy that February is over but I'm even happier to say that I did it.  I, the dessert-oholic, didn't have any sugary sweet treat for a whole month.  And you know what else?  I didn't even miss it that much.

Yes, it was hard watching friends indulge.  It was hard passing up on the cookies a patient made.  It definitely wasn't easy bypassing the Girl Scout cookies in the break room.  As the month continued though, I realized I really didn't need or want that stuff.  I also realized the unhealthy hold dessert had on me. 

So yes, it was hard to say no at times but it was also freeing.  There was no guilt, no mindless indulgence.  From here on out, a treat will indeed be a rare treat and more enjoyable that way.

As far as results, I had shared my weight when I started out the month.  I ended up losing one pound and lost one inch around my stomach.  Not very dramatic but a change nonetheless.  Do I feel any differently?  Not that I can tell.  My cramps were the same, I still have eczema, and I didn't sleep any better or any worse. 

However, I think that this has helped me realize some unhealthy patterns.  I like food and because I like food, I haven't thought about portion control or types of food being less beneficial to me, even though it’s permissible. I typically will eat whatever I want, then notice my pants are a little tighter and back off for awhile and then go right back to eating whatever I want. This, I believe, is the pattern God has drawn my attention to.

Even though I cut out dessert, I still ate snacks and possibly a little more of them in an effort to distract my sweetness cravings.  I need to get back in the habit of pouring my Triscuits and tortilla chips into a bowl instead of eating directly from the container.  On the other hand, I've been eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, partially because my favorites are coming back into season and partially because I didn't have anything else to compete with them.

So what do I do about dessert now that the month is done?  For one thing, I will no longer eat cookies or cupcakes for breakfast, as I have been wont to do.  For another, I'm limiting myself to one dessert per day if any.  I don't think I will eat dessert every day but, much like the possibility of cheat days, I need to have an out.  Finally, I'm going to keep very little dessert-related products in the house.  No more making a pan of brownies or gooey butter bars just for myself.  Out of sight, out of mind.

I didn't intend to eat dessert right away but fate intervened. March 1 started Social Work Month and we hosted a Dessert Party yesterday afternoon. In fact, I baked Death by Chocolate Brownies Monday night but did not lick batter off my hands, the spatula, or the bowl.  That was a first but entirely empowering.  There were plenty of goodies but I restrained myself.  I had a mini-cupcake, half of one of my brownies, and a yellow cake cookie- the items I most wanted to try.  I ate them slowly and relished each bite.  And while I enjoyed it,  I realized anew that I don't need dessert. 

This month I’ve put more thought in to what I eat and why. Letting dessert die was one of the best things I've done in awhile.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Name That Car

After months, possibly a couple of years, of procrastinating, I finally have a new car in my possession.

I've had a 1997 Corolla since 2002 and it has treated me well.  The last couple of years it's been showing signs of its age and I began to wonder whether all the wear-and-tear repairs were worth it.  However, true to form, I continued to procrastinate one repair at a time. 

This car came into my life during my senior year of college.  It made the trek from my hometown to the Quad Cities several times before I graduated.  It went all over Chicago during grad school and has transported me to many a White Sox game.  It's been to Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Tennessee, even Louisiana. 

This car has memories and that is hard to let go of.


This car also rumbled loud around town and shook whenever I drove over 55 mph.  The tires were worn and needed to be replaced.  The black paint was peeling and portions of the car were rusting.  I, the music lover, was stuck with a tape deck and radio station with just 6 preset buttons.  The air conditioning.  Oh, I probably shouldn't tell you this for fear of your scornful look.  The air conditioning hasn't worked properly in over a year.  Yes, I suffered through a Southern summer without air conditioning in my car.  It was a rather damp experience.

So I knew I needed to say goodbye to 1997 and say hello to 2011, or at least 2010.  I also knew that I just wanted a new Corolla, no test driving or car comparison necessary.  I just couldn't make myself go to the dealer.  It makes no sense.

It wasn't until my dad told me that my registration would be expiring the end of February that I knew it was finally time to act.  This was my motivation.

I took a half-day off of work last week and went to the Toyota dealership.  After many discussions, it turned out that leasing was the most affordable option.  I was raised to be very suspicious of leasing so no one was more surprised than me.  Since then, I've heard from many people that are pro-leasing.  Maybe leasing is the new black.

Until my new car, I didn't realize all I was missing.  Y'all, I drive and I don't hear any rumbling.  It doesn't shake on the highway.  Rain is no match for my new tires.  And it even has a CD player!  I am in love.

Still, I haven't named it/him/her yet and my best friend's husband says this is bad luck.  They're coming into town this weekend and I told Mark he had the week to come up with a good name.  Even though I can't remember the name of my old car, I like the idea of naming cars.  My friend Nick suggested via Facebook that I name it Ozzie after my favorite team's GM.

In the meantime, I will continue acquainting myself with this beauty.  I think we're going to be good friends for the next three years, if not longer.

I thought I'd let you weigh in as well.  Do you name your cars?  Any ideas for my car's name?  Are you pro-leasing?