Friday, April 29, 2011

April Somethings

Ah, April, you were good to me...

I Read: I reviewed a few books for the various book blogger programs I'm in. (Side note: do my book reviews annoy anyone? I'm trying not to do too many at a time but this month there were date-specific reviews.) Of those, I most enjoyed Here Burns My Candle.

However, the book I'm most enthralled by is The Distant Hours (Kate Morton.) My words will not do justice to this sweeping Gothic-inspired mystery. It switches between past and present but not in the typical fashion. The writing was beautiful, the plot fast-moving, the mystery unwinding to the very end.  I loved getting to know Edie, her mother's secret, and the Sisters Blythe.  Morton has written 2 other novels and I can't wait to tear into them! First, I'm going to buy a copy of The Distant Hours. It is ownable and a definite candidate for a spot on my list of Favorite Books.

Speaking of which, AnnieBlogs asked her readers to list their top 5 books across any and all categories.  There are few things I enjoy more than talking books, as you'll see from my many comments on the post.  I left out so many of my favorites in my own response that I'll be taking time soon to post a list (or lists) here.

Currently Reading: I have only 1.5 chapters left of 1000 Gifts (Voskamp). You better believe I'm making them stretch out. I love her approach and perspective to grace and gifts. I've been working my way through some writing books: Plot and Structure, The Right to Write, and Writing the Breakout Novel. At first I was overwhelmed and hated my writing but now I feel inspired and have all sorts of new ideas for my novel.

TV: The Office has been great the last couple of weeks! I am sad to see Michael/Steve Carell go but they have been doing wonderful things with his departure. I won't spoil anything in case people didn't watch last night but last week's Rent-inspired send off? Loved it.

Onto The Vampire Diaries.  Does anyone else watch it? My friend Jill and I love to hash it out from time to time.  The twists and turns this series is taking has me on the edge of my seat!  After hearing many people rave about it, I watched my first episode of Fringe. I enjoyed it but was thoroughly confused.  I'll have to track down the DVDs and catch up before I watch anymore.

I've been trying to watch the Real Housewives of Orange County but that ship might have sailed.  I gave up on the New York housewives after the first episode.  The earlier seasons were much classier, if there is such a thing when it comes to these ladies.

Movies: I actually rented a couple this month!  I was in a chick flick mood the other weekend.  Morning Glory was surprisingly endearing. I loved watching Harrison Ford play such a curmudgeon! He and Diane Keaton played really well off one another. Rachel McAdams was also great. However, I was really irritated that the love interest started out as a one-night stand.  Is this what society is coming to?  Life as We Know It was a disappointment. There's only so much suspension of reality that I can take! I think I'm starting to dislike Ms. Heigl, though Josh Duhamel is always a treat. 

In the Kitchen: Apparently I was all about dessert this month- and I'm not that big of a baker!  However, I shared my favorite Mug Brownie recipe.  Then I saw this recipe for Pudding Cookies with Robins Eggs and Robins Eggs are one of my favorite Easter candies so I had to give those a whirl, thus breaking my agreement to not keep dessert in the house. Between those and Cadbury Eggs, I haven't gone overboard too much.  For Easter I made Lemon Thyme Chicken with Sauteed Zucchini Ribbons. Pure heaven. I'll be posting the recipe soon!

Listening: At Blissdom, (in)courage/Dayspring gave us copies of Adie's CD Just You and Me. I listened to it a couple of times when I first got home but now it's in the car. Adie, incidentally, is married to Jeremy Camp and used to be the lead singer of The Benjamin Gate. I only know that because of my time working at The Christian Bookstore. In any case, she does a great job with some of the worship songs I love and a few new ones.

NoiseTrade has had some fantastic free downloads lately- Sandra McCracken's full-length and Sleeping at Last generously put up Storyboards. (Though, I really hope you already own Sleeping at Last's CDs.)

I went to the William Fitzsimmons show the other weekend and was blown away.  His newest album is phenomenal! So glad to have finally seen him live.

Wow- I was wordy this month! What were you into during April?

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An Ode to My Two Gray Hairs

There you lie, a beacon
Proof of wisdom,

You are not yet legion
But I see you 
Giving me hope

One day I will look my age.

How do you feel about your gray hair(s)?  My mom doesn't dye hers.  She is beautiful both inside and out, a wonderful example for me. While no one else notices my few grays right now, I don't think I'll change it once there's more salt and pepper either.  I really do feel proud of these glimmers- I earned them!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Toasting Jesus

Several years ago I was a small group Bible study leader for our young adult group.  My church had a certain protocol for its small group leaders.  First, you would be an apprentice leader.  Second, you would attend a couple of leadership training sessions, in which you learned the basics of leading a small group.

The training encouraged its small group leaders to think outside the box.  They acknowledged that it was good to have a regular structure and format but also encouraged us that mixing it up could be beneficial.  One such activity they suggested was taking communion as a group.  This was an intriguing idea to me, as I'd never experienced the sacrament outside of a church setting.

I am the type of person that is more comfortable helping others succeed in leadership roles.  I know that I'm a good leader. I just happen to think I'm an even better follower.  Even so, I was flattered when I was asked to be an apprentice leader.  That said, I was also nervous about taking on the role.

I shouldn't have been nervous.  The girls in my group were fantastic!  A few I knew before but there were a lot of new additions to the young adult group.  We fell into a regular rhythm of discussing our study and challenging one another.

For group one fall night, I gathered everyone around and explained that we would be taking communion together.  I had us all go off into separate spaces in the apartment to spend time with God and prepare our hearts. I didn't know what would become of this experiment but I thought it was worth trying. 

Instead of bread or those horrible dry crackers, I bought Cinnamon Teddy Grahams.  I hate grape juice but not everyone drank wine so I chose a lovely CranApple juice.  I figured the spirit mattered more than what we drank and ate.

After a time, I called everyone back.  I read Scripture: This is My body. This is My blood. Do this in remembrance of Me. 

The mood was solemn. I felt moved and humbled to have such an experience with these women.

As I finished reading the passage from Luke 22, my mind went blank.  What on earth came next?  I unsuccessfully tried to remember how our pastor would transition from scripture to inviting the congregation to take part. 

There we sat with our juice and Teddy Grahams, everyone looking for me to move us forward.

I did the only thing this then 20-something could think of.

I raised my Dixie cup of CranApple juice high and proclaimed:
"To Jesus!"

(Bonus points if you are like my friend Jill and this story reminded you of Demetri Martin Toasting Traffic. You are super cool!  If it didn't, you should acquaint yourself with Demetri's work right now.)

(Bonus points to my small group for not holding my lack of communion-leading finesse against me.  We toasted Jesus and moved on with the night.  And, for whatever reason, they continued to come back week after week.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Sentiments: Come Awake!

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

This Easter is a bit different from previous years. For one, I'm not with my family. For another, I went to my church's Easter service last night.  This is not the first time I've celebrated Easter on a Saturday night but it still seems strange to celebrate on a day other than Sunday.

I've realized that the most important part of my Easter celebration is going to church and acknowledging Christ's death and resurrection.  While I love to be surrounded by loved ones at Thanksgiving and Christmas, my association with Easter is purely spiritual. 

Last night's service was closed by singing Matt Maher's Christ is Risen.  The lyrics still reverberate in my heart and mind.

Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with Him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave -Matt Maher

"Come awake, come awake!" I exhort myself. It is time to stand in the light and proclaim Christ's victory over death. It is by grace I am saved and by grace that I may approach the throne.

I pray that this Easter reckoning will go beyond today, that I won't simply sift back into the daily toils and struggles. We are free because of His great love for us! How can we not come alive and devote all?

Happy Easter everyone!  May you be washed anew with God's lavish love for us. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Max on Life review

Max Lucado's latest effort is a collection of 172 of the most common questions readers have asked him over the years. They're broken into categories: Hope, Hurt, Help, Him/Her, Home, Haves/Have-nots, and Hereafter. Answering big questions about heaven and hell and hitting closer to home with questions related to divorce and depression, Max covers a lot of territory.

I'm a Max Lucado fan so I had high hopes for Max on Life. He has a way of making connections and explaining the complex in a way that I and so many other readers understand.

Unfortunately I felt he missed the mark here.  It boils down to this: too many questions and not enough of a response.  Though the point of the book is perhaps to offer a short response, many of the questions deal with complex matters and surely deserve more than a half-page response. At times, such as the questions dealing with grief and singleness, I felt his words didn't directly answer the question.  In which case, perhaps they should have used a different question that worked better with his answer.

I like reading advice columns, some more than others.  Readers don't always agree with the advice that columnists give.  Sometimes they are limited by the size of the column or trapped by their own bias.  In Max's case, his advice was often wise but truncated.  I wanted Max on Life to be more than an advice column.

Might people still be comforted by Max's words of wisdom?  Of course!  I still greatly respect his writing and his ministry.  I was just left wanting in this regard.

Do you read advice columns?  I always thought it would be a fun job to have!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their 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.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mug Brownie (we were made for each other)

It's no secret that I love dessert.  It's the reason I went cold turkey for a month. I'm happy to say that dessert has become less frequent, yet more enjoyed since our relationship resumed in March.

I've figured out a few ways to keep my dessert-loving ways under control.
1) Don't keep it in the house.  While I have ice cream in the freezer, it's just one kind. If I make dessert for an event, it doesn't come back. No more buying cookies from the bakery- it just means I'll rationalize eating them for breakfast.
2) When I'm offered something sweet, I ask myself if it's worth being my "one dessert of the day."  Sometimes it is, but sometimes I decide to skip it, even if I don't have anything else later.
3) Figure out ways to make it personal/single-sized.  Just one serving is enough!

A couple of years ago the Chicago Tribune Food section printed a recipe for a brownie made in a mug. It was a tiny blurb and I might have overlooked it, but "brownie" called out to me like a siren song.  I quickly became a convert of the Mug Brownie.

It's the perfect pick-me-up!  I can't say whether it's healthy or not but it's better than eating a whole pan.  In fact, sometimes I just eat half and save the rest for the next day.

Mug Brownie
4 T flour
4 T sugar
2 T cocoa
2 T vegetable oil
2 T water
(optional: dash of salt, 1/4 t. vanilla)

Assemble ingredients and mix thoroughly.  It helps to use a small spatula so you can be sure the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

Microwave for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. It won't be entirely set in the middle.

Be careful- it'll be really hot!  Best to cool for a couple of minutes and then eat warm.  Top with vanilla ice cream, if you'd like. Then sigh with pure happiness and joy. All is right with the world when you're enjoying a Mug Brownie.

Bonus: Throw in a handful of nuts, chocolate chips, or Reese's peanut butter cups when mixing the batter to take your Mug Brownie to a whole new level.
Tip: You can use a mug (regular or large) or a ramekin.  It's entirely up to you.
Do you have any pint-size dessert tricks up your sleeve?  Any variations on the Mug Brownie recipe?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Home-Ec 101 review

I'm ashamed to admit this but I haven't had a regular housecleaning schedule since I graduated college.  Between living at home with my parents during grad school and then living with roommates, cleaning was something to do in my occasional downtime or before having company over.

I'm not a perfectionist when it comes to homemaking.  I'm comfortable in the kitchen and I'm familiar with the contents of my toolbox.  I can hem with the best of them and enjoy taking on home-related projects.  Cleaning, however, remains something I'd prefer to avoid.

Now that I live by myself, I can only blame myself if my house isn't pristine.  I subscribe to the idea of cleaning once I notice its dirty.  (Lest you think I'm a slob, I'm not. I just don't dust and polish as often as I should.) I keep up on laundry and the dishes but other chores tend to be delayed. I know it's just an excuse but the idea of cleaning after a hard day's work makes me feel more exhausted.

Clearly I needed Home-Ec 101, written by blogger Heather Solos. When the One2One Network offered to let me read a free copy of the eBook, I didn't hesitate to say yes.

The full title of Home-Ec 101 says it all: Skills for Everyday Living.  The book is divided into 4 sections, comprised of Clean It, Wash It, Fix It, Cook It.  It is jam-packed with helpful information.

Wondering about why you shouldn't mix ammonia and bleach? And did you know you still shouldn't mix them, even if they're included in other cleaners?

Do you know how long your appliances will last? Are you versed in how to get rid of all manner of stains?

What should you do if you need a rolling pin but don't want to buy one? (I felt proud that I already knew this answer- use a bottle of wine.)  What are common cooking substitutions?

All this and more is contained in Home-Ec 101.  Thanks to Heather, I have now developed a cleaning schedule that works for me.  She breaks up chores into daily tasks.  Dusting becomes more manageable when you do it one room at a time. She walks the reader step by step through deep cleaning, then offers tips on how to maintain a clean home.  This I can handle.

While the eBook was helpful, I'm glad that Home-Ec 101 is available in hard copy at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  Depending on your question, it would be easy to flip to the pertaining section.  This is a handy manual that you'll want to keep around. 

What are your cleaning habits?  How do you stay on top of the demands of your home?

Disclosure: One2One Network provided me with a free copy of the Home-Ec 101 eBook for review, with no expectation that I would provide a positive review.  The thoughts, opinions, and reactions are entirely my own.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Sentiments: Remembering the Good

Sunday Sentiments is an attempt to record what God has been teaching me and the way in which He does it.
I hear people say they survived evangelicalism or they survived a charismatic church upbringing.  My faith narrative has become such that I've often focused on the negative aspects of my childhood church.

I didn't mean to throw the baby out with the bath water. 

My mom and I had an interesting conversation after I wrote about my difficulty praying out loud.  She has a different perspective of my childhood church, which makes sense.  I was young and typically in Sunday school during the service.  My recollections come from the Sunday night services. My perspective is limited by my age at the time.  What does a 4 year old know about church other than what she sees? It was only later that it didn't sit well with me.

My story doesn't end there. God used the meandering path my faith took and I am better for it.  And the truth is, my upbringing in the church impacted my understanding of God for the better.

It was there that I participated in Sword Drills and learned how to memorize scripture.  I can remember sitting in the Sunday school room proudly reciting the books of the Bible.  While some of the Old Testament prophets trip me up at times, I still have the order memorized.

It was there that our family was embraced by the church community and there that I came to experience fellowship.  So many church families were our friends. I now know that this is not par for the course at every church. I remember playing at the Murdoch and Mattea homes, as the grown ups chatted and did life together.  The Ogaards are still close friends, though my family left that church more than two decades ago.

It was there that my parents grew in their faith, which translated to growing my and my brother's faith.

It was there that I learned about the Bible and the meaning of Easter and that Jesus died on the cross for me.

I learned a lot of good in that church during my formative years.  It's time I remembered that.

Are you ever tempted to throw the baby out with the bath water? Can you find positive in the negative?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

DaySpring Giveaway winner

I must say I'm surprised by the low entries to the DaySpring giveaway.  Perhaps there's been a glut of giveaways this week?

Well, their loss is the winner's gain.

Congratulations mom!  Yay Mom!  Now go use the DaySpring code for yourself, promise?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Of Praying Out Loud and Peer Pressure

When Joey told me about his vision for Prayer Night, a group of friends gathering once a week to pray, the only answer that made sense was "yes."  Except for that pesky minor detail that I hated praying out loud.

So why would I agree to this?  It may have had something to do with my then crush on Joey. More than likely though, it was because I was completely in love with my new group of friends.

I had just started going to the church and was becoming involved with the young adult group.  I spent many fun hours with this group of friends. We relished the time we spent together but also pushed each other when it came to matters of faith.  With friends such as these, you agree to do things just so you can spend more time together. At least it was mostly spiritual peer pressure!

This was not Prayer Night but if you double the amount of people crammed into the room, it would look pretty similar.

The timing of the invitation was not coincidental.  God had been nudging my heart on the prayer front for awhile and I could not ignore this opportunity to grow. Joey probably would have pestered me until I joined anyway!

My distaste for oral prayer was born out of my childhood experience with a charismatic church.  Praying in tongues, oil anointing, the whole nine yards. Prayer was elevated to an art form. (Ed. note: overall I have lovely memories of this church. I learned a lot about God, the Bible, and how to pray. Sometimes I focus on the negatives of this church and that is to my detriment.) Then later, at another church, I witnessed people with silver tongues but hypocritical lives.  In my mind, prayer was best kept between God and me. 

It would be easy to say that my dislike of public prayer was solely born from my church experience.  The seeds were planted there but I continued to sow them.  Because of the flowery prayers I'd heard, I put more pressure on myself to pray beautiful prayers that would move people.  I knew this was not what prayer should be about.  I didn't like facing my pride but I knew I didn't want to be a hypocrite either.  It seemed better to keep my prayers to myself and this became a way of life.  The rare times I did pray aloud, I was nervous, butterflies in the stomach, clammy hands.  My spoken prayers never sounded as good as the ones in my head.

Prayer Night forced me to embrace a new habit.  I reminded myself that it was still between me and God, that the audience didn't matter.  The subject matter was of more import, as was the Listener.  Because I embrace challenge, I would at times volunteer to start prayer. This way I had no excuse not to participate.  Starting the prayer allowed me to speak from my heart.  I wasn't building off of what others said and I wasn't distracted by thinking about what I should pray.  

Some nights we shared personal prayer requests.  Some nights we prayed for our country or current event.  There were the consistent attendees and those who floated in and out from week to week.  What remained the same was our love for God and for each other.

Prayer Night lasted a couple of years before our group succumbed to out-of-state job promotions, marriages, children.  In that time, I grew to look forward to this little community of believers.  I became more comfortable in interceding in front of my friends and on their behalf.

I'm still not a likely candidate for Pray-er of the Year but I am more likely to pray with a friend the moment a burden is presented.  I'm less bound by my childhood church experiences.  I'm more resolute that joining in prayer is an important part of building community and fellowship.

I may not love praying out loud but Prayer Night taught me its role in my life.  And I am richer for it.

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.

Are you comfortable praying out loud?  What is your experience with prayer?

Don't forget to enter my giveaway for (in)courage and DaySpring!  $35 could mean a nice present for a friend- or for yourself!  Click here to enter. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Of Serving Trays and Giveaways

I was so excited when I was asked to review the Wonderful Grace Tray for (in)courage.  I've been lusting after the tray for a few months now.  I know, I know. I shouldn't say "lusting" when describing Christian-inspired product.  Let's just say I greatly yearned after this tray.

(Stay tuned for a giveaway at the end of this post!)

The tray contains these words ringing around its edges: wonderful grace, simple joy, unending hope, authentic peace, unfathomable love. The carved flowers on the sides add to the beauty of its message.  At 14" x 14", it's perfect for your serving or decorating needs.

I've had fun figuring out where to use my Wonderful Grace Tray.  I tried three different locations in my house and then played around with what to put on the tray.

First, a look at the serving tray I currently use in my living room.  I don't have a coffee table due to space constraints so a serving tray on the ottoman is a perfect fix.

I've been meaning to find something to stash remote controls- it's actually a candle holder with a couple of wine corks to stabilize the bottom.  The magazines now have more room to breathe.

Next, I considered using it with my PartyLite Thai Inspiration Candles in my office.  I thought the contrasting woods might add some extra drama.

Not bad but not quite what I was going for either.

As to the tray's final resting place, look no further than the kitchen counter/bar.  The Grace Tray provides an anchor to the space, allowing me to feature seasonal decor or whatever currently inspires me. Plus, it forces me to put papers away, instead of letting them accumulate there.

I love grouping various items from my house.  I started with a Ball jar that collects pennies, then I added the Anthro candle, a votive, and the dried gingko leaves from last fall.
For another touch of color, I added the fantastic red graphic bookmarks my friend Val made me.  I loved it!

But then I thought about how it's spring and this seemed to be a very fall arrangement.  It happens easily enough in my home, given that fall and its colors are my favorite.

I set to making a more springlike arrangement and came up with this:

I'm sure in the coming weeks, I'll tweak it a bit more.  Either way, the Grace Tray has helped me see my home in a whole new light!

(in)courage is kindly offering a $35 coupon code to DaySpring to a reader!  (A coupon code is the same as a gift certificate here.) This might be a good time to mention that the Wonderful Grace Tray is 50% through the month of April.  Or perhaps you'd like something else from DaySpring.  The choice is yours!

To enter the giveaway:
* Leave a comment telling me what you'd like from DaySpring if you win. Or tell me why you like spring. Or what color you're wearing today.  Just comment about something.
Opportunity for 3 extra entries:
*Subscribe to HopefulLeigh through Google Friend Connect or Feedburner.  Or like HopefulLeigh on Facebook.  Then comment that you've done so. (If you already follow through one of these options, you can comment that you're super cool and ahead of the crowd.)
*Tweet about the giveaway, then comment here with the link.  Bonus points if you incorporate @HopefulLeigh, @incourage, or @DaySpringCards.  (Bonus points are symbolic only- tweeting will only earn you 1 extra entry.)  
 *Post about the giveaway on Facebook and comment here letting me know.
This means you can enter for the giveaway up to 4 times!  The giveaway will remain open until Saturday April 16 at 9 am CST.  The winner will be chosen at random and posted soon thereafter.  The winner will have 2 days to respond, then I'll pick a new winner.  

Disclosure: (in)courage provided me the Grace Tray for free for review purposes, with no expectation that I would provide a positive review.  The thoughts, opinions, and reactions are entirely my own. It's always nice when I love the product I've been given!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Final Summit Review

I admit I wasn't expecting to enjoy reading The Final Summit.  I hadn't read its predecessor The Traveler's Gift and the time traveling premise didn't necessarily appeal to me.  Still, I knew that Andy Andrews has been on the New York times bestselling list a time or two so when the opportunity arose to review the book for Thomas Nelson's BookSneeze program, I took it.

I'm so glad I did.

It didn't matter that I hadn't read about our character David Ponder before.  Enough backstory was presented that I had a good idea of who he was and what he'd been through.  In The Final Summit, David Ponder is a successful man, who lost his fortune once and then managed to rebuild it based on the Seven Decisions (all gleaned during events in the first book).  When we meet David, he is mourning the death of his wife and questioning his purpose.  That's putting it too kindly.  He basically wishes he was dead.

Instead of getting his wish, the archangel Gabriel appears before him.  Gabriel reminds David that he is the last Traveler.  A summit of all the Travelers over all time has been called.  Their purpose is to determine whether there should be a future on this earth, given the state of humanity.

Books involving time travel and historical figures can go a couple of ways.  They can be cheesy and trite.  Or they can allow the reader to learn and grow.  Thankfully, The Final Summit falls into the latter category. 

The Travelers are a diverse group.  There are the "dead white guys," of course, but there are also women and representations from various cultures and ethnicities.  And while important people throughout history are represented, there are also those souls we know nothing about who forever altered events because of their courage. 

David Ponder leads the Travelers as they discuss what humanity must do to restore itself.  They are given 5 chances or humanity is done for. Gabriel alludes to a "He" throughout the book, which I assumed to be God.  Therefore, I read this as God giving humanity one last chance through this group of Travelers.  The reader can't help but dialog with them as answers are tossed out and discussed.

It was interesting to see how King David might respond in a think tank but I was more taken with Eric Erikson's story.  Did you know that President Eisenhower said that if not for Erickson, we would not have won World War II?  I didn't either before reading this book. 

It is that attention to detail and research that makes Andrews' book worth reading.

Now I don't agree that God would give humanity one last chance, as this would negate his promise after the flood.  And I didn't always agree with the Travelers' discussion points- though the portion on depression was genius.  Still, their discussion is not unlike the things we all talk or wonder about at one time or another.  Why is the world this way?  What can we do to make it a better place?  What is our purpose?  

Without giving away anything, I will say this.  Their conclusion is one I wish all people would adopt.  If our leaders would step up to the plate.  If we all could exhibit integrity and courage.  If we all did our part.  What kind of world would we live in?

This may be the stuff of fiction but The Final Summit helps me keep believing that a better way exists and that change is possible.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their 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.


I left work early on Friday due to food poisoning.  I had entirely too much to do but you can't argue with food poisoning.  After the week I'd had, it seemed like a strangely fitting end.

I realized a few things as I listed about the house waiting to feel better.

1.  I tend to overshare about my illnesses. If I'm sick, I'll probably tell you about it, even if it's not so bad that I need to stay home.  I've always enjoyed making my dad and brother squirm by telling them about my cramps.  But how many people want to hear the ins and outs of my food poisoning?  Other than my mom, no one.

2.  This gives me good insight as to my conversation topics when I am an 87 year old woman.  However, if you patiently listen to the tales of aches and pains, I promise I will then regale you with my latest adventures.  Which will hopefully amount to more than winning Bingo last weekend. I want to be the feisty old lady who still gets herself into trouble!

3.  Never, ever go on unless you want to convince yourself that you're about to die.  I thought I learned this lesson several years ago when some strange neurological symptoms led to a description of MS. (See how I'm oversharing again?)  This sent me freaked out to my doctor, who performed a few simple tests which quickly ruled out MS, and told me the symptoms would resolve, which they did a few days later.  So yes, I knew better than to go on this website.  But this round of food poisoning was different than what I've experienced before so to WebMD I went.  I promptly believed that my appendix had burst and spent much of Friday and Saturday questioning at what point I should go to the hospital, lamenting the lack of a PCP which I've been meaning to find since I moved, and whether this particular pain was actually my appendix.  It wasn't.  I'm totally fine now.

4.  Old Navy has a really catchy song on their dress commercial.  I watched enough TV to almost memorize it and now it's stuck in my head.  Time to put my music back on....

I have no idea why I like sharing details of my illnesses.  Am I trying to prove to people that I really am sick?  I think the fact that I cried (why, oh, why do I cry when I'm sick?) on the phone to my boss on Friday was proof enough that I felt miserable.  It might be because I live by myself and morbidly wonder if I'll die from some fluke illness and no one will notice for a few days.  In this sense, I'm putting people on notice to check up on me.  Sometimes though, I think that if I share enough detail (but not too much of the really gross detail- I have some discretion) that the person will tell me about this awesome home remedy and I'll be quickly cured!

In light of these revelations, I'm going to practice keeping my mouth shut next time I get sick. 

Unless you're my mom.  In which case, prepare yourself for a detailed explanation of my latest cold.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Remembering Aunt Teresa

 A year or so old, at a park with Aunt Teresa

I can't remember a time without Aunt Teresa.  My grandparents moved Teresa and my great-grandmother in with them the year I was born.  Great-Grandma's health was beginning to fail and she could no longer care for Teresa the way she needed to.  Teresa, you see, was developmentally disabled with the perpetual mind of an 8 year old.

When I hear the phrase "child-like enthusiasm" I immediately think of Aunt Teresa.  She loved kittens, stuffed animals, and weddings, especially brides.  She loved to sing and celebrate her birthday.  She almost always had a bow in her hair.  Her chore in my grandparents' home was to do the dishes and she did this cheerfully. She faithfully attended Mass with my grandparents and enjoyed being helpful. You couldn't help but feel loved when Teresa greeted you at the door.

I could always count on Teresa when I wanted to find kittens in the barn.
That's me on the left with a growing out perm and pink glasses circa 6th grade with Teresa and my second cousin Michelle

This is not to say that she was perfect.  Teresa would get upset if she didn't get her way.  She didn't always obey or understand what was expected of her.  Her feelings would get hurt, especially if she heard someone refer to her as "retarded."  That word, even used as slang, angers me to this day.

Wherever my grandparents went, there would be Teresa.  Every so often, Grandpa and Grandma would find someone to stay with Teresa.  But for the most part, Teresa was at every family gathering and event my grandparents attended.  She was a big part of our lives.

Dancing at Jon and Heather's wedding in 2000

As she had always been there, I never thought of a time where Teresa would no longer be with us.  While I knew Teresa and my grandparents were getting older, I could never bring myself to think of the inevitable. 

Teresa was diagnosed with a brain tumor in July 2006.  The original prognosis was for 3 to 4 months.  Proving that a prognosis is little more than an educated guess, Teresa lived for 9 months. During that time, the hospice I worked for took care of Aunt Teresa, thus paving the way for when my Grandma would need their care, less than two months after Teresa died.

Grandma's death overshadowed our family's loss of Teresa.  I still don't understand how I managed to deal with two losses so close together, even four years later.

I do know this.  Teresa's death prepared me to lose my Grandma, though we had no way of knowing Grandma was sick at the time.  In those 9 months, I visited my grandparents more than usual, helping out with Teresa's care or sitting with her for awhile so Grandpa and Grandma could eat an uninterrupted meal.  When Teresa wanted me to sleep over, I did, even though it meant braving a snowstorm.  That night after Teresa was tucked in bed, Grandma and I chatted for awhile as we watched TV.  I have so many more precious memories with my Grandma because of Teresa's convalescence.  I have no regrets.

I was with Aunt Teresa on this day 4 years ago when she took her last breath.  The night before, Grandma had told Teresa she would be OK, alluding to their inside joke that Grandma would be lost without Teresa.  Shortly thereafter, Teresa slipped into a comatose state.  I left work early when I learned Teresa was actively dying.  I made it in time to gather for prayers and then she slipped away. 

Death is shocking, even when you're prepared for it.  Even when we've grieved a loss, we can still be surprised by our ability to forget they are gone or our reaction to something they would have loved.

Sometimes when I drive to Grandpa's house, I expect Aunt Teresa will open the door.  I think I will hear her familiar laugh as she says my name and pulls me inside for a hug.  She was always there.
Teresa, a month or two after diagnosis

It's been four years.  Today I remember Teresa with her hairbows, her enthusiasm, and the love she had for her "favorite" great-niece.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Sentiments: Better Love

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

"Love sought is good, but given unsought is better." -William Shakespeare
She doesn't care if I'm in workout clothes, without make-up.  She doesn't care if I'm sick or tired.  
All that matters is that I'm there and that I'm her auntie. 

When I think of the ways I am loved, she comes to mind, along with my inner circle and my family.  Then my thoughts turn to God, who will always love me better and most of all.  He sought me out when I didn't believe I was worth seeking and He continues to lavish His love over me.  

He doesn't care that I still wrestle with doubt and insecurity.  I don't have to keep up my defenses in His presence.  I can simply be.  Such a precious gift, this being, this noticing the moment and thanking Him for the gifts both good and bad.

Truly, unsought love is better.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Here Burns My Candle review

I was excited to receive my copy of Here Burns My Candle for a few reasons. 

1. I love free books!
2.  It's a historical novel set in Scotland.
3. I've read Liz Curtis Higgs' other historical series set in Scotland and loved it.
4. Scotland seems so romantic to me.

The novel follows the Kerr family in 1745, the story focusing on Lady Elisabeth Kerr and her mother-in-law, the dowager Lady Marjory Kerr.  The bonny Prince Charlie and his army of Jacobites have ridden into town and are preparing to take back their land.  The Rising has a profound effect on Elisabeth and her husband Lord Donald, his brother and sister-in-law Andrew and Janet, and Marjory.  The family is initially mixed in their loyalties- do they throw their support to Prince Charlie or stay loyal to King George?  Elisabeth worries her Highlander loyalties, and thus to the bonny Prince, will divide her against her family.  Each character's reaction to the turmoil around them sets the course for our tale.

Higgs's historical novels trace a Biblical story.  Take what you learned about any one story and throw it out the window.  She has a way of turning familiar words on their heads, with the added effect that we then better understand the Bible.  Such was true when I read her Lowlands of Scotland series, her take on Jacob, Leah, and Rachel.  Did I ever expect I would take Leah's side?  Definitely not. Growing up, I was always upset that she "stole" Jacob from Rachel.  But we must remember that things are not always as they seem.  I've never been able to read that portion of Genesis in the same way and the same will hold true with the Book of Ruth.

Here Burns My Candle is the first in a two-book series.  This time around, our story is based on Ruth, Naomi, and Orpah.  I always loved reading the books of Ruth and Esther, our primary examples of women in the Bible.  I'm also familiar with the Jacobite Rising (thanks to a certain saucy Outlander series, read at your own risk.)  The Jacobite Rising provides an interesting backdrop but our prime concern is with the ladies Kerr.  (If you're not as familiar with either- spoiler alert.) I knew all would not end well for Elisabeth and Marjory.  However, this did not demean the novel in any way.  

The plot primarily moved forward, for me, thanks to the dynamics between Elisabeth and Marjory.  Marjory starts off as a snobby, critical, domineering mother-in-law.  Watching her grow, seeing her reclaim her faith as Elisabeth comes to know who God is, was beautiful.  I don't want to say much more than that.  Suffice it to say, I was captivated from the start.

I'm very excited to dive into the sequel: Mine is the Night.  My blogger friend Heatherly raved about it to me on Twitter.  I can't wait to see Higgs' rendition of Boaz!  Be still my heart.

I have a hunch that a trip to Scotland is in my future.  Who wouldn't love to traipse about Edinburgh, soaking in the history and culture?  And perhaps listening to those sexy accents?

Who's with me?

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.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Enneagram and ME: The Good

Yesterday I shared the dark side of being a Four, according to The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective.  And if you're still back for more, thank you.  As I mentioned yesterday, I was a bit anxious about being so vulnerable and focusing on my more negative traits.

Today, thankfully, I get to talk about the gifts and benefits of being a Four. I hope that people experience this side of me more often than not. 

1. They are motivated by the need to understand themselves and their feelings.  They search for meaning in life
Maybe this explains my penchant for personality tests and self-analysis?  I've also written in a journal since I was in 6th grade.  The things I have learned from reading through those old entries- yikes!  I view this as a positive trait.  Understanding myself helps me understand the people around me.  Searching for meaning draws me closer to God.

2. Fours like to have long conversations over wine or tea. They have exquisite taste!
I love these random things!  Totally me.  I adore sitting in a coffee shop talking away the day with a good friend- or over a glass of wine at night.  When I travel, I look for unique pieces, jewelry, etc. to bring home.  I'm not opposed to mass market clothes but there's a definite look or style that I have and it must conform to that.  Resale shops are my friends.

3. They tend to be artistically gifted.
Well, this one certainly makes me happy.  I always loved art and English class best.  I still love to paint and draw when I have time, as well as work on other crafty projects. I will never be a famous artist but I am creative and talented.  More importantly, I derive great joy from creating! Writing is my true first love.  My childhood dream was to be an author.  Anytime anyone compliments my writing, I am over the moon.

4. Fours avoid ordinariness.  They like to be different.
I have eclectic taste.  I am opinionated.  I enjoy that I am not a "typical" Christian.  I don't always like to be singled out but I don't like being lost in the crowd either.

5. Fruit of the Spirit for redeemed Fours: Balance. They understand the human soul better than anyone, as well as the range of emotions.  When they are redeemed, Fours can distance themselves from their emotion, thus purifying it.
I am able to be more objective about my emotions now.  I have an idea of my triggers and how to better care for myself.  When I'm going into a potentially tough situation, I try to prepare myself for how I may respond, which helps.  I have become so much better at self-care in the last decade.  I feel that being emotionally balanced, as well as balanced in all areas of life, has helped me to be a more effective counselor. This is very much connected to #6.  I have a calming presence and a go-with-the-flow personality, which is tied into balance as well.

6. They are able to access a depth of feeling that few others can.  Because of this, they are better than most at understanding and advising people going through difficult or calamitous experiences. They're not afraid of complicated, dark feelings as they've already gone through it.
Going through depression and suicidality, experiencing several losses, and more...these things have greatly enhanced my ability to walk beside people through their darkest hours.  Whether working for hospice or my current position, I am able to listen to and advise people who face the unfathomable and still retain my compassion.  Does this tire me out at times? Yes.  But I often feel that my life experiences make me the best person to sit in that space.  I'm OK with not knowing the answers or having the perfect thing to say.

7. Invitation: call to originality.  They find who they are in terms of who they are in God.
Viewing myself through God's eyes has been huge!  Accepting that He created me fearfully and wonderfully in His image has done wonders for my self-esteem. Knowing that nothing escapes His notice, that He works all things for good, has helped me immeasurably.  Reconciling my political beliefs to my faith led to me to make my faith my own. I was able to be myself before God and know that I was loved unconditionally.  I finally accepted His grace.

8. Life tasks: develop a healthy realism and convert longing into actual goals.
The realism developed when I saw a counselor in college.  Converting longing into goals, this is something that I push myself to do.  Now that I think of it, that was somewhat behind my move to Nashville.  This has something to do with my 31 Things and 32 Things- giving purpose to each year. A current way I'm doing this is sitting down each week to work on my book.  The dream I've had since I was a little girl is coming closer to reality.  I have no idea if I'll be published but I'd never know if I just continued to sit around dreaming about it. Are there other dreams that need to be converted into goals?  Absolutely but let's just take it one at a time for now!
My inspiration board
Those who know me in real life, does this seem to be a good explanation for me?  (I'm guessing that some of these things could be detected in blogland as well!)  Anyone else think they're a Four?

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Enneagram and ME: The Bad

The Enneagram has been a wonderful, if difficult, tool since I read it in December. (If you missed yesterday's post about ancient personality typing, click here.) It's not meant to pigeonhole us in any one type but should serve instead as a guide, a way of better understanding who we are and how we relate to others and God.

As I mentioned Monday, I had a hard time figuring out which type I was.  There were many aspects of the other types that I related to.  After going back and forth, it turns out I'm a Four.  As Rohr observed, this realization made me miserable.  While there are wonderful attributes associated with Fours, unredeemed Fours don't come across as the best people. Believe me, I've had many unredeemed moments in my life.

I'm a little anxious to put myself on display in this way, especially to start with the dark side of Fours.  It's hard to confront some of the ugliness in my character. In some cases, I know that I'm not the same person anymore.  In others, there's still lots of room for growth. Either way, I don't come across too pretty here. You're about to learn more about me than you may want!

Still, I'm not posting this for reassurance that I'm not that bad or that I've grown.  I know that.  I'm posting this because vulnerability in the moment is an area I need to work on.  I think I'm pretty great but I don't ever want to come across as someone that has it all together.  I'm a work in progress, as you shall see.

The following statements are traits of Fours, according to Rohr and Ebert's work.  My insights are below.

1. Fours' life question is "What do you think of me?" They strive to be exceptional, unique, and creative.
So much of my early life was about this question.  I completely defined myself by what others thought or at least what I thought they thought about me.  It wasn't as much about approval as it was being noticed.  I still want to be noticed. I want people to see me as Creative with a capital C, not just someone who is creative.  I don't like being put in a box.  I want to be known for being the best at something or at least someone who stands out.

2. They are primarily shaped by longing: for beauty, for wholeness, for love. The longing is more important than the receiving.
I started daydreaming about my wedding the first time I played with Barbie and Ken.  The desire to be married shaped me, especially as this is currently an unfulfilled longing.  I have to remind myself that marriage won't always be roses and sunshine and my husband will let me down at some point.  No one but God can meet our deepest needs. We will never be satisfied on earth.  I'm always surprised when my dreams do come true.  After years of pining away over a trip to Ireland, I couldn't believe when I actually made it there and how God brought it together.  You'd think that would be enough but I simply moved on to longing over the next destination.  I force myself to write down the ways my dreams have come true because it's too easy for me to move on to the next unfulfilled desire.

3. Their style and spontaneity is often contrived.
I don't have to look any further than the skater, grunge, and hippie looks I sported in junior high and high school.  I put a lot of effort into looking like I didn't care about my appearance or my activities.  I tried to define myself through my clothes. Of course people could see right through that.  By college, I had a better sense of my style, that really spoke to who I am.  My mom likes to call it Retro Eclectic, though I'd say it's more Bohemian Chic.  It's fun that friends can see a certain shirt or dress and say, "that's totally you!" and be 100% right. As far as spontaneity, I do love to plan ahead but I'm generally up for anything, unless it's on Sunday nights.  I've learned that I need time to prepare for the week ahead so I try to keep Sunday nights low-key.  The rest of the time?  I'm game.

4. Unredeemed Fours believe they're responsible for rejection or hurt, that they are "bad."
Anytime anything bad happened, I would always believe it was my fault or that it was because it was me.  Not getting asked to Homecoming, losing out on a job, not getting the internship I wanted, being hurt by a friend...always in my mind, I didn't deserve any better.  I still have a hard time believing that good things will happen in my life.  Even when I feel positive about something, I'm still preparing myself to be letdown.  It's ironic that I'm encouraging to others but I'm my own worst critic.

5. Temptation: strive frantically for authenticity.
I've always looked for authenticity in others, thanks to a discerning spirit.  This was true even when I wasn't authentic.  Being raised in the church and attending a Christian grammar school gave me a lot of head knowledge and I sure was good at saying all the right things, even when I was knee-deep in my depression.  Over the past 15+ years, I've become better at sharing the difficulties in my life or how God has worked.  However, it's a past-tense authenticity.  I wait until it's nicely packaged with a bow before sharing.  It's much harder for me to be present-moment, here's my pain, I don't have a clue what to do, authentic.  This is something I'm definitely working on.

6. Defense mechanism: artistic sublimation.
Adding to the above, it was very hard in junior high to admit I was struggling with depression and suicidality.  I would write pages upon pages in my journal about how miserable I was.  I would sketch in my drawing books or paint for awhile.  There's a reason Art Therapy exists!  I loved symbolism and music.  I've always loved to write poetry when I'm dealing with a difficult moment.  And let's just all agree that passive aggression is not the way to handle conflict with friends but I didn't learn that lesson until after college.  I was the queen of the silent treatment.  When I'm upset, I still tend to withdraw.  I'll cry and journal for awhile.  Then I just want to curl up with a book or movie and let everything else fall away.

7. Root sin is envy.  There's nothing that Fours can't be envious about.  This can also translate as jealousy.
Dear Lord, is this one ever true!  God and I have many heart to hearts about my tendency to compare myself to others.  This is definitely the root of my past depression.  If I hadn't compared myself, how would I have found myself lacking in so many ways?  How else did I convince myself of such utter lies?  Even now, I have to watch myself, whether it's comparing the number of blog subscribers to someone else or who else has received an accolade at work or why the girl I used to babysit for just got engaged.  If I let myself go down the roads of envy, it's not a pretty sight.

8. Their pitfall is their melancholy. Fours have to be depressed from time to time in order to be happy.  There is pleasure in suffering.
Several years ago, I realized that I actually liked being miserable.  It's what I was used to and there was a comfort in going down the same downward spiral.  This, my friends, was after I'd been to college and dealt with the depression and self-esteem issues leftover from junior high.  I finally accepted that I had a choice of whether or not I was going to feel miserable when those triggers showed up.  Now there's a fine line between melancholy and feeling sad.  I make sure that I allow myself to feel sad and cry because there are things for which we need to feel sad and cry.  On the other hand, I know myself well enough to know when I'm hanging on to sadness and using it as an excuse to choose poorly.

9. Fours direct aggression against themselves. They are disgusted by themselves and their bodies.
In junior high I was convinced that I was ugly and worthless.  I can't even describe how much I hated myself.  I wanted to kill myself but couldn't go through with it, which became another reason to hate myself.  If I'd known about cutting, I probably would have done it.  I liked food too much to ever develop an eating disorder, which is merciful given everything else.  That girl is not ME anymore but she's still there, at times insecure and in need of reassurance.  I think that I'm cute and, on occasion, hot but I haven't gone so far as to say that I'm beautiful.  I'm working on it though!  Really though, to go from believing that I'm ugly to believing that I'm attractive has been huge. 

10.  They need friends and family that can firmly stand against their changing moods.
My poor friends and family.  Remember that passive-aggressive, silent-treatment-giving girl I mentioned before?  I honestly marvel about why people were friends with me in high school.  I am so thankful for those that have stuck by me and that have spoken truth into my life and called me out on my crap. I've turned out to be a great friend in the end! I'm not as moody as I used to be but I think my former roommates will agree that still I have my moments.  (I like to think that they're limited to a certain time in the month but it's probably better that I live alone now.) (My poor future husband. Perhaps I'll have worked through this particular issue by then?)

11. They are sensitive and easily hurt. They cry easily and are very moved by beauty, sorrow, and pain.
I see sensitivity as a blessing and a curse. I often cry during TV shows, movies, and books.  In fact, I associate being moved to tears as a sign of good art. My compassion enables me to be an effective counselor.  On the other hand, I take things a little too personally.  If I haven't heard from a friend in awhile, I believe that they must not like me anymore or that they're mad at me or...  I appreciate constructive criticism, really I do, but I hate it in that moment.  That's why I've given my inner circle full permission to call me out on certain things- that way I can only be mad at myself.  I have definite weepy seasons, where I cry or am on the verge of crying, for really no reason. I tend to think it happens if I haven't been as good about self-care and let my emotions pile up.

As a reminder that I'm still a good person, me and Erin
Tomorrow I look at the positive side of Fours.  Stay with me?

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Enneagram and You

The Enneagram has ancient roots, stemming from Christian desert monk and medieval Sufi sources.  In the last 25 or so years, there has been more written and discussed about this practice.  It helps us identify the ways we hide from ourselves and from God.  Last August my friend Mark told me about Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert's book The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective

It's recommended that one does not explore the Enneagram until they are in their 30s, at the latest early 40s.  Too soon and you have not fully developed your character and natural ways of dealing with life.  Too late and you are likely to be too entrenched in those responses and unable or unwilling to identify them and change.

One must not enter this lightly.  Discovering your type will be freeing in the end but it will first force you to confront yourself, the person that is a sinner in need of grace, who doesn't always make the best decisions, whose instincts may hurt others.  We are used to the way we respond; the "dark side" of our gifts isn't always readily apparent.  Rohr notes that discovering your type will make you miserable at first.

Why would anyone want to do this if it makes you miserable, you ask?  Because understanding your motivations and your root sins need not end with simply identifying them.  The flip side of our selfishness is our capacity to love. We see that our type, when we are whole, can enable us to give our gifts to others. We are the best version of ourselves and most open to being used by God. We are given the opportunity to grow and "become more mature, wiser, and integrated" (p. 26.)

The 9 Types:
One: The Need to be Perfect
Two: The Need to be Needed
Three: The Need to Succeed
Four: The Need to be Special
Five: The Need to Perceive
Six: The Need for Security
Seven: The Need to Avoid Pain
Eight: The Need to be Against
Nine: The Need to Avoid

Shauna Niequist has written a short overview of each type.  It's well worth reading but I'd still encourage you to pick up a copy of Rohr and Ebert's book.  While tests are available, it's more effective to read, ponder, pray, and discuss with others.

Perhaps this is still confusing so I will briefly walk you through Type Two, the Helper.

Twos use their gifts to help others, standing by them during difficult times. "Twos desperately want to be liked and have an exaggerated need for validation" (p. 63.)  Their root sin is false pride, as they condescend to those they serve.  Twos' identity is wrapped up in being needed, consequently adapting their personality to whomever needs them.  Their temptation is to always help everyone else, which enables them to avoid themselves.  The dilemma and gift of Twos is that they give others what they want for themselves (the golden rule)- this may not always be what the other person actually wants or needs.  Their defense mechanism is repression. The pitfall is flattery, seen by denying who they are to please others. Mature Twos are able to love unconditionally, without any ulterior motives. Their fruit of the spirit (gift) is humility, as they are able to identify their real motivation.  The invitation to Twos is for freedom- freedom from manipulating others to meet their own needs and from dependency on others for meaning. Tasks for a Two are to learn to say no and to understand what their own needs are.

Very interesting, isn't it?  You may be wondering why I gave that particular example. When I started to read The Enneagram, I was sure I'd be a Two, as I work in a helping profession.  However, I'm not.  As to what type I actually am, you'll have to come back tomorrow!

After reading Shauna's overview, what type do you think you are?  What are your thoughts about the Enneagram?

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