Monday, February 28, 2011

February Somethings

Time for the monthly round-up...

I read: I finished the Read-Alongs for Your Secret Name and Made to CraveJuliet by Anne Fortier was my favorite book of the month and possibly of the year.  I savored this novel which wove from past and present, uncovering the lineage and true story of Juliet and her Romeo.  There was mystery, suspense, and present day romance, all set in Italy.  Absolutely magical.   (I read 7 books this month.)

Currently reading:  The Read-Along for @StickyJesus continues.  1000 Gifts (Voskamp) is even better than I thought it would be.  What's really captivating me these days is A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Miller).  I'm still mulling over the notion of being a Living Storyteller. For lighthearted fiction, I'm reading Girl at Sea (Johnson) based on a recommendation from The Well-Read Wife. And then I'll be moving on to Blood Done Sign My Name (Tyson), which will not be lighthearted but probably thought-provoking, as part of my virtual Book Club with Kim from Just a Few Thoughts.  Let me know if you're interested in reading a book together some other month.

TV: I still love Glee but I'm exhausted by the sheer number of songs they cram into every episode.  Sometimes simple is better, Glee!  Parenthood makes me cry almost every episode, especially last week when Amber finally confronted her deadbeat dad.  I wanted to hug her.  I also wish I knew whether the songs she sings and plays are her own material or someone else- her voice and the lyrics are amazing!  Vampire Diaries has been throwing some interesting twists and turns in this season but I'm mad that it's taking a break until April.  I still don't know who to root for on Top Chef: All-Stars but some of the recent eliminations have made me sad.  Dale, you totally grew on me! 

Movies: I watched Dinner for Schmucks with Joel and Tracy the other weekend and we were all disappointed.  There are some hilarious, quote-worthy moments but then the plot would overreach and it would be ruined.  This is similar to how I felt about Meet the Parents.  Honestly, how many horrible things can happen to one person?  There's a limit to my belief suspension!

In my kitchen: Topping my kitchen moments this month was learning how to supreme a grapefruit.  It's my new favorite trick!  I've also been making cooked oatmeal from scratch and adding cranberries- absolutely delicious and hearty.  I made Oatmeal Cranberry Pancakes, a very easy and delectable recipe.  I've been passing it on to friends.  I also made Tomato Penne Pasta after Julie from Cup-a Cup-a posted the recipe.  I added chicken and mushrooms and found it to be a keeper.

Listening:  I've hardly stopped listening to The Civil Wars' debut album Barton Hollow. I saw them perform for the third time at the beginning of the month, the day after the CD released in fact, and they were as amazing as ever.  Seriously, if you ever get a chance to see them, cancel your other plans and do whatever you have to do to go.  I haven't bought their CDs yet but I discovered Simon Fagan and The Shakespeares through BriteRevolution and have been loving them.  If Simon lived in the US, I would try to make that happen.  And by that, I mean marry him.  He is dreamy and talented and therefore irresistible to me.

So...what were you into during February?

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

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Sentiments: If I Knew

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

Friday night I was fortunate enough to hear Tim Keller speak.  I'm familiar enough with his writing and teaching that I knew I had to see him for myself.

His latest offering centers on the gospel of Mark.  He spoke to us about Mark 5, where Jairus requests that Jesus come to his house to heal his dying daughter and Jesus stops along the way to connect with the unclean woman.  This is a familiar story to me but I was amazed by Keller's insights.

He said two things that especially stood out to me:
First, God's grace has its own schedule and it's virtually never ours.
Second, God gives you what you would have prayed for if you'd known everything He knows.

I think about all that I am wanting and know that it's definitely not happening on my schedule.  Now I'm thinking about my prayers and all that I don't know about God's big picture.  I believe the truth of Romans 8:28: And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (NIV).

This applies to seasons of waiting.  There is purpose and growth that can occur if we let it.  Even if I wait the rest of my life, God will use it for my good and for his purpose.

I will never know even a portion of the things that God knows but this helps me consider that He does and He knows best.  We can all point to past prayers that we desperately wanted answered but that we are now grateful weren't.  Any frustration on my part about unanswered prayers generally stems from my own self-righteousness or pride.  It's laughable to think that I would know better than God.

As I've prayed the last couple of nights, I've asked God about the things that I don't know and asked that He remind me of His perspective...not my will, but His be done.   I'm asking for a measure of grace with this too because I can be impatient and I sometimes doubt His love when my will is bent to His.

But man, if I only knew everything He knew, I couldn't help but be more gracious in return.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Kitchen Adventures, Surprise Parties, and Loyalty: Why I'm Brag-worthy

When Hollywood Housewife first announced she'd be hosting a Brag Book link up, I was stumped.  Blogging can often seem like one big Brag Book, as we write about anything and everything.  My 31 Things and 32 Things lists have led me to do some braggable and not-as-braggable things, whether reading 100 books in a year or going to my first NHL game.

What do I do that I'm secretly proud of?  What is brag-worthy that I'd never think to brag about?  This turned out to be a fun post to write, so thank you HH for coming up with this concept!

1.  I love a good challenge in the kitchen.  I do use recipes but I'm not afraid to tweak them and put my own spin on things.  I know they say you should never try new recipes on company but I regularly treat my dinner parties to my latest attempts and it hasn't failed me yet.  I like to try random cooking techniques.  This is why I decided I should learn how to flambĂ© last year.

A few weeks ago I bought a grapefruit for breakfast but when I got home, I really didn't want to go to the effort.  See, in my house, we would slice the grapefruit in half and use a spoon to dig out each section.  The fruit of our labor, indeed.  I didn't know if there was an easier way to eat a grapefruit.  I thought about trying to peel it like an orange but then I'd still have to deal with the seeds.  Then I began thinking about restaurant salads with those pristine orange sections.  How did they do that?  I knew there had to be a technique and was resolved to take knife to fruit and figure out. 

And then as if she were reading my mind, Tea posted all about supremeing oranges and grapefruit.  When you suprĂ©me (pronounced sue-prem), you are left with wonderful grapefruit segments.  I am a total convert!  Here is my latest attempt:
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Now I just have to figure out what my next culinary feat will be!

2. No one plans a better surprise party than me.  I think through the party from every angle.  How to keep it a secret, how to still keep it a secret even if it's accidentally leaked, where the guests should park, where the guests should wait, and so on.  The crown jewel of my accomplishments involved my two roommates whose birthdays were within a week of each other.  I talked to Jen's boyfriend (now husband) and got him to email myself and Donna, which led Donna to think that Jason was going to surprise Jen by coming home early from a business trip.  Donna believed she was getting Jen out of the house, while I would stay behind, ostensibly to let Jason in and help him set things up.  When Donna and Jen got back to our place, there was a roomful of people ready to celebrate their birthdays and they were both in utter shock.  I loved it!

The last surprise party I planned was for my friend Dani.  I contacted her husband and then got her entire Bible study in on the act.  She thought she was going to Bible study just like any other week until...
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It was so much fun!  My friends must be surprised at how devious I can be but I reassure them it only comes out for a good cause.

3. I am a collector of quality friends.  I'm a very friendly person but that doesn't necessarily mean we'll be friends friends. Once I embrace someone as a friend, I'm all in.  My loyalty knows no bounds.  I will be there for you no matter what.  This does mean that I've let friends take advantage of me at times and that I haven't walked away from friendships that have become unbalanced as soon as I should.  My boundaries have improved over the years and I've learned that I can still be loyal while standing up for what I deserve in a friendship. I've also learned that sometimes I do too much and sometimes I do too little. I often wonder what I've done to deserve the people in my life.

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I've stayed in touch with friends from all parts of my life.  Up until a few years ago, I didn't realize it was unusual to hold on to so many friendships.  I thought everyone did.  My childhood friend stopped through my hometown last year and it was as if we'd never spent time apart, even though we started drifting in high school or college. It was so great to reminisce with her about our days playing Little House on the Prairie in her backyard and some of the tougher things we'd experienced since then.  I keep in regular touch with former co-workers from several jobs.  My high school best friends are still my best friends.  I've added a few friends to my inner circle over the years and they are invaluable to me. 

These relationships ebb and flow.  Some have only been for a season and others will be with me til we're old and gray. It's not that I talk to all my friends every week but I do keep in regular touch by phone, email, or Facebook.  I am intentional about maintaining these connections, one way or another.  I'm proud that I continue to care for the friends that have meant so much to me along the way.

All right, it's your turn!  Hop over to Hollywood Housewife to link up with your own post or comment with your own brag-worthy accomplishments.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Facing Off With Facebook

"Remember, it's not the quantity of friends that you have on Facebook as much as it is the quality of the relationships you maintain. Accumulating a huge number of friends is not a contest so let go of the numbers...Each time you add a friend, commit to being open to praying for, listening to, engaging with, and loving that person as God puts his or her needs in front of you." -@StickyJesus, p. 141
 Some people say FB is like a high school reunion.  
This is what a real 10 year HS reunion looks like- some of my favorite friends.  And me, with bangs!

I had resisted signing up for Facebook for quite some time, figuring I stayed in touch with enough people.  I am a very loyal friend and still keep in touch with friends from grammar school, high school, college, and most of the jobs that I've held.  Why would I want to check up on people outside of that?

I remember the day I caved.  I had received a very sad phone call before starting work.  I wasn't sure whether I'd be leaving town that day or not but I knew I wasn't fit to go to work.  When you're in a helping profession, it's better if your mind isn't clouded and you're not prone to crying spells.  I took the day off of work and while I was trying to figure out what to do next and wait for another friend to get off work, I suddenly craved the comfort of the past.  Facebook it was.  It proved to be an excellent distraction as I reconnected with people I hadn't quite forgotten.

Facebook, like all social media, is what you make of it.  People can waste a lot of time playing games, scrolling through pages, and uploading pictures.  People can also gain much from maintaining friendships from afar, staying current with family happenings, and getting to know people all over again. 

I've heard a lot lately about the dangers of Facebook and how people are deleting their accounts or deleting "friends" of the opposite sex or going on a FB fast.  For some people, it's important to safeguard themselves and have better boundaries. 

However, I liked how this chapter of @StickyJesus focused on the opportunities that Facebook offers because there are plenty.  Because of Facebook, my high school pen pal and I have started exchanging letters again (that is the shortest version of the story.)  Because of Facebook, my family keeps up with my Nashville adventure.  Because of Facebook, I can relive the glory days of my college crew team- love those pictures!  Because of Facebook, I am able to post a prayer request and know that I am bathed in prayer.  Because of Facebook, I can express opinion and have interesting discourse with all manner of people.  These are Opportunities!

I am discerning about the friend requests I accept and request.  For me, it's not about the numbers.  I don't necessarily want some random guy from my sophomore year math class to know all about my life.  And some people from your past are better off staying in your past.  My focus with my Facebook circle, as in my real life circle of friends, is quality over quantity.

Yet, I'm not sure that I always look at Facebook as an opportunity to serve and minister to others.  I like the last sentence of the quote above.  Purposely being open to praying for and engaging with FB friends as their needs are brought to your attention. Here is an area to grow.

Do you view Facebook as the enemy or as an opportunity?  How do you care for your Facebook friends?

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, February 23, 2011

Don't Call Me Sweetie

I have always hated being called pet names. It doesn't matter who you are to me.  I'd prefer you use my name or, if you really love me, a nickname. This may be why I have a billion nicknames, from Leiberwitz to Leg to Cosmo.

Pet names come off as condescending to me, especially if a) I'm working  and you're a customer/client/patient, b) you are much older than me but you're not my grandparent, or c) you've just been completely horrible to me but want to appear nice.

Then I moved to the South where pet names are a way of life.

I have been called the following names while at work or shopping or out to eat:
Hon.
Honey.
Dear.
Doll.
Sweetie.

It still grates on my nerves but I'm finding I mind it a little less each time.  Perhaps Southern gentility carries pet names off a bit better than their Midwestern counterparts.  Or maybe I'm just growing up.

How do you feel about pet names? What is your best or favorite nickname?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Again

I lie still as she steps around me.

"Feet!" she cries, and places a baby blanket over my feet with her mama's help.

A Pillow Pet is wedged by my thigh and then a real pillow placed over my head.  A blanket here, a mound of stuffed animals there.

The pitter-patter of feet are my soundtrack as she runs between this room and hers, amassing more items for my cocoon.

The Aero mattress beneath me is comfortable.  I close my eyes and think I could lay here forever.  And all the while, Clifford and Larry the Cucumber and baby dolls join my slumber.

I hear her laugh, pure glee, at her creation. At times, she firmly pats the latest adornment into place, not wanting an inch of my body to be exposed.  I hear her roar as she wields the stuffed mastodon against Clifford. Clifford, of course, will not be undone and I wiggle my body so he can fight back.  This, too, makes her laugh.

I could lay here all night but it's time for me to emerge.  I burst forth from the blankets and toys with a yell, as she throws her arms up and squeals.

And then wants to do it again.

So I lay back down and wait.  And in the midst of her careful blanket placement, invite her to snuggle.  I don't expect her to take me up on the offer but she does, nestling her body against mine. 

We lay there and giggle together.  She shares Pink Animal with me, making sure I have something comforting to hold on to.  Ah, I think. I'm holding on to a two year old wonder.  This is all the comfort I need.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Sentiments: Story

Sunday Sentiments is an attempt to record what God has been teaching me and the way in which He does it.
 Source unknown from Google Images
"You can call it God or a conscience, or you can dismiss it as that intuitive knowing we all have as human beings, as living storytellers; but there is a knowing I feel that guides me toward better stories, toward being a better character. I believe there is a writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, even, and whispering a better story into our consciousness." -A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Don Miller, page 86
I don't think it's an accident that I started reading this book right as I started writing my own.  Miller's words about story, character, seeing oneself as a storyteller, and how these things relate to faith stretch me personally and creatively. 

How do we live as storytellers?  How do we fight the lie that our lives are boring, uninteresting, just day-to-day getting by?  Maybe you didn't save the world today but I'm sure we can all point to some interaction or occurrence that's worth noting.

I need to view myself as a living storyteller, not because of my craft but because of who God has created me to be.  There is beauty in the changing.  I may not yet know what God is leading me toward but it's coming and I don't want to miss out on the in between.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Divine Appointments review

When I read the blurb about Divine Appointments, I was intrigued.  There are not many Christian fiction books that center on 47 year old single women.  In fact, I can't think of any.  Most Christian romances feature characters in their 20s and every once in awhile you'll find one in their early 30s. I wanted to see how author Charlene Baumbich would paint an older single woman.

Josie Brooks likes to keep things orderly.  She focuses on her job as a consultant to companies that need to be restructured, which doesn't endear her to the employees she ends up letting go. This suits her though as she'd rather not let anyone get close.

Things begin to change in Chicago. The poor economy turns against her and people start to get under her skin.  The order she craves seems to slip away and she must figure out whether her solitary life suits her as well as she used to believe.

Initially, Josie is not a likable character.  However, as she begins to face her past and let people in, she grew on me. I enjoyed getting to know the people that Josie meets. She finally takes her realtor up on her offer of friendship. She gets to know the company vice president outside of work, a friendship (wink wink) which had a nice pace to it. Even the glimpses into the lives of the employees who work at Diamond Mutual lent the story a nice depth. I was rather impressed with Barb's decision to host an Encouragement Club and wonder how many people in her shoes would have done the same thing.

There were only two problems I had with the story. First, Marsha, a Diamond Mutual employee, fashions herself as a writer.  And while her writing does allow her an emotional release, the reading audience does not need to be privy to her piece of science fiction. It added nothing to the real story and I couldn't figure out if Marsha's writing was supposed to be bad or if we were supposed to enjoy her thinly veiled attempts at life imitating art. Second, Divine Appointments is apparently a part of a series called Snowglobe Connections, which concerns a mysterious snowglobe and its powers.  Frankly, I found the snowglobe to be a confusing addition to the story.  It either needed to have a more prominent role or disappear altogether.  I understand the metaphors Baumbich was trying to get at but I thought the novel was fine on its own.

That said, I'm extremely finicky when it comes to Christian fiction. Most readers probably won't notice or care about those things. I appreciated all that Josie discovers and finally allows herself to experience.  It is a cautionary tale of what life could be when you don't allow people to come close. And it is a celebratory tale of how life's unexpected moments can put you on the path you were meant to be on.


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, February 17, 2011

Defining Me, Defining My Faith

"Be honest: Do people have to ask if you're a Christian? Do your words, music, hobbies, jokes, attitude, and social commentaries make it hard to distinguish you as a follower of Christ?" -@StickyJesus p. 133
 My honest answer to this question is that it depends on who you ask.

You see, to some people I'm not conservative enough to be a Christian.

I enjoyed a beer with dinner last night.  I voted for Obama and I'm proud of it.  I'm a moderate liberal despite my Republican upbringing.  I can appreciate a well-placed swear word. If I haven't listened to any angry rock music in awhile, my stress level goes up.  I walked through the fire of depression, low self-esteem, and suicidal ideation half a lifetime ago.  Heck, I still have eczema even though I was anointed with oil at a childhood prayer service.

I've been condemned for these things. I've been told I wasn't a real Christian because of these things.

To my nonChristian friends and my more liberal or socially conscious Christian friends, those are the things that make me real and keep me approachable.  Because what is at the heart of those things, whether you agree with me or not, is a heart that wants to remain soft to God and daily strives to be more Christ-like.

I never want to be held captive by legalism.

I know you may have reasons for not drinking or why you only vote Republican.  I affirm your decision and however you got to that place.  To me these things are not markers of faith.

Someone I met at Blissdom told me she'd like to have a glass of wine at one of the cocktail tables but she didn't want anyone to take a picture of her holding the glass, for fear one of her readers would see it. I get it and yet I don't.  I'm the same person on this blog as I am in real life.  Perhaps more vulnerable on-line but ever the same girl. 

How do I want people to see my faith?  By seeing my compassion, my willingness to listen and serve, and by noticing that my life is daily filtered through prayer.  I want people to see the hands and feet of Christ when they see me. I want to be someone who draws people to the foot of the cross.

Maybe legalism will prevent those within the church from viewing me as a Christian.  I know that I am right with God.  Maybe He'll work on me about some of those things someday but for now, my focus is more on being in relationship with the people He's placed around me.

I will continue reaching out and sharing my imperfections and how God is redeeming me day by day.  Hopefully in these things my faith will shine through.

How would you answer this question?

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, February 16, 2011

#21: Finish Organizing the Office

My house was pretty well decorated within a couple of months of moving here.  Except for the office.  I needed  a crucial piece of furniture and because it was not easy to find, the office became the burying ground for still-to-be-unpacked boxes, random projects, and anything that didn't have its own home.

It was a disaster zone and I felt stressed whenever I looked in there.
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It should have been the place I did most of my writing.  Instead, it became an excuse for why I wasn't writing.

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I write posts for this blog in the living room but my "real" writing requires its own space.  This needed to change.

When I sat down in December to come up with 32 Things, I knew that finally organizing and decorating the office needed to be a priority.  It was holding me back and I knew I would feel better having that space finished.

I've alluded to some changes I've wanted to make and a new direction for my life.  Organizing my office is one of the first steps I needed to take.

After months of searching, I finally found the CD cabinet of my dreams.  Then my parents and brother gave me a very generous birthday checks so I could buy said dream CD cabinet.  Last week it arrived!  It was time to get to work.  This past weekend I unpacked, I stored, I cleaned, I finished projects, and I redecorated until everything was just as I wanted.

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Y'all know I love my music.  It's been pure torture not having access to all my CDs the past 9 months, searching through boxes whenever I had a yen for a certain artist.  And yes, I prefer CDs to other music medium.  Just as people hold on to their records, I will be holding on to my CDs until I am old and gray.

The fact that I'm also a book nerd instantly endeared me to this CD cabinet which is fashioned as a library card catalog.  Love, love, love this!
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The color wheel, incidentally, is something I painted in a college painting class.  It's a nice spot for it, isn't it?

My grandma's cedar chest with my Thai Inspiration candle holders from PartyLite. 
That's no table!  It's my grandma's sewing machine.  Art supplies underneath, along with my sewing projects.  Such a handy crafting space.  The framed artwork is a pastel piece I did in 8th grade.  I used to love nothing more than sitting with my sketchpad or an easel.

My dad built this bookshelf for me many moons ago.  Even though I'm particular about the books I buy and keep, I'm clearly running out of room here.  

My desk hasn't been this clear in a long time.  Even my inspiration (bulletin) board got an update.

Here's the before:
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The bulletin board used to be in the dining room of my apartment.  There was often a quote board for silly things friends would say during parties.  I put up funny comics and inspirational sayings.  This was good for something in the common area.

And the after:
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There's still room to grow, as you can see.  One of my favorite new additions is words from Emily Freeman's post "5 Ways to Guarantee Your Art Isn't a Waste of Time."  Her words sink down deep and I will take them to heart as I begin to seriously craft my words.

It felt good to stand in the middle of the room Sunday afternoon and see the fruit of my labor.  This is a space to write and create.  This is the space from which I will write my book.  It's time to dive in and let the writing out.  A notepad is next to my bed for the times the words won't leave me alone, as they often do when I'm in the middle of working.

I'm not able to write full-time yet, not even close, but I know someday I will.  For now, as Mary Kathryn says, I'm doing the thing I must do, so I can do the thing I must do.

Saturday I have a date with my laptop and my office.  My book starts now.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Favorite, Beloved

With my favorite cousins Adam and Patrick at Christmas

I'm not sure why I started it.  A few years back I started pronouncing various cousins as my "favorite."  It didn't matter that I'd told Pat, Jon, and Adam that they were each my favorite.  When Jon would find out that I'd told Adam that he was my favorite cousin, I'd smooth it over by reminding Jon that I was his favorite cousin and really isn't great how much our family loves each other?  And so on and so forth.

From there, it spread to aunts and uncles, even my grandparents.  I was dubbed as Favorite Niece and Favorite Granddaughter.  I've never taken these titles seriously, more as a sign of my family's affection for me.

Before I started the Read-Along for Your Secret Name, I took the test on the YSN website to see what my Secret Name might be.  I was well aware of my issues but rather mystified over what the answer might be.

When the word popped up, I nodded and thought to myself, "of course."  It seemed so simple, this word that tied together all my deepest longings.  Still, I wasn't sure what it meant or what the book might hold.  The word stayed in the back of my mind as I read each week and as God worked on my heart.

As I've shared my past depression and self-esteem issues, my struggle in being single, and my perception that I'm often overlooked, God has been whispering to me. 

Beloved.

Part of me wanted to believe Him.  But did I?

Did I believe that the Almighty God called me His Beloved?

Today my soul confidently answers YES.  I am cherished, treasured, and loved.  This washes over me and I scarcely can take it in.

This is joy.
"By embracing our new identity, we naturally embrace our new destiny and a new way of seeing the world." -Your Secret Name, p. 155
While I am loved by many people, no one on earth calls me beloved and it might be that no one ever will. But I am finding that I am OK with this, as I rest in the comfort of God's love.  His all-surpassing love that has given me so much more than I ever dreamed or deserved. This doesn't mean that I'll never run into a bad self-esteem moment or that I don't want to get married anymore. Somehow these things matter less now because of my new perspective.

I knew I wanted to commemorate this season of learning and believing and accepting.  I had a pretty good idea of how I would do it.  First, I wanted to see what other words there were that are similar to beloved.  Out came my handy dandy thesaurus. 

Do you know what synonym I found? Favorite.

I laughed outloud.  Not only am I God's beloved but now I'm His favorite too?  This seemed to be too good to be true.

Yet it's not.  Very soon I will reveal how I'll be commemorating the lessons I've learned from this Read-Along.

I'll close with these lyrics that stood out to me at church:
I'm running to Your arms, I'm running to Your arms
The riches of Your love will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign
The riches of God's love will always be enough.  I pray that these words will always be true no matter what my circumstances may be.  For now I'm dancing in the knowledge of my new identity.  While I may not always believe my cousins when they say I'm their favorite, I'm marveling over being God's favorite and His beloved.  Thanks be to God.

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click over to Amazon from HopefulLeigh, your purchase will help support this site.  Thank you!

This post is part of the Your Secret Name Read-Along hosted by the ever-lovely Marla Taviano.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Almost Valentine

I had an off-and-on again crush on Ben during most of high school.  He, in turn, had an "always on" crush on my best friend.

The odds were not in my favor.

However, he did become one of my good friends.  One of my favorite Ben stories concerns our Spanish class field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago in which we convinced everyone that 2 college guys had hit on me.  Ben went as far as scrawling fake names and phone numbers on my class handout- our proof.  We could have kept that joke going for quite awhile!

My other favorite Ben story is about Valentine's Day, in a way.

Junior year, my dislike of Valentine's Day fully formed, I had to work at the pharmacy the day of the holiday.  I wasn't dating anyone so it's not like I had other plans. It started to snow and my boss decided to close early so we could get home safely.  I called my Mom so she could pick me up.  When I left, the pharmacist and a couple of others were still there, finishing out closing duties.

A couple of nights later my youth group held an event, which Ben came to.  At some point, he asked me if I hasn't gone to work on Valentine's Day.  This was strange because Ben did not frequent the pharmacy to my knowledge.  I explained that we had closed early, not understanding his question.

He told me he'd stop by to give me a flower.  He'd taken his girlfriend out for a Valentine's Day dinner.  He bought her a bouquet and, knowing I was bummed about the holiday, bought me a flower as well.  He'd wanted to surprise me at work before he went on his date but then couldn't find me there.  We figured out that he'd arrived shortly after my Mom had picked me up and just before the pharmacy closed. 

I was so touched by his thoughtfulness. I'd never been given flowers by anyone other than my Dad at that point. Honestly, if Ben hadn't had a girlfriend, I would have fallen back headlong into my crush.

Even though I never did get that flower from him, the knowledge of his kindness went a long way.

It didn't make me like Valentine's Day any more but it did help me dislike it a little less. Ben's flower wasn't a romantic gesture but a sign of our steady friendship.  And, after all, isn't this holiday about all the ways we experience love?

I collect stories of the ways people have shown their love for me throughout the years.  The story of my almost Valentine is a definite keeper.

This Valentine's Day I'm celebrating all the love in my life.  I pray you are celebrating all the love in your life as well.

(Don't forget, there's still time to support the work of Love146! As I signed my Valentines the other day and prepared them for mailing, my heart was light in the redeeming.)

What's the best Valentine's Day you've ever had?  I'd like to live vicariously today!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Sentiments: Bypassing Wonder

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

Christmas 2010, Illinois

I hate snow.  Other than Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I would prefer not to see any snowflakes descending.

It doesn't help that I now live in a place that can't handle snow.  Less than 1.5 inches of snow turned Nashville into pandemonium this past Wednesday.  My usual 7 minute drive home turned into 50 minutes.  A friend's commute lasted 5 hours.  Streets turned into parking lots.  The snow compacted into ice, thanks to the slower than slow traffic.  People abandoned their cars in favor of walking several miles. 

All this for an amount of snow that Midwesterners find laughable.  I mean, even I could handle that little bit.

My grudge spans decades now.  Birthday parties ruined. Plans changed.  Accidents.  Difficulty driving in the Chicago-area accumulations.  I was more than happy to leave that kind of winter behind me.

Except that Tennessee has experienced record-breaking snow this winter.  Where is the lesson in this?

As I scraped my car off Thursday morning, my soul was muttering hatred. Once I brushed off the snow, I had to attack the icy layer that would prevent me from being at work on time. 

Grumble, grumble, grumble.

My hands stayed busy as my eyes wandered to the dusting on top of the trunk.  The sun's light drew my attention to the snow but in a whole new way.

Suddenly I could make out the features of individual snowflakes.  Each one a unique and beautiful design.

I didn't stop scraping but I was stunned by what I saw.

How many snowfalls have I ignored the beauty because of my grievance?

How often do I bypass the wonder while I'm distracted by life or focused on my discomfort?

I don't want to miss these moments.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Finding Our Way Again review

Brian McLaren had a profound impact on my faith about 10 years ago when a friend recommended I read A New Kind of Christian.  Since then, I haven't agreed with all he's written but I still find him worth paying attention to.  When I received the opportunity to review his latest book through the BookSneeze.com program, I knew I couldn't pass it up.

Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices sets the tone for the Ancient Practices Series, which explores early spiritual disciplines.  It seems important to discuss why we practice spiritual disciplines in the first place before studying specific ones more in depth.

Chapter 2 alone made the book worth reading, a good sign for what portended. 
"Well tended, your character will be a fragrant garden, an artist's home, with walls and halls full of memories and beauty, a party with live music and good jokes and pleasant conversations in every corner. You'll be good and deep company for others and yourself. That's why, through the ages, people have tried to find ways to tend themselves, to do for their souls what exercise does for their bodies or study for their minds. Through these character exercises, they give birth to the person they are proud of becoming, the person they are happy to be, the one who is trying to be born in them every day- a hero, a best friend, a loving beloved, and a beloved lover." -p. 12
In the reading, McLaren shares a few reasons for the importance of practicing spiritual disciplines.
1. Spiritual practices help us narrow the gap between the person we are and the person we want to become.
2. They help us be people who see, hear, and experience the world around us.  They help us rediscover the beauty of life and living.
3. In these two things, we are drawn to God and more alert to His presence.  "Becoming awake and staying awake to God," as McLaren puts it.
4. Spiritual disciplines shape us into people who practice peace, joy, self-mastery, and justice.  And this makes all the difference in the world.

The book goes on to clarify how spiritual disciplines are classified, whether contemplative, communal, or missional.  Still, the specifics of the disciplines themselves are saved for the other books in the series.  This truly is an overview.  You might not find it valuable to read this precursor but I found it to be helpful to explore the heart and faith behind this movement.

The examination of via illuminativa was most intriguing of all to me.  The final section of the book devotes itself to the ancient practices.  This served as both a lesson in church history and in awakening my spirit.  Via illuminativa sees everything, all of life, in the light of God.  This light tells us that God is everywhere and reveals the magnitude of His character, or at least as much of His character as we'll ever understand.
"Light, like God, relativizes time and space and thus renders us part of something big and beautiful and fast and timeless and mysterious and wonderful and colorful...and spiritual" (p. 163.)
I found the discussion on via illuminativa to be utterly beautiful.  And then came the passage on the other side of the coin.  Where there is light, there has been darkness.  When we experience a dark night of the soul, we long for light ever more.  When we've recovered, we see that there are gifts in such an experience, even if only that we have a greater appreciation for light.  Having experienced such a time in my life, it was helpful to read about via illuminativa and frame that period in another way.

Perhaps that is what spiritual disciplines become: a way of reframing our lives.  It helps us remember who we were and Who we are striving toward. 

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

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

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Finding Bliss

A little over a week ago, I crossed #9 off my 32 Things by going to Blissdom.  I've been unsure how to encapsulate my experience and hence have delayed writing about it.

I knew it would be overwhelming and it was.  I hoped I would make good connections and I did.  I wanted to learn something new and in some ways this happened. I wanted to leave inspired and I did, although this really had nothing to do with the conference itself.

My personal highlights:
1. Much has been written about the keynote speakers: Brene Brown and Scott Stratten.  Yes, they really are that amazing. Scroll through some of these recaps if you'd like specifics.

2, My roommate Amanda from They Hold My Heart.  First, she made me these amazing cookies- Sweet Bella Bakery is going places, my friend.

Second, she rounded up an "entourage" before I'd even arrived at the hotel Wednesday night and included me, the sole non-mom, right from the beginning. Thanks, ladies!

Third, I so enjoyed getting to know her better!

3. Connecting with so many of my Twitter friends.  I'm not going to even try listing everyone- you know who you are. Again, I'll say I can't imagine going to a blogging conference if I hadn't joined Twitter this past fall. It helped form relationships pre-conference and it helped us connect while it was going on.

4. Discovering that amid a sea of 700 bloggers, it's still a small world after all.  Shelly and I recently found each others blogs but it wasn't until the Wednesday night cocktail party that we discovered she lives in my hometown.  She even used to shop at the bookstore I worked at for 7 years- who knows how many times our paths unknowingly crossed when I still lived there! Getting to know Shelly was a gift.

5. Hanging out with fellow singles Julie at DutchBeingMe (forgot to get a picture with you!) and Staci from SimplyStaci. Staci made a point to seek me out the first night, which warmed my heart. With all the mom bloggers there, it was crucial to have a break from the labor stories and debates on various parenting methods. I seriously wish you both lived closer!
With Staci at the (in)courage party

6. Hands down, one of my favorite moments was meeting Amy from Bradford Avenue.  I stumbled onto Amy's blog over the summer, when her friend Jessica mentioned her in a post. Amy is rehabbing a house and doing absolutely gorgeous things over there- and she lives in Nashville!  I had no idea that she would be at Blissdom. Shelly and I were looking for a place to chat during one of the breaks and sat down in some free chairs by a girl.  She looked over at me, noticed my name tag, and started squealing. "You're HopefulLeigh?" Now, I had a few people recognize my name but this was an unprecedented reaction. She told me who she was and then I started to squeal.  Instant friendship.

7. Bonding with friends over the randomest things. Here I am with the newly formed Scarf Brigade.
8. Getting to meet some of my favorite bloggers! It's so wild meeting everyone in real life. Sadly, I didn't get to meet everyone I wanted (ahem, Shell.) With so many people there, it was inevitable that some paths wouldn't cross.  Some people I met briefly and then we never got to reconnect, like Ashleigh and Mary.

9. I won a one hour session of Social Marketing consultation from Stephanie Bryant. This is why I'm glad I went to Blissdom. We ended up talking not just about my vision for my blog but my longtime dream of writing a fiction book. Stephanie challenged me and gave me much to think about. She believes in what I am capable of, which meant so much to me. As I recently shared, I'm starting to believe that my outlandish dreams aren't that outlandish at all.

10. Before the conference, I wasn't sure whether I viewed myself as a blogger or a writer. Maybe both. The last writing session, which vastly outshone the others, helped me see myself as a blogger, writer, and storyteller. I have ideas of where this is going to take me. There will be some changes ahead for this blog, which is exciting, and I hope you stick around for the ride!

11. Seeing Michelle Branch and Mat Kearney perform!

12. Showing off my Hope necklace from The Rusted Chain (lost my picture wearing it) and earrings from Flawed Perfection Jewelry. I've worn both items since and they always put me in a good mood.  Even though I was provided the jewelry in exchange for wearing it at Blissdom, I really did love both and that's no lie.

13. Meeting so many Nashville-area bloggers!  And I know I didn't meet all of them, which makes me think there should have been a #NashvilleTribe.  Well, maybe a #TennesseeTribe- I'd hate to leave out CrayonWrangler, PenseiveRobin, and BelleBeanDog

14. Talking faith and politics with Chris from GoodenessGracious.  This kind of conversation might have seemed out of place during the Friday night performances, yet it was perfectly paired with wine and pizza.

15. Meeting Toni Birdsong and Tami Heim, authors of @StickyJesus, one of the Read-Alongs I've been doing. A lunch tablemate came back with their card and I knew I had to track them down right away.  We chatted instead of eating the peanut butter and jelly bread pudding (which I did find to be an interesting and delightful combination).  Such a God moment to connect with them!

You might read through those highlights and conclude that Blissdom was the best thing I've ever gone to.  However, I can't say that it was.  There's no point in running through the reasons why because I don't regret going. It turns out I didn't need a blog conference to find my bliss. I wouldn't trade this experience because of connecting with so many wonderful people. That made it worth it.  

I'm glad I went but I've realized blog conferences just are simply not for me.  MollyinMinn wrote a fantastic post comparing blog conferences to sororities. I told her it was the post I wish I'd written, although my analogy would have ended up different as I never participated in Greek life.

I don't plan to be back next year (unless I just do the Wisdom Workshop? From what I heard, that might be the more "serious" conference that I was looking for) but this is not the end. Now that I've met so many of my online friends, I look forward to the next time we can hang out.  So long as Blissdom is in Nashville, I'll be able to see y'all when you're back at Opryland next year.  Now accepting reservations...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Name It and Claim It

"God wanted to transform Jacob, but transformation is never easy and it always involves pain...In this final stage, many of us give up and go back home to our Given Names. Wrestling God takes its toll, and even though we're only inches away from a new identity, we let is slip away once more." -Your Secret Name, p. 141-142
"God knows our only shot at a true blessing comes by uncovering our true identity. But before we can discover our Secret Name, we must first confess our Given Name- a pattern found throughout the Bible." -p. 143
God knew Jacob's name, what it meant and how Jacob lived. He didn't ask him his name out of curiosity but to see if Jacob would admit it. Would Jacob take the opportunity to speak truthfully or to fall back on his deceiving ways?

This is a question we all face.  Who are we?  What are our names?

My given name doesn't hold any secret meanings.  Leigh is a derivation of Lee and Leah, all of which mean "meadow."  Meadows, to me, evoke feelings of peace and serenity. Often beautiful scenery but deprive it of water and it will become desolate and dry.

I've shared about my past Given Names and the freedom I've since experienced.  It's time to face the Given Names I still hold on to.  If speaking them out loud, or at least confessing them in written form, is the key to discovering my Secret Name, it is time for me to do so.  I don't want to stay entrenched in my issues. I don't want to miss out on how God wants to use me for His glory.

So here I speak, here I confess.  And it's scary, putting my issues out on the sacrificial table. I am more afraid that I will miss out on a portion of God's peace and contentment, however.  These things, they weigh me down.

I don't want to call myself:
Invisible, overlooked, unnoticeable.
Alone.
Unwanted/Unattractive (in the romantic sense- I tend to think that I'm cute but not enough to attract notice from men.)
Pessimist, only ever toward myself.  I'm a huge optimist when it comes to everyone else.

I don't want to believe I am less because I am:
Single. (No matter if others do.)

That's it.  That's me, the me I don't want to be. I want to believe that God has great plans for me.  I want to believe that some of my dreams will come true.

I want to know what my Secret Name is.  I have a guess and I have some ideas of how I'm going to claim that name.  But that, my friends, is for another time and another post.

What Given Names are you holding on to?  What is God trying to teach you right now?

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click over to Amazon from HopefulLeigh, your purchase will help support this site.  Thank you!

This post is part of the Your Secret Name Read-Along hosted by the ever-lovely Marla Taviano.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A New Kind of Valentine


I don't like Valentine's Day.  Never have.

Still, I'm willing to put my animosity behind me and give this holiday a chance, thanks in part to Megan from SortaCrunchy.  She's launched the Give:Love project.  Do yourself a favor and read her post explaining all about it.

Give:Love supports the work of Love146, an organization with the vision to "end child sex slavery and exploitation.  Nothing less." Love146 is working hard to eradicate child trafficking both internationally and in the United States. In addition, they aim to restore survivors with love.

This is much-needed ministry unfortunately.  We may not be able to personally work with survivors of child trafficking but we can support the people that do.  An easy way of doing this is buy purchasing Valentine's postcards here.  The postcards contain a small family-friendly mention of the work that Love146 is doing.  Or you can download free Valentine's and donate the money you would otherwise spend to Love146.  Talk about redeeming this holiday!

You know I don't mention causes without putting my money where my mouth is.
I'll be sending these Valentine's out to my nearest and dearest...my first Valentine's in forever.   I hope and pray that someday there won't be a reason for organizations like Love146 to exist.  Until then, I'll support their work and keep praying.

Do you send Valentines?  Do you support Love146 already or other organizations dealing with sexually exploited girls and women?