Book #1 of 2019

“what if I ended up split down the middle when the train divided, living two lives, each diverging from the other all the time, growing further and further apart from the me I should have become?”

I’m a sucker for books set in London and the English country side. Honestly, the setting does much to create the plot of this subtle, nuanced tale. The characters and intrigue do not disappoint, nor do the literary skills of my new favorite author, Ruth Ware. My only criticism is the attempted plot twist at the end. Anyway, read it.

I just deleted the Magpie Murders off my TBR – the characters seemed slightly flat in the sample. So, book number two is The Witch Elm by Tana French.

Happy winter reading!

2019 is already a bust maybe

Guys, honestly. Alena and I make the perfect foil. We’re like peanut butter and jelly, coffee and donuts, rain and a good book. Btw, if you’re on word press and follow her, please follow me and marvel at how there’s my very cool sister, and then there’s me. Thanks for the shout out, Sis 😋

So, my sister started a blog and it’s really, really good.  Seriously, click the link and read This Coffee Life.  She did all the leg work and research on how to make a blog successful, made a fb page for it, the whole nine.  Meanwhile, I’m sitting over here thinking about how much effort that must take and shaking my head ‘no’ as I drink my second cup of coffee.

She’s really good at fleshing things out, it must be the Language Arts teacher in her, and I’m just not good at trying… well, anything.  I know to have a successful blog that I’m supposed to blog more than once every 4 months and I need to really try to develop content, but we all know that effort has never been my strong suit.  Honestly?  Nothing is my strong suit.  Laziness, maybe.  Laziness is probably what I’m best at…

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Fresh Eyes

My daughter bought me a Coffee Warmer for Christmas and it was a gift that I would have never considered for myself, in spite of my obvious coffee affinity. Amazon touts it as “your new favorite coffee accessory”; I’m not one to argue with Amazon. Guys, this is seriously one of the best presents I received. With a new puppy, I am constantly getting up and down to open the back door, grabbing a chew toy, or pausing for a few moments to play with Ellie Mae. Though I enjoy almost everything coffee – from iced French Vanilla to old fashioned Maxwell House Bunn – the one thing I don’t care for is room temperature coffee. Anyone who appreciates hot beverages of any kind will agree with this statement: lukewarm is no good.

Merriam Webster defines lukewarm as tepid or lacking conviction. The Cambridge English Dictionary deems the term “not enthusiastic or interested.” It is here I must digress a moment and explain something; those of you following my posts know I was impressed to start this blog to honor the legacy my mother left behind. Mom was actually a great writer, but I didn’t know this until the age of Facebook and social media. She would always gush over my writings and Alena’s…she gushed over most things we did. She was enthusiastic and proud when it came to her children and our accomplishments. Anyway, with the dawn of facebook, Alena, Tommy, and I saw a new facet of our mother: not only was she an amazing encourager, but she was also a gifted writer.

The point here is not to say how perfect Mom was; she had a tendency not to confront situations and to internalize her frustrations. In spite of that, the one word I would never use in any depiction of Brenda K. is lukewarm. I can never recall my mother being lukewarm. Even in our less than desirable moments, Mom was always all “look at those purple flowers!” Or, “did you see the plum tree in the neighbor’s yard?” And, “I smelled honeysuckles on my walk this morning!” She so appreciated the life laid out before her and the many blessings adorning her day – even in the worst times, even in her final weeks battling cancer. Her appreciation was genuine; it was not garnered to get likes and comments on social media.

This is the part where I wish I could tell you I’m like my mother and I inherited this natural tendency not to be apathetic (spoiler alert: I didn’t). I’ve always been more of an old soul; in fact, my childhood pretty much ended around the age of 10. People do this thing when they’re hurt and unhappy – they build walls and those walls block out pain, but they also block out joy. The best cure for being lukewarm is to start seeing the world through someone else’s eyes who isn’t. Walk with them, talk with them – like I did with Mom. Thankfully, God sent me a spouse who is not a lukewarm person. He daily points things out to me to appreciate, much like Mom used to do.

When dealing with grief and depression, it isn’t easy to be joyful. However, we don’t want to be numbered among those who are lacking due to a lukewarm spirit. Apathy is toxic and it’s something we must acknowledge and confront. Even in my moments of stress and anxiety – moments like today when I get torn up over things like taxes – I’m growing. Lukewarm is no good – it’s better to be one extreme or the other. Work on finding balance and a Zen place. Lessons from Mom: do what you love, take a walk, spend time with a furry friend, and you will renew your enthusiasm and view the world through a set of fresh eyes.

Pearls and Parachutes

I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.” ~ William Stafford 

What did you come through in 2018? For me, it was months of grief after losing my Mom to complications associated with lung cancer in October of 2017. Whether you lost a loved one, a spouse or relationship, a group of friends, or even a beloved pet, any form of loss is traumatic and life-altering. Maybe you didn’t suffer a major loss but entered a time of transition in your life such as graduating high school and going to college. Whatever your situation today, here is what you need to know for 2019: resolutions are cheap, but resilience is priceless. Let’s say it one more time for those in the back – YOUR resilience is a pearl of great price!

According to Psychology Today, resilience is “that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and to come back at least (emphasis mine) as strong as before. Rather than letting difficulties overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been fascinated with that mythical bird, the Phoenix. This Greek avian is born again from the ashes of its previous form. I can’t help but think of the promise described in Isaiah 61:3, the promise to comfort all who mourn, “to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” so that God may be glorified!

That said, what if you’re like me? What if joy has never really been your thing? As a teen and a young woman, I struggled with depression, and later, anxiety. Mom was often the person who pulled me out of these places, whether by conversation and encouragement or her consistent prayer life on behalf of her children and others. When she passed, it was both literally and figuratively like I lost my lifeline. I didn’t really believe I could live without Mom’s earthly presence. For a season, I didn’t feel like I could ever be happy again.

Thankfully, I had my husband and children – a wonderful support system. Focusing on other loved ones and your job and responsibilities is actually a great way to start forming a parachute out of your broken pieces. My aunt shared a picture yesterday with two deer in the snow and this wisdom nugget: “The true beauty of life is not in how happy you are now, but how happy others are because of you.” You may not feel happy for a while, and that is okay. For the time being, focus on weaving the parachute and doing the things. Resilience looks like getting out of bed and going to work, showing up at the game or important events, and just basically carrying on with life.

Confession time: this blog is part of my parachute. What does your parachute look like? Is it that class you’ve been meaning to take or the gym you’ve put off joining? Is your parachute the business you’ve always wanted to start? What talents have you allowed to lie dormant? Let me encourage you today to do it afraid – great faith feels like nothing at first; it feels a lot like ashes. Remember, just because the calendar changes doesn’t mean your life will. It takes resilience and works on your part to weave the parachute, but the broken pieces of 2018 can be woven into the very thing that saves you in 2019.

2019 Reading Goals

On this the second day of 2019, I am blessed to still be off work. As a result, I’ve had time to tinker with my 2019 to read list. I hope to exceed my modest goal of 30 books. But first, the link to my 2018 reads. After being away from books for awhile, I set a reading goal of 25 books. I’m happy to say I read 26!

www.goodreads.com/review/list/7291743

Notable on this list are a return to the classics. 1984, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Fahrenheit 451, to name a few. In addition to those, my favorite books of the year were The Goldfinch (this book renewed my love for storytelling) and The Death of Mrs. Westaway, reminiscent in tone to Rebecca, one of my favorites of all time.

What does 2019 hold? I’ve been through twitter today  in search of notable reads and, of course, suggested classics.

I am currently reading my last Ruth Ware – The Lying Game (enthralling if you like a good mystery). Soon I’ll be posting my 2019 reading list.

Happy reading resolutions!

Meet Ellie

Ellie and I went for a walk today and she is currently snoozing on my sweatshirt. She found some red dirt to roll around in and had to be bathed. I used to always spend New Year’s Day with Mom – Ellie is the best therapy for a hurting heart.

Peace and Coffee – 2019 Energy

2018 was my first full year without Mom – without her presence, her voice, and her gentle reminders; much of what I learned still stems from her example – she was my role model for how to overcome mental anguish (anxiety and nerve problems, anyone?) and to live a life where peace is possible in the midst of the process.

Do y’all love Steven and Holly Furtick as much as I do? When Mom was diagnosed with cancer, God led me to their podcast. The encouragement I found there brightened many an otherwise dreary day. Mom and I listened together to and from treatments. The content of this blog is based loosely on last week’s message, “The Path to Peace.” Here is the energy I’m taking into 2019:

  1. You can’t experience peace when you are expecting perfection.  

About 20 years ago, I began to struggle with OCD tendencies. I clearly recall mopping the kitchen in our new to us double wide trailer and noticing how dirt was ingrained into the vinyl flooring. There were these little grooves and ridges and this was BEFORE the dawn of Magic Erasers (ranked #1 on my list of life changing cleaning tools!) and no amount of mopping, application of cleaner, or even scrubbing with a rag would remove this dirt. Everytime I went to mop my floors – it was a lot with a toddler – there was that dirt, mocking me and making me feel like my house was less than perfect. I was letting a piece of linoleum steal my peace. Little did I realize a couple of years and another kid later there would be plenty of spills to distract me and I’d be too thankful to find the time to mop to worry about a little missed dirt. Peace is relative, but so is perfection! Make 2019 the year you care for your mental health by letting go of the idea of perfection.

2. Stop waiting for peace and start walking in it. 

When I look at the first post on this blog (it has languished for over a year because I could only think of so many ways to say “My mom is gone”) one point really stands out: the correlation between having a quiet mind, at least from time to time, and to being able to walk in peace. Some people paint to relax, some get outdoors, while others make items or craft. According to Steven Covey and the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, this down time or “sharpening the saw”, is crucial to leading a successful life. In the past year, I have tried my hand at journaling (Staedtler pens are premium, but sadly I’m not artistic), reading – 26 books to be exact, and plain ole zoning out online and with social media. The fact that I have 51k tweets is indicative of two things – not only do I have enough to say to create a blog, but I also enjoy words so much I support others who have something to say as well by retweeting. Writing quiets my mind, and it’s impossible to walk in peace with a mind that is never quiet. In 2019, do whatever helps you close those tabs and relax your mind to find peace.

3. Take your peace in pieces.

If we are waiting until the moon aligns with the stars and all systems are go, we will never experience the peace Christ intended for our lives. With a middle school teaching job, a kid in college and one in high school, and a plethora of animals, the days can get pretty hectic! Some days my piece of peace is closing my door for 15 minutes during planning time. Other days it’s when everyone goes to bed before I do bedtime chores. I have a regular habit of getting up first (I even set alarms to do this when I’m off work) so I can have that coveted first cup of coffee and my devotional time before anyone else gets out of bed; this gets my day going in the right direction and helps me to cope with potential stressors. Let 2019 be the year you are better prepared for the unanticipated by taking your peace in pieces.

4. You miss peace when focused on the missing pieces. 

Guys, I’m not going to lie. This is the hardest one for me and it has taken me over a year to get here. Even though some people lose parents at much younger ages, I was not prepared to lose Mom at the age of forty. That said, 2018 taught me we all have something missing. Whether it’s a parent, that spouse you’ve been praying for, financial help and support, or your own health or that of a loved one, sustained states of perfection do not exist on this earth. The things we can see here are temporal, but our relationship with God is eternal. Mom knew these things and she taught them to her children and to all who knew her. We never had an abundance of money, but she looked to Jesus as her source. As a single Mom, she chose not to focus on the missing pieces, but instead entrusted those empty jars to Jesus. There was always, always enough.

The peace you seek is not the absence of problems, but the ability to keep walking through them. The calendar won’t fix your chaos; in 2019, stop waiting for peace and start walking in it. Turn off the news, put down your phone, and do those things that nourish your soul. There is beauty in a quiet life.. praying for your peace in 2019 and beyond. Happy New Year!

On Grief

Notes for Mom

I can’t explain grief. Where are the words? Is it the aftermath? Is it the absence? Maybe it’s making it through that first day back to work. Maybe it’s signing that sick form “my mom died.” Maybe it’s getting in the car only to realize your weekend plans don’t include a visit to Mom’s house. Maybe it’s realizing the fall foliage she had been waiting to photograph peaked while she was lying in a hospital bed, dying of cancer and pneumonia. Maybe it’s autumn leaves mixing into a blur hard to distinguish from gray. Maybe it’s the hole you’ve been trying to dig out of since the nightmare that began two Saturdays ago – the one in ICU 13. Maybe it’s the wave that takes you under; the rip current tugging you from treatment to hospital, hospital to casket, casket to emptiness. Maybe it’s the social anxiety that paralyzes you, rendering you unable to attend important events. Maybe it’s the dream – the one where you’re trapped in hospital room trying desperately to save her life, knowing how the story ends. I can’t explain grief. Where are the words?