Books

12 Days of a Wanderers Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 5

Do you remember your senior thesis in high school? Learning to research, find good sources, and build up enough information that could somehow fit together in the form of your biggest paper up until that point, and eventually needing to present it to the class? It was kind of a big deal at the time. I wrote mine on the one experience that was, and still is, the single most influential part of my life.

I wrote about traveling.

My parents were the ones who taught me the value of traveling. Even by my senior year in high school, I knew that nothing in life compared to traveling; there was nothing greater than diversifying my experiential assets, if you will. I’ve since come to believe that reading is a close second, and perhaps film a further behind third, but in my book nothing can replace travel.

Traveling expands everything. It broadens every part of life—even the part that wants nothing more than to be a homebody, ironically enough.

In regard to traveling, I have this soapbox about how vacationing is not the same as traveling. You might do some traveling while vacationing, but vacationing, in and of itself, brings no increase to the human experience. Vacationing doesn't expand the imagination, doesn't make you a more empathetic person. Traveling involves exploration and discovery. Traveling is stepping into an insider situation as an outsider. Traveling takes time.

Traveling also has a reputation of belonging to the free spirits of the world and of costing a lot of money. I’m here to tell you that those two assumptions are not true. Traveling is for everyone who is willing to prioritize it.

When I was in college, I studied abroad a couple times, and I specifically remember being told by a few people that I was “always meeting people.” Back then I wasn’t interested in sticking with the group. Groups had this way of keeping to themselves in an isolating fashion, of getting bogged down in being choosy and taking forever to split a bill. ((Can I just say that if I ever have the kind of job that allows me to do so, I will always just pick up the bill? I know this about myself because I loathe splitting checks and I love giving people gifts. I give you permission to hold me to it.)) Because of the simple fact that I felt large groups brought me down, I did in fact meet a lot of people---a lot of local people, wherever I went.

Traveling gives life so much...more than not traveling does. We are in this amazing time in history when besides having cars, trains, and planes, we also have the Internet. We have Google and other sites that connect us to the rest of the world like never before. We have this resource that helps us figure out how to get places--and how to get to them cheap. There’s no reason not to embrace traveling—even if just a little; even if just on occasion. Traveling is rarely an issue of not having enough money and often an issue of life's priorities.

I guess there’s no way for me to know this for certain, but in my opinion nothing will develop a person’s perspectives in life like traveling. There is nothing that can give you an inside look at the lives of others like going to them and spending time listening, talking, and sharing ideas about the world and everything involved in it while being in their space.

It doesn't take long for traveling to make it evident just how small our perspectives are on the most important aspects of our lives: everything from how we date, how we celebrate and mourn, how we parent, how we worship—even specifically how we worship within the Christian faith.

Have I convinced you yet with this roundabout rant that you should take time to travel?

It really is a must, but it also really needs to be a priority if it’s something you’re ever actually going to do. I read a quote by Tina Fey earlier today and it’s been sitting on me, reminding me of how my mom raised me, and it’s this: “Say yes, and you'll figure it out afterwards.” This is how you travel—you say, “YES!” Yes to buses or trains, to sleeping in tents or in the house of a friend of a friend of a friend. It's saying yes to putting every spare cent in the proverbial piggy bank and yes to the hospitality of others. You buy an Ergo, strap that baby on, and go for it! Even if all it does for you is give you greater level of gratitude for your own community, it will change you. All you have to do is give it the chance and the time that it deserves.

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day One

ahh, my people! It's been too long. I've been thinking about my blog and all of you every day since I last wrote you. I've been thinking about what to write, what to possibly share in this chaotic time.

This year's presidential outcome, racism, devastation, terrorist attacks, and war seem to be overtaking our world. It's all been on my heart and mind, and in my prayers, but what could I say? Every direction I turned, people were talking, people were hating, judging, and pointing fingers, so I stepped back, breathed deeply, and searched for my direction.

I've had an amazing few months with my two daughters and husband: laughing and delighting in one another, stretching and growing as a family of four. I've been tired and at a loss. I've had margin, but in all honestly that margin has been used to make up for sleep-deprived nights. Over this past year, my heart drew deeper and deeper into my desires of researching, writing, and sharing, and for this reason, I am thoroughly excited to see what awaits in 2017.

But! In the meantime, I have so many things and people and passions I want to share with you! When I found out last week that the traditional "12 Days of Christmas" begins on Christmas day, I was excited to bring a writing idea to life. Only now, that idea looks slightly different than it did initially. At first, I was going to share with you 12 coffee shops, no—books, no—coffee blends, no—coffee shops in the East Bay...Uhh, do you see my dilemma? There are SO many things I love and want to share with all of you for the 12 Days of Christmas. So now, I'm just going to share 12 anythings I love: some coffee, some people, some books, some organizations. I have a few passions swelling up in my heart; and now--they are my gifts to you.

I want to start today by sharing a person: a writer and fellow saint of the Christian faith who passed into eternity 20 years ago this past September. As I laid (lain? lyed? l...?) awake at 4:45 this morning, I picked up one of his books where I last left off some time last week…in the introduction. After reading through a couple chapters, I began to think that this man might be the single most influential writer for me in 2016. Over this past year, this man's words brought healing and restoration for both my husband and for me. His words have been an arrow pointed towards, and shooting us full force into the direction of, grace and redemption.

I have had a bumpy relationship with Henri Nouwen over the years. Craziness--I know. I first picked up one of his books, Return of the Prodigal Son in 2009, and I couldn't even finish it. I remember something about his voice bothering me, and I put the book down. I picked it up and put it down again. Though it screamed redemption, art, beauty, and story telling, I couldn't hear him. I was distracted, and I never finished it.

A couple years later, my girlfriend lent me a copy of Reaching Out. Ugh, this guy again. His voice. I couldn't read it. I couldn't read it, but I also couldn't let it go. Three years—maybe four years later, when the cross-county move and therefore, the Great Book Purge came upon our family, it was one of the few I held on to. I didn't know why; I didn’t even like this guy's style. Maybe because I wasn't the book's true owner or because the original owner was now living in New Zealand and the friend who lent it was up in New York, and yadda yadda. It was small enough in size, wasn’t mine to give away, and so I brought it over 3,000 miles with me.

This past spring, I decided to read it. No, I needed to read it. It stared at me like a portrait in hush hush art museum. Shh, don't speak. Listen. What is the art saying? I don't know because it keeps following me around the room. Haha, I'm somewhat joking—I love museums. But really, the book had this you-must-read-me-now sense about it. It had a voice that whispered, "I will bring you healing. I will help you rest in the love of your Heavenly Dad." It said, "I know you couldn't hear me in the past, but the time for healing is now, right here, in the midst of my very few pages."

And it was right. It brought to light, it convicted, it healed, it encouraged, and it spurred me on to the deeper life. It was JUST what I needed right when I was ready to hear it.

After I closed the last page of the book, I hoped my husband could hear it too. I hoped that he too could hear that we were arrogant and self-centered, that we were living out of a place of loneliness. And again, it did.

A few months later, he (Kris) says that he found another Henri Nouwen book that is slaying him. "I have your next book," he says to me.

"Ugh, I don't want to be slain again. We're going through all of this wonderful Emotionally Healthy Spirituality material with the church, and that is already doing a great work in me. Do I really have to?"

Enter: Christmas Morning 2016. 4:45am. The children all tucked under their blankets with care. "What the heck, man? Why am I awake???!!!" Usually. Ok—sometimes, and really only on my best, most devoted, deep, and obedient days, these early-morning moments beckon me to prayer. But this morning, at the early hour of 5am, I was beckoned into the world of Henri Nouwen once again. I was called into the world of Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World and oh. em. gee.

Like, the literal Gee. Does he ever slay me with His love? I am a beloved of the great I AM--the God who is with us, which we are reminded of every year on this very day. Many of us will sit in church buildings and hear the message of the good news of Jesus, our ultimate beloved One, but will we hear? Will we understand? Will it change us?

I know, I know, shouldn’t I be talking about baby Jesus and the manger and all things Advent and Christmas for these next 12 days? The truth is, these are the things that point me to Jesus. The everyday moments and people, books, coffee shops, and conversations that point me to my Beloved.

Merry Christmas, dear friends, family, and strangers alike.

Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper. -Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World

If you're in a place of hearing him too, here are some of my personalized links to a few of Nouwen's works:

Delayed Responses

Over the past month, I’ve gone through an assortment of grieving and questioning. This process, in great regard, put all writing on hold. Upon our arrival back to CA from a visit to the east coast, I went through both culture shock and homesickness--neither of which I'd yet undergone since our move 10 months ago. This experience was just one area of emotional processing.

In the midst of settling back into our life here, I was struck by a conviction involving part of my life’s calling. While watching the movie “Spotlight," my heart was incredibly burdened. If you haven't seen the film, it's about the journalists from the Boston Globe who uncovered the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church around Boston in the early 2000s.

If you know me, you may be as surprised as I was to discover which aspect of the film burdened my heart. There is no question that learning about impoverished children being sexually assaulted for decades was heartbreaking. But more than anything, the story gave me this overwhelming sense that I somehow missed the mark in my undergraduate studies.

During my college years, I was in the perfect position as an editor to pursue writing and journalism. In many ways, I knew I wanted to educate others and communicate the world’s darkest secrets and deepest hurts, but I was scared. I acted out of fear and listened to voices that said journalism was a waste of a degree and that there were too many unknowns in pursuing the arts. My unwise answer was to study a little bit of this and that, travel a great deal, transfer schools several times, and incur massive amounts of debt in the process. It was a pretty chaotic four years. Don't get me wrong, in many regards it was also a beautiful hodgepodge of life experiences—an expensive hodgepodge, but beautiful nonetheless.

The second occurrence of my convictions came as I continued reading Makoto Fujimura’s, “Silence and Beauty” the day after watching "Spotlight." Simply put, it’s a book about Christian persecution in Japan, the cultural role of art and beauty, and a reflection of Shūsaku Endō's novel, "Silence". It’s a worthy read involving the intricacies of Fujimura’s life as a Japanese American child, student, and artist.

On the page where I left off, Fujimura shares the story of a journalist who was held hostage and later killed while searching for a friend he suspected was taken captive by ISIS. It turned out that this journalist was also a Christian working to tell the stories of children and orphans in war-torn zones. What an incredible image of living out the Christian call to sacrifice all comfort, even to the point of death, while working within one's gifts and passions.

From both stories, I was reminded how doing the work of love and justice could look like so many different paths. I was challenged in how hard I fought to avoid surrendering to the call to work in the field of publications. In college, I was in the perfect place to follow out this call and to receive the training in the art of journalism. Instead, I denied that desire to continue pursuing other areas of academia and intercultural studies. I had a job in publications that helped pay for my degree, and later more opportunities to grow and be mentored in the field, but I threw it away time and time again.

I don’t share this to say that it’s necessarily too late or that I necessarily missed my chance. I share it to say that I recognize my disobedience in my college pursuits. I share it to say that this past month has been one of grieving, questioning, and processing.

I’m all for being present wherever it is I find myself. But friends, there are also the realities of obedience and disobedience, of putting up a fight and of knowing when to surrender.

Sometimes in life there is a fine, beautiful, and grace-filled line in these areas of our lives. And yet, the outcomes will look different depending on the paths we choose. In many ways, I chose chaos for those four and some odd years, and only now can I look back and seek to discern what that means for my life and my family now. In all of this, where I am right now is in the questioning, considering, and praying as to whether or not the time is now to continue writing, growing and stretching out these muscles that were on the shelf for nearly seven years or if perhaps that time is later, or sadly, but potentially not at all.

What I'm talking about in all of this is the reality of life's consequences. I think the sooner I can question and deal with life's consequences, the sooner I can step into fuller joy and contentment of living in the present.

Have you had experiences like this? Experiences where you look back on life and wonder how things may have panned out if you made a few, slightly different decisions?  I’d love to hear about them and how you navigated your thoughts during that time.

In considering the areas of life that seem a bit random + hodgepodgy, check out
The Random Tea Room & Curiosity Shop // 713 North 4th St. Philadelphia, PA


To order "Silence and Beauty" by Makoto Fujimura or "Silence" by Shūsaku Endō's through my affiliate links, click below.

Reading, Books, & Freedom // Featuring One Shot Coffee & Cafe, Philadelphia

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading, lately. As I've mentioned before, I only started reading in my 20s. Now, as soon as I finish a book, I'm on to the next (no promises this will last, but I'll take it for now). Here are a few thoughts I have about reading, books, and for that matter--freedom.

First, there's prioritizing which books to read. HOW do you choose? Seriously, how? Please share your insight...As someone who has not been a lifelong reader, this is a difficult process. It's also why I recently challenged myself to only read one book at time. I am a sloooow reader, so picking just one book is tough! Do I go back to the classics that I missed? Hop into what my peers and friends are reading? Do I focus on the spiritual life, social issues, continue reading books based on authors I like, or go to my personal fave--books on intercultural studies? It's no easy task choosing the next book to start, and this is why I start so many at a time. But! I've chosen this new way, and am now a more productive reader overall.

Next, is that I cannot afford to buy all the books I want. When Kris and I packed up our Philly apartment to move across the country, we gave away and sold more books than anything else. I'll be honest, besides not wanting to spend all my moneys on books (most of which I'll read once), I don't want to go through that process again. Books, especially cherished, written-in ones were by far the hardest items to let go. My answer to these dilemmas today was the go to the library. Getting out into the community AND saving money--when does that happen??

In the same vein of collecting and holding on to books, I find they’re an easy source of pride. When I walk into a home with a lot of books on display, I assume certain attributes on that family--that they're well-education, smart, will probably want to talk about things I don't understand, and that overall they're...better than me. Do you know the feeling I mean? I've DEFINITELY had the experience of loving books for what they might tell visitors about me more than I cared to read the content within. It's such a silly thing, but it's humbling to know that any material thing (albeit, one as important as books) could do this to my character. It's like, why don't I also put down my window and turn up NPR while displaying TED stickers on my back window, so my fellow drivers might also know just how smart I am…? Oh brother, how do I even begin to take myself seriously?

The last thing I'll share about reading is that I think it's helping me to become a better listener. Did you ever experience this? For me, it was sort of an unexpected surprise. I was wondering this week if people who are better readers are also better listeners. From personal experience, I know this isn't true across the board, but it got me wondering if it might not also be the case for some others. Thoughts?

Anyhow, I'm grateful for books and reading and libraries. Sharing knowledge and information freely is such a sweet gift. As someone who isn’t terribly patriotic, freely shared knowledge is something I take for granted in the U.S. Why wouldn't I take full advantage of books, lectures, and the radio? For that matter, why wouldn't I take full advantage of conversations with strangers, social movements, social media, national parks and natural reserves? There's so much freedom in the Western World to share, preserve, and explore, all of which are areas I want to show more gratitude. Reading seems like a good step in that direction.

Tonight's Coffee Shop Feature goes to one of my old Philly spots. They have every kind of sitting arrangement possible (definite perk), delicious food, and loads of books. I have lots of photos from the upstairs of One Shot Cafe, and have never once asked the purpose of all their books. I always assumed it was a "take one, leave one" situation, but also like I might be stealing if I took one. I always forgot to ask before I left what purpose they served. Either way, it's a beautiful display, encouraging a home-like feel.

One Shot Coffee & Cafe // 217 W. George Street, Philadelphia

Also, check out their Instagram

As always, thanks for reading. Would love to hear about your relationship with reading,
books, libraries or generally...whatever else you'd like to share.

Books and Reading // Influence

For 20 years of my life, I didn’t read. Like, ever. Before this last decade, my life was confusing, chaotic, and in need of some serious changes. But, as the years have gone on and as I have seen spiritual, emotional, and mental growth, I’m really grateful that I made reading a priority. I'm specifically grateful to certain authors and books and articles that helped redefine my character and being.

A decade ago, when I only started to see glimpses of myself as a whole person, reading was a big part of my personal healing. Sometime in that first year of cultivating a relationship with reading, a friend gave me a book written by Shauna Niequist. I still remember the day we spent at the art museum and the conversation that led to her giving me a copy of Cold Tangerines.

 This post includes affiliate links. This means, when using the links to purchase books, I will receive tiny bits of moneys from Amazon at no extra cost to you.

This post includes affiliate links. This means, when using the links to purchase books, I will receive tiny bits of moneys from Amazon at no extra cost to you.

This book is full of stories that have been encouraging and challenging over these years. It is a book I’ve brought along on my travels, given to friends, and read chapters from over the phone. As I think back on my first read through of Cold Tangerines, I’m reminded of cafes and greens around Cambridge where I read from its pages; I’m reminded of the situations I was in when the words struck me, and how they made me feel a little less like a crazy person. I’m reminded of the songs I listened to that year and the places I visited. It’s funny how a book can do so much for a person, isn’t it? Like a song or smell might bring a distinct moment to our minds, I have books that do the same for me.

I think in many ways, Shauna Niequist was the first one to show me the importance of cherishing time spent around a table, gathering with friends, and embracing sacred moments. The vulnerability in her stories have always made me wish I could sit and share a meal with her—or even be a passive spectator as she communes with friends. Over these past ten years, as I’ve grown and changed, I'm so grateful she’s continued to share her life and her heart with her readers; along with the book that initially captivated me, she's also written:

I’m writing about these books this week for two main reasons. One being that they were a source of nurturing for my soul during many years of growing pains, so I mean—why wouldn’t I want to share them with you? The other is that Niequist is scheduled to publish another book in August of this year. What this means, is if you haven’t been formally introduced to her writings yet, I'm doing so now. You officially have about four months to catch up and prepare for her next publication:

The title itself reflects who Shauna Niequist is as a writer, and why I’ve come to feel like she’s been my friend and mentor over the years. The title alone reflects what that These Sacred Grounds is all about—cultivating moments that come to define our lives and being present in them; about community and friendship and struggle, and about finding beauty in everyday life. In many ways, this blog involves so many lessons Shauna Niequist taught me about living as a human—both in my brokenness and my wholeness.

Because her books have been so influential in my life, I want to continue sharing them. Since I’m only just beginning to find my online community as a writer, I want to provide two opportunities to get some of these books into the hands of this little Internet community of mine. The first way is on Instagram and the second is on the blog:

On Instagram: follow me, like the Cold Tangerines photo from today, and tag a friend who you think would like the opportunity to win a copy (you may tag more than one friend in separate comments for more entries).

On the blog: Come August, when Present Over Perfect releases, all of my faithful subscribers (either via Bloglovin’ or my email subscription) will have the opportunity to win a copy of her new book as well as, in true These Sacred Grounds fashion, a lb. of coffee from a local Oakland roaster. And who know, maybe some other goodies when the time comes...

I’m grateful to all of you for joining me on my writing journey so far, and I'm excited to continue cultivating relationships in this space as time goes on. Thank you for being here with me. I would also really love to hear about some of the books that have changed your life in the comments below.

BGC