Monday, September 29, 2014

let us celebrate dear friends.

When I was in fourth grade, we drove across the United States. We had a beautiful RV equipped with internet, satellite TV, and Nintendo 64. Long stretches of driving were spent with dad at the wheel, mom navigating, and the two of us blonde-haired California kids stretched out on the master bed playing Mario Kart or Zelda until our thumbs ached and our necks were tired of craning to see the screen. Sometimes we'd fight over the movies, not Girls Just Wanna Have Fun AGAIN, others we'd sleep fitfully as the plains and skylines passed outside our windows.

Nights that ran later than expected, distances harder to cover than time allowed, were spent in rest stops or Walmart parking lots. A one night stand with neon lights or trucker men or pig trucks full of squealing mad swine before we rose to eat and be on our way again. Showers run by quarter slots and air toilets that were water-free, a travelers life was adventure surely.

Five weeks hopping across state lines from one Kampground (why the K?) of America -KOA- to the next. We knew we had arrived the moment an A-frame manager's office came into view, usually flanked by some sort of play yard complete with a self-spun merry-go-rounds and a basketball court. Sometimes if we were lucky, there'd be a green, cloudy fishing lake with small, spiny fish to catch. We'd spend hours balling up Valveeta, baiting our hook, and casting lines. He taught us to take a fish off the thorny hook without jabbing our fingers, kiss it goodbye, and toss it back into it's watery haven.
But, only so many fish can be caught, so many games of H-O-R-S-E shot, so many Razor scooter laps completed before dad would grow tired of entertaining us. He'd be weary from long hours at the helm and wish for some space from childhood while we played outside. So, being the problem solver he was, took to making us friends.

As soon as that first morning's light dawned on the spectacle that was us, he'd drag us out to follow him on our bikes and "help" us make some friends -who doesn't need friends from other states? he'd say. We'd ride along behind him, rolling our eyes, blushing with embarrassment. And he'd find them -boys and girls, young and older, families and only children. We'd play basketball or fish or swing and slide. We'd giggle and laugh and, as it is with kids, the shyness would melt away really fast.

Now, despite me being a grown-up girl who can make her own friends, he's doing it still -making me friends, that is. He's letting me share our story and he's sneaking into your hearts and bringing you here where we're getting to know one another, letting the shyness melt away, sharing in the real shit that makes up our lives. And while he's doing the introducing, you and I are doing the getting to know one another, we're skipping small things and diving deep into BIG ones, we're doing friendship good.


Happy Birthday (a day early) Dad, 
Thanks for throwing us into the friendly fire.
Making friends has always been something I wish I did like you.
I guess it's important to find the way that works for me, 
That's surely what you would say. 
I hope you're celebrating your birthday today even if it's not in the typical way. 
You can finish your journey onto Heaven now. 
We'll miss you something fierce. 
And love you something deep. 
Celebrating you,
am

Friday, September 26, 2014

Romans 3 & 4

Yes, au naturel and overheating. But, the content this week, so rich. Paul is equal parts encouraging and convicting. I'm working on being positive in the conviction -knowing that it's presented to me because I have the strength to grow, the knowledge to understand, the faith to be glorious to Him. 

I'm hoping it's feeling the same for ya'll. 

Next week's questions are thick and heavy, but come with amazing implications so PLEASE spend time with them because I have utmost confidence you'll be encouraged and emboldened. 

Questions to ponder: 
1. Jesus has been presented as the bookend to Adam's initial sin add a helpful metaphor to Christ saying "It is finished." in John 19:30. Does this illustration help your understanding of the grace afforded us in his death? And in applying that to your faith, how does freedom find its way into your life?

2. Romans 5:12-21 talks about the grace-sin equation:
grace > sin 
This is an always statement. How does that change the way that you view your freedom to live? And how does it influence your view of the law?

Links, Links, and More Links 
What kind of people are we to one another? Weather talkers or deep sea divers? (Playing Sublimely)

You've all heard my tips and tricks for bible study. So why not get another take? (Sage the Blog)

Calling. We talked about that last week. And it's challenges. But did you talk to your soul? (Amber Haines)

Also, the Milking Stool Ministry Facebook page. You're invited, simply request to join!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

marriage letter: walking together

Dear Jason, 

So much mush already this month makes it hard to come and mush on you all over again. We both know that's not our strength. What is? Oh, our humor, our ability to borrow other people's words and share them with one another, attach them to our feelings, cherish them as though they're a part of us. What else? Our ability to do this all together -not necessarily in complete togetherness, but in conjunction, as a pair, a team, able to make up for the one another's weaknesses.

Why are we here? 
Where do we go? 
And why is it so hard? 

Life seems to birth more questions than answers. Many steps -some scary, some easy, some just right- in all kinds of directions. It brings torrential downpours and pink grapefruit sunsets. It promises shadows that turn into the shape of beautiful things and light so bright it feels sterile and overwhelming. It ensures us we can do it one against the world, then humbles into the realization we need each other. 

It's not always easy and sometimes life can be deceiving. 
I'll tell you one thing: 
It's always better when we're together. 

Your hands provide peace along the whole spectrum of emotions. As we sit in the hospital, I shiver, he snores softly, you email work to say, "it's three am and we had a family emergency." using only one hand, the other tangled in my nervous moving fingers. As we lounge in the movie theater watching Neighbors and laughing hysterically about the way it mirrors our life you rest your hand on my thigh and I twist my fingers all through yours. As we meander down the street, you hold tight to the hand that isn't walking the dog, apologizing for any sweating that could happen as a result of the heat and our movement, but not letting go. 

Love is the answer, at least,
for most of the questions of my heart. 

These steps -marriage, adulthood, home ownership- wouldn't be the same, enjoyable, comfortable with anyone but you. Your steady heart and strong hands and deep laughs always reminding me you're ready to walk. Not walk just any old walk, but walk our walk -step by step, moment by moment, moving together. 

Always together. Always better.
amber

All italics are lyrics from Jack Johnson's "Better Together". 
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These letters are the brainchild of Amber C. Haines and her husband, Seth. While they take a break from writing them, I'm choosing to continue on my own. I write to remember mundane moments that would otherwise slip away, to hold tight to him, and to remember how life looks right now at this very moment, plus the chance for these letters to shed light on our marriage before children for our children because they won't know us as newlyweds otherwise.

Monday, September 22, 2014

in defense of the selfie




Selfies are signs of narcissism, cockiness, over-involvement in one's own life. Selfies say I'm more important, more beautiful, more interesting than all of you. Selfies say look at me, look at me, see me now, LOOK AT ME NOW.

The articles, the studies, the Buzzfeed best list of fails (insert guffaw here) are all over. Entire blog posts shred the way #selfies are posted, styled, taken. Facebook statuses proclaim hate for the way we're obsessed with ourselves and #selfies are the quintessential welcome sign to AllAboutMeVille.

A quick scroll through my Instagram feed illustrates my love for a good #selfie. A love that is thought out, reflected upon, and aware of context -or lack thereof. I appear blonde, mid-twenties, tattooed, and fond of myself.

Like many things in life, a friend nudged me into selfie-dom. She said, Amber, you show your clothes, they're adorable, but what about your make-up and hair? I chose the path of least resistance and ignored. Then an echo sounded, once, twice, thrice. More friends saying yes, where's your face? Like a dare issued, I posted one. Then another.

Slowly, conservatively, uncomfortably at first. Debating if the appropriate face is a smile, a smirk, or maybe best if I simply look thoughtfully into the distance. Those original selfies were met with encouragement, kindness, compliments. All sweet and completely unexpected.

So in the spirit of positive reinforcement I kept doing it.

And I heard about bold brows, butt chins, lion hair. I heard it was beautiful. Not because it's trendy, but because it made up me. And suddenly, selfies weren't about Instagram or double taps or what I'm wearing anymore. Instead they became about loving my hair in waves, pride in my pearly whites, an appreciation for the cleft in my chin.

I've snapped and posted a selfie or two (sometimes three if I'm being indulgent) a week. Mostly smiling, sometimes sassy, never duck-lipped, usually featuring my hairstyle and necklace. I've found them to be empowering, challenging, and honest. Days where I'm feeling chubby or unhappy, where I want to boo hoo on myself and be frustrated over my diet are changed with a drop of TimerCam and a drip of sassy face.

Originally the validation that came from others turned into an inner confidence that happens offline and in real life (though this girl loves a great compliment). My fear of haters stunted my first shots, but in gaining an appreciation for the features that make up me, I've realized selfies are about me, not them.

Maybe the haters need to try it out for themselves, maybe they're struggling through bad days just like the rest of us, maybe we're just stupid for feeling different after a pretty, self-taken head shot. If such shots aren't for you (or your double tap), just scroll on and take a stab at keeping your opinions to your self(ie).

More confident in front of a camera, fond of my defining features, unafraid of imperfections. Yes, selfie, yes. At the price of being labeled narcissistic, cocky, self-involved? Still, yes.

Post Script: I use VSCOcam as my photoeditor. And I'm shameless about hashtags.
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The perfect end for such an self-loving post is a shameless selfie sharing a gift you deserve to give yourself. 
That's right, this shirt all kinds of adorable, comfy, and so summer friendly (especially for those of us still stuck in hot, humid summer weather) is the new #IWYP shirt for the month... Of course, I adore it. Get it while you can babes because this one is a LOVE.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Milking Stool Ministry: Romans 1&2


So this video is a little lengthy... But we're getting in the groove still, so bear with me. How did last week go ya'll? The questions were what helped center my focus because Romans is so rich and the truth contained in there can be so overwhelming that I can't grab little pieces of it for me to work through. Little pieces that make up bigger parts -like a puzzle!

I told you. LOTS. I didn't really do anything special with my notes. Instead I wrote down the little bits of the questions and worked through them attempting to document my thought process. So, yes, definitely something to work at and through and on.

Questions and concepts for our conversations: 
1. Romans 3 is challenging to our cultural upbringing because it strips us of our "cool kids" status and humbles us to one among many (forgiven, righteous-through-faith) sinners. How does this change the way you approach Him? Or how you read your bible? Or view yourself in the "big picture" of faith and life?

2. What titles and character traits do we get to claim as ours because of His faithfulness and our belief in Him? This is rich right here. We are beloved, cherished, and righteous at the price tag of Christ, not because of our doing.

3. Balance. That ever-illusive thing we set our minds and hearts on is something the Romans struggled with too. Paul spends Romans 4 stressing about the balance between law (important to the Jews) and faith (important to the Gentiles). Do you use law to balance faith? Or are you a law-lover who's got to remind yourself of faith? How can you improve this process?

Links, Links, Links.
You've got a calling -we established that. Part of acting out that calling is realizing your place. (Deeper Story)

Your story is part of His glory. (Whoa, so trite and cliche sounding, but TRUTH.) (Brenner Bunch)

Sometimes we need to realize the mess we're in, pray for help, and begin the cleaning. (Heathering Heights)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

the post with too many emotions and no title.

Now that our birthday and anniversary are over, it's your time. That time of the year that used to be filled (by your insistence) with your birthday month celebrations. That time of year where us kids were adjusting back to school and your morning coffee dates after drop-off would start with mom. That time of year where family walks were nightly, uninterrupted, unless sports beckoned, then you were there, cheering, driving, wanting to watch the "big boys" play aggressive ball. 

Dementia don't care about a lot of things. But it especially don't care about us: the survivors. 

You were the only one formally diagnosed, the only one examined by doctors, the only one whose memory fades. But we are the one's who have to survive after you've died. We're here now fighting the battle with you, working our damnedest to remember your life, so full, so passionate, so high speed adventurous. We'll be here later, when you're not and we've got all those pictures and memories to hold on to you by. 

But right now, with you here so broken and befuddled, it's hard to remember before. It's hard to remember that time you put our boy dog in a dress and then he ran away only to be brought home wearing his fancy garb. Or your love for fashion (don'ts), construction, and John Deere. Or how you insisted on Sunday date nights with mom because marriage is sacred and worth investing in. Or how you were strict with us because you knew that it'd make us successful, hard-working, and dedicated (it did). Or your wanderlust -ever growing, never ceasing, always fantastic.

You gave us more than we can thank you for, but lately, you've given us strength. The emotional muscles to find humor, the love for family to come together, the heart for those suffering to be kind despite our hurts. Though I wish you weren't there and us here, I wouldn't have known the preciousness of your gift without devastating loss.
Dad, 
I don't know when I started looking like you. Or acting like you. 
But one day in this blur of disease I did. 

Sometimes at the gym I goof off just to hear Mom say, she's acting just like Peter did. 
Sometimes I have flashes of memories that hold your essence and 
I remember you were so much life before this slow death. 
Sometimes I grieve deeply at the loss of you, 
others I celebrate in the hope that He will welcome you home and restore your soul. 

I miss you right now. But I cherish you and your heart of celebration. 
Always the bookend girl,
Amber

Monday, September 15, 2014

Coffee Date 6.0

If we were on a coffee date, I'd say let's meet really early and walk while we sip and caffeinate because it's summer here still and I'm loving the outdoors before they get hot. There's a smell to late summer-early fall mornings and we could soak it in together. You could bring your pup, though I'd be honest that Hazel isn't the most civilized of friends.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd ask about your budget and spending. How do you decide what's worth it and what isn't? Do you have spouse "allowances" that you can spend without criticism from the other? Do you prioritize date nights or groceries or all the other things by the month, or week, or otherwise?

If we were on a coffee date, I'd confess to struggling with guilt lately. Guilt about my caffeine intake, about drinking wine, about taking a day of rest, about all. the. things. And I think that guilt is a reflection of my heart right now -that it's busy, busy, busy, void of peace and rest. So, I'm going to try and slow my soul.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd admit to wanting less and more. Some days I want to simplify life, pare down my closet to a capsule wardrobe, and keep things easy, breezy. Other days I want all the things I can manage to get my grubby little hands on. Either way, I'm fickle and that's, well, ever-changing.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd want to tell you that I wasn't successful in all my summer reading. In fact, there were three books I started and couldn't finish. In fact, those three books were only read to the point of page 50 and if they weren't drawing me in by then, I stopped. And I'm actually proud of that fact. How do you know when to stop and cut yourself some slack? (Maybe this is a bigger than books question.)

If we were on a coffee date, I'd be honest that I love summer and I don't want it to go because less sunlight, less tans, less flip flops. But that I'm ready for fall too. Because scarves and cooler weather and bonfires in the backyard with a glass of wine and a blanket. This year is magical to me being in the house and experiencing each season for the first time in a new place.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd rave about Celestial Green Tea with White Tea. After getting rid of my afternoon coffee habit, I decided tea would help in the place of that afternoon slump. I'm not a green tea girl, but this stuff, so smooth, so delicious (even without sweetener), and made in a sustainable way (which first freaked me out because the bags are "pillows" and look funny, but now I love). Hot, cold, with lemon, with peaches, it's surely delicious.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd share that a book looms. A book sits on my conscious asking me to write it, wanting to be put out there, but it scares me too. It asks if I can do it, if I have a such thing as that many words, if there's anything I could come up with that important or beautiful to say. So I ignore it, but then it creeps and taps and won't leave me be. How do you do that friends, conquer those seemingly insurmountable tasks? Is it that I need a home team to encourage me? Or a what the hell, let's do this attitude? Or just space and time to sit and think on it?

If we were on a coffee date, I'd feel warm and fuzzy inside. I've been feeling especially affectionate about my friends and readers and coworkers lately. I realize these relationships are choices, not required, not forced, but cherished and equally laden. This fact amazes me and flatters me and reminds me to be making the good choice too.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Romans: The Intro

You guys. We're back and, honestly, I enjoyed my week off last Friday but was itching to be back and be reading with ya'll again this one. Today's our introduction to Romans where I'll share the context, my heart, and my excitement for our study.
Yep, that is a lot of overzealous girl right there. Like I said, we're going to be doing things different this time. More organized and less beautiful mess. So first, the reading log for ya'll.

As I said in the video, there are two ways you can approach Milking Stool. You can read the chapter the week before the video is posted and watch my talk as a review/extension of the concepts OR you can read the chapter the week after as an introduction to the chapter. Either way is the right way.
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Every week I'm going to be posting questions -usually 3 to 5- that will reference different ideas or concepts in the text. They won't be the same questions over and over, they won't be comprehension questions, they'll be meant to challenge you, to get you thinking, and, hopefully, to make the text real. I will continue to share links, though I'm hoping that they'll be more relevant to each week's theme/text.

The questions (for focus) to ponder over the next week: 
1. Romans 1:6 talks about "you who were called". Spend time praying over, thinking on the fact that He specifically called you to _________. Yes, God, the Alpha and Omega spent time creating YOU to be called to do THAT. Bonus point: what is your calling -a multi-faceted and every-changing answer? 

2. The start of Romans 2 (specifically verses - ) emphasizes that the law wasn't established for memorization or structure, but to educate us of our sin because without law, we're unaware of the way our flesh rules. In light of this, what does obedience to the law begin to look like (hint: not rote religious exercises)?

3. The process of circumcision is a clipping to encourage (ensure) cleanliness and a traditional "mark" of holiness. Though it is not a strict religious practice today, there are ways in which we partake in clipping away parts of ourselves in order to better pursue Him. What does this look like/mean to you?

These are heavy questions laden with thick (not wrong or right) answers. I'm hoping they'll act as jumping off points for our hearts to dig into the text. Please let me know how these help or hurt your study this week.
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Milking Stool Ministries has a Facebook group to make the community feel a little bit smaller, a lot more fun, and interactive up the wazoo. It's private, but simply ask to join and I'll make sure you're included! 

Links, links, and more links.
John Piper on Romans. This is heavy and SO FULL. But if you keep up on it weekly, it'll add SO MUCH. (Desiring God)

Cursing and Jesus. Two things I've struggled to reconcile. But this, just this. (Relevant)

I'm also working through this book aside from bible study with hopes it'll enrich my time with Him. (Amazon)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

they told me...


They told me we'd fight about money. They didn't mention all the other things we'd fight about. How I'd be so annoyed with your mellow reaction to everything or how hard it'd be for you to be patient with all my feelings. Or how we'd learn so quickly that money fixes nothing and love covers all things. How you and your love would be more valuable to me than all the shoes in the land. How I'd long to be respectful of you, of us as a team, before all else.

They told me not to go to bed angry. They didn't tell me that I'd lay awake in the middle of the night and be unable to remember the fight, instead, I'd be drowned in the sound of your steady breathing. The way your stable breath reminds me of your calming soul, your gentleness, your humor, everything so steady and comfortable as a home for my wild heart. They didn't tell me that there are worse emotions to take to bed, like sadness or missing or loneliness. Those keep me awake, feeling alone in a bubble of emotion, wishing for you to bring some reminder of calm for my restless soul.

They told me to share everything. They didn't tell me you don't need me to talk about monotony until your ears begin to bleed. Or how intimate it feels to sit silently together on the couch, arms and legs intertwined. Or that girl friends are the ones who will analyze the Real Housewives over a glass of wine with me and the dudes will peacock at softball with you. How some things are best mine, and others yours. Like the dog (mine), the tortoise (also mine), the tools (all you).

They told me not to eat dinner around the TV, instead, always at a table for conversation. They didn't tell me that we'd watch Cops and Restaurant Impossible and The Colbert Report together as we eat and analyze and learn. How we'd refer to what Robert Irvine would think of this restaurant or that. How we'd come to know police codes and compete to know them best. How we'd talk through current events even though we both know that I'm too scared to watch the heartbreak and horror that is our news.

They told me that I was marrying, not simply you, but your family. They didn't tell me that in-laws are blessings. Like another sounding board, another listening ear, another source of advice. How we'd share in sibling moments that are united by marriage, not blood, and, yet, are equally precious. That sometimes we'd be overwhelmed by how much family we have cumulatively, all the celebrations and traditions, the way love just seems to exponentially grow en masse.

They told me sex is fun, but it's learned. They didn't tell me how it's just a fraction of the ways in which love is expressed. Like how you leave your sweaty clothes to dry out so the laundry room doesn't smell or how I time my mornings to see you off and evenings to welcome you home. Or how a random date night spruces up the monotony of our work week or walking the dog in the evening light feels romantic and mellow or walking on Sunday mornings is more bonding than exercise.

They told me a good marriage requires hard work. They didn't say it's work that you don't always realize you're doing. That sometimes hard work feels rewarding, strengthening, even fun. That it bears fruit we get to enjoy together, rather than alone. That we'd be working relationship muscles we didn't even know we'd have and just when we'd feel toned and developed a new group of muscles would surface.

Now all they're telling me is it's time for babies. But what did they ever know about us anyway? 

Jason, 
Thanks for being so much more than what they said you'd be.
There's no one else I'd rather spend the rest of my life hiking to, fighting with, and loving on. 
Three years has been the best Costco-size taster of this lifelong marriage thing with you. 
All jokes and ill-fitting words aside, my heart beats to love you like Him.
Always yours,
amber 

Monday, September 8, 2014

book reviews v. 4

I've slept with a book in bed with me -sometimes a whole pile of them, in fact- for as long as I can remember. Still to this day, despite the addition of a husband, I wake up with a book tucked under my arm or my pillow or floating around in our covers. At first, Jason thought it was a random accident, but now, three years later, he realizes it's a lifestyle, a trademark of sorts. 

The Semi-Charmed Summer Reading Challenge certainly increased the books-in-bed-while-sleeping chances because thirteen books in four months is heavy duty reading compared to that of the recent past. A girl who loved characters and plot and lessons from the moment she could make up stories for the pictures on the pages had forgotten the love of a good novel. Until now. 

After completing thirteen novels in four months, I'm proud of myself and itching to maintain my pace. I'm thankful to no longer be following a list and to have the freedom to pull any old book off our shelves. Plus, I'm looking forward to getting a library card to use and to cuddling up in one of their over-sized chairs that looks out on our city's sports complex. 

That all said. Here's the four reads from August. Along with the ever-loving GIFs courtesy of my suddenly realized spirit animal: the llama. 
by Christopher McDougall 

"...there was some kind of connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love *running*. The engineering was certainly the same: both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted and appreciating what you've got, being patient and forgiving and... undemanding...maybe we shouldn't be surprised that getting better at one could make you better at the other."

I ran almost every day last month. I blame it on Christopher McDougall and his novel, really, I do. And, I enjoyed, so deeply enjoyed, his discussion of how running is deep within our genetics just as it is in animals. His ability to write studies and statistics into interesting, personalized tales of running people. Not simply a super-running tribe in rural Mexico, but the ultra-running scene here in America too. The parallels were astounding and interesting and had me thinking about the role running plays in my life. 


The stories that weaved from one athlete to another and back again reminded me time and time again that the world is a small place, made smaller by our shared interests and cross-cultural hobbies. So how did a NY Post writer trying to learn how to run establish himself as my peer? His ability to write objectively, humorously, and honestly about the madness and pure joy that unites us in loving to cover miles by foot. Would this book interest everyone? Probably not. Though I am amazed that it was enjoyed by both Jason and myself -something that can be said of very few novels. 

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by Cheryl Strayed

"I made it the mantra of those days: when I paused before yet another series of switchbacks or skidded down knee-jarring slopes, when patches of flesh peeled off my feet along with my socks, when I lay alone and lonely in my tent at night I asked, often out loud: Who is tougher than me? 

The answer was always the same, and even when I knew absolutely there was no way on this earth it was true, I said it anyway: No one."


For the record, I hate hiking. Really, I do. And this book didn't convince me not to hate it, but it did convince me that there's a beautiful healing capacity in the midst of the great outdoors -even if just the forest we're fishing in or the meadow we live near. After the loss of her mother and dissolution of her marriage, Strayed takes on a seemingly impossible task: the Pacific Crest Trail. 


The unraveling and rebuilding of Strayed's life were beautiful to witness (and participate in). I could easily see and feel the parallels between her own life and mine, while, at times, feeling estranged from her extreme behaviors in the wake of emotionally charged experiences. At points in the book I was enthralled, couldn't stop, needed more desperately. Other times I found myself waiting, wishing for the next turn in action, hoping that the plot would climb faster than her feet on the trail. 

I struggled through the last 100 pages. At just over 300 pages I realized quickly that it may have been done a service to be 100 pages shorter, or more concise. The resolution doesn't feel extremely resolved, in that, hiking a trail isn't so much emotionally healing, as proof to one's self you can do hard things. Strayed, no doubt, was brave and strong and impressed me, but I did wonder how she worked through the complex heartbreak all that loss dealt her prior to her hike. 

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by Gayle Forman

"Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you."

Of all the GIFs I've used in the past, this is the most accurate. I ordered If I Stay because Jason and I agreed stay and run are opposites (because this one was for the challenge) and it had good reviews on Amazon. Like that cute little boy, I unexpectedly opened the novel with no clue how it's going to mess me up in every single wonderful , thought provoking way. 


 Jason most accurately described the way this book looks: a teeny-bopper novel. He asked me what I was going reading them since I'm most certainly out of my teens. And, well, I said don't bother me I'm reading. I finished this one in less than three days (one of them full of work) because it's one of those I NEED TO KNOW sort of reads. Forman's got you drawn in from page 15 and won't let you go until the moment she closes the novel. 


I'm thankful there's a sequel because she leaves the ending so open, so GIVE ME MORE, that I can't imagine having read this earlier in history and having to wait to read what happens with Mia and Adam next. So, yes, read it, but be sure to give yourself some time and space because you won't be able to focus on anything else. 


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by Sue Monk Kidd

"Drifting off to sleep, I thought about her. How nobody is perfect. How you just have to close your eyes and breathe out and let the puzzle of the human heart be what it is."

ASKLFjoaidhofawuerfilaJOFIHOIUASDHiufHlkaseDTIOWAHuotiUDOSAFHKD. 

That's how good this book was -so good I can't even put together cohesive letters to make cohesive words. Holy. Anyone who even kind of liked The Help will adore The Secret Life of Bees. It's shorter, beautifully knit together, and full of such rich goodness. The plot took some amazing twists and turns, but the characters, oh how I loved them. 

The richness of Kidd's writing was only superseded by the glorious truths it revealed. Being set in the US in 1964, I thought I'd know what to expect, but I hadn't a clue how near and dear to our present time the content would hit. In the wake of Ferguson and large shifts in civil rights' attitudes in the US, this novel felt applicable in all the ways. It reminded me that we've come so far, we've made progress, but we're also just babies in learning how race and cultural relations are complicated, tender, and needing to be handled with immense care. 

And, the bees. The way Kidd weaved the behavior, real life facts, and habits of the bees within the fabric of the story is jarring. You'll know more about bees and their colony than ever before, yet you'll notice how we aren't that far off from our flying, stinging friends. 
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Now that my challenge is over and I'm back in the reading as I wish saddle, what's good out there? 

Friday, September 5, 2014

it's complicated. me and church. so complicated.

If church and I had a relationship status it'd look something like this: It's complicated.

It wasn't always complicated. Nope, I grew up there with my family, looking all-American and dreamy, feeling like I understood God and His plan and believing in all those trite sayings church people say to one another in hard times. I loved church, just as much as I loved living in happy goodness, because who doesn't love good?

But happy goodness is like Newton's apple that came crashing down and shattered under the force of gravity. This happens -tragedy, sadness, hard things-, it's part of life and faith and love.

As the pieces of happy life laid at my twenty-three-year-old, newlywed feet, I looked up at church and saw a strange place, full of unrecognizable people, devoid of the comfort and peace for which I desperately searched. I was sad, beside myself with the loss of Popsicle and of that homey feeling at church.

I was growing frustrated, nit-picky, and restless. Jason was growing tired of my griping. We needed space. And we took it. Then we basked in it.

Yes, our church-going, God-loving selves, took the summer off. On accident at first, with vacations and holidays and summer plans that made the Sunday morning commitment tricky, then on purpose -slowing down, skipping alarms, grabbing breakfast at the local diner instead. Sometimes we talked about skipping, about being home instead of there, about the complicated feelings about church.

I felt guilty, like I was supposed to be there, gathering with other church people, and yet terrified at the idea of having to do so. The idea of going back to church where home seems to be gone, where the void that is Popsicle is unignorable, where all the feelings bubble up slowly, then boiling, stopped me from going and being present. But, there was space.

Space gave me clarity about His goodness and grace. Space sharpened my listening, emboldened His voice in me, made me aware that church isn't God, it's His people, beloved and cherished and, most glaringly, flawed. So, with church, it's complicated. Summer closed, trips subsided, the sunny days grow shorter with a quickness that says fall is coming, so we returned.

We're back at church, looking for community, instead of God because, whether I always believe it or not, we've already got Him. We're back at church, enjoying His children, seeing the way He's engraved in them, in us, regardless of our flaws, missteps, trite and short-falling words.

God, it's not complicated with Him. He's sure, awesome and mighty, grace-filled and loving towards me. He's not ruminating about my misplaced seeking, frustrated by my constant jumble of emotions, or worried about my ability to love him fiercely.

So, church, I missed you -complications and all. I'm thankful for you -and our complex, yet understanding relationship. And I'm tentative because of all the feelings, the convictions, the honest to goodness-ness of church. But, mostly, thank you for welcoming me back without questions or pointed fingers or staring eyes.

And God, I love you -dearly and desperately. I'm thankful for you -and your constant pursuit, yet space-opening grace. And I'm messy because of my fleshy flesh and my stubborn heart and my do-it-myself attitude. Thank you for beckoning me back to your people, to your church, to you.
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Next week Milking Stool Ministry will return -that's Friday's regularly scheduled programming-, but after wrapping up John and before starting Romans I decided to take a week off. Sort of, I mean, still talking church and God and faith, obviously. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

you're like a fine wine


There are few words to express my adoration for you and your sweet soul. Few words. But Jane Austen knew just the way:

"One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other." 
|| Emma

On this day, you deserve to know, that in your two baker's dozens of years you have changed the worlds of many. Myself, I am proud to say, the most of all (or so I pretend).

You're arresting in your intelligence.
Honest in your genuineness.
Handsome in your grace.

You've opened up my world. Always casting light on the places where I'm sure pleasure cannot be found. Never leaving a shadow alone or a stone un-turned. Always adventurous and interested.

You're bold in your passions.
Loyal as a lifestyle.
Devoted in your faith.

I don't know how you do life so unwavering -always so kind, so silly, so passionately. Even in those rare moments that I really don't want to like you, you're just one of those deeply likable men.

A rare breed you are sir. An oh-so-rare breed. 

Happy birthday sweet man of mine. 
I'm thankful for the opportunity to celebrate you every chance you'll let me.
You're like a fine wine, better now than you were at twenty.

Monday, September 1, 2014

birthdays, anniversary, and adventures.

August proved to us that we're so fanc-ee (said like Iggy). 

Actually, we're not. But we did get free tickets to a gala benefiting the San Diego Humane Society and Animal Shelter that was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience (unless I invent the next Spanx). There were more dogs than I knew what to do with because I was dying to pet every single one, especially the ones in costume.

Now, to the important stuff, I was more engaged this month. Or so I believe. Jason and I have started back at church -that's a post in itself- but opted to attend a later service to make Sundays more relaxing for us. We go running or walking together and end at Starbucks for a coffee on our way home. He usually wants to explore the surrounding neighborhoods rather than take an immediate beeline to the house and, well, I'm truly enjoying that time with him.

We're working on being more honest in our expectations and desires. Like, when he gets home from work I love to chat about our days or when I want to go shopping online (shoes, shoes, shoes) I check in with him first. Marriage is a humbling process for me, but a humbling I'd trade in for nothing else in the world.

September holds Jason's birthday and our third anniversary as well as some weekends away in the name of celebratory spirit. This. Thrills. Me. But it also makes me realize our routine will be off and, well, I'm looking forward to relaxing things a bit. That said,
adventure is the focus of September. 

But adventure in a very specific way: I will order unfamiliar dishes at every restaurant I try. I will attempt a new recipe once a week. I will break out of the monotony of the same five recipes (I fall into a rut in the kitchen sometimes) and the five same out-to-eat meals. I'm hoping this'll expand my palette too!

Any recommendations for favorite Mexican and Italian dishes? -Those are our typical go-to restaurants.

And, in closing, my final check-in for the Summer Reading Challenge 
  • Read any book that is at least 200 pages long. (DONE)   Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (336 pages)          
  • That was written before you were born. (DONE)
    Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (224 pages) 
  • Finish reading a book you couldn't finish the first time around. (DONE)
    Have  a Little Faith by Mitch Albom (272 pages)
  • Read a book from the children’s section of the library or bookstore(DONE)
    The Phantom Toolbooth by Norton Juster (272 pages) -the sole reread.
  • On The NYT's Best Sellers List when you begin reading it. (DONE)
    The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (352 pages) 
  • Read a historical fiction book that does not take place in Europe. (DONE)
    The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (336 pages) 
  • Read a book another blogger has already read for the challenge. (DONE)
    Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (222 pages)
  • With “son(s),” “daughter(s)” or “child(ren)” in the title. (DONE)
    The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards (401 pages) 
  • Read a book that was/will be adapted to film in 2014. (DONE)
    Wild by Cheryl Strayed (315 pages) 
  • Written by a blogger. (DONE)
    When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman (256 pages) 
  • Read a biography, autobiography or memoir. (DONE)
    Bossypants by Tina Fey (272 pages) 
  • Read a pair of books with antonyms in the titles. (30 points)  (DONE)
    Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (282 pages) & If I Stay by Gayle Forman (320 pages)
I started this challenge in May with the hope of getting back into the habit of reading because it's something I love oh-so-much. That happened, plus more. I'm going to miss the challenge of it, the timing and pressure, but I'm also thrilled to be able to tackle a couple books that have been on our shelves that I forgot about because the library had fallen dormant. 

I'm looking forward to winter. Until then, come on over and meet up with me on Goodreads. My list of To Read has gotten short so get on over here and share some goodness with me. 

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