Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Beeline to Life Unstuck

I’m not much of a fan of personality tests.

Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert and my answers to the questions always land me squarely in the melancholy camp. While the other personality types seem to be kinder, gentler and flitting about like social butterflies, my personality type is by herself in a corner, brooding and introspective. 

But I finally found a personality quiz that doesn't typecast those of us who consider every detail of the tasks we plan to accomplish {perfectly}.

Pat Layton author of the new book, Life Unstuck, compares the four personality types to creatures in nature — bumblebees, hummingbirds, ladybugs and butterflies — so I was curious to find out if I was a bug or a bird.

{You can take the quiz here.}

I was quite cheered to find that I was a pondering hummingbird, with a few dashes of the bumblebee mixed in to balance me out. 

And the more I thought about it, I decided I was happy to be a bird instead of a bug. 

I’ve had my share of skirmishes with lizards, frogs, palmetto bugs and even an armadillo. {Who was happy to live under my front steps when I refused to allow him to move in with me, but that's another story.} It comes with the territory of living in Florida.

But I was mystified several years ago when bees started flying around my living room at night.

I’d chase one down while it dive-bombed around me, only to find another one buzzing around the next night. 

After a week of trying to figure out how they were getting into my house and living in fear of these killer bees every night, I called my bug-man {every Florida-girl’s knight in shining armor} to investigate.

When he too was baffled, he suddenly asked if I’d brought anything new into the house. 

Well yes I had, but it certainly wasn’t new. 

On my recent trip to St. Augustine, I'd bought a vintage green shutter that I found out in the garden area of an antique shop and I hung it in my living room. 

My bug-man shook his head at me and showed me a hole in the shutter that was home to a nest of bees. He said they weren't really trying to attack me but just looking for the way back to St. Augustine as they swarmed around my living room.

I couldn't believe that not only had I unwittingly invited dozens of bees to share my living room but I'd obliviously driven home with them for two hours in my car. 

My bug-man evicted them from my shutter but it was a long time before I could walk by it without remembering the sting of that purchase. 

The pages of Life Unstuck are filled with practical pointers to move beyond the areas of our lives that keep us stuck. 

And that includes appreciating our personality quirks and God-given passions. 

Wishing I had a different temperament just keeps me focused on all the changes I think I need to make to become a better version of myself instead of seeing myself as God sees me. 

I put a glaring spotlight on all that I think is wrong with me, but really it's just me, an audience of one, paying attention to that blinding light. 

Only recently have I realized that those thoughts are not aligned with God’s thoughts about me.

So I’m taking a break. I’m setting aside my redesign and renovation project of myself. 

I’ve spent so long {years, actually} striving and constantly evaluating and assessing myself that I’m not sure I know how to just be still and let my soul rest.

I wonder if you’d like to join me in taking a break from the scrutiny and self-appraisal? 

I’m inviting God’s thoughts to infiltrate my mind. In whatever way he’d like to reveal himself to me. 

Maybe instead of trying so hard to change what I don’t like about myself, I should instead change the way I think. About God, about myself and about others.

Maybe God’s not so interested in teaching me a lesson in the circumstances of my life. Maybe he just wants to be with me.

I'm replacing the words of instruction and evaluation buzzing around my head with his words that I am his delight.

The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. - Ps. 147:11

I’ve been asking him what he thinks about me. And I’m surprised at what my heart is hearing.

Maybe I’m not the kind of melancholy I always thought I was. 

Maybe instead I am like a rare and remarkable hummingbird. Filled with purpose, fluttering precisely and dependably from one place to the next, noticing the details around me, steady and organized. Along with a few passionate splashes of the bumblebee tossed in for good measure.

That actually sounds a lot like me. And surprisingly, it sounds like someone I'd like to appreciate more. 

But just in case you're wondering, I won't be making a beeline to anything that I find outside and want to bring inside my home.

Even if I think it's the bee's knees.

“And it’s here at this joining of God-given passion and God-given personality where your destiny, your calling, can be discovered and embraced.” - Pat Layton

I’m part of Revell publisher’s blogger review tour for Life Unstuck, by Pat Layton. I received a complimentary copy of the book, but my opinions are completely my own.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there for more encouraging posts from my blogger friends!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Truth That's Stranger Than Fiction

I bought a fiction book last week. 

I know that might not sound like a particularly earth-shattering event to you, but it was kind of a landmark moment for me. Because I haven't read a fiction book for a couple of decades.

I loved to read fiction. For years it was my favorite genre. I'd leave the library with my arms full, juggling a stack of beautiful stories that ignited my imagination. 

But I stopped reading fiction. 

Too many years ago to even remember, I listened to a boyfriend tell me he thought I lived in a fantasy world because all I read was fiction. I suppose he had a point, because without ever packing my suitcase or leaving home, fiction took me on all sorts of adventures. 

As a young girl, I felt as if I spent long summers at Green Gables and Avonlea where Anne lived. I solved mysteries with Nancy Drew. I met Marmee and her four little women. And I rode along in a covered wagon out on the prairie with Laura Ingalls and her fiddle-playing Pa. 

But what I loved most about the Little House books was that Laura was a real person. So I thought maybe switching to non-fiction wasn’t such a bad idea and I started to read biographies. 

But a little piece of my heart missed the way a brilliant fiction writer could spin a magnificent tale.

Then I recently read a writer who said she doesn’t understand writers who don’t read fiction because fiction can help us tell our own stories. 

While I was still pondering this, I watched an interview with author Courtney Walsh as she shared her life’s twists and turns as part of Jeanne Oliver’s Becoming series. Her words made me catch my breath as she shared how God brought beauty from her broken dreams. 

When she said her new novel Paper Hearts held pieces of her own story, I knew it was time to lift my fiction embargo. 

And then I realized that I’d just demolished yet another outdated perception of myself that I’d been holding onto all these years. 

It felt as if another little piece of my heart gained freedom.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m really trusting God to write the story of my life.

I dream up the setting and the plot-line and the characters. I plan my life and depict it on story boards, hoping it plays out like a bestselling novel. 

But I’ve found that I can’t make my life read like compelling fiction, no matter how hard I try. 

So I search out the stories of others to help me understand my own story. 

I want to hear stories of faith to inspire me. 

I want to read about those who discovered God's presence in their lives as they waited on him to fulfill their deepest desires, in ways only he can do.

But instead of finding a formula I can follow to have my story arrive at happily-ever-after, I’m realizing that our lives intentionally intersect with the stories of others, and our stories are authored by God. 

Sometimes we read along, watching a life story unfold from the periphery and sometimes we are among the cast of characters.

Sometimes there are those who need to hear our stories but aren’t yet in the place to receive it. 

So we wait, even though we might not be sure why we're waiting. 

We wait for God to move them. And us. 

But this waiting feels too much like an ending.

I wonder if you feel the same way?

Maybe you’re waiting for a chapter of your story to unfold. 

Maybe you’re not even sure what the plot of your life story is because your narrative is dotted with so many minor and unimportant events that don’t move your story forward.

As I pray and wait and knock and seek along with you, I know that truth -- God's truth -- are the only words that will give me the life I so desire.

Those words that become written on my heart and on the pages of my life lift my eyes to see the inexplicable and mysterious ways of God that are so life-changing. 

This truth is stranger than any fiction because God's ways aren't like our ways.

This truth says that my heart will overflow with hope if I’m trusting him to direct my life's course instead of my flimsy attempts to control it. 

This truth says he will keep me in perfect peace when my thoughts are filled with his words instead of the chaos I find myself in when I encounter difficulties. 

This truth says his unfailing love surrounds me and he will bring good purposes to my life from any disheartening circumstance.

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. -Ps. 25:5

When I placed my order for Paper Hearts, Amazon so helpfully suggested another fiction book for my consideration. 

{I think it may have been shocked that I was wandering out of my usual purchasing pattern and it wanted to show me there was a brave new world for me out there.}

It felt scandalous, but I thought why not? I added it to my cart.

So I bought two fiction books in one day when I haven’t read fiction in years. 

And it occurred to me that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart and Bonnie Gray at the Faith Barista. Come join us there!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

In Pursuit of the Perfect Scone

I have been on a quest for years now to find the perfect scone recipe. Every time I stumble across a new recipe, I’m hopeful that this will be the long-awaited best-ever scone to emerge from my kitchen. 

But it never is. It always disappoints in some way. 

Too dense, too tasteless, too quick to become stale. For me, a perfect scone is cake-like, chock-full of fruit or nuts and drizzled with a light glaze over the top. 

It wouldn’t really matter so much except that I like to eat scones every morning for breakfast with my coffee. 

I buy these tiny treats {as the box describes them} from SuperTarget and I don’t think I could ever replicate them.

But it hasn’t stopped me from trying recipe after recipe, hoping to find one I can bake for my breakfast.

This quest even took me to a pastry class at a Manhattan bakery when I traveled to New York two years ago. It promised to help me "find my biscuit hand" and make the perfect scone. 

We made savory scallion and cheddar scones and sweet apple scones, but they were still far from perfect even with an experienced pastry chef guiding my efforts. 

It made me think that it's really the equipment bakeries have with machines that do the mixing for them and big, very hot ovens, that are the secret to good scones.

At the end of the pastry class, we were instructed to pack up what we’d made to take with us while we were invited to gather at the bakery's tables and enjoy the pastry chef’s examples, which were of course, delicious. 

And it made me wonder if they didn’t want us to be disappointed with our imperfect attempts.

In Holley Gerth’s new book, You’re Loved No Matter What, Freeing Your Heart from the Need to Be Perfect, she offers women a long-awaited revelation. 

We don’t need to pursue perfection. In any area of our lives.

I know I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief. {Maybe you are too?}

Holley reveals that trying to achieve perfection actually keeps us from discovering God’s purpose for our lives. 

We figure there must be more we can do, there must be a way we can do it better, and that if we do it all the right way {whatever that way is}, then we’ll feel happy, God will be pleased with us, and we’ll be blessed.  

But it just doesn’t happen that way, and that’s where we start to fall apart. 

And yet that’s exactly where God wants to meet us. 

Holley shows us how our standards of perfection stifle our growth, keeping us from what we want to experience most in our lives -- joy, love, peace and hope. 

She writes that pursuing perfection is really related to things only God can do that were never intended for us to handle -- such as trying to control every aspect of our lives.

For a long time I think I viewed my life more from the sidelines {where it was safe} instead of acting as the main character living out my own story.

I avoided risks, thinking that if I stayed just where I was, I couldn’t possibly do it wrong, be disappointed, or collide with pain. 

Giving up control of my life to God means giving over the outcome — my future days, weeks and years  — to him. 

I discovered my future was more free than I ever thought it could be. And I'm living a story that only God could write.

“It’s in the adventure of faith that we grow closer to him.” - Holley Gerth

So when perfection reminds me not to hope because I'll only be disappointed, I’m going to hope anyway. 

When perfection says I shouldn’t try something because I don't know how to do it right, I’m going to decide to experiment.

When perfection advises me to stay on the sidelines to avoid looking foolish, I'm going anyway {all the way to Italy this summer on a faith & art retreat, even though I'm not an artist}.

I’m not sure that the perfect scone recipe was on Holley’s mind when she wrote about freeing your heart from the need to be perfect, but I just might abandon my quest for pastry perfection. 

I still haven’t baked a scone that I like any better than the scones I buy at SuperTarget. And my grocery store, Publix, has even started making cranberry scones that I'm liking just as much as Target's.

I’ll probably keep trying the occasional scone recipe I come across, just to practice my biscuit hand. 

But I think I'll be satisfied that the store-bought scones are the perfect tiny treat with my morning coffee.

I’m part of Revell publisher’s blogger review tour for You're Loved No Matter What, Freeing Your Heart from the Need to Be Perfect, by Holley Gerth. I received a complimentary copy of the book, but my opinions are completely my own.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place for Coffee for your Heart. Click the image for more inspiring posts!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

How Blogging Has Changed My Life

I never really wanted to write a blog. 

But this month marks three years of writing my blog and I'm not sure I'll ever get over being surprised at how it has changed my life.

A friend {that I met through blogging} recently asked me what aspirations I had for my blog and I had to admit that I’ve never had any goals for it. Writing a blog kind of happened unexpectedly. 

With a degree in journalism, I'm a writer of corporate communications  -- speeches and electronic bulletin boards and content for my company's intranet -- not personal stories. I was a reader of blogs but I had no desire to write my own. I wasn’t much of a user of social media. I had a Facebook page but I deactivated it for a year because I cringed when I posted anything about myself.

Then I found myself wanting to write a guest post for the website incourage but I noticed that the guests all had blogs. I told a friend what I wanted to do and did she think I should just give up the idea since I didn’t have a blog? 

While I sort of hoped she would tell me to forget the whole thing, she instead said, “Let’s create a blog for you. You could write about all the stuff in your house.” 

{She was right. I guess I did have a lot of stuff I could write about.}

She opened a template and told me to think up a name for my blog. Before I knew it, I was hitting the publish button on my first post.

And I didn't quite know what to do after that. So I bought a camera.

I took some photos and wrote about my family traditions and thought that even if no one was reading, I could keep the posts for my niece and nephew to help them know our family's history.

Six weeks after starting my blog, I sent off my guest post to incourage and to my amazement it was accepted.

Now three years later, I think that writing a blog is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But it's also changed me in ways I never expected.

It has inspired me to think more deeply, motivated me to do things I never thought I could do, and stirred in my heart a desire to know God better than I ever have.

And that’s why I keep writing my blog.

Blogging has taken the neat little corners of my life, which were pretty close and contained, and flung them out and stretched them wide.

Instead of drawing me inward to the world online, blogging has expanded my perspective of God, broadened my corner of the world, and connected me with others I'm not sure I would have met any other way.

It’s lifted my eyes upward. 

Writing about my life has prompted me to take steps of faith. I used to think my life was just fine the way it was, but I realized I was living a life that was too small. 

Motivated by finding content for my blog, I took a six-week culinary course. I traveled to New York City and took a pastry class in a bakery in Manhattan. 

Determined to overcome a bunch of little fears that had accumulated over time, I crossed the ocean for the first time and traveled to Paris. 

Ignoring the little voice that constantly told me I didn’t really know what I was doing, I jumped in to co-lead a small group for incourage on Facebook, joined a group of writers helping an author launch a new book, and become a part of the blogger review team for Revell publishers. 

And this summer, to connect with other writers and artists and take leaps outside my comfort zone, I’m traveling to Italy for a faith and art retreat in Lake Como. 

I wouldn’t have even known this trip existed if it weren’t for the connections I've made with my fellow bloggers.

It’s taken my soul deeper. 

Writing my blog is more of an artful and personal partnership with God. 

When I think I have no words to write, I contemplate his words. These words reveal and renew, while he rearranges my life, stirs up desires long buried, and holds out his hand saying, there’s more here for you.

As much as I’d like to know what’s ahead so I could plan for it, I know God often reveals the next step only when I move forward in faith. 

Trusting that he is working in my circumstances even when I can’t see it makes me aware of him in my life. 

It’s fixed my focus outward. 

A few weeks ago, I followed the trip of several bloggers traveling to the Dominican Republic with Compassion International. Last year I followed their trip to the Philippines and thought about sponsoring a child, but I never did. 

This year, as I read the stories by the bloggers, I scrolled through the photos of children waiting. Waiting for hope and a chance to dream and a place where they can get to know God.

So I decided to sponsor a girl the same age as my niece. 

Akshika is eight and lives in Sri Lanka. Her name means the one with beautiful eyes. She’d been waiting almost a year for a sponsor. 

But actually, I think I’ve been waiting a year for her.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart and with Bonnie Gray at the Faith Barista. Click the images for posts from my blogging friends.