Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chasing Followers

My friend Bree and I are neck-and-neck in our pursuit of Twitter followers. 

We were hovering in the mid-400s until she walked into our cubicles last Monday and announced, "Well over the weekend, I hit 500 followers!"

I told her how great that was, but suddenly I felt a little competitive. 

We have very different Twitter objectives since she uses hers for business to tweet communication topics and I tweet mainly about my blog along with a few recipes or travel topics.

I didn't really care how many Twitter followers I had until I heard she'd crested the mid-century mark. When she turned to her computer, I wheeled my chair back into my cube and picked up my phone.

I scrolled through my feed and quickly retweeted a food recipe.

I checked my recent followers. Had I already followed them back? 

I searched "travel writers" and found a slew of USA Today writers to follow in hopes that they'd return the favor. {One did.}

I resolutely decided to tweet every day. {I haven't.}

I wasn't sure why getting more followers on Twitter was important to me since I think it's more of a numbers game and less about people who are really interested in reading what I'm writing. 

But I thought maybe chasing Twitter followers could be my new sport? It sure takes enough of my time so at the very least, maybe I could call it a hobby?

I started to wonder about all the time I spend chasing the next best thing. Baking a new scone recipe I discovered, trying the latest wrinkle cream to look a little younger, ordering the newest fashion fad to look hip.

{Maybe you can relate?} 

Shouldn't I spend just as much effort chasing the things of God? 

But then I realized, it's really the opposite of what I think I'm doing. 

It's God who's chasing me.

By slowly offering a new perspective to an old perplexity, God said, Experience me with fresh eyes.

By presenting a different angle to view my same, stale circumstances, God asked, Could you consider it as an opportunity not a chore? As a privilege not a task?

By inviting me into his presence to pray, God whispered, You think you're my follower, but I'm pursuing you. 

In the book The Chase, {written for a youthful audience} twenty-somethings Kyle and Kelsey Kupecky tell the story of their courtship and marriage, offering God the details of their future while trusting him with their happily ever after. 

Kyle, a Christian recording artist, and Kelsey, the daughter of Christian bestselling author and greeting card designer, Karen Kingsbury, take turns sharing their perspectives, along with some dating guidance and practical insight.

Sprinkled throughout the pages are charming illustrations and inspirational words {reminiscent of Karen’s greeting cards} that God really does care about our dreams and desires, and the ultimate chase in our lives should be our passion for God and knowing him better.

They write to encourage young couples to invite God into their lives, acknowledge his direction in life's circumstances and to wait with faith for God's purpose and plan for the future.

It's taken me years to fully realize that there's really only one love that can ever cut to the chase and fulfill everything our souls crave. 

In ways that whisper so uniquely to our hearts, God pursues and woos us unto himself and invites us to really know him.

This is the happily-after-ever, never-ending relationship, much richer than a romance. It’s a holy harmony, more fulfilling than a fleeting feeling. More deeply intimate than a short-lived infatuation.

God may be chasing me, but he’s already captured my heart.

And oh, just in case you'd like to follow me on Twitter {to give my numbers a little boost}, just click the image below. 

I'm still trying to hit 500 followers. 

But I don't think I'll ever catch Bree.

I'm part of Revell publisher's blogger review tour for The Chase by Kyle and Kelsey Kupecky. I received a complimentary copy of the book, but the opinions are completely my own.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Such Good and Perfect Gifts

Before I even opened the brown paper bag with the charming name of Vinegar Hill scrolled across the bottom, I knew the gift inside would be perfect. 

My friend Gail has exquisite taste, somehow always choosing something beautiful and befitting. I’m not sure if it’s because she lives near trendy and fashionable London or if the British are naturally experts in the elegant art of gifting.

Gail is my oldest friend — we’ve been friends for more than three decades now — but this summer in Italy was just the fourth time we’ve seen each other. Before texting, before Facebook, before FaceTime, Gail and I were pen-pals. 

{Or pen-friends, as she charmingly calls us.}

On the cusp of teen-hood, Gail wrote to me from the bucolic countryside of Cheltenham, sending magazine clippings of Princess Diana along with her letters. 

I wrote to her from the steel-dusted hills of Pittsburgh on pretty pages of stationery filled with my girlish chit-chat. 

We first met in-person in our early 20s when Gail finished nursing school and swung by America on a year-long trip around the world. Ten years later Gail visited me again in Florida, then met me in Paris three years ago {you can read about it here}. 

This summer we broke our pattern of seeing each other every ten years when Gail jetted over to Milan and Lake Como to spend a few days while I was there on my art and faith retreat. 

Sweating through Italy’s hottest summer {ever?} in our hotel without air conditioning, our conversation was still filled with our hopes and dreams as we wondered how we could turn traveling into a job. 

{I couldn’t manage to convince her that her idea of leading literary tours around Shakespeare’s old haunts was brilliant.} 

As we parted ways this summer and Gail handed me the gift bag, I just knew something delightful was sure to be inside. 

Gifts from those that know us well are like that -- an invitation to adore, to love, to delight in something they chose for us.

And who knows us better than God does? 

He knows what delights our hearts, what whets our appetites and kindles our passions. All the things he fills our lives with are meant for our good, and he promises to work even the hard things into good for us.

I’m not sure I look at the hard things in my life as gifts exactly. 

Isn’t naming them a difficulty or challenge the best I can do to beautify what seems ugly to me?

When disruption and discomfort and distress spill out of the circumstances of my life, leaving me with only torn up paper and crushed ribbons to tidy up, I think maybe the gift lies in the invitation to tell it all to God in front of my pink velvet prayer bench.

Do I trust that God knows better than I do what is good for my life? 

Do I believe that the only one who can see the overarching span of the decades of my life is good to me? 

Waiting, disappointment and redirection don’t seem at all like gifts I would want. I regard them with dread or disdain, for really, I think, how could anyone want them?

But when I accept the invitation to bring all that’s in my life to God in a conversation of prayer, refusing to think that my words are just being absorbed in the folds of fabric adorning my bedroom windows, I’ve found the truth that those unwanted gifts have unfolded a new perspective of God himself.

Waiting is no longer wasted time when I catch a godly glimpse of what is not yet here, but ahead in the distance. 

Disappointed expectations stop being the evidence to give up on what my earthly eyes can see, but instead energize me to pray to see God’s sacred vision for my life more clearly. 

Disruption in my plans becomes the magnetic pull for the transformation I deeply want when I pray, God, change me.

Through your wait, in your disappointed expectations, around the disruptions in your life, can you still see the hints of God’s promises in the distance of your future?
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see. - Heb. 11:1

Leave it to Gail to give me the perfect gift of a book inside that Vinegar Hill bag that combines two of my loves — baking and literature. 

The book’s cover boasts that it is the ultimate treat for book and cake lovers.

There are 72 of these novel recipes, such as Wuthering Bites, The Adventures of Huckleberry Flan, The Red Velveteen Rabbit Red Velvet Layer Cake, War & A Piece of Cheesecake, and of course, my favorite, The Grapefruit Gatsby.

I'm not sure what to do first --get baking or curl up with a good book? 

Either way, I think a delicious read awaits.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Click the image to read more posts from my blogger friends!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Change: You're Welcome Here

I've always thought of myself as a girl who meets change with an unwelcome sign. Or if it happens to catch me on a good day, I might hand it a friendly little note that says: No thanks, I think I'm good here.

I lived in the same house in the same city until I left for college. Growing up, my dad always talked about moving our family to Arizona or Florida where he dreamed of enjoying warmer weather, but this looming change I dreaded most never occurred. 

Every winter when the moving talk escalated, my biggest fear wasn’t leaving my school or friends behind, it was wondering how in the world I could root for the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins if I didn’t live in Pittsburgh?

But while I was attending college in South Carolina, my parents finally moved. Not south as I’d expected them to, but to a small rural town in upstate New York to open a bed and breakfast inn. 

Leaving the suburbs of a big city behind, my parents now lived in a Victorian house in the middle of a sleepy rural hamlet with the closest shopping mall 45 minutes down the interstate. {A distinct disadvantage for this college-shopper-girl.}

My mother convinced me it was a charmingly quaint town that I might grow to like, so after college I joined them there. 

I spent a summer cleaning up after guests at the inn and walking to the town's deserted tennis courts to hit balls with my sister, the only person around who was remotely my age. 

When I got a job working in the advertising department of a newspaper in the next county, I hated it. 

But really what I hated were all the changes. Adjusting to adult life with a real job, trying to pinch pennies out of my tiny paycheck, and missing my old friends left me adrift. Months later I was overjoyed when my parents realized the business was not as successful as they'd hoped and they decided to head to Florida. 

All I could think as they packed up was, you don't think you’re leaving me here with all this snow while you hit the beach, do you?

I quit my job and moved too.

In Kristen Strong’s book, Girl Meets Change, she shares her story of growing up in Oklahoma with few changes invading her life as she was surrounded by family and friends. But a new chapter began when she got married and had to meet change head-on with her life uprooted every few years by her husband’s military career. 

Whether a change is wanted or forced on us, Kristen writes that we have to hold on to the promise of God’s presence since those very changes are often the stepping-stones to what God has next for us and where he wants to take us. 

And we can't get there unless we're willing to weather the change. Or at least take down the unwelcome sign.

Kristen weaves stories from scripture — particularly the twists and turns of Joseph’s life who beautifully trusted God through the difficult circumstances of slavery, prison and being named second in command to the king — along with stories of her own friends, who met their personal changes with courage and grace. 

Some of the most encouraging words Kristen conveys are that God uses the good and difficult changes we encounter in our lives to write our stories for the better, if we let ourselves see him in the change. 

And those changes could be our faith-filled possibilities.

Is there a change, welcome or not, that's come shaking up your life? Don't let the fear, uncertainty and risk overwhelm your heart. With shaking knees, consider moving toward it, one small step at a time. 

What if you catch a glimpse of what God has for you through that crack in the door that might soon open to the land of promise that's ahead?

Since that first move from Pittsburgh, I've packed up my stuff nearly ten times now and discovered that I rather like moving. I like the chance to purge as I pack and I enjoy seeing how I can make a new space feel like home.

When I’m in the same place for more than a few years, I start to feel restless and dream about a change of address. 

For a girl who didn't like change all that much, I now roll out the welcome mat with a friendly little note that says, It's nice to see you for a change.

A little note on the photos: #1 & 3: Hotel Florence, Italy; #2 St. Augustine: #6: Bellagio, Italy; #7 Duomo in Milan.

I'm part of Revell publisher's blogger review tour for Girl Meets Change by Kristen Strong. I received a complimentary copy of the book, but the opinions are completely my own.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

All Things Renewed

I’d always wondered if spending an evening on the canals of Italy would be as picturesque as it looked. Since riding in a gondola in Venice sitting beside a romantic date wasn't possible on this trip, walking through the Navigli canals on a food and wine tour in Milan seemed the next best thing.

I didn’t think Milan was located near any water so I asked a friend of mine who lived there for years what she thought of the canals. She didn’t recall them and asked me if they were newly built.

When I told her I thought they were constructed around the twelfth century, she didn't know how she could have missed them. 

But apparently these centuries-old waterways were easy to overlook.

It seems the canals were abandoned and eventually covered over by the 1930s, and only in the past few years have they been revitalized into a trendy nightspot. 

Tour books I read said that although eateries and art boutiques have sprung up, the area is still a bit edgy in places so I was glad I'd be part of a group.

We were gathered at the city’s oldest canal when our leader arrived.

He was a part-time tour guide, part-time flight attendant and former model. 

When he mentioned eating pasta at his mother’s house and joked about his age, which just happened to be exactly the age I am, I made my way to the head of the pack to investigate his background a little further. 

I moved my walking speed up a notch to keep pace with him, laughing at his jokes, and nodding attentively as he told us his tour-guide tales. I noticed that he rolled his eyes when almost everybody opted for the same wine to sample — a safe kind that sounded familiar to them. 

So when it was my turn, I chose a local wine and caught his eye. I preened when he winked at me and applauded my choice.

I found it a little hard to concentrate on what he was saying about the history of the canals because I was trying to think up my next clever comeback as I chatted with him in between tour-stops. 

He talked about Leonardo devising engineering plans for the canals in the 1400s, and pointed out where the local women washed their clothes until the canals were drained and covered up. 

These canals of Milan were quite the picture for the word I'd chosen for the year, way back in January when I hadn’t even the slightest inclination of traveling to Italy this summer.

My word for this year was renew. {You can read my post about it here.} 

These canals were once-vibrant, once-lovely, then lost and forgotten.  
But not everything that looks dead is. Not everything that is abandoned stays lost. Not everything that looks finished is over. 
I think this might be true for cities and relationships, friendships and families, dreams and hopes, too.

Might there be something in your life that needs uncovered and brought back to life? 

Maybe it’s not too late for an infusion of inspiration to breathe life into it.

At our last stop, our tour-guide-flight-attendant-model offered to walk us back to the Milan train station. I grabbed my bag and sprinted to his side as he asked where I was headed. 

When I told him I was boarding a bus for the curvy road to Lake Como the next morning, he said he’d be riding his motorcycle to Lake Como the next day too, to lead an all-day tour. 

He scoffed at my uneasiness about the winding road and said I'd be fine. So we said arrivederci at the train station. 

I think my evening spent sampling wine and olives, meat and cheese as I walked through the revived streets and over bridges of the canals in Milan might have been more fun than floating under those bridges in a gondola. 

Unless of course, someday I happen to be riding in a gondola beside a romantic date. 

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Click the image if you'd like to read more encouraging posts.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Life's Secret Ingredient

The container of mascarpone cheese unexpectedly captured my attention in the grocery store and got me thinking about baking some scones.

During my cooking class in Italy this summer, we whipped up the filling for tiramisu with mascarpone cheese and it tasted so good I wondered what mascarpone cheese would be like in a scone — or maybe even on a scone.

I haven’t done much baking lately since I’m waiting for some sort of divine inspiration to assemble my bulging file of recipes into the new notebook I bought in Atlanta last year.

And since I can't organize all my scone recipes, I certainly can't bake any scones, can I? 

But I've missed whipping something up in my kitchen, so last weekend despite the fact that my recipes are still a mess, I became inspired to bake again.

When I spied a lemon and a container of raspberries in my refrigerator, I decided to concoct lemon-raspberry-mascarpone-cheese scones. I looked a recipe up online and subtracted some heavy cream to add my cheese. The photos of the scones looked so promising.

I was quite hopeful this would be my new favorite flavor. 

But the first bite out of the oven left me underwhelmed. 

And hungry for something more. 

Maybe it's more of what God has for me?

Sometimes I feel as if I’m too far down the road of life to have so many questions. The only questions I should have at this stage of my life should be about maximizing my retirement account contributions. 

But until I figure that out, I have to believe I should keep trying different recipes to discover the direction to head for the next chapter of my life.

And prayer just might be the secret ingredient.

Not just the watch-over-me and help-me kind of prayers I've prayed most of my life. 

Prayers that compel me to show up, even when I don’t feel like it. That require a little discipline to persevere and not grow tired when it seems there’s not an answer after a few days. {Or months or years.}

And I’m saying new prayers, too.

I take God’s words already written in scripture and pray them back to him just to reassure my heart that he is working all things for my good, all the time, even when I can’t see exactly what he’s doing.
When God moves like only he can do, he stirs up our lives and changes everything. 
But more than anything, he changes me.

He steadies my insecurities and anchors me.

He holds my disappointments and satisfies me.

He handles my fears and calms me.

He sees my frustrations and encourages me.

He captures my heart and loves me.

{Maybe you would like an infusion of prayer for what’s gotten a little stale in your marriage, your job, your friendships and your relationship with God?}

Start with praying his words -- any words in scripture that talk about his nature, his promises, his love -- back to him. And see if it becomes your secret ingredient.

So the final verdict on my raspberry-lemon-mascarpone scones was that the flavors were quite delicious but the dough was far too dense. 

I packed them up and took them to my coworkers {who will dunk just about anything in their coffee}. 

Next time I’ll try a different dough recipe. 

If I can only find one in my recipe book. 

But I’m on the cusp of a three-day weekend and I’m feeling the spark to organize my dessert recipes. 

Besides, my niece Devon has been asking me if she can bring over her American Girl doll Grace {the doll who travels to Paris and runs a baking business} so we can make a French dessert {for Grace, I presume} in my baking kitchen.

I wonder if I have a recipe for lemon-raspberry-mascarpone macarons? 

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart.