Current Reads

I am reading three different books, all very dissimilar from each other. I tend to peruse more than one book at a time, each serving a different purpose. I follow an online book club, but am woefully behind on my pages because of this habit. All in due time, I suppose!

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The first is the much-acclaimed, frightening, and engaging The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. It’s currently a new Hulu series and is receiving a lot of buzz. The story is told from the perspective of Offred, a Handmaid in the dystopian Republic of Gilead. In the novel, the Constitution is illegal, women are stripped of all independence and freedom, and a severe caste system is enforced.

Offred, like many other women in the Republic, is valued only for her ovaries. She is shuttled from one house to the next, with the sole purpose of giving birth to children that will never be hers. She is a vessel that can be used, replaced, and discarded. Her own husband and child were ripped from her, and she is utterly without hope (at least where my bookmark is nestled).

The novel tackles religious abuse, separation of church and state, women’s rights, and other political and societal issues. The book is brutal and often painful to read, so it may not suit everyone. It is eerily timely, even though it was written over thirty years ago.

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The second book is a morning devotional,  Jesus Calling: Experience Hope Through His Presence, by Sarah Young. Its daily readings are short, which is perfect for time-crunched mornings. The readings are written like letters from God to His individual children, which I love. Apart from Streams in the Desert, I have struggled to find a morning devotional that suited me. This one is filled with encouragement and insight, and has helped me turn to God during a very hopeless season in my life.

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The third and final book is actually a twelve-week course entitled The Complete Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practise, by Julia Cameron. As I have previously mentioned, I have been going through a very dry, hopeless, and (seemingly) fruitless season. This course is reviving my spirit and enabling me to view creativity in ways I never have before. It is giving me courage to simply make things because I enjoy it, to pursue a creative life because I want my life to be as vibrant, adventurous, and creative as possible. I highly recommend this course, and if any of you would like to join me, I would love to have you!

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” -Dr. Seuss

 

Travel Diary: York to Bath

I shuffled back and forth along the sidewalk near the bus station, my hands shaking and my thoughts whirring. I didn’t have enough money for a ticket. I thought I’d be fine, I really did. I budgeted this trip, my very first time abroad, but it wasn’t enough. I’d mistakenly assumed that when I booked the B&B months earlier that they would charge the stay to my account. After breakfast on my last morning, however, they informed me in broken English that I still owed for my room. Shit, I hissed to myself. My face burned and my heartbeat shot up to my ears. Paying the hosts would deplete my account. I still had over a week left, and I was all alone.

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I went to the York Minster every day while in the city, as it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Photos do not capture how arresting, detailed, and gorgeous this holy place is.

 

Despite it being around 3 am back in the States, I called my mother, frantic and guilty. My voice broke and tears streaked my sunburned cheeks. I felt like a failure. Her genuine concern for my well being was a solace for the embarrassment I felt, but salt to the wound of pride. Stuck in a quaint English town with no money made me desperate enough to ask for money.

I had just enough money to purchase a bus ticket after counting up stray coins and notes in my bag, but nothing beyond. I was due in Bath by nightfall, and the bus ride was estimated to be at least eight hours. When I arrived at the tourist center to purchase the ticket, I came up about five pounds short. I felt tears, unbidden, welling up in my tired eyes. The woman across from me was only a few years older than I, with chestnut hair, immaculate makeup, and a posh accent, I was humiliated to be seen at such a low moment in front of someone like her. I shamefully explained my situation, and she turned from me to rifle through her own purse to supplement the cost of the ticket. I could barely breathe out a word of thanks due to shame, but mostly from an overwhelming sense relief and thankfulness.

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Inside the York Minster, where I was content to walk quietly each day.

 

By the time I was on the somewhat dingy bus headed for Bath, the money from my mother was safely tucked into my account. I felt provided for, and suddenly exceedingly tired. Relief from high anxiety gives way to lethargy for most people, and I was not excluded from the phenomenon. I woke from fitful sleep to the feeling of dampness. I adjusted myself due to a dull pain in my abdomen, only to discover that I had bled through my clothes. Thankfully, I was clothed in black skinny jeans that wouldn’t betray my leakage. After the miserable day I had, of course I would begin my period on a dirty, nonstop bus.

The bus arrived in Bath at 2 AM, and as I hoisted my large backpack over my shoulder, I realised that I was the only person on the dimly lit street. I kept an alert eye, scanning the sidewalk as I paced back and forth, waiting for my taxi. I was dirty, bloody, exhausted, and starved. 

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Bath, England

 

After folding myself into the back of the cab, I gave the driver the address to my Airbnb host home. We both struggled to understand each other’s accents, but eventually we sorted out where to go. I couldn’t believe how steep the hills were; it felt like San Francisco, but on a much smaller scale. The driver stopped in front of a quaint old home with a wild garden partly obscuring its windows and door. It didn’t look like the picture, so I warily checked the lock. The hostess said she’d leave it unlocked for me, knowing I’d be coming late. I nodded to the driver, and he left me.

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The Airbnb host’s front door was besotted with succulents and greenery. She was an artist who lived with several cats, and always had bits of paint on her hands.

 

To be honest, I wasn’t even sure it was the correct house until I entered the guest room upstairs. Folded blankets, towels, and a note indicated I was in the right place. I tiptoed to the bathroom to shower, careful to not make too much noise. After toweling off, I stuffed toilet paper between my legs to create a makeshift pad. I laid myself on the bed, which was really just an IKEA mattress tucked into an alcove. Though uncomfortable, I quickly fell into dreamless sleep, feeling safe and provided for, and stretched beyond what I ever thought I could endure.

 

 

 

Old Poem 

I wrote this poem years ago, but its words still touch my heart. I have only ever shared it with a limited audience, for fear of it being silly or clumsy or misunderstood. In my pursuit of living a more creative life now, however, I am choosing to share my creative efforts with no thought of the reception it may or may not receive.

So without further ado, here is the old poem I found buried in the heap of my creative past.

I remember as a child sitting in the backseat with a story being read to me, about a girl all alone in the jungle who was afraid.

Just like me.

Well, not exactly–I mean I grew up in suburbia and for a while backwoods country.

But God, it seemed like life was like that scary jungle scene; where every corner, every branch held uncertainty, like something was going to happen, like something was going to hurt me.

But the girl in that story said something that stuck out to me, repeating ever so softly,
“God is with me, always with me. I am safe, always safe.”

And it was in the backseat of that car on that warm summer’s night, driving from Seattle on that stretch of 405, that I came to a conclusion in my childish mind, that if I just spoke those trusting words, everything would be just fine.

Though over time, I found these words to be only half-right.

God is with me, He’s always with me. but I am not always so safe.

Does this mean He loves me less?
Does this mean He’s forgotten me?

Somehow we’ve come to believe that following that still small voice gives us some sort of invincibility, a special  protection, that if it’s His will, things will work out perfectly.

But if that’s the case, why hasn’t that come through for me?

If that’s how God works, then why are my brothers and sisters suffering for advancing a kingdom He’s building?

Yet when I flip through the pages of that old book that still breathes life, I see God has never been too concerned with us leading safe, comfortable, predictable lives.

But I still don’t pretend to understand why You allow certain things to happen, and I can’t help but ask so many questions.

There’s really no resolve here, but to keep trusting in You;  for perhaps the body You do not always keep so safe, but as for my soul You always do. And I can rest knowing that no matter the circumstance, You bring about Your redemptive plan.

You promise to wipe every tear from our eyes?

Okay then, I’ll let them fall freely so I have nothing to hide, for I know one day all wrongs will be made right, and we will finally see the “whys” behind this life.

But maybe by then we won’t need the answers, as to why our loved ones died of cancer, or why our sons and daughters are bought and sold like they don’t matter.

All I can say for now, is that I’ll keep listening for Your voice to break through my clouds.

Current Obsessions

I have a somewhat obsessive personality. I latch on to ideas, colours, songs, a particular line from a book or poem, etc. I draw inspiration from these little obsessions, and I love to share them.

It’s been nearly a year since I have blogged or written anything substantial, and as a result, I have been feeling rather dull. The truth is, I want to live a more creative life. I want to write more, travel more, share more. I am a very introverted, private person, and as a recovering perfectionist,  I forgo creating out of fear that my work isn’t important, that my voice is not needed. However, I have been re-reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic (a book on creative living), and it has emboldened me to start writing again. For better or for worse, I am most alive and happy when I am creating something.

So without further ado, here’s a list of my current obsessions:

  1. This shade of pink has me absolutely smitten.

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2. “Banana buns” are currently trending in Paris, and as an out and proud Francophile, I am obsessed. Messy, undone hair is just so much sexier.

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3. I have always been a bath-lover, but this terribly cold, dark winter has caused me to appreciate them even more. A Lush bath bomb and a cup of tea make bath time even more sacred.

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4. This affirmation is my mantra for 2017. As I am searching for meaning and direction in my post-grad existence, I am holding onto these words.

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5.While I am not a very materialistic person, I do love shoes. I especially like the kind I can explore city streets and random villages in. I pre-ordered these throwback kicks in preparing for my summer adventures.

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6. I have listened to this audio version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s so many times that I could recite a faithful account by heart. Capote’s writing style captivates me; I love retreating into the little world of Holly Golightly and her nameless cat. Michael C. Hall narrates it, and his accents bring the story to life.

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7. I have been an avid coffee drinker for years, but in the past month or so, my taste for it has been waning. Instead of my usual Americano, I have been enjoying a cup (or two or three) of PG Tips each morning.

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So there you have it–a hodgepodge list of my current obsessions/inspirations. What inspires you? What do you do to live a more creative life?

Travel Diary: From the States to Dublin

I arrived in Dublin shortly after six a.m. I was so disoriented and overwhelmed after my flight that I shuffled to the bathroom before going through customs. I waited in a long line with my passport ready, with a customs officer who was less than thrilled with his task. He told me I needed to sign my passport, and asked my reason for being in the country. “Holiday”, I replied cheerily.

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I then walked down towards the bus and taxi service. I knew the bus would be significantly cheaper, but as I was so exhausted and uncertain, I chose a taxi instead. It felt positively luxurious having a cab all to myself, after two days of zero privacy and limited space. The cabbie didn’t make conversation, but I was glad. All I wanted was to check in to the hostel and collapse into bed. He pulled up to a bright blue door where a man on a ladder was adding a second coat of paint. I gave the cabbie a crisp one-hundred pound bill. “We don’t see these every day,” he commented.  As he handed me my backpack, he warned me to be careful. He seemed concerned that I was on my own, and didn’t want me walking around at night. I smiled at his concern as I walked through the bright blue door into the hostel office.

A slight man with a thick accent informed me that I couldn’t check in until three p.m., but offered to stow my bag and allow me to hang around until then. I was hesitant to leave my bag, so I walked down to a cute little coffee shop. I ordered an iced quad shot Americano, which resulted in a furrowed-brow from the barista. “We don’t have iced drinks,” she replied. She offered me hot americano instead, along with an almond croissant. After sitting a bit in a sun-spot, perusing my phone, I decided on a refill, since I needed to stay awake. We chatted about coffee for a bit before I sat back down, next to an elderly gentleman with a newspaper.

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I drained my cup and ventured out on the street. I decided to turn right, past the hostel, and up the street. I passed a series of colourful doors, which were made especially delightful because they were attached to grey stone buildings. I came upon the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral, and decided to venture inside. I purchased a ticket that allowed entrance into the cathedral as well as the museum across from it. Up until this point, I had never been inside a cathedral. I was overwhelmed by the detailed beauty, even in my blurry-eyed state. The priest invited me to attend morning prayer, so after exploring the crypt, I sat alongside two Russian women. The priest led us through prayers, and then shared some history of the church, with trademark Irish humour.

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The museum across from the church was called Dublinia, and focused mainly on the medieval and Viking history of Ireland. The doorman offered to keep my backpack, but I was still hesitant. My back ached, but I didn’t want to trust anyone. Halfway through the first floor, I was so miserable that I returned to the front and asked if I could stow my pack. The man led me around to a Viking boat replica, and hid the bag there. “It should be safe there.” I still can’t get over the humour of hiding my backpack in a replica of a Viking boat. I continued through the museum, light as a feather, but very tired.

By the three p.m. check-in, I was overwhelmingly exhausted. My private room was three floors up a spiral staircase, so I dragged my backpack behind me, too sore and tired to actually carry it properly. After two days of zero privacy, closing the door to my own room felt like entrance into heaven. The room was plain, but very clean and comfortable. As I was in desperate need of a shower, I ventured down the hall to the washrooms. I was shocked by how cramped the space was, smaller than my closet back home. I fiddled with the shower, attempting to turn on its flow, to no avail. I stood wrapped in a towel, swearing at the shower head, until I realised it must be broken. I hauled my things to the next shower, nearly giddy when the water jutted out full and hot.

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I am a fairly small person, but in that tiny shower, I struggled. I had to hike my leg up and prop it against the wall in order to shave, and kept bumping the door open. I made wet footprints on the old wooden floor as I whisked my clean self back to the room. Since I was far too exhausted to find anything to eat, I went to bed hungry. I slept like the dead until late the next morning.

 

Bad Believer

I’ve struggled in my Christian faith. I’ve doubted, backslid, crawled forward, and failed. Growing up, I would recite the sinner’s prayer every day, just to “make sure” I was really saved. While away at college (a Bible college, mind you) I nearly walked away from the faith completely. But by God’s grace, I shakily remain His.

When I am alone with God, I feel secure in my relationship with Him. Being around His other kids is what trips me up. I compare myself to other Christians, deciding that God must like them better because they seem happier, more faithful, or better than me. I am in therapy and swear like a sailor when I am angry. I laugh at double-entendres, vote Democrat, and am a proud feminist. I am not an ideal Proverbs 31 Woman.

But Jesus loves me, this I know.

He knows my heart. He sees my efforts to change, and He knows I try to follow Him each day, in every area of my life. He didn’t make me His to be like other Christians. I follow Jesus, not religiosity! Though I may feel like I am on shaky ground in my faith, the truth is, I can’t lose Him. And He can’t lose me. His word confirms and promises this:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8: 35-39

What can separate me from the love of Christ? N O T H I N G.

Shame may tell me that I am not good enough, and that’s true. But that was never the point. I am being saved as much as I am saved, and it’s a life-long process. God is far more patient than I am with myself, and the only thing that keeps Him distant is me. When I choose shame over grace, I push Him away.

I’ve always related to the disciple Thomas–infamously known as Doubting Thomas. Growing up in church, Thomas was often made an example of how we shouldn’t be as believers. But he always gave me hope, because even though he was one of Jesus’ most intimate friends, he still struggled with doubt. He could have allowed shame and doubt to destroy his faith, but he didn’t. Instead he cried, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” And as Flannery O’Connor once wrote, that is “…the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.”

I used to be afraid of my doubts, but I’m not anymore. Doubting has caused me to explore the faith, to make it truly my own. A fear of doubt shows a lack of faith that God can withstand questions and apparent contradictions. Some people are so afraid to acknowledge their doubts because they are afraid of what they may discover. I think we’re all afraid of being bad believers, but the truth is, He doesn’t see it that way.

If prostitutes, murders, thieves, doubters, and the ordinary can be celebrated in the family of God, that gives us all hope! Doubt doesn’t exile us from God, nor do our sins. We can boldly and confidently approach Him as we are, because forgiveness and acceptance is assured.

So whether you’re rough around the edges, or plagued with doubt, you are still His. There’s such a comfort for us in the consistency and faithfulness of God. We don’t need to waste time comparing ourselves to each other, or being afraid of what our doubts reveal about us.

Let’s all give each other freedom to pursue Him as we are, and leave all the judgment to Him.