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Sunday, May 22, 2016

May's Fabulous Finds

Hello Friends! Starting a new series here (I've been doing a lot of that lately. Hmm). Since it's almost summertime and the livin' is easy, and because personal revelations don't always happen on a weekly basis (wink, wink), I thought it'd be fun to share some of my favorite things to fan-girl over the past few weeks.

Enjoy these fabulous finds for May!

What I'm Reading (online, authors & otherwise)

I've been gleaning all the wisdom from Jacey Verdicchio's blog. I enjoy listening to her point of view on her weekly podcast, but I especially appreciate her words and her passion for living intentionally. Follow her for her weekend benedictions alone. You won't be sorry!

My small group is wrapping up the final chapters of Rachel Held Evans' Searching for Sunday. It's been a very raw and open read. Rachel, true to form, puts it all out there. I've also been enjoying a work of indie fiction called Now and Again, for those of you looking for a fun, low-pressure read.

& otherwise
A happy dance for the chance to beta read a manuscript from one of my writer friends, Laurie Tomlinson (*my encouragement and writing buddy through the dragging nine-to-five hours, and who I have to thank for the title of this series). This woman makes it all work with a freelance job, two little ones, a pup and is a total knock-out on top it all.

I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to disclose about her work-in-progress, but it's delightful, honest, and everything you'd want an inspirational work of fiction to be.

What (We're) Bingeing

Anyone who is in a long-term relationship (marriage, dating, friendship, siblings) knows that the decision to start a new series together is not an easy one. G and I completed the final episode of LOST a few weeks ago. And since then, we've been a little, for total lack of better word, lost. Too soon. Not ready to move on.

We've been buffering our evenings with a few episodes of Girl Meets World. And tossing around the idea of either watching Frasier all the way through together or starting Prison Break. If anyone has any suggestions on what we should start next, please, for the love of quiet nights in, suggest it in the comments.

What We Watched

More than likely on a Friday night, you'll find me and G at the movie theatre splitting a coke and hogging popcorn. There are two within walking distance to our house. Coincidence? No. Strategic? Absolutely!

Our top indie pick of the month is called Sing Street. It was written by the same team who put together our all-time favorite, Begin Again and Once. Great music. Fabulous acting. Wonderful storyline. Just try to listen to Drive it Like You Stole It without tapping your foot. It's impossible!

Jungle Book was another favorite of the month. G and I will ask each other, "do you have a language?" throughout the day (super cute scene if you've seen it). So much nostalgia. Amazing voice-acting. And the story does everything you want the story to do as you're sitting there.

Who I'm Following

You know how you sometimes follow people on the internet because you think you'd be friends in another dimension? I've loved following the Honest Brush the past few weeks. I found her on Instagram and I've been captivated by the images she paints and posts.

What I've Spent Way Too Much Money On

This dress. These earrings. And too many pairs of mesh running tights from Target.

What I'm Listening To

To be perfectly honest, not much is turning over on my Spotify playlist other than the Hamilton soundtrack.

This podcast, featuring my darling sister and aspiring television writer, Amanda Morad.

What I'm Writing

Chipping away at the old novel that's been about three years in the making. I'm calling it Bylines (at the moment), but it's gone through at least six iterations and plot structures. It's hard but it's so fulfilling when you enter the place where you're not thinking, you're dreaming, and you're putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and just entering this new world.

Here's a snippet of a scene I've been working on:

     Forty five minutes and two glasses of pity wine later a text blipped her phone awake.
     Here :)
     “Hey Jacobs,” Michael called through the passenger window of his car as pulled up to the curb. The lights from the dashboard illuminated his face wide with mockery. “Long time no see.”
     Jordan pulled her peacoat closer to her chest and clamored down the sidewalk to his red Nissan. He leapt out of the driver’s seat and circled around the passenger side to open the door for her. She blinked. “You don’t have to do that.”
     “Nonsense,” Michael said as he gave a little bow. “If I’m going to be treated like your personal chauffeur, I better act like it.”
     "Hilarious," Jordan took the hit with a flat expression. She was in too precarious of a position to let her pride leave her stranded in the middle of Charlottesville. Michael slammed her door and gave it a double-pat before circling around to the driver side.
     “So,” he entered the car and snapped his seatbelt in place. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company this evening?”
      “It’s nothing,” she sat in the bucket seat.
      “Nothing, huh?” He drummed his thumbs on the edge of the steering wheel. “I tack on an extra 200 miles to my per diem today and that’s what I get?”
      “Afraid so.”
      “It didn’t have anything to do with that guy you were talking to after the game?”
     “What guy?”
     “Buckle, please,” he nodded before checking over his shoulder and pulling off the curb. The engine let out a soft purr. Jordan forgot what it was like to be in a car where the gears didn’t grind and pop together like nuts in a food processor. “I might be new to the Richmond-Times, but I assure you. This ain’t my first rodeo, cupcake. Spill.”


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

When Female Friendship is Hard

"I want you to know that no matter where life takes you, through the ups and downs, I'll always be rooting for you."

I pressed my finger across "send" on my phone and watched the message-bubble rise. No take-backs. No canceling. No circling back. The text was signed. Sealed. Delivered. Read.


Our relationship has gone this way for the last year or so. Unanswered texts. Letters. A particularly awkward in-person meet-and-grit.

In the interest of fairness, it's not completely unadulterated. It was around this time last year that I caused her pain. Or maybe disappointment.

Throughout the many years of our friendship, the latter-half of our relationship has been sticky, for several reasons. Mainly that it began to bow and bevel under the weight of our changing circumstances and life stages. These swirling circumstances led me to believe that our relationship worked because I did. To seek her approval. To not ruffle her feathers.

After all, we're treated the way that we allow people to, aren't we?

In my recovery as a chronic perpetual people-pleaser (alliteration! humor! deflect!) I had to come to an important: would I let this individual continue to have power over me? Would I continue to allow her thoughts and attitudes reign?

The answer, for the first time in more than a decade was no.

It wasn't a big deal, at least in my mind. We no longer lived in the same city. Maybe sent each other a few messages here and there. Made halfway, half-hearted plans to connect when we weren't working. When our laundry was done. When there was nothing good to binge-watch. When our significant others weren't available.

I realized that the element that made our friendship work over the years was not my Christ-like love for her. I was on a mission of self-fulfillment. And it worked. My way of buying into her friendship was padding her approval, her loyalty, playing her side. Even when I disagreed. Even when it left me frustrated. And when that was eliminated, our friendship uncoiled.

For months my stomach knit an anxiety scarf -- a far less fashionable version of the infinity scarf -- were these snubbed olive branches my fault? Should I make harder amends? Attempt to reconcile, despite the advice of those around me? Despite her unwillingness to even be in the same room as me? Fall into the same submission born out of the hope to be well-liked and popular over a representative of Christ and His love for me?

Or should I check out?

Dust off my hands. 

Buckle down in my boundaries.

Be content with my inability to retrieve her.

Be at peace with the release.
Chock it all up to female drama. And consider myself blessed from jumping off her wagon.

Because, who needs the drama?

"Female friendship is hard."

Somewhere along the beaten, growing up path, I remember hearing females lament this. To other females.

I don't want the drama.

I get along better with guys.

Girls are such back-stabbers. 

It's just easier to be alone.

The truth is, it is easier to be alone. It is easier to save the drama for the dramatic. Friendship sometimes means potential rejection. Being ignored through your best efforts. Being unforgiven in a year-long spat. It means vulnerability. It means a willingness to get hurt.

But, heavens, when it's done right, it's such a blessing.

When it's based off mutual respect, compassion, a genuine effort to look out for everyone's best interest, it's too deep to ignore. It's too important to write-off simply because we're women. Because we "get along better with guys."

There's a group of girls that meet at my house on Sunday evenings. Every inch of their personalities and faces are equally lovely. We share our struggles. We take each other to deep, dark places. We hold each other up. We pray for each other and we talk about the ways the world is spinning, and how we feel we all sometimes turn on an opposite axis.

Lately, I've been struck by an acute feeling, like when your body smacks into cold pool-water.

What if we hadn't worked for this? What if we had rejected the notion of coming together. Because we're women? Because we have a flair for the dramatics?

What would my life be like without their forgiveness? Without their conversations that spring me into a more buoyant week? Would I feel like my world outside of my nine-to-five was as rich? Without the patience they have for me while I struggle to get words out. Or while my house isn't clean.

The answer is no.

I was lost in thoughts of how much would I have missed if I had closed myself off from being a friend. From being available. From not even trying.

Which brings me back to my sweet friend, whom I seek forgiveness. With whom I seek a fresh start. A place for us both to let go of our hurt, anger and grudges and come to a place of reconciliation. A reconciliation born, not from a place of panic or a need for me to erase a name from a list of people who dislike me, but from a place of grace.

From a place where Christ swoops in and loves us. When all of us from any sex are difficult. Because He, for whatever reason, deems us worth it.

Because when female friendship is hard, it's usually worth it.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sunday Sessions Current Read Searching for Sunday
by Rachel Held Evans pages 161-188

Hello again! Welcome to the brand-new Sunday Sessions where you are welcome to join my small group as we discuss life, liberty and the pursuit of the perfect cup of tea each week.

Chapter 23: Breath

Our church keeps records of attendance for members and as a way to connect with visitors. But on the flip-side is a space for prayer requests.

During church service today, I found myself drawing a blank. My ballpoint pen bounced on the lines. There was plenty to pray for. Some of my dearest friends are battling cancer, wrestling with being new mothers, in the beginning stages of pregnancy and marriage.

But for whatever reason, this morning there was a huge block. I was numb to the requests and the needs around me. Too caught up in task lists. Too focused on the projects, laundry, commute, guided readings, career goals, movie butter popcorn and finishing all six seasons of LOST to truly be plugged in.

That, in a sense, it what this chapter is about. Being numb to faith. Taking simple blessings, like breath, for granted. Stampeding over not fragile, but perhaps delicate, faith with rumbling, digital distractions.

Group thesis: Walks and sunsets along the Lafayette River can be a simple, quiet reminder that God is present.

There was also a reference to this scene from A Walk to Remember*. 

*I didn't mention this at group tonight, but definitely not a fan of this movie. At all. Sorry, friends! I like my romances comedic.

Can I quote you on that?: "We are born into a windy world, where the Spirit is steady as a breeze and as strong as a hurricane. There is no city, no village, no wilderness where you cannot find it. So pay attention" (Evans, 163).

Chapter 24: Wayside Shrines

Stop. Remember. Give thanks for where you are.

This chapter focused heavily on Rachel's (we talk about her as though we're her best friends) trip to a monastery that holds the Ava Maria Grotto (pictured above), miraculous replicas of tiny cities created by Brother Joseph in the 1920s-30s.

Group Thesis: The ceremony and rituals of church can be both comforting as well as reflective. So many are quick to dismiss them as ritualistic. Or a way to get by. If we use them correctly they can help slow us down and give us space to remember.

Can I quote you on that?: "It's funny how, after all those years attending youth events with light shows and bands, after all the contemporary Christian music and contemporary Christian books, after all the updated technology and dynamic speakers and missional enterprises and relevant marketing strategies designed to make Christianity cool, all I wanted from the church when I was ready to give it up was a quiet sanctuary and some candles. All I wanted was a safe place to be. Like so many, I was in search of sanctuary" (Evans, 174-174).

Chapter 25: Trembling Giant

Pando is a collection of trees in Fish Lake, Utah. Above the ground, they look like a forrest, a set of trees identical to one another. But they all share the same roots, the same DNA beneath the surface.

This is the modern church.

Group Thesis: For so long, the schisms, the disagreements within the differing church bodies seemed like something from out of C.S. Lewis' the Screwtape Letters: the work of the Enemy. Many of us had never considered the counterargument. That perhaps this is a fair, albeit imperfect, representation of the same faith across so many different nations and cultures.

After all, in Norfolk, Virginia, where many of us live, there are distinctive cultural shifts from one side of the train tracks to the other. Why would a world of faith and denominations look different?

Can I quote you on that?: "...Unity does not require uniformity" (Evans, 184).

"As my friend Ed puts it: 'When you join a church you're just picking which hot mess is your favorite'" (Evans, 185).

Chapter 26: Easter Doubt

Group thesis: We want our table, our community, our group to be a place of hard discussions. A place to admit when we have doubts or uncertainties that consume us or nip at our heels throughout the day. But we also want to be a place of restoration, a place of healing from doubt or cynicism.

Also, Rachel tends to get really heavy during events like brunch and baby showers. If she's going to be our friend, we want to make sure that she lets us enjoy our mimosas before she asks questions about death.

Can I quote you on that?: "...If the question gets answered too quickly or if the silence goes on too long – please know that you're not alone."

Are you having your own Sunday night session? Follow along with us on Instagram: #SundaySessions. Next week we'll be discussing pages 189-223. We'd love to hear from you and have you join along.

*All quotes and passages represented in this blog are the intellectual property of Rachel Held Evans and her book, Searching for Sunday.

photo credit: pie wedge, blueberries via photopin (license)

photo credit: Lourdesgrot, domein Ursulinen via photopin (license)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Number One Secret to a Long-Lasting Community

Several weeks ago, my husband and I swarmed the kitchen together preparing snacks for our small group.

A scratchy and hallowed-out Bruce Springstein turned round and round over on our new record player. Our living room was vacuumed and even dusted over with the glow of twinkle lights.

Then at seven, promptly, our friends arrived to watch the Princess Bride. The movie was a given when we learned that a few people in our group had never seen it. And really, that's what small group is about. Holding each other up and helping them through dark, tragic times. (Because, what is life without that movie, really?)

Cards on the table, it wasn't always like this at our church.

In fact, my husband and I met there under vastly different circumstances.

There was no community at all. Not for people like us. Not for the singles or the newly marrieds without kids. Not for the people who were confused or nervous about their job path. Who were discerning if they were in the right relationships, friendly or romantic.

Not for those wrestling with breaking out of political or cultural traditions from which they were raised.

Not for the people who'd had their hearts broken. Not for the people who make blatant mistakes. Sometimes even on purpose. Not even for the people who were vaguely unsure of faith all together and needed a place to explore what life with Christ is really like.

I dedicated the better part of this blog complaining about the lack of groups for women like me: Single. Wine-enthusiast. And navigating Christianity through the workweek. Trying to be kind and helpful to others, while I, honestly, had difficulty paying bills and getting my oil changed myself.

I felt incredibly alone. And not just for my lack of romantic prospects. But for my lack of live-and-in-glorious-technicolor friendships. People to go grocery shopping and binge-watch Parenthood with. People to toss around the idea of what it means to be a Christian when we've grown up being connected to so many thoughts and ideas that seem to collide with the whole enterprise.

When our friends came to our house that night, we realized we had that. We had those people. We had the beginnings of those people, at least. And it wasn't by an accident or a random collection of personalities that just happened to get along.
It came about because of good, hard work.

Community is a discipline.

No one ever wants to say this, of course. It makes our relationships sound like chores. But, like a garden, it requires some upkeep.

It means saying "yes," even when it's inconvenient or stands in the way of self-care. It means powering through our tired, our cranky, our busy.

It means driving (or in our case, walking) across town when you've had a rough week. When you have to do a load of laundry. And grocery shopping. And budgeting. And a paper-writing. And bill-paying.

Because time isn't any easier to manage at any stage.
In the past, I haven't always wanted to go to a Bible study. To me, it felt like exercising. I was always glad I had gone, but working up the motivation to read, get out the door and travel to an acquaintance's house didn't always feel good -- but it always felt better.

For us, for our group, we're realizing that community is 99 percent showing up. Seeing the same faces week after week. Adopting other people's character traits and isms, be it manners of speaking or attitudes and perspectives you admire. It's about wading deeper and deeper into friendship. Bringing meals. Accepting forgiveness. Offering prayer.

Because with them, you can do so much more than you could on your own.

Speaking of things you can't do on your own: I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite people, Christen Allocco designed the lovely artwork above. Give her a follow on Instagram, she's super friendly and fun!  Plus, if you'd like to share the value of togetherness in your community, you can download the iPhone wallpaper she designed for FREE!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sunday Sessions Current Read Searching for Sunday
by Rachel Held Evans pages 121-157

Welcome to my dining room table.

It's a little messy. The bread is crumbly. Pink wine doesn't last long enough for refills. But there's plenty of tea and good conversation to be had. It's where a group of women from my church (dubbed the FPC Women of Valor) meet every Sunday evening.

We talk about Christ, sometimes. But mostly we segue to topics as far and wide as Nickelodeon's Stick Stickly to career trysts.

I love it here. And I'd like to officially welcome you in.

When you're a writer the Proverbial They tell you two things: get a blog, and find your niche.

The whole market has felt a little smarmy to me. I hate hate contrived messages of "follow me here" or "tag these seven accounts for a chance to win a freebie which may or may not actually be a legitimate giveaway." They make me feel like an up-ticking number on a Facebook page rather than a person.

Plus, niches are for people who have their lives figured out. They're for people who paint from swatches and certainly don't procrastinate vacuuming or save all of their dishwashing for one night of the week.

But, I do have one thing figured out: we shouldn't try to go at it alone.

Any of it.

The mundane. The life-altering. The minor grievances. The diagnosis, the weight loss plan, the seeking – none of it. And that's what Sunday nights are about.

I realized that for someone who believes in the full-hearted community just as much as some people believe in gluten free diets, I don't do a well enough job of welcoming other people in. Strangers, acquaintances. Or readers.

Sunday Sessions will be a weekly post that will take you through the highlights of our group's discussion of our current book. For the past few weeks, we've discussed Rachel Held Evan's Searching for Sunday. Forgive me, but since we're already midway through, we'll dive right in. This section of the book is titled Communion.

Chapter 18: the Meal

Can I quote you on that?: "The first thing the world knew about Christians was that they ate together" (125).

The faith depicted in this chapter is radical. It made us wonder what is perceived is radical about the average, 20-something Christian in the 21st century. Whether you believe that communion is the literal blood and body of Christ, or a figurative sacrament that we take part in every month or so, Evans says, "...in every tradition I know, someone, at some point, says 'Remember'" (128).
Evans speaks in this chapter about how it's a shame that communion ceremonies aren't actual feasts. There's a church in New York City lead by a woman named Emily who makes communion come alive at the table.

"'We do church this way because people are hungry,' Emily explains...We do church this way...because people are looking for Jesus.'" (131).

Group thesis: No matter how you take your meal, no matter what the Lord's Table looks like in your congregation, we're to do it in remembrance of the cross and the man who hung there.

Our church celebrated communion today.
We want our remembrance of the cross to be reverent, not sedated. Not a thirty-second ritual.

Chapter 19: Methodist Dance Party

Group thesis: We agree – fog machines in church need to go.

This chapter spoke to us in many ways. Especially when Evans recounts serving communion to a woman who wrote a letter complaining about her presence at a youth event. Christ's body is broken for all of us. The sinner. The loud-mouths. The introverts. The people who take it seriously and the people who've made it a stagnant routine.

Can I quote you on that?: "Communion has a way for flattening things out like that, a way of entangling our roots and joining our hands" (140).

Chapter 20: Open Hands

Can I quote you on that?: "I'm no good at the releasing and receiving...Ours is a culture of achievement, of sufficiency, of bootstrap pulling and ladder climbing. We celebrate the winners, the leaders, the do-it-yourselfers...With giving, I can maintain some sense of power, some illusion of control. But receiving means the gig is up. Receiving means I'm not the boss of what comes into life..." (143).

Group thesis:
It's difficult to receive grace in a culture that says "be a 'girl boss!' Chug some coffee and get sh** done." How can we work better to be at peace and receive the Eucharist, receive all that Christ gives us, without wanting control?

Chapter 21: Open Table

Can I quote you on that?: "Sometimes the most radical act of Christian obedience is to share a meal with someone new."

Group thesis: The Table is for everyone. But why do we have such a hard time reaching out beyond our socioeconomic or even religious groups? Most of us have to work extremely hard to befriend people outside of the norm to our table. We want to be a loving people. A welcoming people.

Are you having your own Sunday night session? Follow along with us on Instagram: #SundaySessions. Next week we'll be discussing pages 161-188. We'd love to hear from you and have you join along.

*All quotes and passages represented in this blog are the intellectual property of Rachel Held Evans and her book, Searching for Sunday.
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