Nature is real

Have you ever questioned reality? Do you ever find yourself saying “this isn’t real.”

I do.

We live in a world that is filled with things that are not real.

Social media.

Plastic surgery.

Porn.

Even the news?

We are now all familiar with the term fake news. It gets thrown around a lot, but there is truth to it. The other day, I read a story from Axios on how 2020 campaigns are not prepared for “deepfakes” – fake videos that are manipulated to make a candidate appear to be giving a damaging statement.

These fake things can have an extremely negative impact on us. Individually and culturally.

Take social media – it is not real life. It is a curated portrayal of one’s life. And yet we consume it constantly, allowing our brains to be manipulated by it. Our mental health, attention span, human connectedness, memory, sleep quality all suffer from it – something that isn’t real.

So what is real?

With the summer weather upon us, I have been reminded of the reality of nature.

Nature is real.

It is beautiful and refreshing.

You can physically touch water, grass, leaves.

It is truly, real and healing in a world of fakeness.

This summer, let’s put our phones away and sit by a lake. Delete Instagram for a week (or join me for all of summer!) and go for a hike – put your hand on some moss, toss a rock in a stream, touch the bark of a tree.

Get connected with what is real, and forget what is fake.

(And even better, take a friend with you and have an honest conversation about life!)

Spending time in nature is one of the most grounding things we can do. Why not give this a try as some personal therapy – it’s free!

Your mind and body will thank you. Trust me, mine has.


Some of the places that have been inspiring me this spring and summer!

Turquoise

Nature is powerful.

A year ago, I traveled to the Netherlands and Italy for my sister’s 30th birthday trip. In Italy, we spent most of our time in Cinque Terre and a few hours in Pisa.

It was an incredible trip that filled my heart with joy, peace, and wonder.

I’ve had a year to reflect on what was so magical about this place. I think the stimulation of the senses and the colors of creation were a significant part of it.

In Cinque Terre, I was surrounded by the color turquoise.

The color turquoise is associated with meanings of energy, serenity, wholeness, patience, calm, spiritual grounding, and tranquility.

I’ve always found water to have a healing meaning, but turquoise water takes it to a whole new level! We all could probably use some more of the Mediterranean in our lives!

Hiking Reflections + An Irish Blessing

It was a cold St. Patrick’s Day weekend, but the warmth of the sun brought reminders that spring is coming.

Today, on St. Patrick’s Day, I sat outside while Hunter and Scout ran in the park. It was peaceful and quiet and the sun was shining warmly on me. I was reminded of the lovely Irish blessing:

“May the road rise to meet you, and the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm on your face, and the rains fall softly on your fields.

I’ve always thought that was beautiful and something I would wish for all my friends and family (and strangers too!).

But the sun is not always shining…

I also found a great trail this weekend that was pup-friendly. Well, I was expecting a trail but some of it was quite rocky and steep! It was definitely a hike and as I was climbing some of the rocks – no small feat with two dogs – I reflected on all of the hiking I’ve been blessed with over the past year.

A cold and steep hike I took in February particularly struck me.

Harper’s Ferry National Park

Sometimes the path is steep, and barren. It’s lonely. It’s hard.

And yet you just have to keep going.

There are glimpses of beauty and streams of restoring water along the way where you can stop to rest.

And there is one who is beside you all along, who will never abandon you.

You are headed to new places, and to new heights.

Beauty can often only be seen from the top.

Maryland Heights, Harper’s Ferry National Park

As a new year unfolds from St. Patrick’s Day 2019, my prayer for you IS the Irish blessing.

But even more deeply, during those times when the sun is not shining, when you’re trying to find your path – or just any path – when it’s a steep road ahead…my desire for you is Habakkuk’s prayer.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19 NLT

A few more pictures for inspiration. And may you always be surefooted in your steps!

Made it to the top of Maryland Heights! Feb. 2019

Views like this along the way remind me of living waters.

Lots of steep hiking in Italy, but the views (and gelato), definitely made it worth it!

Favorite Books of 2018

2018 was a record reading year for me – I finished 42 books! There are many reasons for that, but I also have to give credit to my Kindle. I’m two years in to life with a Kindle, and as a former skeptic I have to admit it has helped me increase my reading.

I had a number of favorites this year, and a few I got through just to finish! I hope you find something below to inspire you! And I will always take recommendations (or arguments for why I am wrong!).

Favorites:

A Tangled Mercy

A random Amazon Unlimited find that was a delightful surprise! The history buff in me loved the historical mystery aspect, and going back in time to the characters ancestors, though painful at times seeing the devastation of society with an economy centered around slavery, was very interesting. Great characters as well with a redemptive conclusion.

Truly, Madly, Guilty

I got on a Lynne Moriarty kick this year; this was my first and favorite of hers. The suspense of the “great event the story centers around but you don’t learn the details till the end” was fascinating. The characters were so real and endearing in their own quirky ways.

How to Walk Away

Loved this debut book by newcomer author Katherine Center. I literally couldn’t put it down and finished it in one day. I don’t want to give it away but sometimes it’s nice to have a good, and “real” read that still makes you feel satisfied and inspired at the end. Great characters with interesting conversations and reflections on life; don’t let the plane crash at the beginning scare you away! Definitely a good beach or ski lodge read, but with substance.

The Great Alone

I discovered why this book is so popular and I had to wait for weeks for the library e-book to become available for Kindle – I couldn’t put it down. An epic coming of age tale set in the pioneering world of a remote Alaskan village in the 1970s, I really enjoyed the robust characters and being taken to a world I know little about.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Absolutely fascinating true story from the Italian front in World War II, which I, and most people, know little about. Listening to on Audible, the story of Nino Pinello came alive, with his daring missions to help Jewish families escape danger, as well as his undercover spy. It is a beautiful story of a young man coming of age during a traumatic time in world history, filled with courage, love, and heartbreak.

A Man Called Ove

I’d also particularly recommend listening to this one, as the curmudgeonly yet faithful Ove comes alive through Audible. It is a thoughtful and creative look at aging, community, and the value of life. EVERYONE matters.

Just a little reading in a chapel on a hillside in Cinque Terre, Italy:

Least Favorites:

How Should a Person Be

If this is what a popular millennial author/book is supposed to be, no thanks. I almost stopped reading at times…very meandering, and a frustrating and foul main character.

Annihilation

This was popular on the charts, but I just didn’t quite get it, and seemed to miss the explanation. I enjoy dystopian lit, but this just didn’t make sense to me and was a bit boring.

Artemis

This was the first Andy Weir novel I had read, and friends and family in science careers recommended to me. I enjoyed the movie take on The Martian, but I struggled getting through this…perhaps you have to be really into science? The technical details were a bit much/boring for me, and I found the main character to just be annoying and hard to root for.

Gone Girl

I’m a few years behind on this one, but I felt angry at the end of Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster. Yes it was a page turner…I don’t want to give too much away, but the character development was too hard to follow and deceptive for me to understand the story’s arc and the characters’ motives.

Hunt for a Red October

I of course love this classic movie (who doesn’t?) and I wanted to read the book prior to the new Jack Ryan Amazon Prime series. It was certainly interesting at some points, but overall, the technical details slowed me down so I could never quite get into the flow of this. I didn’t feel like I could quite get to know the characters; although the Cold War history and the psychology beyond the Soviet dissidents was interesting.

Classics:

With 2018 being the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, I wanted to read a few books about the Great War. These were heartbreaking and moving. 100 years ago and yet people, war, tragedy, and trauma – it’s still the same.

  • Farewell to Arms
  • All Quiet on the Western Front

Self-Help/Educational:

Perhaps I will write more about these later! The latter two on the Enneagram – wish I had discovered a long time ago! Highly recommend. You might hate it, but you might love it.

  • Power of Habit
  • Road Back to You
  • The Sacred Enneagram

Birthday Reflections

Shared some honesty on Instagram for my birthday. Here it is for the blog!

33.

My Jesus year birthday 🎂.

Watch out, world 🌎!!!

32 was a year of death…including losing both of my dear grandmothers this spring.

And yet it has also been a year of life…and living. Death AND life, bad AND good. Pain AND joy.

Real life is not Instagram, and it will never be summarized in a post, or fixed in a year, or tied up in a neat bow.

But striving for, seeking, and sharing beauty and goodness and simplicity can help us survive the hard things, and the tension of both/and living.

32 Highlights: lots of travel!

Pictured:

  • Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  • The Netherlands
  • Cinque Terre, Italy
  • Pisa, Italy

Back on My Feet Baltimore

Friday is race day for “Sneaks Come Out At Night!” I’m running a 15K with City Church in support of Back on My Feet Baltimore. Hoping and praying the thunderstorms hold off!

I’ve enjoyed getting to learn about this organization and hope to get more involved in the future. Here’s what they do, in brief:

Back on My Feet seeks to revolutionize the way our society approaches homelessness. Our unique running-based model demonstrates that if you first restore confidence, strength and self-esteem, individuals are better equipped to tackle the road ahead and move toward jobs, homes, and new lives.  

I also love that the Serenity Prayer is a foundation of this organization, and is part of the opening of the race. Well, just the first line will be recited, but I love and cling to it in its entirety. Always worth sharing:

Serenity Prayer

– Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; 
enjoying one moment at a time; 
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; 
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will; 
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next. 
Amen.

(From BOMF: Why the serenity prayer? The serenity prayer is an integral part of recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. And with ~75% of BOMF members being in recovery, we want Back on My Feet to be a part of their progress and recovery moving forward.)

Flowers & Fragrance

On my last day of my spring trip to the Netherlands, I had a lot that I wanted to do. It was still a bit early for the tulips to be in full bloom; but ultimately, I decided – how can I not go see the tulips while visiting Holland in the spring-time?

After a full-day of traveling from Cinque Terre, with a stop in Pisa and dinner in nearby Delft, I left The Hague at 6 am and set off to navigate the trains and bus system for a full day of sight-seeing.

Tourist tip #1 for tulip season in the Netherlands:

Go to the Keukehnoff! I had some doubts since it’s known as a tourist destination and since it was early in the season, but it still blew me away.

I was greeted by so many gorgeous colors!

Even despite a rainy morning, it was still a breathtaking sight.

Tourist tip #2 for tulip season in the Netherlands:

Get to the Keukenhoff early! Rather than taking the tourist bus, I navigated the commuter bus system (it was pretty easy), and arrived just as the gates opened at 8:00 am. It was definitely worth it as I had the entire place mostly to myself for the first hour.

Much easier for taking tulip selfies, too!

This was one of the most refreshing, peaceful experiences I’ve had in a long time. Not only were the vibrant colors invigorating, but the sweet smells of the tulips and other flowers were delightful. It filled my heart with much needed peace and joy.

I’m so glad I went and highly recommend! Enjoy the rest of these pictures!

Most of the outdoor tulips were not blooming yet, but the exhibition halls were beautiful!

Enjoyed an espresso and the delicious, classic Dutch pancakes after a few hours walking through the gardens!