Change in the Air

Pulled on my fall flannel, for the first time this year;

And jeans, snug and comforting.

After a quick drive, and a few steps, I’ve been transported.

Sounds of a chorus of buzzing bugs set my pace.

Deep breaths of fresh air filled my lungs, providing a new rhythm;

Calming my anxious mind and relaxing my body.

Soft and slow ripples in the water flowed towards me, a welcome to rest.

The lushness of summer’s greens has been infiltrated with reds and yellows.

Signals that time is moving to a new season.

Like the foliage before me, life finds a way of providing signs.

Am I walking slowly enough to pay attention?

To hear what’s in the whisper of the wind?

Am I seeking intimacy with my Creator to notice his nudgings?

With the aroma of change in the air,

The sun sets on another day.

A chance to reflect. To confess, to worship, to pray.

To welcome a posture of openness to God’s direction.

To be led by Him, looking for his signals; be they red, green, or yellow.

Every hard lesson after hard lesson, I find;

His way, especially in the waiting, is best.

Psalm 73

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.


Habits, Purpose, and a Life Well-Lived

Reflections on Summer Reading

I hope you had a safe and fun-filled Labor Day! I enjoyed the beautiful weather at Longwood Gardens enjoying the sunshine, flowers, and fauna.

With the unofficial close to summer, it’s time to write about my favorite summer reads! I have fallen behind on my monthly reading round-up blog posts —forgive me readers! (all 5 of you!) You can check out my April and May highlights, and below I’ll wrap-up my summer favorites in one post. Rather than review each of these books separately, I want to pull together the threads within them. I hope it’s helpful and edifying!


Summer Favorites:

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K.A. Smith

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson


“Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.”

I found Atomic Habits to be extremely practical and helpful with ideas and strategies for becoming a creature of good habits. Clear’s thesis is that tiny, consistent—“atomic-size”—habits aggregate to big life changes. His four laws of behavior change are a helpful framework to form healthy habits: make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying (these can be inverted for breaking bad habits).

One concept I particularly liked was the relationship between habits and identity. Clear describes it simply: “Your habits shape your identity.” An example would be if one assumes the identity of a healthy person, it is easier to make healthy choices; of course, coupled with various other practices to establish healthy eating and exercising habits. But the way we think about ourselves does have a significant role in the way we act and order our lives.

Aside from reading the book, Clear provides many helpful resources on his website, and I’ve also been enjoying his twice weekly email newsletter. My critique comes from what I felt was missing. Habits are absolutely important. Healthy eating, living, exercising, reading, writing, etc. I for one, have been trying to increase and improve my writing this year and thinking through setting myself up for success with good habits is something important to me. But as helpful as Clear’s material is, it also felt a bit robotic and formulaic. Is there more to life than good habits?

I think yes.

A life of good habits with a lack of purpose is a life devoid of meaning.

Which is why I loved and highly recommend James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love.

Smith cuts to the core of the human heart, writing that our actions, behaviors, or “habits” flow from our longings and desires. We were made to worship and desire God, but our heart’s desires become disordered because of sin. Smith draws on the words of early Church fathers to describe this:

“You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Augustine opens with a design claim, a conviction about what human beings are made for. This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it recognizes that human beings are made by and for the Creator who is known in Jesus Christ. In other words, to be truly and fully human, we need to “find” ourselves in relationship to the One who made us and for whom we are made. The gospel is the way we learn to be human. As Irenaeus once put it, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”

To put it simply, I am what I love. My habits – my lifestyle – flow from what I long for and love. Smith later invokes the Church reformers to illustrate this “worship”:

To say “you are what you love” is synonymous with saying “you are what you worship.” The great Reformer Martin Luther once said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god.” We become what we worship because what we worship is what we love. As we’ve seen, it’s not a question of whether you worship but what you worship—which is why John Calvin refers to the human heart as an “idol factory.” We can’t not worship because we can’t not love something as ultimate. 

Smith goes on to expose the idols of our age within secular culture and the church. And he poignantly shows how the sacramental gifts of the church should rightly form us.

“To be human is to be a liturgical animal, a creature whose loves are shaped by our worship…Christian worship, we should recognize, is essentially a counterformation to those rival liturgies we are often immersed in, cultural practices that covertly capture our loves and longings, miscalibrating them, orienting us to rival versions of the good life. This is why worship is the heart of discipleship.” 

This book was convicting, but also beautiful and freeing. The habit-forming gifts of the church are a special grace from the Lord to mold and shape our hearts, so that we can truly become the creatures with a purpose we were meant to be.

>>>p.s. I wrote an article this summer on our divine purpose within the creation mandate…I hope you find it edifying if you care to read!

In thinking about one’s habits and purpose in life, one can’t help but reflect upon what life might look like when we come to the end of our time here on earth. Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gilead, does just that. I’ve had this book on my “to-read” list for a while, and found it to be an enjoyable and leisurely read this summer. 

Gilead records the stream-of-consciousness journal entries of a country preacher in his last days. Reverend John Ames writes to his young son about a myriad of topics, from family history, amusing life anecdotes, and especially his memories as a pastor.

Robinson’s writing is both conversational and lyrical. One of my favorite examples:

The moon looks wonderful in this warm evening light, just as a candle flame looks beautiful in the light of morning. Light within light. It seems like a metaphor for something. So much does. Ralph Waldo Emerson is excellent on this point. It seems to me to be a metaphor for the human soul, the singular light within the great general light of existence. Or it seems like poetry within language. Perhaps wisdom within experience. Or marriage within friendship and love. I’ll try to remember to use this. 

His letters reflect on the intricacies of the human soul, the purpose of life, and his wrestling with deep theological questions. One thing shines through: he loved and served his family, his wife, his son, his parishioners, and his town, well.

What Gilead lacks in plot, it makes up for in droves with beautiful language, character study, and thoughtfulness. It is a reflection of a life well lived, and the desire to pass on a legacy to the next generation. It stood in stark contrast to me with Atomic Habits. As valuable as those psychological insights are, habits without purpose, and a purpose disconnected from the Creator, is meaningless. 

I highly recommend all of these titles! And perhaps I will get back into the “habit” of a monthly review, rather than quarterly. Enjoy and may your September be filled with good books and good habits 😊.


Sights and Sounds of Summer

It’s been a very different summer. And yet, in so many ways, it’s still the same. The sights and sounds of summer have made their seasonal appearance, a comforting reminder of the persistence of life.

The sights and sounds of summer have made their seasonal appearance, a comforting reminder of the persistence of life.

The rumble of thunder from a summer storm. The waves of cicadas buzzing each morning and evening.

This weekend, on a leisurely stroll, I came upon some peaceful sights. They were not the most stunning scenes— in comparison to my days on the water or hiking or traveling (remember when we could travel?!). But they were welcoming and lovely, even in their imperfection and messiness.

The beauty of a butterfly—with a broken wing no less—brought much joy. The happy—albeit disheveled—black-eyed susan’s stirred delight.

The blessing of a quiet walk sparked a smile of gratitude.

Seasons of suffering make these simple things—even a simple step outdoors—all the more sweeter.

Seasons of suffering make the simple things all the more sweeter.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
‭‭James‬ ‭1:17‬ ‭

Soak up the sights of summer. Enjoy creation. Learn from the rhythms of life, especially the times of hardship. They make the joy that much more precious.

Here’s to an August of treasured enjoyment of the sights and sounds of the fading summer. And many more gorgeous sunsets!


The Whispers of Wildflowers

I’ve been day-dreaming about wildflowers. They show up in unexpected places on adventures with my four-legged companions.

‘I will believe in my beauty even if no one else sees it’
That’s what the wildflowers whisper
These lilies dance to the music of a soft breeze
No one is watching or listening
But me
An interloper and yet also welcomed in their presence
I marvel at them in their solitary splendor
In a landscape of a hundred shades of green
Their fire burns brightly

They are free
To simply be,
Beautiful

I will believe in my beauty even if no one else sees it.

We admire these beauties along the bay. A summer afternoon of delight.

The boys are always on the move; it’s a challenge to document a picture of the three of us!

It’s a perfect evening for patrolling the shoreline.

And swimming. It’s always a perfect time for swimming.

The sun sets but the warmth of the memories made flows through me.

We slowly ramble home, ready for rest and dreaming of the next adventure.

And the wildflowers remain, basking in the fading summer sun.

When a flower grows wild it can always survive
Wildflowers don’t care where they grow.” – Dolly Parton


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!

Morning Glory

I knew it had been a long time since I did an updated blog post, but almost a year!?!?! Where does the time go?  Life was so slow and wonderful when I was a child…there is still much wonderful-ness to my life but…there are also children being murdered with chemical weapons in Syria, Christians in the Coptic community in Egypt are being killed and their churches burned, and musical entertainment in this country has reached a new low.  Sigh, okay, sorry for the downer, but we can’t keep our head in the sand!

Being a news, history, and culture junkie, I can’t keep from getting sucked into the headlines and analysis.  Unfortunately, that has left little time for my little blog!  Hopefully this should change.  I’ve already got a really fun post in the works, so stay tuned…

In the meantime, I wanted to share these lovely photos of a beautiful sunrise this morning in the Nation’s Capitol…because, well, they’re beautiful!  I’ve seen many late nights at the Capitol, but I’m not often out this early to start the day!  Many years ago, when I was a young pup working in Congress, I gave Capitol tours (history heaven for someone like me!) and would always point out that Lady Freedom atop the Capitol dome faces east – thus, “the sun never sets on freedom.”  I always thought that was so poetic and a reminder of how blessed we are in America!

But this beauty invokes another kind of poetry that will never fade – from Lamentations chapter 3, verses 22-23: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  That is cause for joy!  No matter what else we might face.

One Cupcake to Rule them All

My lovely sister is returning to the District and told me that she really wanted a cupcake this weekend. I had to laugh, because I thought – I think that every day!

I assured her we’d make this happen and then began thinking about which bakery we’d go to…there’s many to choose from in the Nation’s Capital!

I couldn’t come up with a firm decision, and that’s when the thought struck – why not go to Every.Single.One.

Amazingly, within 90 minutes on a rainy day in DC, we gathered our bounty. Moving swiftly, we then displayed each cupcake for a feast of the eyes:

After a sliver of almost every one (I swear, only a sliver!), here is the order of our favorites:

Tied for 1st – Sprinkles and Baked and Wired
3 – Georgetown Cupcakes
4- Hello Cupcake
5 – Red Velvet
6 – Crumbs

I had 2 favorites  – a spice cake with espresso icing from Baked and Wired, and this glorious delight – peanut butter chocolate chip with peanut butter icing and chocolate sprinkles, from Sprinkles.  One word – Divine.

Now for this week, I will need to do 10 hours of yoga, a full day of spinning, and how many crunches to burn all this goodness off…????

At least we only ate salad for lunch and dinner!

Okay, hopefully you’re not ready to run out the door to the nearest cup cakery, or start baking yourself, but I’m sure you’re probably thinking…if I were stranded on a deserted island, which cupcake could I live off of forever…?

For me, now I know!

Chocolate Raspberry Bourbon Brownies

I L.O.V.E. chocolate. Who doesn’t? And fresh-picked raspberries? They are a sweet summer delight!

I modified a choc-p.b. recipe (I know, my favorite combo, but like I said, the fresh-picked raspberries couldn’t go to waste) by using a simple raspberry sauce.

I took these to 2 different dinner parties in one weekend (shhh!), and they were a big hit – ENJOY!

RASPBERRY SAUCE:

1 cup of fresh (or frozen) raspberries
1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 c. water
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. bourbon (my addition)
In a small saucepan stir together cornstarch and sugar. Add water and the raspberries.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until mixture begins to boil. Cook mixture for an additional minute, then remove form heat. Stir in vanilla and bourbon. Let stand until cooled.
Did I also mention cream cheese?
Ingredients:
  • your favorite brownie batter
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened (can be light)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 eggs
  • RASPBERRY SAUCE
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cream or milk
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Prepare the brownie batter and spread into a greased 8×8 baking dish.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese, eggs, and sugar. Add the raspberry sauce, adding the cream as necessary to make the mixture more smooth. The consistency should be thick, but smooth enough to easily mix with the electric mixer. Add the vanilla and salt.
  3. Pour mixture over brownie batter and marble with a knife.
  4. Bake for 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
          (I’d personally recommend underbaking!)

West Coast Trek

Psalm 90:2—”Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

America is FILLED with works of creation that sing of the creativity and beauty of our great God. While I’m partial to life on the East Coast, the…3?…times I’ve been to the West Coast, I have LOVED soaking in the scenery. On a quick trip to Oregon for a dear friend’s wedding, I visited Multnomah Falls – 611 feet of cascading water with the most precious viewing bridge.  And oh yeah, we hiked to the top – let’s just say my glutes have been sore for days!

What is AWESOME to think about – that water has been falling for ages – LONG before I walked this earth. And yet, even before that, our incredible God knew me, and had orchestrated His plans for my life. The good and the bad – it’s all in His hands.

Photo by Bethany, 8/6/12