May 31, 2015

journal of a miss to mrs // 1

Four weeks ago, Greg got on one knee and asked me to be his bride. Four weeks ago, my life turned upside down and inside out as I travelled up and down the spectrum of pure excited joy on one side and dazed & confused on the other. Four weeks ago, I started a whole new season and I am still pinching myself in disbelief that I am getting married to my blessing and my joy in less than five months.

Once the initial shock of being engaged settled, Greg and I began to plan for the wedding of our dreams. Blending our cultures (he is American and I am Romanian), communicating about both little and big wedding-related plans while living thousands of miles apart, and just missing each other on top of everything else started to edge me toward anxiety. Add on the complexities of planning to move halfway across the country as well as transferring my registered nurse (RN) and advance registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) licenses to Texas and looking for a new job as a pediatric nurse practitioner. And then add on the fact that Elena does not like change. I like knowing the plans, jotting down itineraries, and checking off lists. I thrive on order and consistency. Do you see a problem here? SO MUCH CHANGE IS HAPPENING. Yes, yes,  all great changes, but changes nonetheless. Questions started to plague me and anxiety started to swell up . . .
"Will I be a good wife?""Will I be able to find a job where I feel as supported by my coworkers as I do now?""How will I manage being away from my niece and nephew? They'll grow so much before I see them again!"
The list went on and on. Pretty soon, I was crying at the oddest times and emotionally and mentally overwhelmed. My anxiety increased and I had a few panic attacks, which were the first in many months. I started feeling guilty for being anxious because I figured I should be happy and having a grand time planning for a wedding, so why were some days so hard?

Thankfully, God does not leave us alone to fend for ourselves. Instead, He surrounds us with people who have been through similar circumstances and situations. He guides us through the new seasons and lavishes His love over us even when we allow anxious thoughts to rob us of the joy He gives us freely. His presence is just as near in the joyful times as in the painful times.

I had awesome conversations in the past week with different married women who were honest and transparent while also being so incredibly encouraging. They normalized and validated my emotions rather than writing them off as me being emotional and over-thinking things. They asked questions and offered prayers.  They spoke boldly into my life about trusting in God's love and faithfulness in this season . . . And I soon realized,  I was seeing my prayers being answered.

You see, for a while I had been praying that I would have these type of conversations with married women, both newlyweds and seasoned brides. Don't get me wrong . . . I am all for the exciting plans like picking our color palettes, saying yes to the dress, adding pins to wedding pinterest boards, deciding on a honeymoon location, and picking our furniture for our apartment as a married couple. But even more so, I deeply desire to grow in this engagement season and to prepare not just for a wedding, but for a marriage. I want our wedding, but especially our marriage, to be a small picture of God's unfailing and amazing love for His people. I want Greg's and my imperfect love to point each other to God's perfect love. And in the midst of all the planning and busyness, I do not want this to fall at the wayside. So having conversations and community with women who love Jesus and desire to be more like Him in their everyday life as wives is pivotal for me, especially since I have already seen the peace my heart has experienced from such conversations in the past week. I cried tears of joy tonight as I had an unplanned conversation with a newlywed friend that was truly perfectly timed. I was inspired and my faith in God was strengthened as I heard her share about God's provision over her wedding and how God lavished blessing after blessing over her and her groom.

All this to say, once in a while, you may see some random writings from a frazzled (but blessed!) bride-to-be who is navigating this whole engaged thing. You'll definitely hear about exciting, monumental decisions (I bought my dress and booked my venue & photographer in the past few weeks!) but I will not spare you some of the hard lessons I am learning as well. Because really, those are just as important to share. The dichotomy of the bitter and the sweet make something beautiful indeed. You cannot appreciate the full extent of the sweet without having knowledge of what the bitter tastes like. And all of it -- from the bitterness of anxiety and uncertainty of the future as well as the lip-smacking sweetness of daydreaming about living life with the man I love -- all of it can bring praise to what God is doing in our love story. He has been faithful, whether His hand has been easy to spot or not. So I want to let these ramblings be a way to praise Him in this season that I want to look back at with joy, not because it was all perfect and dreamy, but because through it all, God was good and His love was lavished on Greg and I as we embarked on the adventure of marriage.

"When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. 
And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow"
Shauna Niequist

May 23, 2015

May Book Reviews

I Tried Until I Almost Died
Sandra McCollom
Let me start of with the one thing I did not care for, and then I will explore the many things I did like: the title of the book! It seemed pretty dramatic and I expected a climax to her story where she had some near-death experience that would earn such a title, but alas, there was none. BUT, since I try not to judge a book by its cover (it's so hard sometimes!), I read it and was very happy I did.

Although Sandra did not have a near-death experience that explained the title of the book, her exhausting legalistic lifestyle that she carried for years and years did explain why she was so passionate about writing this book. Sandra was filled with anxious rule-keeping and schedule-keeping mantras that dictated not only her life, but also the lives of her daughters and husband. They all lived under the iron first of her legalism. But one day, she became fed up and exhausted with all trying without ever getting anywhere, and she surrendered to God. What she experienced afterward was pure freedom from expectations and burdens she had placed on herself to perform and work for her identity and worth.

Sandra explains how she now understands grace not as an idea or theology, but as a Person, Jesus Christ. She uses a myriad of scripture to show the beauty of living a life filled with God's grace rather than our own works. And she does an excellent job of reminding readers of God's unfailing love for us, which gives us worth and security in His faithful care.

I could relate to a lot of what she was saying, so I enjoyed the book. Some of it seemed repetitive, where it was the same thing said in different ways, but really, is there really such a thing as talking about grace too much? She had great examples from her own life as well as dear friends', so it was still fresh and interesting with every chapter.
**** Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free through Blogging For Books  in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.


Mama Maggie
Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn 
Maggie Gobran was an afluent businesswoman and college professor Cairo, Egypt in the early 1980s. However, after visiting the garbage slums in the city and meeting the zabaleen, or garbage people, she was forever changed. Maggie's heart was was broken when she saw countless children picking up trash to try to sell for a few meager coins. She saw disease and abuse spread throughout the slums. She saw despair and corruption. And, she saw hope.

As Maggie Gobran spent more time in Cairo's slums, her passions changed from fashion and business to washing dirty feet and telling the zabaleen about God's love for them. Her pearls and expensive outfits were traded for a simple white t-shirt and long white skirt and head covering, making her appear like a nun, which is one of the reasons she began to be called Mama Maggie. Her maternal compassion for the children, however,  earned her the endearing namesake. She and her husband have teamed up with other Egyptians to serve the zabaleen through their ministry, Stephen's Children, which includes kindergartens, church camps for children, and medical care. 

This is an excellent book about an even more excellent woman. Mama Maggie is a beautiful example of a woman after God's heart for the poor and forgotten. I enjoyed reading her story and being challenged to serve others with a heart that is focused on loving those the world deems unlovable. 
**** Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free through BookLook Bloggers  in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Shauna Niequist
Shauna is known for her storytelling narrative writing showcased in Bread & WineCold Tangerines, and Bittersweet. Following suit with a food-related title, Savor is a 365-day devotional with short excerpts that make you feel you're enjoying a warm drink and biting into sweet pastry or pasta at Shauna's dinner table while you chat about life. And with her favorite recipes included in the book,  you can cook and bake some of the delicious foods she mentions in her books that make your mouth water.

I wanted to love Savor. I wanted to read it and, truly savor each devotion. But there was just something missing for me. Rather than a savoring meal, it was more of an appetizer. I recognized many of the 2-3 paragraph devotions from her previous books and they seemed too short and fragmented from the context they had originally been in. This is not to say it was boring or useless; there were a handful of devotions I was challenged by (such as pages 3, 9, 35, 70), and I definitely liked the action step she has at the end of each day (encouraging the reader to prayer, posing a question for reflection, or challenging the reader). I think it was more of the fact that I like her storytelling narrate style, but I don't seek out this writing style per se, so I am not necessarily captivated by it. Others are, and if so, please give this devotional a chance! I don't want to sway anyone away from it, I just want to honestly share that I wasn't as much of a fan as I expected to me. Her short-and-sweet devotions were hard to sink my teeth into (too many food puns, sorry!) since it takes me a while to get into the zone when I am reading, so I felt like as soon as I was like "Yes, this is great!", then it was over and I was wondering where she was going with that thought.

Take my review with a grain of salt (ok, now the puns are done, I promise) because I didn't actually finish it yet. Its a 365-day devotional after all and I have only had it for two months, so I will slowly read more pages in the next year. Experience it for yourself, especially if you love Shauna's other books. It all depends on what you are looking for in a devotional. If you're looking for an in-depth or exegetical devotional, you may want to look for another devotional (such as devotionals by Oswald Chamber or Charles Spurgeon)  to supplement Savor's light-course meal of encouraging and sometimes thought-provoking pages.
**** Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free through BookLook Bloggers  in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

The Pearl
John Steinbeck
I didn't know what to think when I picked up this tiny book at the library other than the fact it was written by the same author that wrote the infamous Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. And since I have been wanting to add more classics in my literary repertoire, I checked it out and saved it for a rainy day.  It was a quick read during my flight to NYC last weekend and I finished it while relaxing my my aching feet propped up after a few days walking all over the city. 

The Pearl is written as a folk tale that dives deep (pun intended) into the depths of evil, greed, and curroption. Kino is a diver living day to day by gathering pearls to sell in exchange for money to support his wife and baby. One day, he finds the mother of all pearls and his life is forever changed. He grapples with the responsibility of such a precious find and tries to decide what is best to do. He is soon met with opposition from every side as others try to capture the pearl and must journey to save his family and give them hope for a better day. 

The writing style of this little story is very different from Steinbeck's other works, but is rich and memorable in its own right. The story itself is simple and short, but the poetic imagery was beautiful.


The Chronicles of Narnia
C.S. Lewis
Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy are back in Narnia, but they are surprised to see they have travelled to a time much later than their own adventures in Narnia. In fact, Narnia looks like a totally different land and they find themselves lost within its woods. They are on a mission to help the Telmarine Prince Caspian, who has been denied his rightful throne by his conniving uncle, Miraz. Narnia is doomed if the Miraz gains control since he is on mission to destroy the magic of Narnia, killing talking creatures and anyone who stands in his way to the throne. Soon, civil war erupts and the fate of all Narnians stands with two men. 

I am loving the Narnia series so far! I was somewhat familiar with Prince Caspian because of the Disney version, so I replayed certain scenes in my mind as I was listening to the audiobook. My favorite thing about the series, though, has been the Christian symbolism embedded poetically throughout the pages of Narnia. 

Prince Caspian reintroduces the Stone Table, which was the table on which Aslan was killed in Edmund's place and then came back to life (in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe),  symbolizing Jesus' atoning sacrifice at the cross. 

I love Lucy's journey through this book, which beautifully symbolizes the Christian life journey. She struggled to convince her dwarf friend and siblings about seeing Aslan, and when they didn't believe her, she walked away from where she felt Aslan was leading her. Her faith and obedience in the one she loved most was affected by not wanting to be set apart from her group. A little while later, Aslan returns to her and beckons her to lead the group and follow him. His compassionate mercy is shown when she is sorrowful for not following him earlier and buried her face in his mane and is strengthened by Aslan's nearness. She then, with a lionheartedness about her,  convinces the group to follow her as she follows Aslan. How often do we leave what we know is true in exchange for what is politically correct or the popular vote? What an encouraging thought that we can go to Jesus and be strengthened by our nearness to Him and that He is full of mercy for us. During this conversation, Lucy notices how much bigger Aslan seems:
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”  “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.  “Not because you are?”  “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
I teared up during this part. What a beautiful truth that as we grow and walk through both good days and hard days, we learn more about more about Jesus. We see His faithfulness even in the roughest seasons and see that He is so much bigger than we had previously believed. The Christian walk is never boring because there is daily new things to experience and enjoy about God. His mercies are new every morning. His ways are so far more beautiful than anything we can imagine. And his creativity is beyond anything the world can fabricate. So yes, he can be bigger and bigger in our eyes every day.

Next month's reading list:

And the Shofar Blew by Franscine Rivers
Kelly Tough by Erin and Jill Kelly
All the Light We Cannot See by Anothony Doerr

May 20, 2015

wedding inspiration board

Today I am linking up with the ladies at The Circle to share a mood/inspiration board of my choice. And since my upcoming wedding has been the top thing on my mind the past two weeks since Greg proposed, I thought I'd share some Pinterest inspiration ("pinspiration" for short?) I compiled using a free iPhone app, Bazaart. It's hard to tell form the random collection, but our color scheme will be peach, mint, and beige. I want to add accents of traveling and reading to show our love for books and our long-distance relationship. I'm hoping for a warm October day so we can have some lawn games as well!

top left, clockwise // love cake // suitcases & baby breath // books // photo book // mint flats //

P.S. I posted our proposal story in my last post. Greg did an exceptional job and made me feel so treasured!


May 17, 2015

Our Proposal

I am still having trouble believing I am really engaged and will be a wife in exactly 5 months! Wow! It's been a crazy-beautiful 2 weeks since Greg proposed and I finally get to sit back a bit and share some photos and the story of his proposal. I know I am biased, but I think Greg did a phenomenal job!

Saturday, May 2nd,  I woke up earlier than usual and remember missing Greg and being really excited that I would see him on FaceTime at 9:30 that morning. He had convinced me that he was visiting family a few hours from San Antonio, and so I texted him asking how he slept and asked him if he could say hi to his family for me. He said he would and that I'd get a chance to say hi on FaceTime as well (sneaky one, he is!). I also texted him a long list of things I wanted to do because I was hoping the day would be productive (little did I know my plans would change drastically, haha!).

At 9am, I hear a knock on the door and I answer it. No, it wasn't Greg, but rather, a man delivering flowers from the florist Greg uses whenever he orders flowers for me. He handed me a bouquet of beautiful pink tulips in a pretty pink vase. I love tulips, so I excitedly wrote Greg a text, thanking him for the sweet surprise. I then remembered that Greg always has the florist write a little note for me that gets hidden in the bouquet, so I eagerly searched for it… I found it and my heart stopped:
At this point, I was confused and shocked all at once. I even texted him asking if I should bring my computer to the park!  He affirmed he was in town and that I'd see him at the park, which we had visited over a year ago during his first visit as my boyfriend. It was a special place because the day we went there was the day I woke up knowing for sure that I was falling in love with him. How thoughtful that he thought to propose there! But, hey, I am getting ahead of myself…

I figured at that point he was very likely going to propose that day, but part of me was still so shocked that he managed to surprise me (I unintentionally mess up people's surprises) and even more shocked that The Day had finally arrived. So, after running around my apartment in a rush of emotions, trying to figure out what to wear (and trying on atleast 3 different outfits!), I eventually hopped on the freeway and made my way to Laurelhurst Park. 

Before leaving, though, I remember getting on my knees and praising God for Greg. I was overcome with so much joy and amazement at God's faithfulness in both of our lives, before meeting, during our dating season, and now as we drew closer to getting married. I kept thinking, "If Greg loves me this much, how much more does God love me with His unfailing and limitless love?" It was a tangible way to get a glimpse of God's personal love and it was awesome. On the drive to the park, songs on the radio about God's amazing love filled my car and again, I was overflowing with joy and peace about this new season in our love story. It was an awesome moment that I won't forget. 
Greg gave me specific instructions regarding which entrance to use once I got to the park, so I started walking down the path and saw flowers directing me to where he was standing on a hill, next to a picnic blanket. I was still in a state of shock, and by the time I got to him, I poked him a few times, asking if he was really there. He said some sweet words, affirming his love and devotion to me, then got on one knee and asked me to be his wife. Afterwards, two of his friends, who had travelled form Texas, appeared with their cameras in tow. They had caught the whole proposal in photos and video, which was the one thing I had asked Greg regarding a proposal. It was perfect!
 He's waiting for me  . . . and here I come
 haha, she caught a photo of me poking him to make sure this wasn't a dream :)
Again, I was overwhelmed, but in such a joyful way! These friends took a few photos of us, then left to explore town as Greg and I enjoyed our picnic. 
The rest of the day was dreamy and exciting and lovely all at once. We visited the lilac garden (it was the third weekend in a row that I visited!), had BBQ for a late lunch, visited family, and then visited some friends as well. We ended the night praying together for this new journey. 
Since then, I heard of all the details that went into Greg's proposal, which made it all the more heartwarming and beautiful, including him renting an AirBnb room, taking public transit from the airport after midnight (yikes!),  buying my dream ring, and how our two friends joyfully offered to fly down within a  few days to help him with setting up the picnic and taking photos. 

I am overjoyed and humbled at this great love. Life will get a bit chaotic as we plan a wedding, as I move half-way across the country, transfer my RN and ARNP licenses and start looking for a new job. Lots of change for a girl who likes consistency and routine! But I am trusting that though there will be lots of planning and change, it will also be a season of joy as we prepare to be husband and wife.

May 6, 2015

I'm engaged!!

Greg surprised me this past weekend with a visit and a proposal!
More photos to come in the next few weeks as well as the sweet
proposal story! I am on cloud nine and cannot stop staring at my 
ring. SO overjoyed and thankful for the man I am going to marry
in the autumn! He is more than anything I could ever ask or 
pray for in a man. I am so excited to be his wife and to live life 
with this handsome mister of mine! 

Other than that (big!) news, I have more exciting news:
I am on my way to NYC with my sisters tomorrow for 
our first sisters trip! We have been wanting to do a trip 
together for years. Greg is joining us after the first few days. 
 So, I will be absent from the blog for the next week or two.

Adios for now!

May 1, 2015

Goodbye April … Hello May!

April was a good month, but I am so excited for May! Warmer days (though I can't complain; the PNW has been glorious this spring!), one step closer to my favorite season (summer!), longer days, &  a long-awaited trip to NYC next week! Bring it on, May!

April Goals

>> Write to my Compassion Child (I received a sweet letter from my darling & replied)
>> Check Mint weekly for budgeting
>> Finish The Great DivorceFresh Wind Fresh Fire, and audiobook version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and start a new book. (Check out my review on the 5 books I read in April)
>> Put old (but cherished) photos and documents onto my external hard drive after to make more space on my computer (and maybe speed it up!). (Kinda? I organized and deleted unwanted documents, but I can't add anything to my external hard drive for some reason)
>>Work out twice a week 
>> Decrease my jogging mile/minute average by 10 sec. (I averaged at about 30sec faster per mile this month! But then I started having horrible back pain, so I took the past 2 weeks off)
>> Start a new Bible study  (I am digging deep into Habakkuk in April and May)
>> New crockpot recipe (lemony chicken stir fry with asparagus was oh, so good!!)


May Goals

>>Write to my Compassion Child
>> Check Mint weekly for budgeting and financing
>> Back stretches (6min total) atleast 3x/week to help my back pain
>> Try out pilates through youtube videos
>> One new recipe
>> Finish 2 month study of Habakkuk
>> Finish Mama Maggie and I Tried Until I Almost Died. Start & finish And The Shofar Blew, Steinbeck's The Pearl, and listen to audiobook of Prince Caspian. Skim through Introverts in Love.
>> Link-up with The Circle to share a mood-board of my choice
>> Enjoy every minute in NYC with Greg and my sisters!!!
>> Sell atleast 4 things through Facebook buy-sell groups
Fun times in April! (Top left, clockwise: Forest Park hike for Greg's bday; Downtown Portland; Seattle day-trip; Hood River day trip w/ Greg, sisters, &  brother; Departure Lounge & Restaurant; Woodland Tulip Festival; my mom in her element at Hulda Klager lilac festival; Hulda Klager's historic home on my 2nd weekend in a row; my favorite flowers (tulips & peonies)