Jun 30, 2015

June Book Reviews

June was a busy month. I wasn't sure if I would get very much reading done, but I carved out time throughout my traveling, wedding-related appointments, work, packing up my apartment, and general busyness for three books. Reading is one of the things that calms me down, so it was a much-needed reward to slide into my armchair in my little reading nook. 

Kelly Tough
Erin Kelly and Jill Kelly
Erin is the eldest daughter of Buffalo Bill's former star quarterback, Jim Kelly. She shares the struggles and triumphs their family experienced while Jim underwent chemotherapy and radiation for oral cancer for the second time. Her faith in God's sovereignty amidst the unmeasurable pain of watching her beloved dad suffer from cancer was unbelievably encouraging and beautiful to witness through this book. Her honesty with her raw emotions and questions towards God made the book deeply personal and real. She didn't skirt around the painful reality of cancer while still rejoicing in God's love for her family through this time. 

The term "Kelly tough" was coined early in Erin's life and reflected their grit iron determination and resolve, but as Jim struggled through cancer treatments, it also became a reminder of the strength that he found in God to carry him through unimaginable amounts of pain. #kellytough became a popular hashtag during Jim Kelly's cancer treatments as Buffalo Bill's fans (as well as many who didn't even follow football) supported Jim and his family through their prayers, well-wishes, and encouraging messages. Thus, Erin's aptly named book came from a place of both heartache and joy, which she beautifully stitched together to be both a memoir as well as an encouragement to look to God through life's dark valleys.

**** Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free through Icon Media Group  in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.
The Porcelain Thief: Searching the Middle Kingdom for Buried China
Huan Hsu
Huan is a Chinese-American journalist from Utah who embarks on a journey through China to discover his family's history as he searches for buried porcelain belonging to his great-great-grandfather. Buried in 1938 when the Japanese army arrived in his small village, forcing him to flee with his family, Huan's great-great-grandfather's porcelain becomes somewhat of a family legend. Some say it was dug up by neighbors or distant family for monetary value (it was thought to be equal in value to royal porcelain) while others want to forget the past and it's mysteries. Huan Hsu expertly blends a memoir, travelogue, social and political history into a witty and entertaining book that walks the reader through China -- past and present.

**** 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.
And the Shofar Blew
Francine Rivers
I love everything Francine Rivers writes and this book certainly did not disappoint. Though I was more used to Francine's historical fiction (Redeeming Love and the Mark of the Lion series), this present-day story was expertly written. Paul Hudson is the central figure of the book. A young, new pastor of a small church of senior citizens, his desire to serve the Lord as the new pastor morphs over the years into  people-pleasing and ultimately selfish motives. Those affected on the sidelines include his loving wife, his son, and true friends who try to correct him along the way. The book was realistic and cautionary in many ways, but also full of redemption and the gospel message interwoven amidst the pages in the artistic style of Rivers. 

Jun 13, 2015

NYC // pt 1

I am finally getting around to sharing some of my favorite photos from last month's trip to NYC with my sisters and Greg. We had an awesome time exploring the Big Apple while also planning for time to soak it all in at various parks. Greg and I had been in NYC before, but this was our first trip together (other than visiting each other's cities). It was my sisters' first trip to NYC, so it was really fun planning seeing their reactions to so many of the awe-inspiring views of the city. 

Here are the photos from the first evening (which we spent in Weehawken, New Jersey, where we were staying in an Airbnb rental) and the first full day in Manhattan. Greg came a few days later, so he's missing from these photos. We loved our Airbnb railroad-style apartment. And it was super close to Manhattan! We hopped on a private bus two blocks from the apartment, payed the $3 fee, and within 15-30min (depending on the Lincoln Tunnel traffic), we were in Time Square! We never had to wait for a bus because there was always one there for us to hop onto whether in NJ or NYC. 
 We walked for fifteen minutes to get to the Weehawken Waterfront Park where we saw this beautiful skyline of Manhattan. We were so pumped to explore the next day!
 We used Big Bus Tours and bought two-day passes for the hop on-hop off tourist buses. I had used the bus in London during my two visits and was impressed with it, so decided to use it for NYC. We decided to explore Upper Manhattan and Harlem the first day and saved Midtown and Lower Manhattan for the second day. The following photos are from the Upper Manhattan, starting in Time Square and heading east before north.
We bumped into and probably photobombed more selfies than we could count at Grand Central Station and admired the intricate details of the architecture of St. Patrick's Cathedral.
We explored The New York Public Library, but sadly, the famous Reading Room (with the artwork on the ceilings) was under construction. We enjoyed a photography exhibit and the gift shop, though.
We soon got hungry and our feet needed respite from walking, so we grabbed sandwiches from Pret-A-Manger (my favorite place to grab lunch on-the-go in London). We found an empty spot at Bryant Park just in time before the lunch crowds appeared. We loved Bryant Park and returned two or three other times during the week. 
We eventually got back on the bus and headed toward Central Park. We explored just a bit of the western middle of the gigantic part. It was a hot day and we knew we would see more of it within a few days by bike, so we just wanted to soak it all in that day. 
 We loved the fairytale feeling of the Shakespeare Garden and the Belvedere Castle as well as the calming views of Turtle Pond from atop the castle's viewing areas.

We ended up riding in the bus for about an hour as we heard the tour guide talk about Harlem's sites as well as the the east part of Central Park (the swanky fifth avenue) and back to Time Square. We were beat by the time we got back and called it a night pretty early since we knew we'd have a lot to see the next day.

Jun 7, 2015

Praising Through The Pain // His Eye Is On The Sparrow

His Eye Is On The Sparrow

"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.  Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows." 
(Luke 12:6-7)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his ispan of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
(Matthew 6:25-33)
 I don't know about anyone else, but no matter how often these verses are repeated to me -- whether by an encouraging friend, a song like "His Eye Is On The Sparrow", or a devotional -- they still dig deep within, revealing areas in which I lack faith that God truly loves me more than the sparrows and the lilies. But it is so true!

For many years, I struggled on and off with worry and an anxious heart.  The ugly face of anxiety appeared in different ways such as being a perfectionist because I feared letting anyone see my insecurities and weaknesses,  fear of failure (in a job or relationship, for example), uncertainty about the future and the things I cannot foresee or plan, and people-pleasing because of a deep-seeded fear of being unworthy or unable to be loved because of my faults. In the past four years, God has tenderly worked through all of these areas in a story that can only be written by the Author of Life. He has brought rest to my weary mind, heart, and soul. I began slowly (and sometimes two steps forward and one step back) to better see God as both a righteous and powerful King, but also as a loving and compassionate Father who calls me His beloved daughter. This realization gave me worth in a way that none of my other efforts could ever provide. My worth is not grounded in what I have done, but what God has done. It is not grounded in who I am, but who's I am. And this truth made all the difference. 

But old habits die hard, unfortunately. And though I have learned these unshakeable truths that truly bring peace over my anxiety, there are still seasons in which I need to remind myself again and again. And here I am in such a season. I find myself in a time of great excitement as I draw near to four months until I marry my best friend Greg, but it is also a time in which Worry and Anxiety are trying to poke their ugly little faces once again. As I mentioned in my post last week, so many anxious thoughts have entered my mind in the last month about my future job, my future role as a wife, and just the overall future. And because there is so much that lies unforeseen, it is easy for me to start to listen to the lies of Worry and Anxiety once again. They're like the mean girls in school that pretend to be your friend, but then tease you and lie to you for their own gain. They make you feel good at first by letting you feel sorry for yourself, but then you're left with a heart that is aching and a mind that is racing late into the night. In these times, my vision is myopic -- I only see what is in front of me: Change. Uncertainty. Deadlines. Applications. etc. etc. Rather, my heart's cry should sing "Be Thou My Vision", a far-sighted bird's eye view of God's hand at work even in the days it is not visible. 

As I read through the above verses today and listened to "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" throughout the morning, I was so comforted in God's ability to provide for our every need, big or small. If He loves His creation so much as to dress the flowers in their radiant hues and provides for the sparrows that were considered a cheap sacrifice during Bible times, how much more does He provide and love us humans, who He has fashioned into His own image (Genesis 1:26-27)? I'll give you a hint: infinitely more. Abundantly more. Exponentially more. 

 "The birds sing, while we complain and speak of fear and anxiety. The lilies of the field stand tall in their glory, while we wilt and bend before the smallest wind of adversity." (David Wilkerson, Dearly Beloved). I wonder what the sparrows and lilies would say about our worrying if they could speak. This poem does a wonderful job of imagining the conversations:

The very birds reprove thee with all their happy song;
the very flowers teach thee that fretting is wrong.
"Cheer up," the sparrow chirpeth. "Thy Father feedeth me;
think how much He careth, oh lovely child, for thee."

"Fear not," the flowers whisper; "since thus He hath arrayed 
the buttercup and daisy. How canst thou be afraid?"
Then don't you trouble trouble, till trouble troubles you. 
You'll only double trouble, and trouble others too.
(Mark Pearce)

The beautiful hymn, "His Eye Is On The Sparrow", was written in 1905 by a woman named Civilla Martin after meeting a couple named the Doolittles. Mr. D was in a wheelchair and Mrs. D had been bedridden for around twenty years.  Mrs. Martin was amazed at their deep-rooted hope and peace. How could these two individuals, who had experienced so much physical pain still be so full of joy? She asked the couple and Mrs. Doolittle's response became the oft-repeated refrain: "His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me". (She Reads Truth, Hymns II)

I am not saying life is easy and the Bible definitely doesn't say it either. Life is hard, and sometimes, life is really hard. Worries come. Anxiety comes. Fears come. But (and this is a big but!) this is not the end of the story. In those times, talk to the God who dresses the lilies and feeds the sparrows. Talk to the God who hears the cries of the lonely and forgotten (Psalm 68:6). Talk to the God who redeems the lost (Ezekiel 34:16; Luke 15:1-7). Talk to the God who rescues  (Psalm 107; Psalm 91:14-16). Talk to the God who loves with a sacrificial and unfailing love (Psalm 36:7). Talk to the God who will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6). Trust in this powerful God and watch those worries, fears, and anxieties lose their hold on you.

  1. Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
    Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,
    When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
    • Refrain:
      I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
      For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
  2. “Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
    And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
    Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
  3. Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
    When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
    I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
    His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

 Check out my favorite versions of this timeless and truth-filled hymn:

Jun 1, 2015

June Goals

May was a crazy-beautiful month, y'all! Here are a few of the highlights:
+ Greg surprised me on May 2nd and proposed! (read the proposal story here)
+ We went to NYC along with my sisters the next week!
+ The super-busy wedding planning began (I booked our venue and photographer, bought my dress, and have been pinning like crazy. Read an honest post about some of my struggles through all the changes happening).

I was able to get a lot done this month and I hope June proves just as productive and exciting!

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 (well, I did it half the month)
>> Try out pilates through youtube videos
>> One new recipe (OMG. Crockpot Roast w/ Baby Carrots and Shallots)
>> 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 
(I tried to sell a lot, but only sold my cruiser bike)


June Goals

>>Renew my ARNP and RN licenses 
>>Renew my drivers license
>>Send paperwork for my Texas RN license 
>>Write to my Compassion International kiddo
>> Check Mint (for budgeting) weekly
>>Read 2 books
>>Start a new book of the Bible to study for 2 months
>>Get to bed by 11 on work nights
>>Meet with wedding florist and decide on flowers
>>Get engagement photos done in San Antonio
>>Start premarital counseling when in San Antonio
>>Exercise 2-3x a week with a mix of pilates, weight-lifting, and jogging
>>Slowly edge towards a more paleo diet once again
>>Write another post for the "journal of a miss to mrs" series about the temptation to give into people-pleasing and perfection-seeking with wedding planning
>> post about NYC