What I’m Into 7:14

July is a month of celebrations in our family. We celebrate our anniversary, Daisy’s birthday, my mom’s birthday, and Bea’s birthday. This year, in honor of our 5th, Frank and I took five days to explore Ouray in southwestern Colorado. We spent quality time hiking trails we can’t do with Bea, conversing uninterrupted, driving through beautiful scenery, and reconnecting.

For Bea’s birthday, my brother and cousin flew in from California to celebrate. Because we have a small house, we created a guest room behind our garden using our tent. With the room divider set up, it was about as spacious as our proper guest room, if a bit less convenient. It was a good lesson in hospitality with small spaces.

No guest room? No problem!

No guest room? No problem!

Bea continues to adore all things Daniel Tiger, so we decided to recreate a “Tigy” cake and she was over the moon. She absolutely loved having all her friends over and it was fun to see her understand that she was getting bigger. She kept shouting, “Happy Birthday, Beatrix! I’m two ‘ears old!”

Bea with her Tigy cake

Bea with her Tigy cake

We just dropped our last guest off at the airport and now the house seems a bit quiet. Even though a full house can have its stresses, I love being able to open our home. When we were all packed in the living room, eating leftover cake, Bea sighed and said, “My whole family is here!” There’s something special about instilling that importance from the very beginning.

Books: Finished and In Progress
I decided to read the rest of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy as part of our Reading Challenge. Upon reflection, I think Perelandra was my favorite and, as Frank is reading Surprised by Hope, we are finding connections, which is fun. Next up is Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.

A couple five-star reads this month were Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman and An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. We are just barely into Season 1 of OITNB and the book helped me connect with Piper’s character. Though it doesn’t follow the series, the book brings up important issues around prison reform and has started conversations between Frank and I about ways we can help. An Altar in the World may be my new favorite book. I’m thinking of buying a few copies to give away, as I know I’ll be recommending it! In the midst of blog-style Christian memoirs, this is a refreshing, deeply written series of reflections.

Currently, I’m reading The Meat Racket by Christopher Leonard, about Tyson chicken. We only buy local, organic chicken, but it has made me question what I’m eating when we go to restaurants. Definitely an eye-opening, thought-provoking book, though it is a bit dense and slow-going for a July read.

You can connect over at Goodreads and Pinterest for all of my reading activity.

Blogging
Many bloggers seem to be taking a summer break, which has been nice for me and has freed up reading time. Over here, my most popular was Freedom. My own favorite was Bagging Peaks. I’m still trying to figure out this blogging groove and have been really pondering what this space is about and for. Thanks to all who read, respond, and encourage. I do appreciate it!

Around Town
The Denver Botanic Gardens has a Dale Chihuly exhibit up right now. I love his whimsical style and have only seen it displayed in museum settings. The way the sculptures are integrated into the gardens is fun and natural. If you haven’t yet been, I’d highly recommend. Get there early (they open at 9:00) because parking fills up quickly!

What about you? What are you into these days?

Linked with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into. Head over there for fun books, activities, and goings-on from July.

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Thistles

While out in California to meet relatives before our wedding, one of my aunts commented that I had always been a bit harsh but Frank softened those rough edges. After my initial defensiveness, I’ve realized she may have been right.

I’m a critical person by nature. I have high standards for myself and for others and am always critiquing. Frank is a natural optimist, seeing people and situations through a rosy tint. It takes a huge effort for Frank to lose faith in someone’s potential. I still wouldn’t call myself the most generous person on earth, but he is rubbing off on me and my expectations of humanity are shifting.

Earlier this year, I read Luci Shaw’s The Crime of Living Cautiously and part of a chapter struck a chord and stuck with me. In “The Risk of Relationships,” Shaw ponders how we define flowers and weeds. She talks about the relativity of designating certain plants as weeds, noting wild day lilies that grow along highways and the resiliency of clover in fields (pp 95-6). She connects this image to our own relationships and habits of categorizing those around us as flowers (those like us) and weeds (those we don’t understand). And yet, these are all relative distinctions.

West Highland Thistle

West Highland Thistle

For our first anniversary, Frank and I hiked the West Highland Way, a 95-mile trail climbing through the Scottish Highlands. Keeping us along the Way were guideposts carved with the Scottish thistle. The Way, in general, is well-marked and we rarely needed the thistle to guide us. On our last day, nearing the end of a long 14 miles, we lost the path and couldn’t find a guidepost. I was so tired, my feet hurt, and knowing the end was so close made things seem worse. We searched for the thistle and finally, as I slumped against a stone wall, Frank found it around a corner. I perked up and we trudged into Fort William, proud of such an accomplishment.

When we arrived back in Colorado, after about two weeks’ absence, we found our yard overrun with our own thistles. The weeds had gone to seed and spread and I spent the next weeks pulling up the nettles, a never-ending rash on my forearms. The irony was not lost on me that summer, as I grumbled over our weeds. The very plant that, just weeks before had been my guidepost, was now my deep-rooted enemy, infiltrating my garden.

Because we don’t use chemicals on our yard, thistles come back every year. Last year, we resigned ourselves to them, trying to see the beauty but I think they may have choked out our poppies as a result… While blooming, thistles are beautiful – I love the tall stalks and light-purple flowers. But until they bloom, they just prick. Even our two-year-old knows to keep away from the “fistles.”

Blooming backyard thistle

Blooming backyard thistle

Initially, I connected Shaw’s analogy to others: I’ve learned so much through that prickly relationship; She became more beautiful once I viewed her as a flower rather than a weed. And, I’ve come to realize, I’m being the weedy one. How am I being prickly toward others? How can I shift and show more blossoms and fewer nettles?

When I give myself grace, when I allow myself to shift from weed to flower, I begin to give grace to others. I have such trouble shifting mentality, but when I am gracious with my own needs, my own values, my own insecurities, I am far more gracious with the seeming imperfections of others. I have started asking, How can I be a guide rather than a nettle? How can I see the wild beauty in others rather than pulling them out and forcing my own, neatly planted ideals?

Shaw describes God as an artist-gardener, loving the wild mix of plants and flowers, contained and rambling that cover His garden. She says,

“So I have to believe that uninterrupted nature, weeds and all, is divine art” (pg 98).

Sometimes we need the nettling, unpleasant side of the weed. Sometimes I need that push-back to my own ideologies in order to shift perspective and grow. In trying to embrace the weed-as-flower, I can just as easily not recognize its inherent weediness. How can embracing all aspects of the wild beauty of the weed empower me to embrace all aspects of a difficult relationship or habit?

Shaw concludes,

“And then perhaps a relationship can begin to form and flourish between a flower and a weed. They can perhaps beautify the landscape together” (p 100).

Maybe, instead of sweating and giving myself rashes, I need to sit back in the hammock, surrounded by nettles and poppies, intentional and unintentional plantings, and enjoy being part of this wild beauty.

Do you struggle with weediness? How can you see beauty in weeds this week?

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Capital G

On my phone, the word grace autocorrects to capital-G Grace. I don’t know if that’s standard or if it’s because we have a niece whose name is Grace, so I manually changed it enough to make it automatic. In any case, every time I send a text or write a comment using my phone, grace is changed to Grace.

I’d noticed this change but had never really thought about it until the past few days. This week, Grace has been tough. From various communication breaks between friends and coworkers, I’ve been way more judgey and way less grace-full.

And then I really noticed the capital G. I’ve tried to be more cognizant of Grace this year. Some days it’s so easy and other days it’s just too difficult. On those difficult days – the ones I’ve chosen this word for – I need Grace with an important, capital G.

And so, with two days left in this week, I’m looking to turn around my judgement and try to use the lens of Grace.

How have you chosen Grace this week? Has autocorrect ever worked in your favor?

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Bagging Peaks

Frank and I spent five days in Ouray, Colorado celebrating our fifth anniversary. Known as the Switzerland of America, it is surrounded by the high peaks of the San Juans and is home to mining, Jeeping, hiking, and ice climbing. Since we left Bea with Grandma and Grandpa, we hiked every day and stayed in a cute B&B so came home to relaxing hot tubs and comfy beds.

Descending into Ouray

Descending into Ouray

Our first morning in town, we set the alarm for 5:00, smeared peanut butter on bananas, filled our Camelbaks with water, threw our boots in the car, and headed into the mountains to hike Mt. Sneffels. It had been three years since I hiked a mountain. We took Bea halfway up Bierstadt last year and Frank hiked a couple in preparation for the Ascent, but we hadn’t truly hiked to summit since Bea was born.

We parked and were on the way to Yankee Boy Basin by 6:15. Not at the beginning of the pack, but with enough time to summit and be off the mountain before noon. Most hikers try to stick to that rule – regular afternoon thunderstorms can be deadly at 14,000 feet.

We set off up the Jeep road to the base of Sneffels. When we got there, the sign said 1.2 miles to the summit. This lends a false sense of distance, as this mile can take more than three hours to accomplish. We started up the path toward the long, challenging scree field of loose rocks.

Scree field

Scree field

I can’t remember how many of the 14ers I’ve summited – somewhere in the low teens. As my dad and I started hiking them, we stuck with Class 1 walk-ups, so my success rate was high. Even though I’ve spent most of my life in this state and do love the outdoors, I’m nowhere near as hardcore as many who embrace the adventurous lifestyle of our state.

“Bagging peaks” is an underlying mentality of most who climb Colorado’s mountains. As beautiful as the views are and as amazing as it is to get away from crowded trails, many don’t count a hike successful unless a summit is reached.

The scree field on Sneffels was long and hard. We stopped partway up for a Nutella snack but didn’t make it to the snowy saddle until 10:45. By this time, clouds were beginning to gather. We had met several hikers who had turned around at the saddle, saying it was too snowy to continue. As we assessed the situation, overlooking amazing alpine valleys, we chatted with hikers who had made it to the summit successfully. They were seasoned and had “bagged” harder peaks than I had attempted.

We were only about 300 feet from the summit but those feet involved scaling a boulder field, skirting the snowy trail, and mustering more confidence in climbing abilities than I had. After some debate, we decided to turn around at the saddle.

Last 300 feet

Last 300 feet

It was a tough hike down. I felt that I had let Frank down – he would have summited had I not been along. I wondered if, had he known my hiking limitations, he would have still married me. (I think that may have been the altitude talking…) We passed novice hikers in Converse sneakers without water and I thought, Surely I can summit if they can! (Who knows if they actually did summit…)

By the time we reached the bottom, I was feeling very inauthentic in my ability to live in Colorado, land of hikers. As we looked back, the dark clouds kept gathering and I knew we had made a wise decision. Thankfully, no one was hurt that day at the summit, but I didn’t want to take my chances. I learned that I’m more of a Class 2 hiker, not the Class 3 of Sneffels, and that is ok. There are still many more beautiful hikes and trails that don’t involve scaling boulders.

At the trailhead, we came across an older man who had fallen and broken his hip. Luckily, a doctor was present, but they needed more help. Frank offered his belt to stabilize the splint and then carefully helped lift the man into a waiting Jeep. As we sat among wildflowers, eating our lunch, and watching the Jeep slowly descend the trail, we reflected that, had we not turned around, we would not have been able to help. Maybe realizing limitations had farther reaching effects than my own insecurities.

The next morning at breakfast, we told our B&B host of our failure. He asked,

“Was the hike beautiful? Did you see amazing views?”

Yes…

“Then it was a success!”

The rest of our trip was filled with river hiking adventures, scrambling up waterfalls, and hiking rolling, wildflower-filled trails. It would be fun to go back and try Sneffels again, maybe later in the season. But, as I settle into my own self and the example I want to set for my family, I’m counting successes among wildflower trails rather than peaks bagged.

Linked with SheLoves Magazine’s monthly theme: Authentic.

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Poets Anonymous: Dividing God

Welcome to our monthly Poets Anonymous!

On the 15th of each month, I’ll post a poem. If you have a blog, post a poem on yours and share your link in the comments. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to share part of a poem in the comments. Or, I encourage you to simply read a poem today.

The moon starts singing
When everyone is asleep
And the planets throw a bright robe

Around their shoulders and whirl up
Close to her side.

Once I asked the moon,
“Why do you and your sweet friends
Not perform so romantically like that
To a larger crowd?”

And the whole sky chorus resounded,

“The admission price to hear
The lofty minstrels
Speak of love

Is affordable only to those
Who have not exhausted themselves
Dividing God all day
And thus need rest.”

Hafiz

Share a favorite poem (or segment of one) in the comments!

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Wedding Dress Donation

It’s wedding season! We went to our first wedding of the summer a couple weeks ago – beautiful, outdoors, and a perfect reflection of the bride & groom’s values. One of the things I love most about going to weddings is how individual a seemingly prescribed day can be. Each wedding has us reflect on our own, and Frank and I usually leave saying how much we loved our own best. And, I think that’s how it should be – your own wedding should be the best!

When we planned our wedding, we had to prioritize what was important and where we wanted our money to go. For us, the location took center stage. We were married in a private garden in the middle of Denver. Because of the location, we didn’t spend much on decorations – we didn’t need to with the beautiful gardens filled with paths and nooks.

For me, the dress wasn’t as high on the priority list. I only tried on three and picked the first one. Growing up, I never dreamed of the perfect dress. I just assumed I’d wear something long and white. While I had fun dressing up, the ambiance was much more important.

Detail of my dress

Detail of my dress

The one I chose did fit me and my personality perfectly. After the reception, I changed out of my gown into a white sundress. Frank and I were peddling my grandparent’s old tandem bike off to our honeymoon. (Really, just around the corner to where our car was parked!) Once I changed, my mom took the dress home, smooshed it into a garbage bag, and gave it to a friend headed to Rwanda. I never saw it again.

Peddling to our honeymoon

Peddling to our honeymoon

Before we were even engaged, I knew what I wanted to do with my future wedding dress. My parents’ church had a connection with the Mother’s Union in Rwanda where they rent out dresses and they had a need for more modern choices. For me, it didn’t make sense to clean, store, and hope that one day if I had a daughter she may want to wear my dress. I was happy to give mine away, knowing others would enjoy wearing it. (And, a couple years after our wedding, I heard mine was one of the most rented since its style was so new.)

When I thought about this post, I had originally planned a “Top Five Places to Donate Your Dress” sort of thing. But then I Googled the options and realized it didn’t make sense – there are so many local places doing amazing things with preworn dresses. From benefiting cancer research to helping military wives afford their dream gown to rentals benefiting various charities, most cities have quite a few options.

So, I encourage you: If you are getting married this year or have a dress in a box somewhere, search “donating wedding dress in (your city)” and see if any organizations are a good fit.

Do you still have your dress? Have you donated yours? Tell about your experience in the comments!

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Review: Framing Faith by Matt Knisely

One of my favorite classes in college was titled “The Power of Images in Western Civilization.” Over the course of the semester, we looked at images from early cave paintings to religious icons to fascist propaganda. We talked about how our culture and history have been shaped by the stories that have been told through the images created during different periods. As an art history major, I fully believe in the power of a single photograph or painting to shape the way we see history. And, as someone who is trying to embrace my own stories, I believe that as we live intentionally, we create a lasting story.

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In his first book, Framing Faith, Matt Knisely empowers the reader to tell their story. Knisely explores the busyness and connectedness we live in today. As positive as social media can be, are we stopping to focus on the story God is writing in our lives? Using the framework of photographic terminology, Knisely illustrates the importance of slowing down, of developing important “scenes” in our lives, and of noticing what God is creating in each experience.

Knisely’s approachable style made this book easy to read. He quickly engages with stories of his own as well as images from his career. As I try to notice my own story with more intention, I connected with his ideas that God created us to learn from and tell our stories.

I especially enjoyed his chapter on Darkness. He encourages the reader to find the truth in imperfection, that

“The moment we skip to the end of our stories, we fall captive to the stories of this world, we lose the uniqueness of our story, and in turn we lose the power of the gospel to be light in real darkness” (143).

He continues to remind the reader that imperfections, conflict, and failures are what make great, engaging stories. He encourages the reader to embrace those dark points in the story, knowing that lessons learned will create a deeper, more meaningful story.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. There were a few points when I felt that the analogy of photography was forced into what Knisely was trying to say, but overall I appreciated the framework. It’s a timely book, as more and more people are questioning the amount of time spent on social media and the depth of connections made without connecting in real life.

As storytelling is regaining importance in our society, how are you embracing and telling your story?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Framing Faith. To enter, leave a comment about an experience telling your own story. I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, July 11, 2014. (US & Canadian addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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