Posted in What I Do, Wonderments

A Habit and a Smile

I have been sitting here for 15 minutes, trying to decide what to write.

I want to write something. Anything. I want to make myself re-establish the habit of writing. But, at the end of the day, my brain is tired. My creativity is shot. My attitude it not always so great. And the writing doesn’t always flow.

Besides that, I have to be off the computer by 8:00 or I won’t sleep well. So here I sit, at 7:45, tempted to just give up and not write anything.

And that, my friend, is how habits come to be formed – or broken.

Once upon a time, I wrote regularly. It was a habit. Occasionally, the words just didn’t flow, but I could usually get back to it in the next day or two. Until the day I couldn’t. Maybe I’d invested all of my ideas in my work writing for Well Planned Gal or one of my other side writing jobs. Or I was just brain-tired too many days in a row. Or I’d had a day (or a week or month) of spiritual distance and disconnect, and I felt like I had nothing left to say because I wasn’t really listening to the nudges and guidances of the Holy Spirit – the only one who can make my creativity flourish in a truly meaningful manner!

So one day flowed into another day. And another. And then my habit became to give up.

Tonight, I don’t want to give up. Tonight is my last chance to write for the rest of the week because I don’t have another free evening. So, tonight, I’m just writing the first thing that comes to my head: thoughts about changing my habit.

Whenever I read about spiritual growth, whether in Scripture or the various other books I’ve worked through lately, I’m reminded just how much I struggle with discipline. How often I falter. How easily I give into the pouty “I don’t want to” attitude.

The thing about being undisciplined is that it affects even the most enjoyable aspects of life. I not only don’t want to eat right or exercise or devote the energy to prayer or diligence with my schedule. I also no longer want to create. Because creating takes effort, too. Even when it’s fun.

I love to write. But, sitting down to do it – to try to put my thoughts into coherent words, to be vulnerable at times, to open myself up to be criticized or ignored – takes discipline, just like any other aspect of growth and health. And at the end of the day, it’s so easy to convince myself that I’m done. I’m tired. I just don’t have anything left to give.

And I don’t. But God does. He never tires. He never runs out of creativity to share.

And now, I’m smiling. Because I’m realizing something. I don’t need to force one more boost of energy to write tonight. I just need to open myself up to let the Holy Spirit’s energy and creativity flow. Yes, it takes discipline. Yes, it takes a decision to sit down and write. But it can flow, if I let it.

And now, fifteen minutes later, I have well over 500 words. Not a great article or anything super deep or meaningful. In fact, this is more for me than for anyone else. Because it’s the re-creation of a habit. A habit that doesn’t demand I write every day or that I publish everything I write, but that motivates me to write when I do have the space. To choose to not give up and walk away. To write something, even if I only have fifteen minutes in which to do it. And I’ve taken the first step.

Yes, that definitely makes me smile.

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Posted in Wonderments

Is Simple Better?

I am a longtime WordPress user. My own blog is one of the freebies because I have never taken the time to learn how to customize my own site. But, I work for a woman who is brilliant when it comes to coding and design. I must confess to being a bit spoiled by the WordPress site she has created. That is probably the other reason I’ve never taken the plunge and designed my own site – it could never measure up to hers!

A few months ago, though, I noticed something. WordPress kept trying to get me to change to the “new editor.” It was promoted as easier. Simpler. Sleeker. Better.

The simpler was definitely true. In place of the familiar dashboard that took a bit of learning to manage, every detail of the new editor was practically self-explanatory. But, many of the things I’d previously taken care of on my own were done for me automatically – and not always the way I wanted them to be done. Instead of choosing to utilize them, they were chosen on my behalf. Easier? Yes. Better? I wasn’t so sure.

It’s possible I wasn’t really losing anything with the new editor, but I ended up deciding to go back to the old one. I knew where everything was, and I didn’t have to undo things that were automatically taken care of for me. The old design much more closely matched what I work with day in and day out through my job, so it was more natural to just continue with that layout. After a while, WordPress stopped asking me to change, and I fell back into a nice rhythm again.

Now, some of you might be reading along thinking, “She’s just resistant to change. She needs to be willing to accept new things.” And, that is true. I have experienced a lot of change in my life over the years, and sometimes I get tired of it. I just want to stay the same for a while, and I have to be reminded that growth and change often goes hand in hand.

But not all change is helpful, and that includes change that automatically makes life simpler for us. Much of our society is moving that direction: toward the simple. Toward having work done for us. Toward a reality where we don’t have to figure things out because it’s all taken care of.

I’m not sure that’s always a good thing. Easier is not always better. Simpler is not always the most helpful. Sometimes it just makes us lazier, less attentive, and less able to think and problem-solve for ourselves. Then when problems arise that our easy, simply, do-it-for-us lifestyle can’t quite handle, we suddenly find that we have forgotten how to problem solve. How to really think.

In many ways, yes, simple is better. But in other ways, it may be robbing us of the best.

Posted in Reviews

A Song Unheard

Sometimes accidentally requesting to review book two in a series has delightful results. Such was the case with Roseanna M. White’s Shadows Over England series. Having borrowed and read A Name Unknown, book one in the series, I was excited to dive into A Song Unheard.

The mysterious Mr. V has a new assignment for London’s most exceptional family of thieves, and this time the special skills of young Willa Forsythe make her the ideal choice. Willa has always loved music, but when a old, battered violin came into her possession, she discovered that genuine talent also flowed through her. Although formal training was never available, time spent in the alleys near the open windows of practice rooms or up in the rafters of performance halls fed Willa’s hunger for music and introduced her to new tunes she could then bring to life with her treasured instrument. So, when Mr. V needs someone to obtain a cypher key created by the father of famous Belgian violinist Lukas De Wilde, the musically-minded Willa is the obvious choice.

After barely escaping with their lives, Belgian musicians have temporarily resettled in Wales where, thanks to the generosity of wealthy patrons, they prepare for concerts that will hopefully bring in finances to help fellow Belgians displaced or left starving by the German invasion. But Lukas De Wilde no longer cares about his incredible talent or once-enjoyed fame. Instead, he thinks only of returning to Belgium to find his lost mother and sister. When the fascinating Willa Forsythe arrives in town, his anxious heart is soothed somewhat by the discovery of a raw talent that far surpasses his own. Her passion, her strength, and even her stubbornness captivate his imagination, and he is determined to provide the formal skills she lacks and free her natural talent to truly blossom.

As I picked up A Song Unheard, I confess that I expected to discover a formula, of sorts, to the series. I was still excited about the book, because I knew the author could make even a formulaic novel feel captivating! But, as I began to read, I quickly realized that this second book of the series would be as unique and fresh as A Name Unknown. From the relationship between Lukas and Willa to the progression of Willa’s assignment, this story weaves history and fiction together in a beautiful glimpse of life in the early stages of World War I. Readers are taken from the streets of Wales to the depths of occupied Belgium and back again with a look at the struggle experienced on both sides of the English Channel. As with the first book in the series, this second installment was creative and captivating, full of unexpected developments, sparks of joy, and depths of heartache.

A Song Unheard is definitely a book I will both share and reread, and I greatly look forward to An Hour Unspent, book three in the Shadows Over England series.

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in What I'm Learning, Wonderments

A Little Tea

I’ve never liked tea.

I’m a southern gal who grew up in Jordan. A love for iced tea is assumed in the South – and it’s assumed that your preference is sweet tea, unless you specifically declare otherwise. And Jordan? Well, sweet hot tea is a must. It is served to any and every guest, and refusal is rude. I was fortunate that my siblings loved tea. As the oldest, I was the first to reach the age to be offered tea along with the adults, and the first to come to an age where it was not acceptable to refuse. But my parents allowed me to “share” with my siblings, as long as I sipped politely when our hosts were looking. It’s amazing how small of a sip can be taken – and how hard it can be to stifle a shudder every time the horrid taste hits the tongue. I still shudder at the memory of the taste.

And yet, as I spend a few minutes typing out a few thoughts before heading to bed, here I sit drinking a nice, warm cup of “tea.”

Admittedly, it’s not like any of the tea I grew up sipping with distaste. It doesn’t have any of the “tea” flavor to it. This particular concoction tastes predominantly like spearmint, although there are other herbs blended in with it to create a restful evening concoction. Bottom line? It’s not “real” tea. It’s herbal tea. And there is, I’ve learned, a difference.

I’ve tried a few herbal teas in the past and haven’t enjoyed them. But, a couple of months ago, my friend Hannah encouraged me to try an orange tea that, with a little honey added to it, was incredibly soothing. Then more recently, my friend Becky shared her favorite licorice root tea suggestions for colds and sore throats. In the process of picking up boxes of those two herbal teas, my husband found a sampler box that he thought would be a good idea as well.

I was skeptical, but I thought I’d give them a try. So far, I haven’t found one I dislike. Granted, I’m still getting used to the idea of drinking anything with “tea” in the name, and there are times when it tastes more like flavored hot water than anything else. But, as much as I love my Choffy in the mornings, these mugs of herbal tea really do seem to be hitting the spot better for afternoon and evening beverages.

So, what’s the point of sharing this little tidbit about myself and my drinking preferences?

Well, things change. Even our tastes. But sometimes we get so buried in our habits that we don’t break out enough to discover those changes. I don’t know if I’ll ever grow to like real tea, but I have tried herbal teas in the past and not enjoyed them. That is obviously changing as I try them again.

This isn’t the first thing that has changed about me in recent years. But discovering these changes means I have to be willing to set aside past negatives, past dislikes, and even past failures and try again. (That’s why I occasionally go ahead and take a sip of Doug’s coffee – just in case those tastes have changed! Not so far!)

Once upon a time, I couldn’t get my brain to process learning to knit. No matter what my friends did to try to teach me, I remained baffled. Twenty-five years later, I taught myself successfully.

Guitar has been elusive for me in the past. But, I’m picking it up again – trying to learn – and somehow my fingers are responding better now.

Things that worked for me in the past don’t any more, but other things that didn’t now do. Things I enjoyed once upon a time no longer bring pleasure, but I’m discovering new enjoyments. Things change. But, if I am not willing to continually explore, try, revisit, and learn, I will not discover the changes. I’ll just be stuck. And, oh the delights I’ll miss out on! Like a delightfully relaxing cup of herbal tea.

Do you need to try some tea this week?

Posted in Reviews

A Name Unknown

It’s book review time again!

I seem to have a knack for selecting review books that are part of a series – but are not book one! Fortunately, my most recent slip-up was discovered before I started reading the review book, and I had the good fortune of finding book one at the library. So, I started reading that one while waiting for the review book to arrive. And I’m very glad I did!

A Name Unknown is the first title in Roseanna M. White’s Shadows Over England series. Set in the early stages of World War I, A Name Unknown introduces readers to a rather unique London “family.” A family of thieves. Though none are related by blood, the dozen siblings care for one another with a love that is fierce, protective, and powerful. All are banded together by the oldest, a young man named Barclay, and all are watched over by a pub owner named Pauly. Together they survive by stealing from the rich to put food in their bellies and clothes on their backs.

Brilliant though their thievery may be, the family barely brings in enough resources to keep the many mouths fed. But, a mysterious stranger has picked up on the unique talents of the eldest members of the family, especially young Rosemary Gresham. He begins to offer her jobs, but the one he hands her now is the biggest – and highest paying – of them all. All she has to do is find proof that Peter Holstein, friend of the king, is a traitor.

The Holsteins, though Germans, had been highly thought of in their corner of Cornwall before their deaths. But, their son Peter is a different story. A recluse who mingles little with the people of the town, Peter struggles both at home and in the London political arena, fighting questions about his loyalty. But, with tensions in Europe on the rise, he is determined to prove once and for all that his heart and his loyalty lie with England. Unfortunately, any proof that may exist lies buried somewhere in the chaotic depths of what may have once been referred to as a library. Every potential employee he has found to help him tame the “cave” has fled in horror upon seeing the nature of the task…until a young woman by the name of Rosemary arrives at his door and agrees to tackle the job.

Roseanna M. White weaves a captivating story of character, history, intrigue, mystery, and yes, even romance in A Name Unknown. But, as I read, I had a struggle. Because I’d agreed to review it, I knew what the second book would be about. And I knew that getting to the second book meant that some of the events of the first book would most likely end up being either lame, overly contrived, or boringly predictable. I was delighted to find none of those as the story drew to a close. It was well written, captivating, and powerful in every way. It did not take me long to decide to own my own copy instead of just enjoying the library’s, since I’d soon have the second book anyway.

A Name Unknown is unique in its heroes and delightful in its twists. And I definitely recommend it to historical romance loving readers from the teen years on up.

Check back next week for my review of the actual review book, A Song Unheard.

Posted in Reviews

A Dangerous Legacy

Recently, I’ve come across a few books I thought I’d reviewed, but realized I never actually did! So, over the next few weeks, I’ll be fitting them in between reviews of current books.

The first in the list is A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden. As a long-time Camden fan, it has been fun to read each new title and see how she has evolved – and stayed the same – as a writer. Her job as a research librarian seems to keep her creativity flowing as she discovers new and fascinating tidbits of history to combine with her delightful imagination, weaving engaging stories that combine historical facts, intrigue and mystery, engaging characters, and genuine romance.

In A Dangerous Legacy, Lucy Drake and her brother Nick have poured their lives and resources into a single goal: regaining rightful control of their grandfather’s invention. Unfortunately, their opponents have seemingly unlimited resources and influence to keep Lucy and Nick stuck on the losing side of the legal battle. Lucy’s job with the Associated Press provides her a secret weapon in the fight, but will it be enough?

Matters complicate even further when Lucy meets Sir Colin Beckwith, the new man in charge of Reuters, Britain’s news agency and rival of the Associated Press. The two agencies share a building and certain resources, at least for the time being. The partnership leads Lucy and Colin into a tentative friendship that cannot help but grow in depth. But, each one carries burdens, responsibilities, and secrets that no amount of friendship seems capable of breaching.

Every aspect of the story in A Dangerous Legacy reinforces Elizabeth Camden’s skill as a storyteller capable of weaving history and fiction, romance and real character development. But something felt different as I read this particular novel. It seemed that there was not enough room for the depth of development Camden usually manages to pull off. Lucy and Colin are, to be sure, explored beautifully. Their characters deal with life and issues that have no clear solution, and the resolution of their story fits with the reality that sometimes the answer arrives from a completely unexpected direction. There was something delightfully unexpected about the way events twisted and turned to their final conclusion.

But, then there was Nick Drake. As I read, I could not help but feel that I was supposed to be getting to know him better. That his story was there, waiting to be exposed and explored. That his interactions were essential, not to the immediate plot of A Dangerous Legacy, but to becoming known. The feeling intensified as I read the epilogue and realized that new information was being presented – information that could not possibly be resolved in a few pages. Sure enough, Nick’s story will continue in A Daring Venture, releasing in 2018. This is part of what shows Camden’s skill as an author. Instead of trying to cram too much into this one novel or glossing over the additional story begging to be told, she allowed the glimpses to shine through and lay the groundwork that would allow a sequel to follow.

As with other Elizabeth Camden books, I recommend this for older teens through adults who love history and intrigue interwoven with some romance.

This book was sent to me by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in What I'm Learning, Wonderments

Rambling

Recently, I sat down to start writing with what I thought was a clear focus in mind. I wrote quickly and steadily, more quickly than usual, in fact. There was only one problem. Eight hundred and thirty-two words later, I was nowhere near my original thought. I’d somehow progressed through at least three partial trains of thought that somehow, maybe loosely connected. But, the first one didn’t have an ending, the second was simply there, and the third really didn’t have a beginning.

I apparently just needed some rambling time.

Perhaps sometime in the near future I will sit down and split the rambling out into coherent blog posts or articles, fully fleshing out each of the partial thoughts. But in the meantime, the rambling itself introduced a new thought: the fact that we all need to ramble a bit.

Any of us who have had any interaction at all with at least one other human being have heard rambling at some point in our lives. Sometimes rambling pours from someone who simply has the need to talk. If you are or have ever been a young mama, you’ve probably experienced that need! Other times, rambling comes from the need to organize thought, which some people do best through trying to ramble through what they’re thinking.

That is where I was the evening I typed over eight hundred rambling words. I needed to process. I needed to think something out. I needed to retrieve an idea that was floating somewhere in the shadowed corners of my brain but couldn’t quite form itself. So, I had to ramble. I just didn’t recognize the need until later.

Here’s the problem. Rambling is, for the most part, considered to be a negative thing – and that’s not an unfair consideration. In many situations, rambling wastes time and energy. It causes us to miss matters of importance buried in too much nothingness. It exhausts the young mom and misdirects real communication between a married couple. It skirts issues and delays problem-solving. It keeps relationships shallow.

Most of the time.

Except in those times when it serves the opposite purpose. When it becomes useful. But how do we know the difference? How do we make good use of rambling when it’s needed?

I don’t really have a good answer. But I can’t help but wonder if one of the secrets might be intentionality. You see, I rambled that night because I needed to grab hold of a real idea – I just didn’t know how to get to it without expressing a whole slew of other ideas in the process. Sometimes, I need to ramble verbally with someone else, gaining their input as I seek to grab the illusive thought. Other times, writing is better because I can process what I’m trying to say better through the written word than the spoken.

In either situation, though, it needs to be intentional. Not just rambling for the sake of putting words out there, whether written or spoken. But rambling because I know a thought – a good thought – is hidden somewhere in the middle of a jumble of other thoughts, and the only way to free it is to walk through the thoughts. Like untying a knot.

Perhaps you’re like me – a little afraid to just ramble. Afraid you’ll bore someone or sound dumb. Concerned that you’ll never make any sense. I think, though, that sometimes the thoughts, ideas, bits of creativity, or spectacular solutions that we have to share are buried somewhere in the middle of a pile of rambling. And the only way to get to it is to process the randomness that surrounds it.

May we never waste our words, our thoughts, or our relationships on idle words. But, may we also not be afraid to ramble now and then, trusting that those intentional rambles will lead us to something real, meaningful, and even productive.