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Finding myself beloved: an everyday story

When I arrive at the station the train is already in despite there being twenty minutes before we leave. I buy a cup of tea and check my ticket: Coach D, seat 32.

 

When I find my seat it is at a table already occupied by two people. The woman is dressed smartly in a navy blue dress which fits her form perfectly. She is the personification of a business professional. Across from her sits a man in a suit and tie, his jacket hung on the hook by the window. The woman has to move to allow me to take my seat, next to her by the window. I can sense her frustration. She had placed her bag on my seat hoping beyond hope that no one would claim it and she wouldn’t have to sit arm touching arm with another human.

It is hot on the train and it takes me a few moments to settle. I try and take up as little physical space as possible. I remove my phone and headphones from my bag alongside my notebook, pen and the book I am reading.

And a banana. I place a banana on the table. I can almost hear the disapproval of my fellow passengers.

Before long the train fills up. An Indian woman and her son take the seats across the aisle. He is three or four years old and full of energy. His mother takes an iPad out of her bag and puts a programme on it for him. He has no headphones. We are all now also listening to his superhero cartoons. We momentarily unite in our disdain. A glamorous older lady takes her place behind them making a loud phone call about where she will meet her friend later.

Behind us, passengers I cannot see talk in a language I don’t understand, an animated conversation about I do not know what.

Finally, the fourth occupant of our table arrives. A boy-man aware of his own attractiveness. He pulls large wireless headphones from his bag and places on the table a large coffee he has brought from one of the stations’ coffee shops. He holds in his other hand a bag containing a sausage sandwich. He takes two ketchup sachets from his pocket and squeezes them liberally over it. How he eats it without spilling sauce down his black Adidas jacket is a miracle. We look away.

Fellow travellers in this small enclosed space avoid eye contact and interaction by all means possible. We long for solitude and silence, to travel without the inconvenience of others touching us, talking in outdoor voices, eating and drinking in our personal space.

I think, if only this train wasn’t so loud, so crowded.

I think, I wish I could afford to get the quieter, earlier, more expensive, train.

And then.

(A hang over from my more anxious days.) A slight shooting pain up my left hand side momentarily gives rise to the idea I could have a stroke.

I dismiss it immediately, no longer held hostage by this kind of intrusive thought.

But the thought makes me curious.

I take a moment to consider what would happen if I did.

If, here and now, I suffered a stroke. (Go with me).

I imagine the woman next to me jumping up, calling for help. From somewhere a traveller with medical expertise would appear making sure I was in the recovery position in the aisle. Someone would find my phone and call a loved on my behalf. Someone else would alert the train manager. The nearest hospital would be rung. The glamorous lady would put her cardigan under my head and my train neighbour would hold my hand. Someone would distract the young Indian boy with sweets, or conversation.

I would not be alone. I would be cared for.

Don’t ask me how I know.

I just do.

For all our masks and indifference and desire to remain separate and private something deeper would call out. Our humanity. Our humanness. My fellow passengers would make eye contact with each other. They would work together.

And I would be helped.

I would be cared for. I would know kindness.

As I look up at the people who sat with me, travelling through the rainy English countryside, my heart warms. What amazing people I get to travel with. What a privilege to be among fellow humans today.

Late Fragment

by Raymond Carver.

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

Elli Johnson has been blogging at thehippochronicles.com for over 4 years. She writes about mental health, creativity, beauty and the chaos of family life. She is a professional child wrangler, (over)thinker, and tea drinker.

Elli lives in Liverpool with the river Mersey at the bottom of the road.

To find her newest and most exciting work, check out: patreon.com/thehippochronicles

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Peace Playlist

I’ve been thinking about peace lately and what it really means to live a life knowing “sweet peace” like the title of one of the songs in the playlist refers to. Jesus said, “Consider the lilies, they don’t labor or spin” to become what they were already designed to be. (Matthew 6:28)

Jesus suggested we should be taking our cues from them on living a life of peace and surrender. The cycle of nature has a surrendering season. In order to regenerate, the trees and the flowers must completely give themselves away. The seed pods fall and blow in the wind to multiply and the petals of the tulips eventually float to the ground to return nutrients to the bulbs buried beneath the soil.

The blooming season is beautiful and glorious and causes us to stop and linger a while but the blooms are the result of the surrendered work that had been done in a resting, dormant season. God designed transformation to occur in these dark, unseen places. A caterpillar’s cocoon actually becomes its tomb as it dies to what it once was. Yet there are no words to explain the transformation that occurs when a glorious butterfly emerges from what looked like a death trap the caterpillar had wrapped itself in.     

Watching this transformation take place over and over again in nature is starting to make me wonder…maybe peace IS in the surrendering to resting in these dark, dormant seasons. A tulip cannot force its flower to emerge before its undoing takes place underneath the earth’s surface. It does not worry or strive, it simply allows the undoing and transformation to occur and then eventually, we see it bloom.


Libby John is a creative artist of many forms. As a singer/songwriter, she debuted her first album in Oct. 2017. Libby is also a choreographer who teaches hip hop and modern dance classes. She has a passion to spur others on to be an influence on the culture through their faith & artistry which led her to create the podcast “Art & Faith Conversations”. Libby is a lover of small beginnings and finding beauty in the ordinary. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband and 3 daughters. Libby can be found sharing her creative journey and prayerful devotionals through songs at www.libbyjohnartandsong.org.

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Finding place

I remember sitting at the counter of the diner, a narrow wooden plank with squeaky chairs. The gas station turned restaurant was much smaller four years ago. But the smell of fresh biscuits, flaky croissants layered with ham and pear, and smoked meat remained the same. I watched life unfold outside the window, wondering how I fit into the scene here too. It all resembled an old movie playing in slow motion with the sound turned off.

I didn’t know much of Winchester, the town my soon-to-be husband had moved to for a job.

I only knew it was quiet and slow. Less hurried and rushed. Strangers looked up as they passed and small talk was woven into the culture. It felt rude not to engage in conversation with the person in line beside you.

Hil

Like most people my age, I was living and working in Washington, DC. It seemed customary to move to a big, trendy city after graduation. That’s where you would find yourself, climb the ladder of success, and build your dreams. I got used to looking down or straight ahead during the week, walking quickly to work or weaving in between cars on my bike. Getting from place to place was more a race rather than a leisurely stroll.

I’d visit Matt on the weekends, where in-between holding hands and sitting real close, we’d chat with locals at the one coffee shop in town. The one he used to live above. The owner of the shop was one of his dearest friends.

I always left visits feeling filled up in places I didn’t know were empty. Deep, slow breaths came easier as we drove further out of town towards the valley. I learned how the Blue Ridge Mountains got their name, a bluish tint kisses the tops of each slope as you inch closer. The mountains are like a quilt, various shades of grey and blue overlap each other and on certain days, it’s hard to tell where the mountain ridge ends and the clouds begin.

These weekends served as a moment of selah and rest from my life of performing and hustle during the week. And while I loved the way this small town made me feel, I never actually considered building a life there.

Once we got engaged, I considered all the places we could live. Should we embrace culture and move to a big city? What about quitting our jobs and heading overseas as missionaries like I had always wanted?

We were young and limitless. We could do anything. My heart was restless, still holding on to places I had lived before and countries I longed to explore. I prayed God would call us to a village in Africa or a city with good food and rich culture. I figured to nestle in Winchester, a town I had never even heard of before, was to settle. And while I found it quite charming, I wanted to write a more interesting story.

And yet, the arrows kept pointing us back to living right here, as much as I fought against it.

“One year” I said, “That’s all I’ll give. After that we are headed somewhere new.”

It didn’t take long for the loneliness and wrestle with purpose and calling to settle in. I was unemployed and without deep, rich community. My days were spent cooking elaborate dinners, keeping the house clean, and applying for jobs I wasn’t getting. I’d be invited to interview, only to be told I lacked experience and all the gaps in my resume weren’t intriguing but flaky. My mornings were slow and meditative but also uncomfortable. I’d wake up anxious, jealous, and insecure – frustrated at God for being so quiet, begging Him to just tell me where to go and what to do.

And yet, He was there each morning, handing me a blank canvas and paintbrush I refused to embrace, cupping my face in His hands to say – Sweet girl, look. Look at all I’ve offered you. This is your Africa right now. This is your great adventure. Join me in making this place even more beautiful.

With time, patience, and tears – community was slowly built and I finally got a job. I actually got a few jobs. Only to fully step away from all of them last year to pursue my dreams of becoming a writer.

Friendship grew around tables and floors and lingering after yoga classes. Through inviting folks over and feeding them food I made with my hands. It took intention, time, and hard work. Trust was built on front porch swings, long walks through the park, and coffee shops. We ate in each others homes, rather than meeting out, so meals lasted as long as we wanted. We carried our friends’ hardships and suffering as if it were our own.

We ate at that diner we loved again and again. You still have to show up early if you want homemade biscuits. We bought a pass to explore the National Park, reminding me that beauty and adventure is only a short drive away.

Suddenly a whole year had passed and instead of buying a one-way ticket to Africa, we bought a house. Suddenly leaving felt harder than staying. The house we found was all the things and more we prayed it would be. And we were anxious to stay long enough to see how this gift God had loaned us, could be used for good.

Hilary Hyland

Our street became my Africa. Friends became our family. The one coffee shop in town turned to four. We joined a small church we could walk to. It meets in a school cafeteria, the place our future baby boy might eat his lunch and make new friends. All we ever hoped for was right here, in a town I didn’t know existed four years ago.

That’s what community does, it changes us from the inside out. We find abundance rather than all that is lacking.

Our town is teaching me that I don’t need more shiny, interesting things to do. I just need a few tables to sit at. I don’t need a plane ticket each time restlessness kicks in, I just need to look to the three feet in front of me and call it holy. I don’t need an interesting job in a fancy office perched way up high, I need a barista that remembers my name and order. And a front porch for greeting my neighbors and mountain tops kissed with blue.

Most importantly, I need to root myself where I am, hang a few things on the wall, lean in hard to community and take care of my people well. Because as we offer and receive – peace, contentment, and joy will follow.

Maeve is a writer, kitchen dweller, and people gatherer. She believes in building a longer table and make room for one more. Most often you’ll find her in the kitchen (because she loves to eat) or on her porch (because she loves people). She believes the art of neighboring, living and loving right where you are, could actually change the world. Her heart is prone to wander, though lately she’s learned the joy in abiding, of keeping close to the vine, and of staying. She shares more about hospitality, friendship and finding significance in the ordinary over on her blog: maevegerboth.com and instagram: @maeve_gerboth. Come say hello!

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Desert Blooms

“Who is this one? Look at her now! She arises out of her desert, clinging to her beloved…” – Song of Songs 8:5 (TPT)

I sensed the Holy Spirit draw me into the desert.

My soul was longing for Him.

The hiddenness of the desert seemed to me like the perfect place to follow Him.

Little did I know this desert season was going to be far harder than I could have imagined and more restorative than I could have ever dreamed.

Just before Christmas my husband had hit his usual post go, go, go slump after the teaching year comes to an end and without so much as a word I could see he was heavy in spirit.

I wrapped my arms around him and asked if he was ok.

Through tears, he shared that he was deeply sad and he didn’t know why.

Now let me give you some context. We are an ordinary family, raising our three young boys, working in jobs that are challenging but meaningful and we work with some of the greatest people on earth. Our wider family are good and kind people. We have some financial struggles but nothing so drastic that we’d be in over our heads, and this is simply the cost of me having been at home with my children for the last nine years without a second income. We are paying off a small mortgage in a nice area, with a lake we can walk to. Our boys are challenging at times, whose aren’t? But mostly they are really sweet.

In short, we are blessed.

And that’s why he was struggling to put his finger on the deep sadness.

Now I had my suspicions and had left another job to be able to be more available to support him. So it wasn’t a surprise when he realized he had depression. It was more like a, “FINALLY! Now you can seek healing!”

Can I be really honest; this wasn’t what I thought my desert would be like. I pictured Jesus and I learning and growing together in the secret and hidden spaces. What I had really imagined was an oasis, lush and rich and dense and flowing with Living Water instead of a desert.

I didn’t expect that it would be dry and that my thirst would grow by the hour.

I didn’t expect that I would need to be the strong one, the supportive one, the one researching, and learning and be seeking answers and prayers, the patient one and let’s be honest, some days I’m not…

I’ve had to let go of some dreams for this season to walk with him through this. I’ve had to let go of resentment and bitterness. I’ve had to rely on God in my weakness like never before when I see him sitting broken, and there is nothing I can do.

Some days I don’t have the energy to ‘deal with’ his sadness, and in those moments God whispers that I don’t have to because He alone is enough.

And this place of deep trust and wild faith is right where my soul blooms. The pressure and the hard things are all a part of this little soul seed pushing down deep roots into the nutrient soil and growing upward toward the Giver of Life.

And it’s healing me in ways I did not know I needed healing physically and emotionally. Still, some days hurt like crazy and I’m trying to sit in my pain instead of run from it because Jesus is right there with me. And I’m waking up, over and over again to more of His love…

This desert season is far from over. The journey through this desert wilderness is long and hard. But I hold to two of God’s life-giving promises.

One. I’ll arise out of this desert clinging to Jesus. Song of Songs 8:5, TPT

Two. He will stay close to me and will guide me along the pathway of my life Psalm 32:8-9, TPT

These promises are enough to keep me walking in faith.

In this dry desert, my soul is blooming.

I pray that as you seek Him in your desert journey, your soul will bloom too.

Carly Thomson

As a wife and mother of three boys, a teacher, and an author, Carly’s life is always full of adventure, be it the every day ordinary moments of life or the high energy fun, she chooses to remain present and connected to Jesus and the world around her. Carly is the founding director of the She Collective movement helping young women discover their identity and self-worth. If Carly is not writing, you’ll find her playing, exploring and adventuring with her family OR completely lost in a good book with a cup of tea and a cookie.

www.carlythomson.com

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To the mum who feels constantly needed and rarely seen

While our kids played in the next room, my friend and I stood in her kitchen, sipping coffee and talking about our dreams in hushed tones peppered with nervous laughter, as if the very topic was somehow taboo.

Frivolous.

Indulgent.

Maybe even selfish?

“I feel like I’ve lost pieces of myself since having kids…” She spoke quietly, almost to herself, but her words echoed loudly inside my own heart.

I knew exactly what she meant.

I think in an honest moment, many of us would admit we do.

Motherhood, especially in those early years, can be an engulfing experience. It’s a deeply beautiful, life-giving (literally), and fulfilling role that some of us have always dreamt of, but there can be moments when it feels as if motherhood and the minutia of the day might swallow our identity whole. Like we’re constantly needed yet rarely seen.

We’re busy doing those million and one little things that we worry don’t matter, even while knowing, deep in our hearts they do. We teach, we train, we pray, we worry, we kiss, we rock, we soothe, we comfort, we’re filled up and emptied clear out 100 times in a day. We lose sleep and gain access to chambers of our hearts we never knew existed. We’re driven to the edge of our sanity and then pulled back again in one suddenly tender moment.

We ride that rollercoaster of fear and worry, pride and dismay, wonder and bafflement, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

We love our life.

And yet…

We wonder about those pieces of ourselves that seem to have disappeared. Our audacity, our playfulness, our ability to dream. They don’t call. They don’t send flowers. They just slipped unceremoniously out the back door.

Will they ever come back?

As mothers we gladly make room for our children to play, to discover who they are, to explore their creativity, to try and fail. We tend and grow their dreams, teach gumption and courage, and we speak life over them…

So often forgetting that God still longs to do the same for us.

Even now.

Especially now.

A common theme I hear from every single mother I talk to, one I was once painfully familiar with myself, is the feeling that we’ve “lost” pieces of ourselves somewhere along the way since having children.

It feels bittersweet.

It feels disorienting.

It feels final.

As much as we love motherhood, we quietly question if it’s become our main identifier, if it’s the only important work we’ll ever do, or if it’s the final act in the story God is writing for us.

We go through our days vaguely aware that there are dreams hidden away in the corners of our heart, but we aren’t sure if they’re big or too small and to be honest we don’t have the time to figure it out.

We’re afraid to look closely at those dreams, to name them, or to bother God with them. He’s busy… WE’RE busy. So we let fear and doubt keep us from chasing them down.

We learn to live with an ache.

A longing.

Not for a different life, but a deeper life.

One where we’re fully awake to our unique gifting. Where we allow ourselves to believe that our dreams actually matter, and not just to us. Where we bravely pursue them in the middle of motherhood and our right now life, knowing that we don’t need permission, or a formal invitation, we need only to begin.

Five years ago I stood in my kitchen (because apparently the kitchen is where all my meaningful conversations take place now?) and I blurted out to a friend that I “wanted to write a book one day.” And then I laughed. I LAUGHED like it was some kind of hilarious joke. Because at that point in my life, as a stay at home mom with very young children and no “free time” to speak of, it honestly felt ridiculous, like I may as well have said that I wanted to move to Hollywood and be famous.

What a joke, right?

I wasn’t even blogging yet at the time, but my offhand “joke” struck a chord somewhere deep in my soul, shaking the dust off of a very hidden, very real dream to write. A dream that had always been there, but that I’d been too afraid to acknowledge.

It’s easier to leave those things safely tucked away in the peripheral of our consciousness, right?

Pursuing any dream is going to require quite a lot from us- it asks us to step out of our comfort zone, embrace risk, be vulnerable, put ourselves out there, learn humility and gumption, and to sit patiently within the tension of the creative process instead of struggle against it.

The thing is, I think God longs to partner with us in all of that.

This might seem obvious and trite to you, but for me it was nothing short of revelatory. I never would’ve admitted it aloud, but somewhere along the line I subconsciously decided that God didn’t really care about woo-woo stuff like “chasing dreams” and “making art”, or even beauty for the sake of beauty. (What can I say, sometimes I’m not very smart.)

Emily Freeman once said, “I believe, deep in my bones that we can’t separate creative work from spiritual formation.”

I’ve found this to be profoundly true of my own experience. In the last few years as I’ve woken up to my creative self and the dreams tucked away in my heart, as I’ve taken my place in the creative arena, every part of this process has been inexorably linked with my inner spiritual life.

I think that’s because God actually cares about this stuff, and when we start to care about it too, there’s an intimate fellowship with the Holy Spirit at work within us.

Moms, what would happen if we leaned in to those places that ache because they feel unimportant?

What if all those pieces of ourselves that feel “lost” or shoved away in a drawer marked “Inconsequential” are the very key to our own unique brand of creativity?

What if we allowed ourselves to believe that God cares about the dreams tucked way in our hearts even more than we do, because he put them there, on purpose and for such a time as this? What if we found the gumption to walk towards them with boldness and an unflagging joy?

How different would our story be?

Take heart today, mamas. If you find yourself in a season of feeling more needed than seen, know that you have not been left on the shelf. Know that you are doing important work.

Did you hear that?

You are doing important work.

Right now.

Every diaper change that turns into a tickle fight. Every moment you linger on their cheek. Every nap-time showdown. Every trip to the grocery store that takes twice as long and is half as productive. Every tiny, tender sacrifice of yourself. You are doing important work.

If you find yourself in a season of limited time, opportunity, or energy when “pursuing your dreams” and “exploring your creativity” feels impossible, just remember that the thing about seasons is they always change.

And whatever season you find yourself in, there’s always meaningful work for you to do, because you are always you.

Amber Salhus is a wife, mom, blogger, house-flipper, comedy lover, and burgeoning farmer. She lives in the Oregon countryside with her husband, their two kids, and their ever-growing list of animals. She openly shares the adventures of dreaming big in the middle of motherhood, navigating the creative process, and finding the humor in all of it at ambersalhus.com.

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For the sake of beauty: How to invite beauty into your everyday life

When I was a little girl, I spent most of my childhood hidden away in the pages of a book or wandering in the woods listening to the birds and trees whisper stories. I was drawn to beauty and mystery in equal parts. I liked to think I was unique, set apart somehow by the things I loved, my senses alone tuned to beauty.

 

I know now that I was never alone in my loves, and certainly not the only one attuned to beauty. We are all hardwired to seek it, know it, and name it. Like many children, I was drawn to stories and art and the natural world. Others are drawn to bodies in motion, bounty at the table, or the beauty of friendship and intimacy.

By nature, we desire what is beautiful, having an innate awareness of it. We’re drawn to the lovely, the sublime, the evocative. Beauty fulfills our longings, however imperfectly, providing a feast for our soul and our senses.

Our love for imperfect beauty arises out of our desire for perfect Beauty itself, which is the beauty of Christ, the Kingdom of God in its fullness.

As an adult, it’s easy to overlook the beautiful in life for pressing daily tasks and imagined urgency. I find I have to work at beauty, both in seeking and creating it. I must offer it an open invitation. I return to these simple steps when my vision clouds and I imagine I need to overhaul my life. Instead, I open my eyes to the beauty in front of me.

Perhaps you need to issue an invitation to beauty as well? Here’s how:

Kimberly Coyle

Expect Beauty:

Live expectant, open handed, wholehearted in all things. Allow Philippians 4:8 to guide you as you extend your invitation. “…Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Perhaps you’ll discover beauty in nature, in a circle of sister-friends, in the work of your hands, in cooking, in children, in stories, in order, in design, in peace-making, in justice, in art.

Not all beautiful things carry an obvious form of beauty at first glance. Truth may be painful. Light may expose what’s hidden in darkness. Justice may reveal wrongdoing. But, beauty is what happens when the Kingdom of God enters in, when we see with the eyes of possibility, when redemption is at the end of the story.

Capture Beauty:

Practice new ways of capturing surprise or smallness or symmetry. Look for the odd, the original, the otherworldly. Photography, journaling, letter writing, old-fashioned crafts, collections, or capturing snippets of life using social media can help us focus and capture the beauty we might ordinarily walk past without thinking.

Return to your first love. What did you gather and collect as a child? What shimmered in the rough of everyday life and caught your eye like a magpie? Did you squirrel away small collections of shells or pressed flowers or scribble long lists of favorite lyrics? Did you write terrible teenaged poetry? How did you capture beauty when you were half-formed? When the earth and sea and sky and friends and fireworks and uninhibited play left their fingerprints on the wet clay of your soul?

How could you invite those loves back into your life today?

Practice Beauty:

The more we embrace and capture beauty, the more inspired we become to create. We are made in the image of God: the original Life Artist, the Creator of all things. Embrace your role as co-creator—participate in the naming of the unnamed. Call the world around you beautiful with defiant acts of creation.

Allow your creation to complement the beauty you discover elsewhere. Reject comparison. There is nothing new under the sun, but your unique perspective offers fresh inspiration to the rest of us.

Give us yourself and your best work, for the sake of beauty.

 

Kimberly Coyle is a freelance writer and an adjunct professor of writing with an MFA in creative non-fiction. She has written for publications such as In Touch Magazine, Fathom Magazine, (in)courage, and Grace Table. When not writing or teaching, she dabbles in photography and can be found on Instagram as @kacoyle.

She writes regularly online at www.kimberlyanncoyle.com

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Books for the armchair traveller

by Kimberly Coyle

As an insatiable lover of travel, I often find my bank account and my everyday commitments can’t keep pace with my desire to wander. While my chest beats with a gypsy heart, I also have three children, a job, and a geriatric dog who believes movement of any kind should be incentivized. Travel often falls to second place behind the demands of orthodontic bills, folding laundry, and grading papers.

However, as a lifelong reader, I find my wanderlust is temporarily satisfied through the pages of a good book when rooted in a specific place. As a child, I sat in the buggy beside Anne Shirley as we passed through the White Way of Delight on Prince Edward Island, and I braved the unpredictable weather and challenges of farm life in the American Midwest with Laura Ingalls Wilder. Books became the means by which I experienced a world larger than the boundaries of any map or my limited imagination.

After many years spent living abroad and traveling as an adult, I’ve tasted much of what the world has to offer, and it has only fanned the flames of desire. I discovered wanderlust is a love affair possessing an incurable nature. Four years ago, after a number of years spent living in Switzerland, I found myself, once again, deeply rooted in ordinary life in suburban America.

Again, I turned to the stories of writers who create magic with ink and paper. Their words are the buggy, the ticket, the invitation to worlds I may never encounter anywhere but in their experiences or their imagination.

For a few good reads guaranteed to transport you without the cost of airfare, look no further.

From my bookshelf to yours, your invitation to wander through lands near and distant is waiting.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, click the pictures to buy the book on Amazon.co.uk and the title links to buy on Amazon.com

Non-fiction

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr:

Doerr’s work is stunning, and this non-fiction book on his year spent living in Rome as an American ex-pat is beautiful. While I connected personally to his life abroad in Europe, armchair travelers will experience Rome intimately through his prose. This book is the perfect companion to his novel All The Light We Cannot See, another gem of a book with a defined sense of place and belonging.

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

This memoir ticks all the boxes: excellent writing, intriguing setting, a journey of faith, romantic literature, and copious literary quotes. (Word nerds: head straight to your local library) Weber lived a life I frequently fantasize about as a PhD candidate in Romantic Literature studying in Oxford, England. Weber brings Oxford to life in a way I wish I could experience personally.

The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich

Readers follow the author on her journey from heartbreak to healing as she leaves behind her life as a filmmaker in California for ranch life in rural Wyoming. Ehrlich finds herself in Wyoming as part of a temporary film project, but after a personal loss, she decides to make Wyoming her home for an indefinite period. Ehrlich chronicles her journey back to love and life, through numbness and grief, against the backdrop of a dry, spacious, empty place. Wyoming’s wide-open physical spaces work like balm for her wounds, and they might work as a balm for readers too.

Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy

In her memoir of place, Purifoy recounts the first four seasons she and her family spent living in Maplehurst, a well-loved Victorian farmhouse without the pleasure or pain of an actual farm. She describes home and rootedness in a way that is fresh, poetic, gentle. She writes of the everyday, ordinary circumstances through which God used this home to help her discover where she belongs, and in turn to grow deeper in her belonging to him. As a lover of old homes, wild gardens, and the restoration of broken things, this book holds a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf.

Fiction

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

This classic novel is the coming of age tale of a girl called Francie, set in the immigrant communities of Brooklyn in the early 1900’s. I’m always surprised at the timeless nature of stories, and this book is no exception. I saw myself in Francie, despite the time and life circumstances that separate us. It also gave me a renewed appreciation for the challenges faced by immigrants coming to America, as it paints a unique portrait of life in the tenements of New York City.

Gilead by Marilyn Robinson

Gilead is the story of minister John Ames’ journey to his eternal home as he looks back over the past seventy-six years of his life in Gilead. The town of Gilead is itself a character in Robinson’s book, and as I read, it became as real to me as any home I’ve known. I journeyed with Ames from Iowa to Kansas, from childhood to old age, and back again. While the book is epistoliary in nature, Robinson creates distinct descriptive scenes within the journal itself, allowing readers a glimpse into the rural landscape of her characters’ lives. This is a book to savor.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

This epic tale of the Price family, new missionaries to the Belgian Congo in the 1960’s, is both cautionary and redemptive. Readers travel beside the Prices as they attempt to transition to primitive life in the Congo from a sheltered life in small town America. Told from the perspective of the women in the family, we see postcolonial Africa in all of its danger and complexity. Kingsolver’s book is one of my top five favorites of all time. Unforgettable.

Kimberly Coyle

Kimberly Coyle is a freelance writer and an adjunct professor of writing with an MFA in creative non-fiction. She has written for publications such as In Touch Magazine, Fathom Magazine, (in)courage, and Grace Table. When not writing or teaching, she dabbles in photography and can be found on Instagram as @kacoyle.

She writes regularly online at www.kimberlyanncoyle.com

 

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For those who live in a land of deep shadows

Having been a school nurse for a number of years, I was well aware of the increasing rise in the number of children and teenagers struggling with incredibly complex mental health issues.

However, I was totally unprepared when we found ourselves facing this issue in our own family.

I remember the feelings of total helplessness when I was called into school because my own precious child had caused physical damage to themselves through extreme self-harm.

I felt that somehow, I’d failed as a parent. How could I, as a trained nurse, have missed this? We had known that they were struggling with some issues, but we had put it down to hormonal teenage mood swings.

Having not experienced any mental health issues myself, I struggled to really understand how my child was feeling. I had prided myself on having a good relationship with all our children and being a family who could talk openly and share our problems. Yet during this time, I felt totally unable to reach my child.

They were completely trapped in a dark prison of despair and isolation and I was powerless to help them.

In their desperate search for a way out, their behaviour and life choices became very destructive and caused us all more heartache and sadness.

We spent many hours at difficult doctors’ appointments and counselling sessions, but nothing seemed to be changing. To my shame, I often resorted to angry outbursts and very unhelpful comments and suggestions. My frustration was overwhelming as I grappled with my desire to ‘fix’ them.

Out of protection and care for them, we found ourselves carrying a huge burden which we were only able to share with a very few people. However, our family and close friends really did an amazing job of consistently standing with us and supporting us during the darkest days.

Living with someone who is battling mental health issues really does affect the whole family. We felt like we were walking through a minefield every day. The pressure on us all was exhausting, as we never knew what might happen next.

I went through a range of emotions each day as I faced the reality of our home life.

Ultimately, I was angry and frustrated at God. We had read all the ‘right’ Christian parenting books and followed their advice as we had brought up our kids. This was not part of the plan and it wasn’t fair. I ranted and railed against God; why us, why my family, and ultimately, why me?

Although I had been a Christian since my childhood, what I really wanted from God was this;

‘It means no worries
For the rest of your days
It’s our problem-free philosophy Hakuna Matata!….
(The Lion King 1994)

However, I was finding following Jesus didn’t mean that our lives were a fairy tale story. In fact, Jesus said that we will all encounter the storms of life as we journey through it.

‘In this life you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.’
John 16 v33

I had read these words, spoken by Jesus to his disciples many times over the years. But it was only during this time, I felt that I came to understand what they really meant.

In the times when I felt I was losing faith in my heart, I discovered a greater depth of God’s love and He met me in my brokenness and pain.

He was and is my Saviour. He healed my heart and He gave me new hope and strength to face another day.

It was during this time that we first heard about Karis house.

This amazing place was to be part of God’s healing for our precious child.

The God centred holistic Xchange programme at Karis house combines counselling and prayer ministry alongside medical care & practical support.

God gives us this promise from these words of truth in Isaiah 9;

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—light! Sunbursts of light! 
The Message.

God broke into the land of darkness and shadows where our child was trapped.

His light shone and we saw a miracle happen- our child who had been paralysed by fear and despair was released into a new freedom towards health and wholeness.

Our family journey continues; often the roads can be unfamiliar and at times very hard to navigate. My story is that we never have to face it alone; regardless of how difficult the path.

Jesus is the light of the world and His love can reach us wherever we are no matter how dark it is.

Charlotte Osborn

Charlotte is an evangelist at heart and she’s passionate about sharing the good news of God’s love & hope with the world. She is a speaker & event facilitator who seeks to encourage others to find creative ways to share their own stories.

As a qualified nurse, she runs her own home care business, supporting people through the many changing seasons of their lives. She has 3 fantastic grown-up children who she counts as friends and she lives in the beautiful Cotswolds UK with her equally fantastic husband!

www.livemovebe.org.uk

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Motherhood. One season of many

At age 32, I gave birth to the last of my eight children. I can honestly say there is nothing I have loved more, than being a mother.

But like most moms, I did not always love everything that came with it. For me, laundry was one of those things I dreaded most.

 

I can laugh about it today, but my most memorable pathetic mom moment was the day my husband found me crying in twenty+ loads of laundry. He most-likely interpreted my pathetic-mom-moment as a desperate-mom-moment. So being the macho coach that he was (and still is) he took action and went for the game-winning point. He helped me up and said, “I need to get you out of here.” “I don’t think there’s anything more life-giving to a worn-out and wrung-out Mom than the gift of time.” I packed my weekend bag, got in my car, and drove to a bed and breakfast about an hour away from our home. It was an unexpected gift that my soul desperately needed. And although a get-away is wonderfully helpful, the reality is that the mundane is where we live out most of our parenting days. What I wish someone would have said to me during those early years are these three things:

1. Hang in there, Momma! This is but one season of many.

2. Be careful that you don’t neglect your own soul while caring for everyone else’s.

3. Don’t you know that you are more than a mom?

One Season of Many

As a young mom, the days are long indeed when you’re knee deep in mounds of laundry and other daily demands. There seems to be little time left to do anything else. I remember thinking “someday” my creative “other” life will return to me. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned a carved wooden sign sitting on a shelf, high out of reach, gathering dust that read:

my life

“One day.” I thought, “I will be able to bring her back down, dust her off, and help her get back to doing those things she never had time to do.” But that day seemed far off in the distance future. I was a restless creative and I felt as though I was neglecting her. I wanted to do other things besides laundry and cooking and cleaning. In the life of a mother, every mundane moment counts. And because it counts, it’s imperative that we make sure we are giving from a full cup and not an empty one.

Care for Your Soul

One thing that saddens me greatly is the number of women who struggle with their personal identity and worth. By the time their children leave home, they don’t know who they are or what their purpose in life is because they neglected the whole person God made them to be. I so appreciated the act of kindness my husband showed me that day in my laundry room. But there were many days when relief could not be found. I’m thankful for my mentor friend, Andrea, who encouraged me to create space in my life to do those things I enjoy. It’s not a matter of finding the time, it’s a matter of making time in our lives to do those things that God wired us to do. caring for your soul is a gift you not only give to yourselves, but to your entire family. Our children (and husbands) deserve healthy, balanced moms (and wives) who give from a full cup, not an empty one. As women, we must discover what that balance looks in our lives so that even in the mundane, we find joy, and fulfillment, and purpose.

You’re more than a Mom!

May I gently remind you? You are more than a mom! You were designed to glorify God with the gifts he has entrusted to you. There are things hiding inside you that must come out because that’s the way God wired you. Find a way in your hustle and bustle momma life, to feed the part of your soul that makes you come alive. Don’t do it at the expense of your family – do it around your family. Make it a priority because it will help you be a better mom and it will help you prepare for your empty nest life after kids. My life was not on a shelf…this was my life. I needed to learn how to become more of who God made me to be in the mundane of everyday motherhood.

What about you lovely lady?

You…who stand right there in the thick of it and persevering in the mundane of it. How will you become more of your true self in the midst of the mundane of motherhood?

Betsy Stretar

Elizabeth Duncan Stretar, (Cleveland, Ohio) is the mother of 8 married adults, grandmother to 16, and enjoys spending her empty-nest time with husband, Frank. She is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (MACL), Young Life’s first national director and currently working as a major airline Flight Attendant. Stretar’s passion is to help others live an above and beyond kind of life, by encouraging them realize their untapped potential, discover their life-purpose that strives to make a difference in the lives of others.

She’s a published author of children’s book, Acorn Gert & Brother Bert (Halo Publishing, 2016) and blogs at Elizabeth Duncan Stretar: Above and Beyond Mid-life www.betsystretar.com

 

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God is in the whisper

Elijah, prophet, and speaker for God, had just come from the mountaintop – literally and figuratively. He had defeated the prophets of Baal in a dramatic display of fire and power on the Mount of Carmel. A declaration of God and His true power was on display for all of Israel to see. In the next chapter, we find our prophet, not on the mountaintop reveling in the victory, but in the valley. Under a tree. Depressed and sad. Feeling alone. In fact, he wanted to die.

He thought he had found God, there on the mountain. On the mountain, Elijah experienced a miraculous victory. God revealed His awesome power by consuming Elijah’s sacrifice, soaked in water, with a burning fire straight from the sky. Elijah surely thought: God is here. So when his life was threatened by a jealous and evil queen, he didn’t respond in triumph, he ran.

After this, Elijah found himself in the valley. Literally, Elijah fled to an isolated place with no water or food. It was an empty place, and he wished to die. I was surprised the first time I saw those words, but the great prophet of God spoke to God: “O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” The lowest a human can reach. To want to die is a deepest darkest pit, no one should experience. Yet so many do.

Are you in this pit? Read on to find how God meets Elijah here in the depths of his heartache….

God sends an angel. Not to give him a “pep talk” or a reprimand. God gives Elijah food. And sleep. I find it extremely comforting knowing God knew the physical strain depression an take on a body. Sleep is often the first thing to evade us when we suffer from darkness. God provided sleep and food for Elijah. Then He asked Elijah to go into the wilderness. It was time Elijah separated himself from his job, his friends, and his people. He already felt alone, but God was bringing him to a place where he was really alone.

So think about this with me: Elijah had been given a miraculous victory, then plunged deep into the depths of despair. An exchange happens between Elijah and God after all of that:

God: What are you doing here, Elijah?

Elijah: I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Hosts, but the Israelites have abandoned Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are looking for me to take my life.

God: Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’ presence.

The next few verses are where we see where God is. Is He in the mountains? The valleys?

And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. I Kings 19:11-12 (KJV)

A “still small voice” can also be translated, “a soft whisper. God is in the whisper.

What does God tell Elijah? After all of that, the victory, the depression, the wilderness, the show of God’s power, God’s message to Elijah is the same message He has for us: You are not alone. And God still had work for Elijah. The close of I Kings tells how Elijah went back to work, and then {don’t miss this!!} he found Elisha. Here is what Elisha did for Elijah:

Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him. I Kings 19:21

Find God the of the glorious ordinary and walk the road of life leaning onto each other. God didn’t leave Elijah, and to show it, God sent Elisha – a friend – to comfort and walk with him. When Jesus calls us to abide with Him, He doesn’t just mean in the hardest days, but in mundane messy days.

What mess are you facing today? How can God meet you here, in the middle of the mess?

Does hardship weigh heavy on your heart? How can you hear God’s whisper in the night?

Are you feeling alone and forgotten by everyone, even God? How can you reach out to someone today?

Our God isn’t in the wind.

Our God isn’t in thunder and lightning.

Our God isn’t found in the majestic, but the mundane.

During the raging storm, He is both the waves and lighthouse. During our times of immense grief, He sits with us in the darkness, growing and molding us. During the hardest times of our lives, if we have seen His hand in the faithful small days, we can find Him in the darkness.

We want God to be grand and big {and He is}, but more and more I’ve been seeing God in the ordinary days. He is a whisper in the middle of the night. He is the quiet when I choose to be still in prayer. He is in the way the sun shines through the trees. He is in the laughter. He is in the faithfulness of the oldest saint in church who prayers. He is in the last leaf, hanging onto the tree.

It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God, but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people and this is not learned in five minutes. – Oswald Chambers

Sarah Frazer

Sarah E. Frazer writes and lives in a brick house at the end of Thomas Road with her husband, five kids, a cat, a dog, and five chickens. Motherhood is her calling but her passion is to inspire focus and encourage deep-rooted Bible study for the busy mom. Life is full of seasons, but every season can be made more peaceful when time is spent in God’s word. Join Sarah on her favorite social media space: Instagram. Or you can find her on her blog, www.sarahefrazer.com.