Worry less

It was our second date and we’d decided on dinner at a local pub. We were aiming for casual, a place we could wear jeans and not worry too much about impressing each other. We wanted good food and the football game on the TV. We wanted to feel comfortable, because the whole point in dating is to get to know each other, to see what you have in common, and even (*gasp*) to have a little fun.

“You can’t take him there,” they said. “That’s a place you take a co-worker you only kind of like.”

“You can’t take him there,” they said. “That place is too casual.”

They suggested a restaurant down the road from the pub, a fancier place that was more dimly lit with a more interesting menu. “It’s better for a date,” they said.

My friends, they meant well. They consistently want the best for me, and that appears to be true in even the places that I eat. They wanted me to have a good date, which means they wanted to make sure I had a good time, that I was treated well, that I put my best foot forward.

And all those things happened…at the pub.

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I believe deeply in the good that comes when you live your life in a community of people who love you and have your back. I believe deeply that it’s one of the ways that God loves us and has our backs.

But, one of the problems of community is that their voices often get loud. They often get so loud you can hear them even when they’re not around.

Most of the time, believe me, this is good. Because they’re the voices that echo Jesus, the ones that remind you that God’s business is making good out of bad, or that God is faithful even when we are not, that rest is okay. They’re the voices that encourage you to keep going even when you feel wonky and scared and vulnerable. They’re the voices that will shut up and listen when they know you already know all the things they want to tell you.

Most of the time, their input and suggestions and counsel are worth heeding because they’re people who love you and have your back.

Sometimes though, even when your community loves you and has your back and wants only for you to have a good date, the voice that matters is your own.

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I knew he was coming home from the beach and would be casually dressed. I knew that I was most comfortable in a place I could wear my favorite jeans, hole in the knee and all. I knew that the food was good, and we’d both be cool watching the pre-season football game if the conversation lulled. And I knew, quite frankly, that I just wanted to go to the pub.

Because here’s the thing, I’m thirty now. I’ve been dating for more than a decade. I’ve been on good dates and bad dates, and the mediocre dates that fall in between. I’ve worried for so long about impressing the guy that I’ve debated about what to wear for more hours than were necessary, and I’ve remained silent when I should have spoken up about things that concerned me, and I’ve not at all been relaxed in the whole dating process.

I was talking to Nickie about this the other day, about how dating is feeling much too much like work and a lot less like fun, and I realized that I have been doing it wrong for so long, and she said, “I say poo poo on what any of us think, though. Do what you want and what makes you comfortable. It’s your life and your relationship, and you live your life well.”

See? Good voices. Voices that love you and have your back.

She’s right, of course. I mean, jury’s still out on the “living your life well” bit, but I don’t think I’m doing a terrible job. However, I have been doing a terrible job of dating, and it is my life, and it is time to do what I want. Or at least, it’s time to start really giving some weight to what I want.

I worry too much though, that is my down fall. I am, more often than not, totally anxiety-ridden. I don’t know what it’s like to be totally relaxed, and I’m not sure I have ever known. When I was a kid I worried about always being the new kid, if I was ever going to fit in, if I was ever going to have real friends who’d hang on even if we had to move again. And so I worried about my clothes and my interests and my speech, because I worried all the time about being liked.

And old habits die hard.

But, I’m learning to put that to death, to be new, to worry less. It’s hard but good work, and I like the person this work is shaping me into. I like the way it’s deepening my relationship with God, and the way it’s giving my faith some real maturity. And I like the ways that my friends are responding to this me that is more comfortable in my skin, when that skin is less polished and a little raw.

So, this is my new mantra: Worry less. And with that, it is a challenge to myself in all the best ways to give myself a little credit, to extend myself a little grace, to trust the person that is exactly who God created me to be.

And it is a challenge to my community, to my friends, to love me even when I may not listen to them and may do my own thing.

Sometimes, believe it or not, worrying less is exactly the right thing.

 

Less than

When I was in a mood a couple of days ago, the BFF texted me not five minutes after the blog had gone live. She’s good like that.

She told me in her very BFF way, which doesn’t leave me a lot of wiggle room and always forces me to tell the truth, that she was praying for me and proud of me and saw holy in the work that I’m doing. And I had no choice but to confess that I’m struggling every darn day with feeling less than, like sitting in coffees shops and tinkering at my laptop and fighting every day to find just a few words to make life make sense isn’t enough.

Even now, I’m not sure what I mean by enough. I just am sometimes (all the time) plagued by this idea that I should be doing more.

A lot has changed for me in the last couple of years for sure, and I’m doing way less now than I was in my late twenties when I was in graduate school, interning at a counseling center, and teaching at the small church. This does not mean that my plate isn’t full, because it still is because I don’t do less well. (Jesus and I are working on this. Ugh.) But, it’s a different kind of full. It’s a slower full. Where my time in coffee shops usually meant chatting with my girls, now means I’m alone with my crazy thoughts and Microsoft Word. And when you’re used to going, slowing down can feel an awful lot like monotony.

In my clearer moments, I know this isn’t true. In my clearer moments I know that being obedient and surrendered is the most holy work, whatever that may look like. I know that every day that I get to be creative is a good day, because it’s one that honors our Creator God. I know that making friends with my baristas is no small thing, because I’m putting in the time to get to know my neighbors. And I know that writing and publishing in blog and in book is brave.

But, I have a lot of muddy moments. Because there a lot of people I know that are doing important things. I have a friend who started a company that creates medical devices and they’ve figured out a way to help people with diabetes not have to lose their limbs anymore. Or at least, I think that’s what he’s doing. Either way, that’s important work. I have several friends who work as engineers and mathematicians at the nearby Army post, and they’re figuring out ways to improve gear and armor so that these soldiers who have to go fight these heinous wars can come home to their families. That’s important work. I have mom friends who are making tiny humans and teaching them to be kind to people and to love God. That’s important work.

It’s all important work.

And it is when I think about those people and all the important things they’re doing in the world, I feel less than. Less than important, less than clear, less than brave.

Anne Lamott, patron saint of nutty writers, quotes Mother Theresa a lot and talks all the time about doing small things with great love. Saint Anne says that this is probably how God’s going to use us to make the world a better place, and if nothing else it’s what stops everything feel so nutty. And when she was at the writer’s conference I went to back in April, she said that she starts by returning phone calls and getting thirsty people glasses of water.

Okay, Saint Anne. I hear you.

I want to do important things (don’t we all?), but when did I get to the place where I think that important things have to big things? When did I start thinking that having coffee with my girls or getting to know the baristas was less than important? When did I start believing that telling stories about what God’s teaching me through my friends was less than brave? When did I start living like following God down the path He’s laid out particular for me was less than holy?

Blergh. Being human is hard sometimes.

But, I wonder if hard is the great human connector sometimes. The BFF reminded me of this the other day, after I made my confession and she reminded me that the important work of motherhood is holy and hard too. She told me in her very BFF way that I was feeling similarly and that was because I was in the middle of it, and then she reminded me that being in the middle of the hard stuff isn’t less holy. And then she said that we need to let that knowledge carry us through the middle. “It IS holy work,” she says.

That BFF. She’s good like that.

I wonder if when we find ourselves in the middle of the hard work of whatever it is that we’re doing, there’s a way to remind ourselves over and over that what we’re doing IS holy. And that it’s true whether we’re married or single, or raising kids or writing books, or visiting with old friends or making new ones. I wonder if we can take to heart what Mother Theresa and Saint Anne say, and remind ourselves over and over that doing small things with big love IS important. In fact, it’s the most important, and that’s true when we’re getting water or returning phone calls or engineering armor or creating medical devices or mothering tiny humans or having real conversations in local coffee shops. When whatever we’re doing reflects grace and God and love and light, there’s nothing less than about that.

Now…only to remember that.

A mood

I woke up this morning in a mood. The kind of mood that made me shoo away my dog when he popped the lock on my bedroom door just to get to me, and snap at my dad when he asked if I wanted anything from the grocery store, and ignore my brother when he offered to make me a root beer float. (Yes, root beer floats are a breakfast food. Don’t question it, just accept it. It will make your world better.)

But I know when I am responding unkindly to my dog, who is my favorite person on the planet, and offers of food, I’m off kilter and I should probably get to praying, like, right that second.

I’m not sure always where these moods come from, but I know they sneak up on me now. They used to be much more frequent, as in all the time, as in the state in which I lived my life. I was an angry kid and an angrier young adult, and it took a lot of in-with-Jesus work to get to this place where I don’t think people suck all the time.

Now, I only think people suck some of the time. (I include myself in this. I am people.) And this is no small thing.

And luckily, as if God knows what He’s doing, He’s given me some really good friends. The kind of friends who truly don’t suck most of the time, because they are quick to show up, and because they keep their promises as much as they’re able, and because they say nice things to me even when I don’t deserve it. They are the kind of friends who read my blog and give me permission to use their real names when I tell our stories. They’re the kind of friends who fight with me and for me, and they’re the kind of people who aren’t afraid to ask for what they need and with whom I have complete permission to ask for what I need. They’re the kind of people who show me a little bit of Jesus’ love every day.

Which is why I text them when I get into a mood. Because they remind me at every turn that people don’t really suck. And because I tend a little bit too much toward isolation and festering, and one of the things all that in-with-Jesus work during my twenties has shown me is exactly this, and the only combat to this is to reach out to someone anyway. The only cure is community.

So today, my friend Nickie was the lucky recipient of my Ugly Text about how people suck and I suck and the only thing I want to do is get in the car and drive until I hit Michigan. Michigan, because I go there only to play with my college pals, has a pull on my heart when I’m craving only fun, only to laugh, only to play. This, of course, is often a good thing, but like all good things, it can go sour when I use Michigan as a place to avoid the hard. And Lord have mercy, today I want to avoid the hard work of writing and forgiving and being with people. (I’m an introvert. Please let me sit in my favorite red chair with a book and leave me the hell alone.)

Nickie, who is also an introvert and who is also going through the hard right now, responded with a text I couldn’t capture in one screen shot. (Lord love a wordy girl, for she is my people.)

People do suck. I second that! But you don’t. And God doesn’t (although every now and again I waiver on that), so at least there are two beings that are suckless. I’m so sorry you’re stressed though. That is the worst place to be stuck in. I know it doesn’t help, but I believe so hard in what you’re doing. I’m so proud of how you’ve let God tell your story and how much your heart is in this. I believe God is going to use your brokenness and imperfection to change lives. All He needs from you this next month is you and your willing heart. You were placed here and are who you are “for such a time as this.” Satan is all up your butt right now, but I know that you are not able to fail. Nothing that you do, or don’t do, or screw up is something that God did not account for. You cannot throw Him off His stride. You cannot ruin anything. It’s impossible. So just breathe my beautiful and amazing sister, and let yourself rest in a perfect God just for a second. You are so crazy loved.”

If that’s not a good word, I don’t know what is.

Then she adds:

Aside from that I’m feeling pretty shitty myself, so we can be cranky and quiet together tonight. You don’t know how much an impromptu road trip to someplace remote is appealing right now. I’m ready to blow this Popsicle stand and just start fresh. Cabin on a mountain overlooking the beach? You can write and I’ll paint.

Now, I’m not saying I started Googling cheap cabin getaways, but Nickie should probably start gathering her brushes.

Because when you’re in a mood – when the stress is high, and everything feels hard, and all your people are kind of sucking – remember that not all of them do all of the time. Give a little grace to your people and to yourself. Text a pal anyway. Because she might not get it right one hundred percent of the time, but she’ll probably get it when you need it.

She’ll get it, and she’ll remind you – your mood doesn’t change God, and it doesn’t make your people love you any less.  And she’ll probably still want to take a ride with you.

And that seems to me to be an awful lot like Jesus. Lord love Him.

 

House keys

210977249_da533e62a4_mI’ve had a lot of people in the last few weeks tell me how much they believe in me, and it’s been lovely really. It’s not like I don’t know that I have really spectacular cheerleaders, because a lot of them have been cheering me on in one thing or another for almost twenty years, but still…it’s especially nice to hear while I’m walking a new path that is chock full of creativity and vulnerability and the very real reality that I have no idea what I’m doing.

If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t even be on this path if my BFF hadn’t told me really pointedly that she believed in me and in my writing almost five years ago. She handed me a back a book that I loved and said that I needed to be doing what that author was doing – sharing and writing about what God was teaching her. So, I started a blog.

I wrote about what I was learning in my graduate classes and about how I saw God in the client-therapist relationship. I wrote about being a bridesmaid a whole bunch of times, and about how the Church can do better by single people. I wrote about my friends and about how they loved me so well I saw Jesus.

A couple of years ago, an editor-friend took notice of my blog and sent me a long email about how she was tired of working with authors whose ideas she couldn’t engage with, and about how she liked my writing and how she thought I had ideas that were good, and about how she thought I probably had a book in me. She said that she believed in me and this hypothetical book, and she said that it didn’t matter what the book ended up being about, she wanted in. So, I started writing a book.

I borrowed from their belief in me, and I started chasing a dream. And the more this dream becomes real, the more borrowing I find myself doing from them and from the other people who keep sending encouraging texts, Facebook messages, and emails. I borrow from my friend Melissa every time she won’t make day plans with me, so I can’t avoid writing in the afternoons. I borrow from Nickie every time we’re talking and she suggests that I write about whatever it is. And I borrow from Jesse, the one who suggested I start writing about what God is teaching me, every time we’re talking about my book and she says, “Can you believe we’re here?”   Yes, I can believe we’re here. Because in the same way it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to write a book.

And my village is awesome, and gracious, and continues to love me so well that I see Jesus.

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Sometimes that comes by email:

Ok, so this might seem weird, but I am offering my house to you as a haven where you can come if you need to get totally away from all of the “normal” places to write or whatever.  The cats will probably want to snuggle and Tornado might bite you.  It’s messy, sometimes a little bit dirty, we don’t have TV, but we do have internet!  And a swing on the back patio.  A coffee machine.  Always pizza in the freezer.  Am I missing anything?!?  Like I said, I don’t know if you’ll even want to take me up on that, but I can give you a key.

I emailed my friend Maggie back and took her up on it because the heartbeat of my life and my writing is friendship and community and making intentional choices to see God in both, and here He was right in front of me holding out a house key.

Yeah. I’ll borrow that too.

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I think sometimes people will tell you that they believe in you, and I think other times people will find a way to show you that they do. And I think both have a really important place.

We need to tell each other to chase those crazy dreams that maybe aren’t so crazy. We need to say out loud that we’re not in this life alone. We need to speak words of life and affirmation and love to one another, because we never know what God is going to stir in someone else’s heart with those words.

But, we need to give our words feet and hands every once in awhile. We need to clean houses, or buy groceries, or change diapers. We need to cook standing next each other, then sit down at dinner together and eat. We need to offer kindness as much as we offer kind words. We need to do for each other as much as we need to hear from each other.

Because sometimes love sounds like “I believe in you” and sometimes it looks an awful lot like a set of house keys.

The Treehouse

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We set off yesterday afternoon in search of a coffee shop in Duck, North Carolina. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a week on the beach when Beth’s friends asked her to come with them on family vacation and told her to bring a friend. (Who has two thumbs and is that friend? This chick.) But, both Beth and I have impending deadlines and an inability to not work at least a little bit, so we stole away with our laptops and books as the thunderstorms rolled in. And I feel like this may be what rainy vacation days were made for.

Finding a coffee shop in these Outer Banks beach towns isn’t hard, but finding one that will let you linger proved near impossible. It’s almost like these beach towns expect you to be on the beach or something.

And then we found The Treehouse. It’s tucked in the back corner of a shopping center, but nothing about this place reminds me of the sprawling suburban plazas back home. The center itself is planked and wooden, aged but not broken down, much like the people who run the boutiques and bookstores and galleries.

When we walked in, we were greeted by a thin guy with graying hair, almost bald but not quite. His face gave away his age, wrinkled and sun-worn, but he carried himself with joviality that told us he is not through enjoying his life.

“Welcome, ladies! How are we doing?”

“Wet,” Beth said, as we walked in from the rain. Our hair was dripping and we were soaked to the bone, my gray Toms squished with every step I took into the shop. They wouldn’t dry quickly, and I resigned myself to spending the rest of the night in wet shoes.

“Well, let me give you a towel to dry off with!” He handed it to me, the wettest of the bunch, and I tried to deny it, but he insisted. I ordered a latte, but all at once I was more grateful for his kindness than I was for his coffee.

He handed me my coffee and said, “Make yourself at home, okay?”

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I’ve started making note of moments like this. I’m not sure if it says more about me or the world or just the way of things lately, but meanness seems far too prevalent and I lose faith in mankind if I don’t catalog the niceties every once in awhile.

I think maybe it started, this note taking, about the same time I started looking for grace moments, probably because in my mind the two can’t be separated. Nice can feel a lot like grace. And after the mess of leaving church and finding a new church and changing careers and deciding whether or not to move again – I’m still craving grace.

I’m craving connection to people who don’t care that I feel messy and complicated and confused, that can look past it or right into it and say, with words or not, “It’s alright. You’re gonna be okay. Here, have some coffee. You can talk if you want to.”

Maybe, if you’re as lucky as I am, you get it more on the regular. Maybe you come home to parents who are the kind of people who, even though you’re a grown-up, still call to see if you’re coming home for dinner, because if you are, they want to be sure there is something you like on the table. Maybe you share a bedroom wall with a brother who, when you have the flu, will run up the street to the grocery store just for Gatorade, the orange kind, because it’s your favorite when you’re sick. Maybe you go to Bible study with a group of women who really believe that you’re being a writer is not a crazy idea, and they offer their homes as “havens” and “writing spaces” to help you finish this crazy book you’re working on.   Maybe you have parents of friends sending emails and inviting you for dinners and making space for you in their homes, just because you’re someone important to their kids. Maybe you have a niece and a nephew, of blood or of choice, who squeal and shriek and hug you around the knees every time you walk into a room. (I hope most especially you have the last one.)

Maybe for you finding nice isn’t all that difficult. But, maybe sometimes the world starts to feel a little off kilter with every news story about a missing plane or missing child. Or maybe your world is saturated with unkindness at work or school or home or church. Maybe you’re bullied. Maybe your kids are bullied. Maybe you’re just world-weary and tired, because life is just hard sometimes.

So maybe you need to be reminded that there are genuinely nice people out there, shining a little light in the darkness, going about their day as they run boutiques and bookstores and coffee shops. Because sometimes you get caught in the rain, and you need a place that feels even a little bit like home.

And if you find yourself in Duck, North Carolina then make sure you stop in at The Treehouse. If you come in from the rain, Larry will even give you a towel.

Being happy

When I was dating someone at the beginning of the year, I didn’t tell my parents about it for three months. Even though I was living with them and seeing them every day, on date nights I would run down the stairs and out the front door and I wouldn’t even tell them goodbye sometimes. Admittedly, it wasn’t my best plan.

I figured I was an adult and didn’t have to answer to anyone about where I was going or who I was spending my time with. It turns out that’s actually a pretty juvenile way of thinking.

My friend Beth yelled at me about it one night, and made it clear that she thought my inability to talk about dating, not just with my parents but in my life, was a major problem. She said that I was getting in my own way, that I wasn’t being fair to the guy I was seeing, and that I was going to destruct my relationship by hiding him. She said that she was mad at me because I’m a smart person, but I was being so stupid. And then she yelled, “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LET YOURSELF BE HAPPY?!”

My friend Amy simply told me I was being a child and threatened to tell my mom if I didn’t.

I told my parents at lunch the very next day.

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Even though my relationship ended, my wrestling with Beth’s question hasn’t. Trying to find the answer has actually led me to make conscious, pro-active decisions about my life that have nothing to do with dating. And I think for the first time I’m beginning to understand what it is to be happy.

How I came to be someone who believed her happiness irrelevant, I’m not sure. But, I think a lot of it starts with being raised with a theology that emphasized saving souls and serving others. My whole faith system became based on others – making sure they were cared for, listened to, carried, and saved. The result, I think, is that my relationship with Jesus suffered a bit. Because I feel guilty if I take time for myself, even if that self time is spent in the Word or prayer or being quiet all alone. Because don’t I know that there is work to be done? Don’t I know that people needed to hear about the Lord? Don’t I know there are people going to hell from Harford County?

The truth is, I know. I know there are people in my county that don’t believe in God, and I suspect that there are people in this coffee shop I’m sitting in right now who don’t have a relationship with Jesus. But, I also know that I can’t save their souls.

I can share with them all I want to, and open up my Bible with them, and read them all the verses about how God loves them and sent His Son to die for them and offers them eternal life if they believe in Him. I can hand them tracts and invite them to church and I can do all the things I’ve been told to do to bring them into the Christian faith, and they might say no. Or like the rich young ruler, they may just walk away.

So then, this is what I’m coming to know: God alone is the soul-saver. And I think that it makes God happy when I acknowledge that He is I AM and that I am not.

And this means, then, I’m in a position to build human-to-human relationships with everybody else. And in those relationships, what I share about God is rooted in my experience with Him – as sinner saved by grace, convinced of the truth of Scripture, and humbled by my inability to save myself.

And this, I know, is where my happiness lies. Not in working so damn hard to make sure everybody else is okay, but in a surrendered relationship with Christ, where what is “required” is to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with God.

Because the truth of the matter, friends, is that talking about God makes me really happy. And sharing stories about how He’s making Himself known to my friends and to me and in our relationships together makes me happy. And drinking coffee, and reading, and learning blog design make me happy. And writing makes me happy.

And if I keep doing these things, for as long as God calls me to them, then maybe, just maybe, I have a shot at answering Beth’s question.

Why can’t I let myself be happy?

I can. And it starts now.

What I’m Into – June 2014

What I'm IntoHoly hotness, Batman! It’s summer time, good and officially. And while I don’t love the rising temps and constant sweating, June was cool enough that sitting on the porch with my pals didn’t feel akin to sitting wrapped up in a warm towel. So, I’m chalking the month up to a win.

 

Doing

My friend Sarah turned 26 in April, and we were finally able to get together to celebrate the awesomeness that she is. We all donned tiaras and wore fake tattoos and had a proper Disney Princess themed party, because apparently that sort of thing is just as fun when you turn 26 as when you turn 6. And maybe it’s even a little bit better because you can play Candy Land *and* drink beer. (Photo creds to my pal Amy.)

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Belle didn't make it to the ball. She quit.

Belle and I had similar feelings about Disney Princess Candy Land.

This is the face of a Candy Land winner.

This is the face of a winner.

This is my "I can't even princess anymore" face.

This is my “I can’t even princess anymore” face.

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Watching

The Playing House finale on USA was a great ending to the ten-episode first season. It was funny and poignant and all the things I love about TV.

Also, my pals and I went to see a couple of movies because doings things outside means sweating too much. So, I recommend Maleficent if you’re at all into pretty cinematography or Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones. Both are prominent.

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The Fault in Our Stars brought me to tears. I’m not giving anything away by saying this, but there’s a great line at the end of the film about being deeply loved, about how that’s more important than being widely loved, and this is a theme that I’m starting to dig on big time.

Fault_in_our_stars

Reading

First, Addie Zierman wrote a helpful, insightful, smart series on blogging, and it is chock full of resources. If you’re a blogger on any kind of level, spend some time there. I’m a sporadic blogger at best, and it’s inspired me to take it more seriously and to make some good changes. Stay tuned for all that.

Second, summer time is novel time, let’s just make that clear.

Jamie Ford’s 2009 debut, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, chronicles the friendship between Henry and Keiko, a Chinese boy and Japanese girl, in Seattle after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the U.S.’s entrance into World War II. It’s interestingly done as Ford alternates between the 1940s and the 1980s, where we meet Henry as an old man telling stories about Keiko and his childhood to his son.

I’m only about halfway through, but Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is becoming one of my favorites. The story about an overzealous Baptist preacher who drags his family on mission to the Congo is intense, but in all the right ways. It’s a book to sit with, not blow through.

In contrast, Lauren Graham’s Someday, Someday Maybe I finished in a couple of days. Graham, perhaps better known for her roles as Lorelai Gilmore and Sarah Braverman, tells the story of an actress trying to beat a self-imposed deadline for success in New York City. Predictable and cheesy, Graham’s voice comes through as the main character, Franny, and you can’t help but enjoy it and laugh along. It’s pretty much the perfect summer beach book.

Listening

Andy Grammer’s Back Home is summer on the radio.

And I find myself now a major fan of Tyler Stenson, a singer/songwriter out of Portland, Oregon. Good words and an acoustic guitar is pretty much all it takes for me.