More Stuff Worth Sharing

I’m a level four contributor on TripAdvisor. I’ve collected 25 badges and when I get an email saying, “Just one more review and you get to the next level!” I fall for it every time. I click the link and I find a restaurant I’ve been too and haven’t written about yet and I give it a glowing review (usually). I get a certain level of personal satisfaction from their points system even though they don’t matter.

I like telling people about what I like.

I check reviews before I book a hotel or buy a new dress or order a book.

Word of mouth goes a long way, so I’m going to share a few more things I find worth sharing!

BeautyMNL

I made my first order at BeautyMNL 10:30pm. I received my package at my front door the following morning at 10:15am.There are no drones involved here, friends. There was a friendly man standing at my door holding this package with a smile:

beautymnl

I found this site through an ad on my Instagram feed (they’re annoying little buggers, but they’re effective!). After some careful research and comparing some prices from the site to my grocery store, I felt comfortable to give them a shot. The prices were either the same as or slightly lower than what I was seeing at the store. Plus, I can get some products on this site that I don’t see every day – Bath & Body Works lotion, essential oils, and coconut oil shampoo… which leads me to my next item:

Coconut Oil

Your dog has skin problems? Coconut oil. Dry nose? Coconut oil. Make up remover? Coconut oil. Foot soak? Add coconut oil. Substitute for butter? Coconut oil. Ideal for smoothing frizzy hair? You get the idea.

Every time I google something, the result is coconut oil. (Well, either that or vinegar and baking soda.) I was a skeptic at first, I admit. Clearly, everyone was over exaggerating the plethora of uses for this simple product. But alas, in a country abounding in coconuts, it seemed like the perfect time to jump into the growing trend of this multi-purposed gift from God. Gordon’s fur, my hair, and the occasional loaf of banana bread have not been disappointed.

theSkimm

I signed up for theSkimm’s emails last year just before we left the States and when I receive their daily updates, I get excited as if am hearing from a friend. Written by a team of twenty-somethings in New York City, these emails give daily “cliff notes” of the news – there are bite sized paragraphs with witty (and sarcastic) commentary that makes me think, laugh, and click their links to dig deeper and learn more. They’ve created their own government lingo, reporting recent decisions from “the Supremes” and when the Dems vote against Hillz, she gets Berned.
It’s one of those “by millennials, for millennials” kind of things – West Wing politics meets Gilmore Girls humor. It’s my daily dose of U.S. news that brings information in a casual and entertaining way.

Enchiladas 

I’ve had a recent craving for all things Mexican. Or, you know, the version of Mexican that I grew up with in Connecticut. Rather than In addition to the new taco restaurant that opened up near our place, I found a recipe online for enchiladas that is worth sharing. Preferably, it’s worth sharing around the dinner table with some tortilla chips and some affogatos for dessert (using salted caramel ice cream, of course), but I’ll have to settle for passing along the recipe. I give you: Chicken Enchilada Rice Casserole. Shauna Niequist suggests in her book Bread and Wine to make a dish first according to the recipe and then deviate the next time. I’ve gotten into the habit of adding my own flair from the beginning, given what I can find at the store and what I have in my kitchen when I don’t feel like running to the store. For this one, my alterations are as follows:

  • I used regular white rice because I couldn’t find basmati (or don’t know the Tagalog word…?).
  • I had the ingredients to make the enchilada sauce in my cabinet already!
  • All cheddar cheese because it was cheaper to just buy one kind of cheese. And I really like cheddar cheese.
  • Cilantro didn’t end up garnishing this dish but not for lack of buying. It sat in the ref and was forgotten. But the dish still tasted great!

Served with chips and salsa and a smile. Follow up with some homemade doughnuts and you have yourself a meal.


My recommendations here are simply products and services I like. I receive no compensation for any of it; just like TripAdvisor, the points don’t matter.

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With Those Who Mourn

I’m reading a book right now called Wearing God. It’s by Lauren Winner and while I’m still early into it, I’m inspired by each page.

She talks about how, especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul, the Bible says to “clothe yourself with [God/Christ].”

She explains that the clothes we put on tell a story to the people around us and to ourselves. She tells of how, years ago, a grieving person would clothe themselves in black for months after their loved one’s death. It told the story to other people around them that they were mourning. It told the story to themselves that it is okay to mourn. It meant that they could show up and people around them would know how to treat them, how to care for them well. It meant that they wouldn’t need to explain themselves or feel like they had to.

She makes a beautiful parallel between how wearing black tells an acquaintance to squeeze my hand or friend to give me a hug just as how when we wear God, we tell the world around us who we follow and to whom we belong. We identify with Him and it often tells the people around us how to interact with us.

I love and am challenged by this truth. I got something else, too, out of Lauren’s writing and the writings she quoted. As she spoke of the grief journey, it reminded me how mourning is beautiful and best done in community.

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At the end of last year, my community in Connecticut lost a dear friend. My heart grieves for her death and my heart grieves for the distance between me and that community. A few friends in my community here lost important people in their lives this past month.

I only met Uncle Bob* a of couple of times and I sat with tears running down my face at his memorial service.  His five sons spoke (one via a pre-recorded video from California) and his wife read something he had written before his death. Each story expressed love and gentleness and kindness – not just within their family, but also toward strangers. Toward the nurses and doctors who attended to him in his final days, one nurse even calling him “Dad.” Each story made me want to be like him just a little more – to love tenderly and act boldly.

The tears came as my friend, Maow, led the group gathered (in the first of the three memorial services) in singing “I Can Only Imagine.” When he sang, I wasn’t imagining heaven, exactly, I was imagining Maow imagining heaven. I was imagining how he was picturing his dad, pain free, and bowing before the Creator of the world.

As I sat watching, listening, and crying, I couldn’t help but think of how beautiful this is. This time of mourning is a time for the living to gather and retell stories of hope, of love, and affirm the empty space in our lives.

My friend Ynna tells me stories of her Lolo too. He was 88 and it sounds like he was the rock of their family. Everyone called him “Lolo Pete.” Her home feels empty and there’s a place missing from the table setting. She misses his greeting to her when she comes home: “Hello, sweetheart!” She misses his singing. I hear her stories and I miss this man whom I’ve never met. But I’m also missing my own grandfather. He greeted me the same way and sang the same songs.

When we mourn in community we get to tell those stories together. The creators of the video game That Dragon Cancer explain their experience in a recent episode of Reply All: “Grief is the emotion, and mourning is what we do with that emotion.”

We can isolate ourselves when we’re grieving. Sometimes we want to get to a new normal as fast as we can. Sometimes I don’t want to be a burden or have people wonder why I’m still aching.  In today’s world, we may not wear black for months to express our grief, but when we get to walk alongside each other in these seasons, we learn from their stories and grow a little closer through shared pain. I think that like wearing black communicates grief, mourning with those who mourn communicates a bit of who God is and the comfort He offers too.


* I do have an actual uncle named Bob who I fondly call “Uncle Bob” and this is not him.

Stuff Worth Sharing

I started listening to a new podcast this week. It’s called Sampler and it’s a podcast about other podcasts. Brittney Luse goes on the hunt for podcasts around the internet and in each epidode (at the time of this post, there are three so far) gives you a rundown on a few of her favorites. She plays a clip and then, maybe along with a friend, tells you why it’s worth listening to. I’m drawn to this podcast for a couple of reasons: I get to learn what other podcasts are out there without having to hunt for them myself. I also like it because it’s interesting to get to know the host, Brittney, by how she talks about the podcasts she finds. I get to know a person by the stuff they like and why they are drawn to it.

Here’s some stuff I’m liking right now, things that I find helpful or make my heart soar.

Courage For a Better Story

This is the blog of my writing buddy and dear friend, Alison. I’m subscribed to her blog so every time she posts new content, it comes directly to my inbox. My heart does a leap for joy each time I get one of those emails. I get to regularly read the heart of a far-away friend. Alison writes with depth and honesty, exploring her own process and growth often with the launchpad of books she has recently read. As an avid reader, Alison’s “currently reading” pile sits high on her nightstand or side table, and she beautifully weaves the creations of others with her own beauty. Best read in a quiet room, although I’ve been known to soak up her words while waiting for or riding the MRT.

Mr. Bean Bag

lounging
Photo from @trentrollings (Instagram)

How to make your 29th floor condo feel like an urban oasis? Mr. Bean Bag. My husband and I were looking for ways to have extra seating in our living room in the event of a movie night with friends while also investing in a way to fully utilize our balcony space. Answer: bean bag chairs. Our inspiration was confirmed through a recent visit to the “artist beach hostel,” Flotsam and Jetsam (San Juan, La Union). We sat on the bean bag chairs overlooking the ocean and knew we wanted to take a piece of this tranquility into our own space. With Mr. Bean Bag, you choose the color and material and they made and deliver it right to your door. The delivery man laughed as he looked at the bean bags and then the size of our living space. I assured him that there was room out on the balcony.

Old-fashioned Doughnuts

more doughtnuts

I recommend this as the perfect rainy day (or snow day) activity! And think of it as just that – an activity. I almost ignored the message from my friend, suggesting I try this recipe, because of the word “doughnut” and how doughnuts are a very specific shape and sound like they’re a lot of work. Now while I had to get creative with the tools used (hair mousse bottle as a rolling pin and a cup and bowl as a dough cutter for the shape), they turned out delicious and I felt some serious satisfaction in knowing I could do it. (Though next time, I think I might just make little bite-sized “holes” only, because it’s easier and just as delicious).

Wearing God

I first discovered Lauren Winner by accident. I picked up a book called Girl Meets God and I was hooked by her story and writing style. When a friend who was visiting from the States handed me this book two weeks ago, I knew I’d fall in love all over again. A little older, a little wiser, walking with God a little longer, Lauren writes about the different ways we experience and interact with God through the metaphors used throughout Scripture. She writes that many of our churches regularly use “shepherd, priest, and king” but less often do they dwell on God as our clothing, as a mother, and as laughter. The chapter I just finished, the chapter I still have my bookmark in because I’m still reflecting on the truth inside it, is the chapter about smell. Lauren talks through passages pertaining to how God interacts with fragrances, with aromas, and how the sense of smell is the one most closely linked with our emotion. When we talk about experiencing God, we often talk about seeing His face, hearing His voice, feeling His embrace, so now I’m pondering what it means to smell His aroma. I’m also not yet halfway through the book.

Candidate Comparison

Here’s something I find helpful more than delightful. As the U.S. presidential elections kick into full swing (hello, Iowa) and I navigate voting absentee from the other side of the world (any tips, please let me know), I found this website helpful in comparing and contrasting the individuals who are running. You can click multiple candidates and see their views side-by-side and you can also get a glimpse of their campaign financials – where it’s come from and how they’re using it.

Reply All

Now I’ll bring you back to where I started: podcasts. Done by the same company (Gimlet Media) as Sampler, Reply All provides you with stories about the internet. Trent and I started listening in 2014 as we drove 12+ hours from Calgary to Vancouver and the drive didn’t seem nearly as long. Satisfying my curiosity for the mysterious internet and love of stories, PJ and Alex dig deep into some of the interweb’s biggest stories – past and present. I’ve learned about new websites and apps (that may not actually be that new), I’ve learned about the early days of the internet in France, and I’ve heard from the guy who invented the pop-up ad (spoiler: he’s really sorry). This is my favorite go-to podcast for commuting to school and I’m both happy and sad that I’m caught up and eagerly awaiting new episodes.


My recommendations here are simply products and services I like. I receive no compensation for any of it, except maybe the pure delight of eating your doughnuts once you make them.

 

People More Than Things

People More Than Things

 

I don’t give away books easily. I also don’t often talk with the person beside me on the plane. On that particular day I did both.

I was flying from my home near Philadelphia to an annual December missions mobilization event near Detroit and the man beside me began a pleasant conversation with a genuine smile on his face. He was a salesman and I knew, as a mobilizer, we already had some professional things in common, but I decided to take a different approach in connecting.

“What do you enjoy creating?” I asked him, taking a risk in asking such an uncommon small talk question.

“Oh!” His whole body beamed with excitement, “I’m an artist!”

“Tell me more!” I was thankful I had asked.

“I’m a painter.” He continued on, with animated detail, that he studied colors and patterns based off the Fibonacci sequence, and how mathematics can define beauty. He drew the Fibonacci spiral on a drink napkin. He shared his thoughts and research on beauty and numbers and how the pyramids and a tree and a uterus all have the same ratio, and how you can superimpose sequence onto a color wheel and paint in such a way that draws on something deep inside the human spirit.

I held the napkin in my hands, the raw sketch on a raw canvas, and pondered what he’d been saying. We allowed a space of silence and then we spoke – marveling together about how God created order from chaos and how such beauty points to a Creator.

“How about you, what do you create?”

My soul smiled through my face as I told him about an event called Hutchmoot. I’d been to just a few months prior. I explained that I didn’t know what kind of art I would create but I felt called to do so, since we are made in the image of God, and God is a creator. I told him that I loved to write and I was learning more of what that looked for me. He listened with nods and a smile.

I clutched the book I’d been holding, the book I intended to read on this flight, my fingers still wedged between the pages. I made mention of it, marveling about the beauty that comes when artists collaborate – musicians with writers, writers with painters and so on. I told him about The Rabbit Room and encouraged him to visit the site. I shared how the music of Andrew Peterson inspired this book by Russ Ramsey and how Russ’ book was inspiring to me.

btlog

“What is the book about?”

I took my fingers from the pages and grasped it with both hands. It’s about God’s story of redemption, I recalled, coming to His people through Jesus. The details from the prophecies and stories of the Old Testament woven together toward the fulfillment of those prophesies, the climax of those stories – the birth of Jesus. Complex plots woven by a Creator of Stories, a Weaver of Tales, a Painter of Meaning.

As he listened intently, I became aware that this book was no longer mine. I soon handed the copy of the book to my fellow creator and he gratefully accepted.

I don’t give away books easily. When I read them, they become a part of me, and I ache to pass them along. This one felt different. This time, I knew that the story being told was not for me to keep.

My week in Michigan passed and soon after I arrived home to my apartment, a package came from Nashville. Inside was a new book, the very book I had parted with on an airplane just a week before. Inside the book, there on the title page, was an inscription: “For Christine, You can give this copy away too, if you need to. It is, as you know, a book about a gift. Thanks for loving people more than things. Hope has come! Russ Ramsey.

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It’s been two years and I still have that copy; I haven’t given it away quite yet. Each time I open the book, flipping to that day’s chapter, my eyes land on Russ’ writing and I’m reminded that, just as God poured His life out for us, so I am called to live my life as an offering – to pour out what I have – whether that means giving away a book, sharing a part of my story, or, occasionally, talking with the person next to me on the plane.


This year, Russ is giving away his book on Kindle until December 2. I’d love to share it with you and join you in reading the story God has been weaving throughout history as we near the time of celebration of the birth of Jesus.

* If you’ve come to this post after December 2, you can purchase a Kindle edition of Behold the Lamb of God on Amazon for $5.99 or a paperback copy of the book for  $14.39.

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage

“I have fed my children chocolate cake for breakfast, although I did so only because they saw me eating it first and it seemed fair. I don’t always dust. I go to McDonald’s too often. And I don’t order the salads.” Any woman who begins chapter one with such a confession, is a woman after my own heart. I don’t have children yet, but I eat chocolate cake for breakfast sometimes and I’m sure it’ll come up once we have kids. And living in Manila not only means easy access to McDonald’s, but we can order our food online and they deliver. I don’t think there’s even a salad on the menu.
marriage
Sheila Wray Gregorie ’s candor and research combined with her easy to read writing style make Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage a good addition to the stack of material on the subject. The book offers not only a collection of the author’s stories and experiences, but also a well-curated collection of stories from well-known books on marriage, friends, fellow bloggers, and conversations on her Facebook page. This factor makes the read flow more like a facilitated panel discussion than a lecture.

What sets Sheila apart from pile of marriage books I have in my collection is the overall structure of her book as well as her audience. Her audience, while not clearly defined by the title alone, is for married women. She speaks to the thoughts that women have in their marriage relationship, lies they believe, and struggles they face. The structure is set as such with each chapter focusing on one truth that often is contrary to what we believe as women, and often contrary to what culture tells us. But not only does the author pinpoint the lie we can so easily function out of, but she calls out the typical Christian pat-answer.

As an example of this, Thought #6 states: “I’m called to be a peacemaker, not a peacekeeper.” The advice that we sometimes hear is: “Fighting is poison to a marriage. Aim to live in peace instead. Avoid conflict at all costs.” She breaks down, throughout the chapter, the difference between a marriage that avoids conflict and a marriage that strives for peace through conflict. At the end of each section she provides action steps, conversation points to have together with your husband, and reflection and discussion questions at the end of the book.

As with any topic of such a complex nature, there are a couple of points where I have differing thoughts than the author. One point is the overgeneralization (though she claims that too!) of men:
“In general, [men] need two things: respect and sex … Obviously I’m overgeneralizing, but studies have shown repeatedly that it is often easier to make a woman feel loved.”

In my limited experience (I’ve only been married for a year), my husband is more complex than this simple explanation. Also, to claim that men need only these two things feels to me to be demeaning. If I was to add to the list, I would also say that men need: friendship, companionship, and alone time and space to have their own hobbies and interests. The media is quick to portray men as simple creatures, while women are the complex beings. I think this is also a dangerous lie that we need to be careful of and combat.

My other difference in thought is over the translation presented of the Greek word, “kephale.” In chapter five, Sheila writes that this word, usually translated in English as “head,” is here meant to more closely mean “source.” A new concept for me, I decided to look more into it which led me to articles of debate over the issue. While I don’t disagree entirely with the implications she presents in the book, I’m wary of the other implications the translation difference can make. Here are a few of the resources I found as I read more into the topic:

The message of Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage is best summarized by the following question:
“What if peace and joy are not dependent on someone else changing, but they instead flow from God giving us the ability to choose how to think, how to feel, and how to respond?”
I appreciate this challenge, being newly married and learning the art of communication and loving well. I see this book as a launching pad for more conversations – for me with my husband as well as for me and the other women in my life. The stories shared in this book were encouraging and powerful and made me feel even more like a part of the Bride of Christ striving to be more like Jesus as I learn what that looks like within marriage. Thank you, Sheila, for your words, your courage in writing, and for your story.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. For more information on this book and its author, connect with Sheila Wray Gregoire on her blog and follow her on Twitter@sheilagregoire.

Messy Grace

For months now, a friend and I have been emailing from across the world as we wrestle with, read about, and pray through our interactions with the conversations surrounding the LGBT community (and more recently, the U.S. Supreme Court decision). For me, it’s been a beautiful process of typing out the thoughts and questions in my head and heart and hearing those of my dear friend as well. We’re in different cultures coming from different cultures and I believe that is adding depth (and also more questions) to our discussions.

I’ve recently embraced the privilege and challenge to review a book with a unique perspective on the topics my friend and I have been emailing about. And while I usually keep my thoughts on this matter to those emails and to conversations around the dinner table, I think that Caleb Kaltenbach has a story worth sharing on this topic. His writing style offers a sort of disarming charm that made me feel like I really was sitting across the dinner table from him while reading his words from my computer screen.

messygrace

Caleb offers a unique and helpful perspective to this conversation: he grew up with parents a part of the LGBT community and became a Christian and later, a pastor. Through this book, he offers his own wrestling with his upbringing and the reaction of “Christians” he observed as a child and how the Bible explains Jesus’ interaction with people throughout His life here on earth. He offers to the reader that the balance between standing firm on truth and extending the grace that we also have been given, is love. “What’s not up for debate,” Caleb writes, “is how we treat people. We must keep loving them regardless of their decision, representing God’s grace and truth as well as we know how.”

The first half of the book offers a back and forth between narrative from Caleb’s life and narrative from the life of Jesus. He offers examples of his interactions with Christians before following Jesus, ones that sadden his heart and mine because of hatred and fear that exists against the LGBT community. He then offers examples and parables from the life and teaching of Jesus that shows how often the response of the church misses the mark of how Jesus taught and lived. For example, he shares of a time when a dear friend of his family laid in a hospital bed as he died of AIDS. As the man’s family stayed far away with their Bible’s open, it was his mom and her partner who showed love and care. Caleb then shares of Jesus’ interaction with the leprous man (a condition shunned by most people of the day) in Matthew 8, as he not only healed him but touched him to do so. I appreciate that the Biblical examples he adds to the conversation are not the usual text when it comes to homosexuality. He offers examples of how Jesus treated people (lepers, adulterers, all of us “while we were yet sinners”) while also explaining God’s design and positive purpose for heterosexual relationships.

In the second half of Messy Grace, Caleb offers his thoughts and reflections on the appropriate response of the American church and of the depth of identity and community offered in the LGBT community. Throughout the book he closes each chapter with questions for reflection, but it was in this section that they were most powerful for me. He paints the picture of a “messy church,” and wonders how many of our churches would respond to those with different views on this from our own. He asks not only: “What would your staff do if an LGBT couple came into your church wanting to be married?” but also: “What if a lesbian wanted to be baptized?” and “What would the reaction be if two men were holding hands in the lobby of your building?”

My criticisms of this book are not of content but simply to editing and flow. Many times Caleb makes a comment about a story that is coming in a future chapter (“what you will read later,” “we will get to that in a later chapter,” “what this book will speak on”). One chapter in particular felt disjointed and scattered (chapter nine). There was half of a word missing at one point (“belie” instead of “believe”). Though these points effect the continuity of the book, I don’t believe they impact the power of the message and story.

As he finishes, Caleb discloses his purpose in writing his first book:

“I’m still thinking through these issues and striving to make sure my opinions are grounded in Scripture. Anyway, I didn’t write this book to tell you what to think. I wrote this book to share my heart with you and hopefully help you think on a deeper level about this issue.”
Caleb, I think you accomplished what you set out to do. Thank you for your courage in sharing your heart, your story, and your striving with the people gathered around this dinner table trying to understand the love of Jesus and the world around us.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. Go on over to Amazon.com to preorder your copy of Messy Grace, coming out on October 20. You can follow author Caleb Kaltenbach on Twitter @calebwilds and visit the book’s website: www.messygracebook.com.