Book Review: East of Eden

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” – John Steinbeck, East of Eden

When I first thought about the task of reviewing books for my blog, I knew that I absolutely needed to include East of Eden by John Steinbeck on my list. It has often been called the Nobel Prize winner’s greatest work, a thick and sweeping tale of the American Dream. Most importantly, this is, without any doubt, my favorite novel. In the beginning, I’m not sure what it was about Steinbeck that caught my interest. He was never part of “required reading” for any of my high school or college Literature courses. Yet, at the age of seventeen, I pulled a copy that smelled a bit like rainwater from the shelves of my high school library. And I fell in love with East of Eden’s marvelous prose, stunning imagery, and characters that you hold close to your heart.

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This is a story about the true nature of man that is far more personal than prophetic. Primarily set in the California farmland of the Salinas Valley, a place rooted in Steinbeck’s personal history, you discover the variety of struggles faced by two intertwined families in the early 20th century. Despite their differences, every member of the Hamilton and Trask family immensely struggles to understand the idea of destiny. Are these complex, broken, and entirely human characters fated to be flawed due to a predetermined plan? Or do they have the choice and ability to determine circumstance? The theme is deeply entrenched in the story – sibling rivalry, the lack of love from a paternal figure, the pressures of leading a large family, the struggle for acceptance, or the sinking of depression loneliness. Steinbeck weaves a story that leaves many of his readers questioning humanity’s disposition alongside the characters. The idea is hidden inside a metaphor in the depths of the story, and it is one that I’ve really chosen to root in my life. The Hebrew word timshel, which Steinbeck translates as “Thou Mayest”, stands for the idea that although God knows us to our core (our future, our plans, our dreams), we still have the freedom as humans to make our own choices.

“[The Hebrew] word timshelThou mayest — that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if Thou mayest — it is also true that Thou mayest not… [Thou mayest] makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth … he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” – John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Perhaps man is not doomed to evil or destined for good. Instead, man has the power to choose his path. If I were ever to have a tattoo, you can bet timshel would be printed on my body as a reminder that God created me, yet I am fully responsible for my own choices.

The novel is arduous, and I won’t try to gloss over the labor that goes into reading it. Yet, in my opinion, every line that Steinbeck writes is something to be savored. Like unraveling and sucking on a piece of hard candy, you want to taste it on your tongue, rolling it over and over, and when it disappears, you quickly wish it back. This is America’s epic. Steinbeck’s masterpiece feels immensely personal. I can imagine myself in his home, curled up on a couch across from him, listening to his deep voice sliding over the Salinas Valley as he describes the mountains in the distance, the wildflowers springing up from dry dirt, the people who have worked at the land. He really invites you inside this story to feel and experience it yourself.

If you’re looking for your next favorite novel, I guarantee Steinbeck will make the cut once you finish this book. (Even if it does take a couple months to tackle the task.)

★★★★★ 5/5 Stars. I honestly would give it 6, but that wouldn’t be fair to the other works.

Cheers!

Taylor

Give a Little Love

“And if you share with your heart, you give with your heart. What you share with the world is what it keeps of you.”

This past week, I’ve had gratitude on my mind. It’s a theme that has continued following me since Valentine’s Day. The lyrics above are the last haunting words from the song Give a Little Love by Noah and the Whale. The advice deeply resonated with me in a week of candy hearts, fancy cards, and material gifts – when it’s easy to get caught up in the symbolism of Valentine’s Day instead of celebrating the love and generosity in our world.

J and I celebrated our first Valentine’s Day together as an official, hand-holding, mutual relationship couple (insert smitten, googly eyes here). Back in our college days (and the first time we dated, for those who don’t know our story), we were spring chickens you might say. We had been on a few coffee and dinner dates, but still shied away from jumping in headfirst to the cliché couple routine of Valentine’s Day. Today, I have a lot of gratitude that God allowed His plan to unfold for both of us, all in sweet time, making this first Valentine’s Day that much more special.

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Growing up, February 14th was truly celebrated in my family. As children, my sisters and I made boxes for cards that we displayed at school. I always took serious care in selecting my cards to give classmates. I can remember waking up to special breakfasts of French toast, bacon, and fresh strawberries. Flowers would always decorate the table at home. Every year, my mom gave us small gifts and receiving them in college when I was homesick for my family made it such a treat. Every Valentine’s Day, I felt so loved. This national holiday wasn’t just for relationships full of love and passion. It was a day to celebrate all the relationships in your life – from the big to the small. Looking back, I’m so thankful my parents taught me the concept of gratitude during this time.

Cultivating relationships is difficult, especially as an adult. I made the decision to move away from Kansas nearly five months ago, and I miss my friends and my family every single day. I’m so appreciative of the channels of connection that exist in our modern world – from phone calls, snapchats, Face Time, and Skype. I know those I love are just a few minutes away. While learning how to do long-distance friendships, I have learned that gratitude is the heart of love. If love is a flower in bloom, gratitude is the soil that allows the roots to be nourished. Without appreciation and thankfulness, I would not be able to sustain the love that connects my friends and family.

As I sat in a restaurant Tuesday with J across from me, I was reminded why it is so important to show everyone you meet gratitude. We were at a local, downtown restaurant with the mountains in the backdrop. With delicious food and my favorite guy across from me, I was a happy camper all evening. In happenstance, we were seated very close to the front door and snugly between a few different couples. Together, one of our favorite things to do is to observe the room, catching snippets of conversation and discovering the stories of those around us. J and I couldn’t help but overhearing multiple fights between couples. We even listened as the couple next to us refused their food and were arguing with the waitstaff at the restaurant. As we left the building that evening (on our way to the best dessert a girl could ask for – Dairy Queen Blizzards), I linked arms with J and felt a deep sense of gratitude envelop me. My evening was so much more enjoyable because I chose to focus on everything and everyone I loved on Valentine’s Day.

Every single person you meet has a history, a good and a bad one. You might not know their story, but it does deserve to be told. Despite struggle, despite imperfections, and despite fear of the unknown, every single person you encounter is worthy of love. I’m so thankful that from an early age, I was taught that relationships matter. The respect and gratitude you give others, those who are your best friends and those you encounter in a single event, says so much about you.

“You are imperfect. You are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” – Brené Brown

My hope for the rest of your February is that you find time to give a little love to those around you. Give it in big ways. Give it in small ways. This year, I worked hard to hand-write personal notes to send to those I love. A little, old-fashioned snail mail was my way of reminding those around me that they mattered and I have a deep sense of gratitude each time I think of them in my life. Even in small encounters, at coffeeshops or restaurants, I have learned that you can make someone’s day be being appreciative. If you allow your daily mindset to focus on gratitude and the joys of a thankful heart, imagine all the people you can impact (and all the evenings you could really enjoy).

Cheers,

Taylor

Gifts

Happy New Year, dear reader!

I know many of you have been anxiously awaiting this time of year. As the old year begins to turn to new, I’ve taken time to watch my friends and family and notice just how taxing this past year has been. Our 2016 was a banner year for anxiety, stress, and all-around burnout. It’s no surprise to me that many want to see the sun set on this past year and just forget about it. The elections, the harsh lens of the media, the wars, and hateful mindsets caused a great deal of heartache this year. Throughout the year, I started a nasty habit of running. (No, I don’t mean the “nasty” habit of being healthy by physically running. I’m honestly expressing this essence inside of me to run away from conflict, internal and external.) This year, I found myself turning away from hard conversations instead of leaning in, in order to save what I thought was my own sanity. The more I think about my past year, the more it is plain to see that I should have been turning in, not turning away, appreciating the gifts in my life and precious time I had been given.

But, despite my own personal struggles, I think 2016 gained a bit of a faulty reputation. With all the hardships, good did come from this year. It was a year of learning, growing, and changing. The beginning of January always makes me think of the start of a new day—a sun rising up over a pale, blue horizon, shifting a world of darkness to one of golden light, and brightly illuminating the path ahead. My birthday falls only 3 days into January, and with the ending of a year of my life, I always think of the beginning of one ahead. This year, I’m entering my quarter-century mark. 25. On my birthday, I didn’t feel a slight bit of panic when thinking of the laugh-lines I recently discovered on my face or the fact that I can barely start a morning without coffee. Instead, I felt relaxed and took a little time to turn inward, thinking more importantly about the changes of my own past year. Reflecting on former experiences is necessary to have progress in the future.

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My 2016 was a whirlwind. Even at the first of the year, it became apparent that this was the year for changes. I committed to leave a job that I was passionate about without plans for the future. Throughout the year, I felt frantic while trying to balance my career, my friendships, and my personal life. More space in my heart was taken up by a boy who lived over 500 miles away, which felt like a world of distance at the time. Suddenly, in a flash of time, summer came and I was in a relationship head first, leaving a job, and traveling to Europe without any upcoming career plans in the span of two months.

And then Autumn came. Just like the leaves change, I made changes too. I made a move and settled into a life I wanted to savor. I was fortunate to find a position that captured my interest and let me dive deeper into my strengths. My setting shifted and I headed west for the Rocky Mountains, which I am fortunate to see every day. As time passed, I began to establish roots by connecting to my church, exploring and hiking, and making more friends. Not to mentioned I began life-lessons in budgeting, paying bills, and “adulting”. But I learned that changes can strike even when you least expect it. I lost a dear friend to me, one whom I didn’t have time to say goodbye to or remind him of how much I respected him.

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I met Kyle at the beginning of 2015, and though I didn’t know him long, he left a legacy on my soul. While meeting him, I knew I wasn’t at my best. My heart was overwrought, and I often felt off-balance and overwhelmed. I spent more time on myself instead of being a good friend to others. But in spite of all of this, Kyle was my friend. He invested in me simply by including me and listening to what was on my mind. In the two short years I knew him, Kyle was a blessing. He was truly one of the first Godly men I had ever encountered. His fierce love for Christ, passion for civic engagement, and genuine laughter impacted so many. He simply radiated enthusiasm when sharing about his love for Christ, from spending time in China on a missionary trip to being at the center of a college campus. In addition to all of this, what truly made Kyle unique, was his genuine ability to just be. His laughter lit up a room and he always gave you his full attention. During any task for work at K-State’s Department of New Student Services, be it welcoming new students on to campus or fixing a schedule for day, he was fully engaged. I admire Kyle so much because in every moment I watched him soaking up his precious gifts of life and time, cultivating an atmosphere that glorified Christ. He knew what God had intended for his life and he utilized every moment to be a reflection of that plan. A few months before he died, Kyle marked his earthly body with a tattoo as a reminder of God’s hopes for him. The word GO painted his side was for Matthew 28:19 – “Therefore GO and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In his time and his life, you knew Kyle’s call to action was for Christ, and I know he was welcomed back with opened arms the day he returned to Heaven.

After saying goodbye to my friend Kyle, I’m not ready to let go of the legacy he left behind. I want to live a life more like Kyle. While 2016 was full of changes, I’m ready for this new beginning to take place in my heart. Here’s my 2017 and 25th year manifesto:

I want to be braver. I want to handle the messes with grace instead of panic. I want to learn that it’s okay to lean on others, have the hard conversations, and grow closer. I want to savor time and open my life to change.

This year, I’ve learned that life and time are precious gifts. They aren’t always wrapped up in beautiful layers for you to unfold, tied up with a neat ribbon, organized in a precious pile that’s Instagram-worthy. Sometimes they can appear ugly. Maybe they look like time you don’t really have, money you can’t spend, or resources that feel wasteful. Recycled wrapping paper, crumpled bags, or simple brown paper packages tied up with string. But let me just declare this – I can’t wait to unwrap these presents. I will make them my favorites, carry them in my pockets, pull them out every single day and look upon in wonder. Life and Time are to be savored.

Cheers,

Taylor

Taking Off the Mask

I’m a big fan of Halloween. That’s putting it lightly, and any of my friends and family reading this will know the truth. From my childhood trick-or-treating years to current days of binge-watching Hocus Pocus, I absolutely adore this holiday – the costumes, the candy, the pumpkins—all of it. In preschool, I was able to pick out my costume for the very first time. Being the indecisive Disney-loving girl that I am, I choose a unique combo of Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. Even after I passed age 3, I obsessed over potential outfit ideas when October 31st rolled around. A 50’s girl costume, a Karate Kid, and a homemade Glinda the Good Witch costume courtesy of my Grandma Jo (my all-time favorite, by the way) – so many options! Would the kids in my class like it? Should I have a backup plan in case things didn’t turn out right? What if someone else had the same idea?

Of course, with the passing of Halloween, another large event in the United States loomed on the dim, autumn horizon. This year brought around an election year, and a big one. Mere days after a joyful celebration and countless smiling children, Americans made the very serious decisions on the future leaders of this country. And as I watched countless debates leading up to November 8th, I couldn’t help but notice the scary similarities between Halloween and Election Day. No, I’m not talking about a pants-suit costume or frightening foreign policy. I’m talking about masks. They were everywhere this year. And I find this more haunting than any horror movie, zombie costume, or terrifying corn maze. I know I’m not alone in this observation. This year, the country lacked authentic, genuine candidates to stand behind on the national level. With the attack ads playing over the television on an hourly basis, values and character were brought into question constantly. Malicious words were exchanged. Vicious rumors were spread from all angles. In an election when we should have been celebrating two huge milestones on both sides—the first female presidential candidate and the first presidential candidate without a career in politics – the entire country was tearing each other apart. It was in the media and it was at your dinner table. People were obsessed with the identity of the two party nominees. And here’s the core of it all – did we truly even know who they were? With the chaos surrounding the election, did we learn anything truly real about their characters? All I saw were masks, left and right, hiding the truth from a country that deserves better. My heart hurts just thinking about the mess.

I promise this post will not get political. You don’t need to know who I voted for or what I thought about the results. What you do need to know, and what I think you already know, is that this country is in desperate need of authentic leaders. People who are willing to show up and be seen for who they truly are. People who are trustworthy, kind, and generous souls. People who are willing to admit when they have made a mistake, instead of pointing fingers. People who are willing to be vulnerable and authentic. People who are ready to get rid of the mask. I know they exist because I see them every day. They are my friends and my neighbors. They are my family members and my co-workers.  They are the men and women next to me in church. They are the people I saw walking out of the polls, smiling because they made an impact in the democratic process and they had hope. I see you. I know you are there. Thank you. My prayer is that you will continue these good deeds whole-heartedly in the future.

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Last year, I had a close friend recommend a book to me about taking off the masks. Scary Close by Donald Miller is a book that touched me deep down in my core. By reading this book, I learned to show up and be seen for who I truly am. I learned to drop my mask to the floor and let the curtain close on my act that I’ve been holding tight, using as a defense mechanism for nearly my entire life. I’ve passed this book onto others numerous times because it needs to be shared. It’s one of those change your life books. And I couldn’t think of a better time to encourage people to live authentically than the day after such a disturbing election. Miller opens his book with an Author’s Note and words that resonate and haunt me today. “Somebody once told me we will never feel loved until we drop the act, until we’re willing to show our true selves to the people around us” (xv).

While his writing unfolded, I discovered that although Donald Miller’s memoir is focused on his life-long struggle with empathy and fear, he has a message that truly resonates with every reader.

Your story is worth telling.

It may be easier to hide who you are, cloak yourself in a costume, or put on a mask every day. But I believe that each of us, by the grace of God, is loved and can be loved authentically. The very idea that Christ could redeem us speaks to the fact that you have a right to show up and be truly known. Of course, like two hands locked in prayer, that vulnerability brings shame and fear. Shame is probably one of the scariest words in the English language. It’s the reason I wear a mask or put on an act. In Chapter 3 of his story, Miller opens up about his own shame and the true root of where it began. Reading his words titled, “Everybody’s Got a Story and It’s Not the One They’re Telling”, I felt emotions begin to pour out of me when I remembered instances of shame and fear from my own childhood. It’s despairing to think about, that at a pivotal point in our lives, we were conditioned to believe that something about us was so inherently wrong that we needed to over-compensate.

Miller pushes this idea even further in the very next chapter, “Why Some Animals Make Themselves Look Bigger Than They Are”, by recognizing that when each of us put on a mask, we are believing in shame. Deep down, something whispers, you are not good enough. As human beings, we have a reflex to distract others from who we are at our core. It’s like seeing a bear while you’re out hiking on a trail in the mountains. (Thankfully, I’ve never actually experienced this. However, one can imagine the scenario and bone-chilling fear.) The silence in is deafening. Even though you are thinking, oh my god I’m going to die today, you are supposed to puff out your chest like a big rooster. Double your size. Make that gigantic bear, or any antagonist for that matter, forget who you really are. We put on a mask because we think that is what makes us worth loving. Maybe then people won’t see that we aren’t good enough. Maybe then people won’t know who we are at the core. If someone hears about our job, our big move, our new car, our upcoming vacation, they won’t be able to find this inherently wrong thing that we carry. We use this theory like a social crutch and I often hear myself making the same mistakes. Validation is intoxicating, and it will always be easier to talk about success than failure, fear, or shame.

Hope still sustains me, though. As I think more about the chapters in Scary Close, the more they truly highlight be pain all around our world today. Just look at the two chapter titles I referenced above. They immediately bring to mind the national election that was so publicly broadcasted and paraded before us the entire year of 2016. But I’ve seen the work this book has done for others. I know I’ve witnesses the change this book has brought out in me. By taking a chance and recognizing the shame that I carry in my life, I’ve opened myself to a beautiful idea. If Christ could love me enough as I truly am, for my authentic and genuine and shameful self, the world might be able to do that, too. For revolutionary change, we need others to recognize this idea. In the future, I know that I am looking for leaders who will take off the masks, and I am praying that this day comes soon.

“I began to wonder what life would be like if I dropped the act and began to trust that being myself would be enough to get the love I needed” (35).

Cheers,

Taylor

A Tree Called Life

How do you describe the heart of a place? The soul of a setting, the roots of your spirit, the foundations of who you are? I found myself wondering this as I walked into a new church, a new setting that reminded me so much of a place as dear to my heart as my childhood home. Many of you know I recently made a big life change. I am now a Colorado resident, no longer an official flatlander, but always a prairie girl, if I’m being totally honest. In this transition, I have made the decision to focus on my faith journey and try to grow in larger ways, bigger than just my own self. After my move settled down, I knew there would be opportunities for new exploration of my faith. But I never expected God to show me the connections from my past that will forever intertwine and grow into my future.

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A few weeks ago, I attended a traditional service at the Louisville United Methodist Church. For my directionally challenged friends, Louisville is northwest of Denver and about fifteen miles south of Boulder. My boyfriend, Jonathan, has called this church home for nearly three years. My trip this September was just the second time I had been inside with Jonathan. As we went through the service, I was excited to begin my official search for a home church now that I had finally settled into my move. But, more than anything, I felt a pang of memory and nostalgia for the small church in my hometown in Northwest Kansas. You see, last Sunday, Louisville was celebrating their 125th anniversary. They were celebrating new life and old life, beginnings and endings, celebrations and sorrows. All together, they joined their voices in prayer, heads bent toward the earth, like they had been doing for over a century. All together, they smiled and laughed and hugged when greeting each other. All together, they listened to the message, one of renewal rooted in tradition while moving a Methodist church forward in an age of millennials, technology, and lack of human empathy everywhere in the world. And, sitting there looking at the stained glass windows, I cried when we sang “Jesus Loves Me”, children trotting back into the isle towards their parents’ outstretched arms. Because that’s what we sang so often in my hometown church.

It was easy to flashback to a very hot day last summer, when my own hometown church in Palco, Kansas celebrated its 125th anniversary. An anniversary that, like Louisville UMC’s, also focused on renewal and tradition. An anniversary that focused on outstretched branches and roots. An anniversary about my setting, my spirit, my foundations. I walked into the glass doors of a brick building that had been a constant feature in my life. Some of my earliest memories come from the Palco United Methodist Church. Before you even walk inside, there is a small slope that seemed so much larger throughout my childhood. My sisters and I would race down the hill, rolling and smearing our Sunday dresses with grass. I can see the ribbons and bows flying out behind us. Further up the hill, along the footing of the church, you’ll see rocks and attempts of shrubbery that desperately try to shoot through despite drought. Here I filled balloons with water for Vacation Bible School, the anticipation of cold water and squealing children made me laugh. When you walk inside there are two rooms of fruit on your left—affectionately called the Watermelon Room and the Apple Room. A daycare was once held inside, but the toys from those days still remain, stained and well-loved. A kitchen and fellowship hall stands at the right. Dining collections, mugs, and silverware in the kitchen are mismatched from generations of potluck dishes left behind.

Further inside, you reach the core of this home, a sanctuary. It’s not a revolutionary place. In this church, someone once decided that evergreen carpet would make a statement. The pews have a bleached look to the wood, devoid of color that instead is given to the stained wooden boards of the arched ceiling. If you lay on your back in the pew, like I did when I was a child, you can watch the shadows dance through the stained glass windows. Brick lines the ceiling and sounds bounce off it, every which way. The organ fills the space loudly as an echo in a cavern, while a piano gives a more soft and delicate noise, finding its way like water slipping through crags of rock. And when the people sing, it fills the space with a beautiful sound, a noise that makes you feel part of something larger just your own self.

This is a place as familiar to me as my mother and father, a constant. I was baptized here and confirmed here, promising to live my life full of faith and service. It’s only natural that I was surrounded by my family the day we celebrated 125 years of this church during this past summer. The number was unfathomable to me the moment I walked into the door. As I have written about my hometown in the past, many of you may know the struggles that this rural community faces. With job security and development issues, the number on a road-side population sign continues to dwindle. In such a place, that a community of faith could maintain its strength so long, was nothing short of a miracle in my opinion.

One of my favorite parts about the service in Palco (and even in Louisville, as they did this same act in the form of a letter) was hearing from pastors who had previously served in the church. These leaders had each shaped and had been shaped by the congregation, and I thought it was incredibly moving to hear about their experiences. One pastor in Palco had baptized each of my sisters and knew me throughout my childhood. I straightened up taller in my metal chair as she began to deliver the message for that 125th Anniversary Sunday. As she spoke on her favorite memories from our church, she didn’t talk about our fellowship hall, the Watermelon Room, or the sound of the organ in the sanctuary. She spoke of a specific tree—a stark piece of life, springing up from the earth to heavens, interrupting the horizon. This particular tree was special and different, and she described it in a way that I don’t think is possible for me to attempt to repeat. The youth of the church at the time had gone on a mission trip together, building homes and communities, and a photograph from this time captured the children in this big tree. They lined the large timber, small knots on an ancient piece of landscape. Eventually, like all missions abroad, the trip came to an end and the group returned home. Like all children, people grew and aged, left and went on to live different lives. But that tree and those memories were carried by so many different individuals, and not necessarily in just a photograph. People continued to carry that tree and that moment on with them for the rest of their lives. And even though this tree really didn’t belong in the church yard, didn’t belong in the small community of Palco, and didn’t belong even in Kansas, the church also carried the tree forever.

I think of that tree often, even though I haven’t seen it myself. I love trees—tall Cottonwoods from my childhood that leave trails of white floating on the air in June, the sprawling wide limbs of Sycamores from my collegiate days, and the new Colorado Pines that now take up space in my heart. And I especially thought about these trees the Sunday I visited Louisville UMC, as I’ve been looking for find a place where I can grow in faith and community. For, like a tree, my home church of Palco United Methodist Church is rooted in me. It’s the soul of my childhood setting, the roots of my spirit, the foundations of who I am. Though at times I was worn and beaten down, struck by fierce desert storms, God provided just like he does all around us, and I survived. While so much has continued to change about my hometown and continues to, as time develops, I know that my time in the United Methodist Church with family, friends, and faith has impacted my soul so deeply. And maybe the numbers may dwindle. And maybe my grandmother doesn’t climb the backstairs to the choir loft every Sunday morning. And maybe I’m not there to worship with that small congregation, my voice joining in a song that’s bigger than myself. But I carry that church with me everywhere I go. It’s my home. As I move on and search for new homes, I know my branches might tangle occasionally. However, they still are outstretched and impacting the world around me. I’m so very excited to continue growing in my faith, of where my roots were furrowed deeply and where my branches continue to touch and graze.

When I think of faith and growth, I’m often reminded of an E.E. Cumming’s poem, [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]. I’ve listed the words below, the words that continue to remind me of my tree of life. It’s faith that I carry in times of uncertainty, new moves, and big changes. It’s faith that reminds me to help those who need it more than we could ever imagine. It’s faith that brings me home and keeps me moving forward.

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

 

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Cheers,

Taylor

Summer Convictions

Summer always seems to bring moments of change into my life. You know those moments in the first days of summer? You start to regret when having to walk far distances, and parking lots of black tar quickly become comparable to the Sahara Desert. Those moments when air starts to press so hard on you that you have to gasp in order to fill up your lungs with oxygen? In a similar way, it seems that I find a need to fill up my life with new things in these first moments of summer. My soul begins to gasp for a fresh start. Fitzgerald, in his famous novel on the human fascination with the glittering and unfamiliar, brilliantly describes this strange need for change that grows in my heart.

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Life has started new in so many different ways during the summer. Typically, summer brings back fond memories of melting ice cream, catching fireflies in my backyard, and baseball games. But my memories always look back to include major moments of change. When I started to prepare for life transitions, they always occurred during the summer. As a child, I went through the major life step of piercing my ears during the summer, as not to interfere with playing sports during the school year. Before entering high school, I remember spending time at my hometown’s basketball courts, talking about the next four years ahead of me with older friends. I made the hot trip to Manhattan, Kansas in the middle of August heat – my poor father sweating up 8 flights of stairs as he moved my mini fridge, (many) clothes, and books into a college residence hall. I traveled to Scotland alone. I started a new job after my college graduation. For me, summer has always brought on change, more so than any new year date on a calendar ever has.

With the months of June and July slowly passing me by, lingering like a Summer Solstice sun high in the sky, I’ve realized this summer will bring on more change than perhaps ever in my life. I’m quickly approaching the new opportunity for a career change. I’ve thought about a major location change. I have a boyfriend (and that is such a fun word to say after 3 years. So fun, in fact, that I’m working on another post just to speak to the adjustment of sharing a life with someone after spending so much time guarding my heart.) I just returned home from a big transatlantic trip with my baby sister. I also am feeling my own soul start to change in a way that is new to me, as I look to Christ to guide me through these times and let go of control.

I’ve always looked to keep things very personal on this blog, focused on making a deep connection rather than sharing a lifestyle, and I hope to continue doing that in the future. The past few months, I’ve found myself searching for silence all around me. I couldn’t seem to stop the chatter from my mouth or my brain or my heart. It’d be easy to tell you that I’d been able to breathe deeply, finding strength in God and my family and friends, but anxiety followed me like a shadow. Even the last couple of weeks, my feet wandering up and down the cobblestones of the British Isles, my heart felt a little restless. I hadn’t taken the time to just sit and let it be. My next few weeks will bring a little necessary stillness in my life. I’m looking forward to taking time to decompress – breathe out – and prepare myself for changes ahead. My summer convictions moving forward are to take time to really still myself to listen to God’s plans for me, understand and think about my life recently, and look forward to the future. I can’t wait to share more of my travels, musings, and what’s ahead on my horizon with you.

 

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Cheers!

-Taylor

Cultivate

With a sudden push of bright blue skies and the pungent scent of pear tree blossoms in the air, spring has officially arrived. I love watching seasons transition. There is something, maybe slightly cliché, about the promise of a new day, hope literally springing forth from the ground in the form of a tiny little resilient bloom that takes my breath away. In all this beauty and glory, there are moments to be constantly celebrating. An official first day of spring brings the taste of strawberries in season, being able to play outside in fresh grass, the knowledge that Easter is coming again, and sight of beautiful flowers decorating the earth.

But, if I’m honest, there are moments during this season that I pity the flowers. All they want to do is bloom, and yet sometimes a sudden rush of cold refuses to allow it. March can be a strange month, allowing for all this eternal promise of new things, and then deciding to surprise us with a little snow storm. Gray light transforms the sky and all we can focus on is the darkness that seems to envelop everything, returning us to winter once again. Yesterday, I watched flakes slowly drift past and exhaust visibly pouring into the air from cars. Children pulled up bright hoods over their ears in an attempt to stay warm, all while I watched from my indoor shelter, bringing hot coffee to my lips. Where are spring and hope and fresh blooms in these moments? I craved the sunshine, and I couldn’t help but shiver as my eyes met the sight of cold everywhere.

I mentioned in my most recent blog post that I am quickly approaching a personal season of transition and change. While it would be the easiest thing to tell you that I view this as a personal “spring” for myself, that would be a lie. Friends, I have moments where I feel like a flower in the middle of a sudden snow storm in March, choking and trying to seek out warmth in every possible way. There are moments when I focus on my limitations and inadequacies and anxiety about the future. It freezes my judgement and haunts me most when I am at my weakest point. At times, it’s as though I am just a passenger in a car I can’t control, with no destination in mind—trapped and filled with fear when all I want to do is be outside, on my own two feet, and know exactly which road to take.

Change is hard. Transition is difficult. My life has been crying out for a roadmap, some sort of GPS system to just show me the way. And I’ll admit, sometimes I pray to God to just give me a sign. If he could only tell me where I should go, what to do with my life, maybe that would make driving this car easier. My words usually formulate in the request of visible choices, some sort of flashing road sign, complete with bright orange cones, that says “YES, OVER HERE” and “THIS WAY, TAYLOR”. Instead of praying for peace and patience during this time, I have prayed that the answer will fall directly in front of my eyes. At the very heart of who I am, I feel ashamed of these thoughts. Mostly, because at the heart of who I am, I understand that God does not always work in obvious ways. And this limited, inadequate, anxious control freak that I try to keep hidden from the world has a very hard time understanding that notion.

Lately, I have been fixated on the word “cultivate”. I see it everywhere. Maybe it is the season of spring in my own life that has the notion catching my eye. The very definition from Merriam-Webster is the ability “to grow or raise under conditions you can control”. When I first was thinking about this post, I really loved the last part of that definition, the idea of control. But when I think of the greatest gardeners or farmers that I know and love, they have a deep, almost spiritual connection to God and the earth. They understand that things aren’t always in our control. There are years of bountiful production, when we all smile up to the sky and thank God for the rain. And then there are years of drought, when ponds dry up and dust flies up into the air for weeks. Sometimes, you just have to know with faith in your heart that things are going to happen and that there is a plan, a roadmap, that we may never have access to. It may take going through years of good rains or years of drought. But God is always there, and I’m ready to understand that notion and just let go.

Only by darkness can we see the light. Only by Christ’s death on the cross are we saved. Only by a moment of suffering are we promised a life of eternity. Only by surviving a winter can we witness the most beautiful blooms. After all, my favorite flowers are those that come from being resilient over time, ones that can still bloom despite a sudden, unexpected moment of snow.

This is my story. This is my song.

I will allow God to cultivate in me a spirit that is peaceful and patient. This is where I am in life. And I vow to use every precious moment, every second, and not waste it. How blessed am I to have a good and loving God with great plans for my body, heart, and soul! And I know He’s there. And I know He’s listening, and even though I don’t see his roadmap for me, I am deeply excited to let it unfold in due time.

While I know that my times recently have been filled with a few snow storms here and there, I have realized that nearly everyone struggles through these as well. If your heart is anxious, if you worry for your future, or if you face moments of doubt, my hope is that you can find a sense of calm. Recently, I have discovered the author Shauna Niequist. Never have I connected to an author on such a deeply spiritual level. Her words from her books Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines have truly inspired me to question myself and understand that my fears of change are completely normal. I highly recommend that you consider picking up one of her books which are filled with short essays and snapshots of everyday life, celebrating God in the sun and snowstorms. Her quote below is a loving reminder to focus on the time, be willing to let go, and seek out resilient blooms within our own selves.

“I believe that if we cultivate a true attention, a deep ability to see what has been there all along, we will find worlds within us and between us, dreams and stories and memories spilling over. The nuances and shades and secrets and intimations of love and friendship and marriage and parenting are action-packed and multicolored, if you know where to look.” – Shauna Niequist (Cold Tangerines, 17)

So, I am focusing on these moments. I am letting go. This is my story. This is my song. I will find blooms in the snow storms, and I hope you will, too.

Bloom

Cheers,

Taylor

The Hiatus

Salutations! Remember that one time I went over six months without writing? Ouch. Me too, and trust me, I’m cringing just thinking about the time that flew away from me. I wish I could approach this situation with a plethora of excuses for my behavior. But, to be completely honest, it was simply my own writer’s block and the everyday grind that kept me away. A lot can happen in six months, but in the passing time, I’ve focused on my work and my travel the most. I’ve also had some beneficial time to develop my leadership and focus on building relationships. Yet, when I think about my original intentions with this blog, my writing was focused on Martha Graham’s words – “a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” My goal is to return to this statement, and keep myself going in times of transformation. I’m quickly approaching a season of change, like every new professional. While I may not know exactly what my future holds, I’ve chosen to focus in on a few important things.

Courage, Peace, and Grace

When I think of my plans and desires for my life, this motto is like the compass guiding my heart. There may be many choices ahead, but I have the ability to control my future actions and the way I react to change. Those three little things – courage, peace, and grace—will help me in any trial. This, with a focus on “a blessed unrest” would be my idea of a perfect balance. And, I may sway and stumble like a newbie trying out yoga for the first time. Call it my attempt at a Tree Pose without stretching for a whole six months. So be it. Here I am. This girl is breathing deeply, her face towards the sun.

Even typing these words, it feels good to be back. I’m hoping to share a few of my adventures during my hiatus soon. In the meantime, have a happy three-day weekend friends. May you all find your “balance”!

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Cheers!

Taylor

My 6 Summer Essentials

Summer—a time of sunshine, longer days, pools, and popsicles—brings on a bit of a love/hate relationship for me. On my love list is grilling with friends, fresher fruits and veggies, patios, the return of our farmer’s market, reading on the lawn, and evening walks. With a list like that, it’s hard to think of the “hate”. But sunshine causes sunburns, longer days cause less sleep, and warm weather causes the endless search for comfy shoes.

This year, after lots of summer loving and hating, I finally have a list of 6 essentials that make the transition to warmer weather that much easier.

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  1. Starting with the sun hat, let’s take a moment to guard those pretty little locks from one of the best bleaches known to mankind. While I love natural highlights as much as the next girl, nothing hurts worse than a red scalp, and nothing looks worse than the red starting to flake away later. Floppy, straw hats immediately bring to mind sweet memories of my grandma hard at work in her garden. They also provide great coverage at the pool for me! This number is from last season at Gap, but I am loving the variety of sun hats Nordstrom has up on their website! (You can browse here: http://shop.nordstrom.com/c/womens-sun-hats?origin=leftnav)
  2. Warm weather brings lots of cute shoe options, but more struggles in that department for me. I love a great sandal, but straps and flat options don’t always love my feet. After some discomfort in my arches, I’ve discovered shoes with a little wedge and soft leather are my best bet! I love a great wedge that is flexible, like these pictured from Marshall’s. A very similar pair can be found from Land’s End (http://www.landsend.com/pp/StylePage-440724_AL.html?CM_MERCH=REC-_-FPPP-_-GGT-_-3-_-440724-_-437947) now on sale now for $33!
  3. Please allow me to step on my soap-box for this next product. I cannot stress the importance of skin care enough, especially during the summer. For me, sunscreen has become an essential part of my daily routine. With a family history of skin cancer, I am so cautious about protecting myself from the sun. However, finding the right product for your face is always challenging. Neutrogena has made things extremely convenient for consumers by providing a huge variety (including my favorite, Clear Face at SPF 55). No more sunburns and oily skin for this girl! A few pro-tips about sunscreen—most dermatologists recommend at least an SPF 30 for patients, and always be sure to reapply if you expose yourself to sunlight throughout the day.
  4. During the summer, I love keeping my face fresh but hate the fuss of a ton of makeup. This C.O. Bigelow Rose Salve sold at Bath & Body Works (http://www.bathandbodyworks.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2726822) is great for relaxing, low maintenance days. The pink tint looks great, while the product keeps my lips super soft! Throw this on with some water-proof mascara and you’re set for a Saturday of running errands.
  5. With summer comes our exciting training program at work, and my “To-Do” list becomes a mile long. I never thought I’d become someone who relishes checking something off a list, but there’s a huge feeling of accomplishment that comes from it! Being an individual who loves “organized chaos”, I tend to lose small sticky notes very easily. This yellow notebook was a gift from a friend, and it sure does come in handy as I keep running notes on work and other agenda items! You can find adorable stationary, like this one, from one of my favorite companies, Rifle Paper Co. (https://riflepaperco.com/).
  6. The long days of summer bring long nights for me, too. I’m enjoying time with friends and finding more time to take walks in the evening. It also means I still need an extra kick to keep going in the morning. As most of you know, I am a huge coffee addict. Black, latte, or frapped—I drink it all. My most recent grocery store discovery has me addicted to Starbuck’s Iced Coffee. Why is this so great? I love iced coffee at home, but hate the watered-down taste ice leaves behind. I simply chill this, and it tastes so much smoother! My favorite thing to do is add some skim milk and caramel drizzle for a sweeter flavor.

With these items, I’m hoping to stay grateful for this season and move more items to my “love” list. As Ben Rector says, “Thank God for the Summertime”.

Cheers!

Taylor

Wanderlust: Tulsa, Twin Cities, and Tour de Compadres (via KC)

I mentioned in an earlier post the whirlwind that was April for me. It appears that May is becoming very similar. During early April, I remember thinking “I can’t wait until this month is over”. This is probably very unfortunate because I know I should be savoring precious time, but April was a crazy roller-coaster of planning, preparation, and executing. I spent a week and a half of traveling away from home, seeing some really cool places, but missing my own home with a strong longing.

The first stop on my travel train was Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The four and half hour drive was broken up in both directions with stops to visit my grandparents. I attended a college fair down there and visited a few high schools, meeting some incredibly engaged students! While I was only there for two days, I had a little down time between a couple of my high school visits to search for a coffee shop and accomplish some office work. Miraculously, I think I ended up at one of the most eclectic work spaces I have ever seen! Nestled in the urban, downtown district of Tulsa called The Pearl District, The Phoenix is home to whimsical furniture including mismatched, oversized armchairs and columns made entirely from books. I knew I was at home when I noticed that many of the menu items were named after great literary works, from some of my favorite novels to a Shakespearean comedy. After whipping out my computer and plugging away for a solid hour, I bit into “The Giving Tree” – turkery, bacon, swiss cheese, granny smith apples, and a spicy chipotle ranch on a rosemary and olive oil bagel (AKA heaven in my mouth). I’ve also heard rave reviews about their cold-press coffee, but unfortunately they were out of this already by the time I stopped by. After enjoying a little lunch, I hopped into Made, a little store across the street with only local items for sale, each made by 80 different artists in the Tulsa area. It seemed like a great place to do some exploring! If you’re looking for a stop off the beaten tracks and a place to relax, I think The Pearl District definitely should be on your list of places to stop in Tulsa!

The Deli Counter inside The Phoenix

The Deli Counter inside The Phoenix

The Pearl District

The Pearl District

After a quick weekend back in “Manhappiness”, I prepared to take on the Twin Cities for the second time this year! I’d been gearing up for this trip for months. Upon my arrival, I knew I was in for an adventure when I was greeted by slow drifting snowflakes instead of April sunshine. While the snow continued to fall, the trip was full of events and even driving with my boss in city traffic (which is very stressful for a girl who grew up with absolutely no stoplights in her hometown). I was infinitely grateful when the sun decided to shine near the end of my trip, and took advantage a park I found downtown to accomplish some work outside. I’ve decided that if you need some rest in the hustle and bustle of a city, a park is the perfect place. And in Minneapolis, Cedar Lake Park was the perfect spot for me. The Twin Cities treated me well—with time spent catching up with family, work well spent, and finding the time to breathe in a city—and I was so thankful for a successful week there!

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I wrapped up my travel adventures in April with a quick visit to KC for a weekend. Ben Rector is one of my all-time favorite artists. His piano ballads speak to my soul, and his latest album The Walking in Between was an absolute knockout. Naturally, when I heard he was rambling around on tour and the closest he would get to me was in Kansas City, I knew I absolutely had to attend (even if it was the day after I returned from my marathon week in Minnesota). Thankfully, a friend tagged along. I thought Ben would be headlining the event, but he was part of a group of friends (hence the name Tour de Compadres) performing together! The concert took place at the Crossroads KC venue, located behind the bar Grinders. After a day of rain and chilly air, I was worried about the outdoor site and the mist certainly didn’t stop in the evening. The ground was soggy, and I was very thankful I decided on a whim to wear my cowboy boots. Although we were all pretty damp by the end of the concert, I think that the audience’s spirits were definitely lifted. Needtobreathe headlined the event, and I enjoyed hearing many of their songs for the first time. My favorite discovery, though, was Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. Folk with a little indie flair, these are the perfect songs for a rainy day, a road trip, or a pick-me-up! My favorites are Here We Go and Shine Like Lightening! The concert was an absolute blast and definitely worth the trip. I hope to make it back to that area of KC again because I spotted a few food and coffee shops I wanted to check out!

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Needtobreathe

Ben Rector performing!

Ben Rector performing!

This week, I’m off to Estes Park, Colorado for a little vacation time! Hope your travels are treating you well!

Cheers!

Taylor