Lenten Practice: Ash Wednesday

I woke up this morning without a game plan for Lent. I always wake up on Ash Wednesday without a game plan for Lent.

I was raised in a tradition that didn't do much to observe Lent. Yes, we followed the church calendar and I always knew when it was Lent but we didn't fast or anything. I'm embarrassed to admit that I'd never heard of the tradition of receiving ashes on your forehead until I told a Catholic friend in high school that she had something on her face one Ash Wednesday despite having attended church my whole life. Yes, I'm still cringing. And grateful for her kindness in graciously educating me on what Catholics were up to each Ash Wednesday.

Anyway, this morning I had no plan. But then something stirred. I honestly don't know what but I somehow realized it was Ash Wednesday and by the time I got done explaining Ash Wednesday to my kids, I felt like I should accept the invitation placed before me. Because Lent is an invitation. It's an invitation to spend forty days observing your own sin and being astonished by God's grace in your life. And I don't know about you but I could use more of that.

I've never been good at giving things up but I do think God is continually nudging me to do more. To seek his presence. To stop forgetting that He's running the show. So this Lent, I'm going to spend time each day reading or engaging something that will draw me closer to him.

It's not lofty. It will be a humble practice. I just know that formation is a slow, ceaseless process and it's happening every second of our lives so this Lent, I want to dedicate more of those precious seconds in pursuit of God. That's it.

[Notes + Nuggets from Today]
*As often as practical, I'm going to use this space to jot down quotes or passages that captured my attention as I read. I may or may not include some of my thoughts on them as well. I may also include ideas or quotes that I find helpful or convicting from sermons or podcasts. I expect that it will be a little all over the place.

From When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert:

Page 54-55

"...before the fall, God established four foundational relationships for each person: a relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation... These relationships are the building blocks for all of life. When they are functioning properly, humans experience the fullness of life that God intended, because we are being what God created us to be. In particular for our purposes, when these relationships are functioning properly, people are able to fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work."

From She Reads Truth Podcast, Episode 14 - Lent & Looking to the Cross
Today, I listened to the She Reads Truth podcast for the first time. Honestly, I'm not sure what prompted it but they were kicking off their Lent study on Jeremiah. I found the conversation to be an approachable and meaningful introduction to Lent and I'll share a few quotes with timestamps here.

24:07 Every day is how often I need to be reoriented to the truth of the gospel and reoriented to God.

24:30 We quit looking for the Lord. That is not our natural default to turn toward God so when we are so far removed that we are not even asking "Where are you?" then it's time for a drastic reorientation of our hearts.

27:02 Wherever our loyalty is, that's what we're going to reflect. So when our loyalty becomes about something other than God, we start reflecting whatever that is.

They closed the episode with a prayer of confession and assurance of pardon. The prayer of confession that they chose is from the Book of Common Prayer and it one of my favorites. I'll close this post with it below.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen. - Book of Common Prayer


Reading Goal for 2019 (Check!)

Early this year, I shared all of the books I had read so far in 2019. My goal for the year was 20 books and I'm happy to say that I've already hit 25 books read this year. Goal met, goal exceeded. I have to admit, I almost never meet my book reading goal so that feels pretty good. The combination of not working and being awake in the middle of the night feeding Whitaker provided a real boost to my reading life this winter and spring.

Reading has been a bit slow for me this summer. The kids have been home and they aren't exactly the best at letting me finish a thought, much less a book, without interrupting. Back to school is just days away and I expect that I'll be able to up my reading game again once the older kids are gone all day. In the meantime, I wanted to share what I've read since February. 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger
The Au Pair by Emma Rous
The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Water From a Deep Well by Dr. Gerald L. Sittser
Half of What You Hear by Kristyn Kusek Lewis
Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Overall this was a great group of books. Like most of America, I absolutely loved Where the Crawdads Sing. I did not want it to end. Definitely add this to your reading list if you haven't read it yet. The Book of Essie was another favorite, it felt like a new kind of story, a departure from formulaic reads. I also really enjoyed An American Marriage, again a new-to-me kind of story and not at all what I expected it to be. The Au Pair was another one that really kept my attention. Half of What You Hear and Before She Knew Him were both good psychological thrillers. Along the Infinite Sea was good historical fiction. Leaving the world of fiction, Water from a Deep Well is an enjoyable survey of church history, reminding us of how much we can learn from those who came before us.

I'm excited about what I'm reading next. I'm currently reading Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle.

The next two titles on deck continue the nonfiction trend. The Universal Christ by Fr. Richard Rohr and Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando by Richard E. Fogelsong. 


I tend to need a break from nonfiction, preferring to lose myself in a story between nonfiction titles. If you have recommendations for great nonfiction, let me know. Until then, happy reading!


Florida Surprise: Epcot

Months ago I started writing about the surprise trip I took Elia on to Florida. (Parts one and two of the trip.) Now, six and a half months later, the trip is nearly a year and a half in our rear view. Still, I want to finish up my posts on that trip. I have a bad habit of blogging half a trip and while I know no one is waiting with bated breath, it's nice to have a complete record to look back on later.

So, without further ado, let me take you back to April 2018, to one of the most fun trips I've ever taken. We visited my aunt on the Space Coast, then headed to Walt Disney World where we explored Disney SpringsMagic Kingdom, and now we find ourselves in Epcot.

As a kid, I just loved Epcot so I was excited to explore it again as an adult. The World Showcase is just the best. Even though it could be criticized as a caricature of cultures, I think it's a great introduction to the countries showcased at each pavilion. I was excited to experience it again and enjoy it with Elia.

We got to Epcot before it opened for the day and made our way as quickly as possible to the Norway pavilion so Elia could meet Elsa and Anna. I'll take a bow as I tell you we were the second or third group in line to meet them.

After meeting them we stopped by the Kidcot Fun Stop location in Norway and get Elia a Duffy, a paper bear that served as her activity passport for the day. She was excited to earn stamps on it by doing different art projects around the park. After leaving Norway, we realized (well, I realized) that the World Showcase wasn't open yet beyond the Norwegian pavilion. We found plenty to do in the rest of the park while we waited for it to open. We happened to be at the entrance to World Showcase, in anticipation of meeting Belle, when it was time to open at 11:00. The cast members let Elia, along with some other children, open the World Showcase for the day, which was very exciting for her.

One of the biggest draws for Elia at Epcot was meeting characters. She loved meeting each one and I was again so impressed by how lovely every one of the characters were to each child they met. 

Who We Met:
  1. Elsa
  2. Anna
  3. Belle
  4. Mary Poppins
  5. Mickey
  6. Goofy
  7. Minnie
  8. Daisy
  9. Donald
  10. Mulan
  11. Snow White
  12. Aurora
  13. Cinderella
  14. Ariel
  15. Jasmine
  16. Alice

Five of the characters that we met were at a character lunch that we booked. We met Mulan, Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, and Cinderella at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway pavilion. The food was fine, not great but good enough yet the princess experience was wonderful. Elia was in the height of her princess phase and she was completely enchanted by being able to meet so many princesses. Each one came to our table and spent time with her and Snow White even chose her to help lead the princess parade around the restaurant with her. Elia was over the moon.

The annual International Flower and Garden Festival was also happening while we were there. It meant some interesting food options were available and there were beautiful topiary throughout the park. Both of us enjoyed the food and seeing the character topiary.

What We Rode and Did:
  1. Frozen Ever After
  2. Explored the Aquarium
  3. The Seas with Nemo and Friends
  4. Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Tres Caballeros (twice in a row, maybe three times - no line for the win!)
  5. Kidcot Fun Spots
  6. Watched the Jeweled Dragon Acrobats
Epcot is not a ride heavy park anyway and we spent a lot of time pursuing character meet and greets so this is a short list. I was happy to do run around but because of the timing of the meet and greets and the layout of the park, it meant a ton of walking. Some characters were on one side of the lagoon and others were near the entrance and my feet were so tired by dinner time. Thankfully, Elia was beat too so we went back to our hotel for dinner and went to bed at a reasonable time so we could catch our very early flight home the next morning.

Epcot was just as fun as I remembered it. It would be easy to spend several days there enjoying everything it has to offer.

That wraps up our surprise Florida trip back in April of 2018. We had a blast I can't wait to visit again soon! 


January + February Reads

Happy March!

After what seemed like the longest January ever - thank you alllllll of the snow days - February seemed to speed by and I can't believe it's already March. Making it through February makes it feel like spring is just around the corner and that is so exciting. This morning, we actually heard birds chirping outside the windows, we have tulips in the house, the signs of spring are here!

Anyway, I have been reading a lot this year and thought I'd share a little reading update. In my post recapping the books I read in 2018, I shared that my reading goal for 2019 is 20 books. I'm off to a strong start, having already finished ten books already this year.

The Justice Calling by Bethany Hoang and Kristen Johnson
The Other Woman by Sandie Jones
The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper
Our Little Lies by Sue Watson
The Ex by Alafair Burke
Educated by Tara Westover
The First Family by Michael Palmer
Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I've really enjoyed most of these books. It's been a good mix of nonfiction and fiction. Of everything I've read so far this year, I can't recommend The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper enough. This book talks about justice and reconciliation in the context of Genesis. I finished it six weeks ago and can't stop thinking about it. Lisa Sharon Harper also spoke at my church in January and was fantastic. If you're interested in social justice issues, racial reconciliation, issues between genders, and how that fits into your faith, you have to read this book.

On the fiction front, I really enjoyed The First Family by Michael Palmer. It's a medical-political thriller, if that's even a genre. I've been reading a lot of psychological thrillers, which I enjoy but they're pretty formulaic so this was a nice diversion from that format.

I have a few other books in progress:

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan
Water from a Deep Well by Dr. Gerald L. Sittser

I heard great things about Becoming Mrs. Lewis but it started dragging for me and I think I might abandon it altogether. I hate not finishing a book and almost never do it but there are so many books to read that I'm allowing myself to give this one up, at least for now.

I also wanted to share what I think is a great resource. I buy some of these books but I get as many as I can through the Libby app. Libby allows you to borrow eBooks and audiobooks by linking up your local library card to the app. It's great. They don't have every single title but they have a good selection, the same selection your local library has, you can join wait lists for books, and then they just show up on your Kindle when they're available. It's awesome. There are other similar apps like Hoopla and RB Digital but I've found that Libby has the best selection for my library system and interests.

As always, I'd love your recommendations. I have a few books on my "want to read" list and could use more!


Florida Surprise: Magic Kingdom

We woke up early to get to Magic Kingdom before it opened for the day to squeeze every possible minute of magic out of the day. We were able to quickly gobble down breakfast at our hotel (Mickey waffles, of course) and catch the resort bus to the park, arriving before it opened.

We got through the security lines and into the park fairly quickly. This allowed us to enjoy part of the daily welcome show and get some photos in front of Cinderella Castle before Main Street was too crowded.

From the minute we stepped into the park, Elia was enchanted. I loved watching her take everything in. I knew we would have fun but experiencing Disney with her was more fun than I could have imagined. I decided that we would just do whatever she wanted all day long and it paid off. Seeing what she was interested in and what rides she liked and what attractions and characters she was drawn to was the best part of the day.

What We Rode:
  1. Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
  2. Enchanted Tales with Belle
  3. Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid
  4. Peter Pan's Flight
  5. Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  6. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  7. Mad Tea Party (aka, the Magic Tea Cups)
  8. Magic Carpets of Aladdin
  9. Jungle Cruise
  10. Swiss Family Tree House
  11. It's a Small World
  12. Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid (Again)
Because we were staying at a Disney resort, we were able to book our FastPasses up to 60 days ahead of our trip. If you're not familiar with FastPasses, you basically go into a special line during a reserved time frame so you get into rides without such a long wait. You can book up to three at a time and once you use them all, you can added more, one at a time through the My Disney Experience app, throughout the day. I snagged FastPasses for Enchanted Tales with Belle, Journey of the Little Mermaid, and Dumbo ahead of time and shuffled some things around during the day to get more rides in.

My favorite ride was Peter Pan's Flight, same as when I was a kid. It's nostalgic for me, Peter Pan was by far my favorite Disney movie as a kid plus I remembered the ride fondly from childhood trips to Disneyland and Disney World. To my delight, Elia loved it too, deeming it her favorite ride in Magic Kingdom.

Another highlight of the day was seeing Elia meet different characters. Before the trip, I did not think she would be interested in meeting any characters but got her an autograph book, just in case. She was a little hesitant at first but meeting characters ended up being one of her favorite parts of the trip. While we didn't meet so many characters at Magic Kingdom, meeting characters became her main goal at Epcot but more on that later.

Who We Met:
  1. Belle
  2. Ariel
  3. Anastasia and Drizella
  4. Aladdin
  5. Tinker Bell
  6. Elena of Avalor
  7. Cinderella
I was really impressed by the character meet and greets. They were more that just photo ops, each character spent a good amount of time with each child. They were so friendly and made Elia feel so comfortable and special.

Elia says her favorite character to meet was Elena of Avalor because "She's the best! I love her!" but she hadn't heard of her before we met her so... who knows. Elena was very sweet though. In my recollection, Elia liked meeting Tinker Bell the best. Tink told her that she was in the middle of a game of tag with Peter Pan and asked Elia to tell him he was "it" and stick out her tongue at him. Elia thought that was hilarious.

We had a very full day and after much fun, we headed to our dinner reservation at Tony's Town Square, inspired by the restaurant in Lady and the Tramp. We were happy to rest our feet for awhile and the food was pretty good. After dinner, my mom and Linda departed, they both had to get ready to head home. We had such a fun day exploring the Magic Kingdom with them!

Elia and I weren't quite ready to call it quits so spent the next few hours exploring more and meeting a few characters I mentioned above. We also decided to stay for the nightly fireworks show. It was a beautiful show but too loud for Elia so we ended up sneaking out part way through. We headed back to the hotel for the night and collapsed into bed, exhausted and happy.

What a fabulous day we had at the Magic Kingdom!

Next up, I have more magic to share about our day at Epcot. See you real soon!