Sunday, June 26, 2011

a much needed life/reading update!

Well folks, I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog, and I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to see what I’ve read...not! But still, I feel I owe you all a bit of an explanation for my temporary hiatus. As you know, I’ve been living at home and job searching for the past month or so, using the reading just as I had intended it to be: something consistent and constant that I knew to do, even when everything around me was changing. It was actually working out just as I had hoped back in January, giving me some sort of goal and task that had existed while I was in school and still existed elsewhere. However, things really started to pick up in my job search, and within a matter of days I had three serious contenders for my immediate future! I ended up getting two fabulous offers and ended up choosing a job downtown Chicago working with the American College of Surgeons. I moved to Illinois last Monday, moved in with my generous aunts Joni and Jan in Wheaton, and started my new job on Tuesday! Needless to say, things in life have been an unpredictable whirlwind, full of new and exciting opportunities. However, as you can imagine, my weekly reading got put on the back burner for a while. 
But now that I’m getting a little more settled in my new routine, I’ve been able to read quite a bit! My commute from Wheaton to work takes about an hour and ten minutes, and since I take the train and bus I have a bunch of extra time built into my day to read. I’ve already started and finished Blue Water by A. Manette Ansay, and read this little essay put into book form entitled What now? By Ann Patchett. Now normally, I wouldn’t call this a book, but as I’ve been a bit behind, I’m willing to let my standards slide :) Anyways, the essay is actually a graduation address the author (see: Patron Saint of Liars, Bel Canto, Truth and Beauty) gave at her alma mater, Sarah Lawrence. Her address talks about her experience with the question every graduate hears time and again: what now? Here’s a little excerpt from the end of her speech, as she talks about being a waitress with a master’s degree:

“Just because things hadn’t gone the way I had planned didn’t necessarily mean they had gone wrong. It took me a long time of pulling racks of scorching hot glasses out of the dishwasher, the clouds of steam smoothing everything around me into a perfect field  of gray, to understand that writing a novel and living a life are very much the same thing. The secret is finding the balance between going out to get what you want and being open to the thing that actually winds up coming your way. What now is not just a panic-stricken question tossed out into a dark unknown. What now can also be our joy. It is a declaration of possibility, of promise, of chance. It acknowledges that our future is open, that we may well do more than anyone expected of us, that at every point in our development we are still striving to grow. There’s a time in our lives when we all crave the answers. It seems terrifying not to know what’s coming next. But there is another time, a better time, when we see our lives as a series of choices, and What now represents our excitement and our future, the very vitality of live. It’s up to you to choose a life that will keep expanding.”

I definitely resonate with her about the terrifying nature of that what now question. And even though today I have an answer to the What now? question and have in fact started along that path, it doesn’t mean that I’m done figuring life out. I love the idea of “a life that will keep expanding,” because life is something we can never predict, never plan, never believe we’ve got handled. And that’s why it’s beautiful! My life these past few weeks is Exhibit A for an expanding life: three weeks ago if you’d told me I had a job downtown Chicago and I’d be sitting right now at my aunt’s kitchen table, I wouldn’t have believed you. But that is, in fact, where I am, and it’s the beauty of an expanding life. 
Much love, everyone, have a beautiful Sunday!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


“Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy.” -Ann Voskamp
When I visited Greece last year over spring break, my friends and I arrived with little to no knowledge of the greek language. We’d looked up a few choice phrases to study on the plane, but we were essentially going in blind. Now, we didn’t leave the country feeling like we’d mastered the language, because we were still trying to figure out the latin equivalent to all the greek letters on our last days in Athens and Santorini. But we did leave with a few words and phrases in our back pockets, words and phrases that had helped us form relationships with people we encountered, even if neither of us spoke the same language, and one of the most important phrases was ‘thank you’, in Greek ‘Efharistó’ (Ευχαριστώ). 
Why am I telling you all of this? Because the book I read this week, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, put a totally new spin on that word for me. This mother, farmer, and poet from Ontario begins a journey of giving thanks, the biblical Greek word for which is ‘eucharisteo’ (εὐχαριστέω), of the same root as the modern ‘efcharisto’ my friends and I learned during our trip. She discovers that at the root of this word are two other important words: ‘charis’, grace, and ‘chara’, joy. 
Dared by a friend to make a list of a thousand gifts from God, Voskamp begins to unpack what it means to live a life of eucharisteo. She starts numbering the gifts she sees around her: jam piled high on the toast, suds...all color in sun, boys humming hymns, laundry flapping, laughter. As she does this, even in the hard times, she comes to discover that giving thanks precedes the miracle, that giving thanks creates joy and creates grace, and that in order to live fully, we must see fully all those little things of our lives that are in fact gifts. I’ve always been a person who strives to be joyful, and so I enjoyed wrestling with the whole concept as I read along with Ann. She doesn’t have this blind, Pollyanna-ish joy that can’t see the hard, difficult, or bad things in life, yet she realizes that because of all of those things, she can still be joyful. Hear what she has to say:
“Holding my head in my hands, I ask it honest before God and children and my daily mess: ‘Can we really expect joy all the time?’
I know it well after a day smattered with rowdiness and worn a bit ragged with bickering, that I may feel disappointment and the despair may flood high, but to give thanks is an action and rejoice is a verb and these are not mere pulsing emotions. While I may not always feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things, because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving. 
True saints know that the place where all the joy comes from is far deeper than that of feelings; joy comes from the place of the very presence of God. Joy is God and God is joy and joy doesn’t negate all other emotions -- joy transcends all other emotions.”

This week, I had many things to give thanks for and be joyful about: sunlight streaming through bright green leaves, wind whipping hair on the boat, sending friends off on fabulous adventures, a job offer and the promise of one or two more, the chance to decide, hosting parties to celebrate, and the marriage of two best friends. It’s easy to be joyful this week, easy to give thanks. But on those weeks where it’s harder, those weeks where I can’t seem to see the good in things, I’d do well to remember what Ann discovered, that joy is God and God is joy, and that joy comes from the very presence of God. So because I believe that God is always right where I am, and right where you are, so I believe that we can be joyful in all things, and at all times, and in all places. It is in seeing clearly the gifts given us and practicing the discipline of thanksgiving that we begin to live lives of true joy and celebration.
Sorry if this got a bit preachy, but those of you who know me well know that I’m all about the joy, so this book just gave me more things to think (and write!) about. If this idea is at all interesting to you, I’d encourage you to pick up the book and even to visit Ann Voskamp’s blog ( She is a poet and a wonderful photographer, and it’s great to see the world through her eyes.
Much love to you all, and may you be full of joy today! Julia