Love in Every Season Book Review

I first started reading Debra Fileta’s blog True Love Dates about five years ago when I was deeply struggling with an extended time of singleness and self-doubt. Since then, her books have continually challenged and encouraged me in my journey through singleness and dating to engagement and marriage.  Her latest book, Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of Every Healthy Relationship, is her best yet. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is written for everyone regardless of their current relationship status. Whether or not you are single, dating, engaged, or married, you will be able to recognize yourself or your relationship in one of Fileta’s four seasons of relationships.

Love in Every Season

Pick up your own copy here!

As the title suggests, Fileta’s latest book details four relationship seasons: Spring is the time of attraction and getting to know each other, and summer is when everything heats up. Fall is a period of learning to navigate conflict and growing into a deeper relationship, while winter is a time filled with more struggles and the potential for apathy.

One of the most helpful points in this book is that a healthy relationship will cycle through these seasons multiple times—and not just move on a straight course from infatuation to boredom over the years.

Sometimes in our culture it is easy to buy into the idea that marriage is always difficult after the “honeymoon stage” is over, but Fileta reinforces the fact that this is simply not the case in a healthy relationship—especially one in which both people are seeking God and striving for individual health as well.

Fileta’s honesty, openness, and relatability, combined with her expertise as a professional counselor engage readers from the first page. Every chapter is filled with real-world applications and advice on how to navigate and grow in whatever season you may be experiencing in your relationship.

And if you’re single, you will find countless tips on how to prepare yourself for a future healthy relationship.

This book is for everyone; if you read Love in Every Season, you will not close the book without learning at least one thing that will challenge you and change your life and relationships. I cannot recommend it enough!

Love in Every Season was released today, and you can get your own copy here!

What is the Worth of an English Degree?

Last week, I had an experience that reinforced the feelings of inferiority I’ve been struggling with since I graduated college over six years ago. My husband and I were introducing ourselves to a middle-aged couple, and the man asked us what we studied. Here is the actual conversation, beginning with my reply:

“I got my master’s degree in English Literature, and I’m working as an office manager,” all while he barely acknowledged me and looked at my husband instead, asking:

“And what did you study?”

“I’m a computer engineer—

“Oh! So you have a job!” said while laughing…

This is not the first time something like this has happened to me. Our culture places such a strong emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), that those of us who genuinely love and excel in other subjects such as literature, art, music, history, etc. can feel as though we are less intelligent or unsuccessful in our careers. This blog post is not meant to lessen the importance of STEM, it is meant to defend the equal validity of other options. Yes, I understand the fact that our current culture only exists because of massive advancements in technology and science, but there will never be a time when humanity loses the need for reading, writing, and understanding ourselves through stories.

From the age of 16 when I took the ACT and my lowest scores were in math and science, I felt like a failure. The “consolation prize” was the fact that I got perfect scores in English and Reading, but they were not what mattered. Fast forward to college and cue panic when I started hearing that people with English degrees “never find jobs.” I read articles online that described students in the English field earning a “useless degree” and “taking the easy route”—while I stared at the massive stack of books on my desk, easily 4 hours of reading, and one of the 10-plus page papers half-finished on my laptop that I loved being challenged to write.

Then came the option for graduate school. I felt pressured to study something other than English all while agonizing over what else I might even be qualified to try with my “lack” of marketable skills. In the end, I earned my Masters in Literature, and I was proud. I was proud of the thinking and analyzing I had honed over six years of studying. I was proud that I could take vast amounts of reading and condense it into something clear and concise. I was proud of being challenged by books and poems that stretched me out of my comfort zone—of reading stories from people all over the world and learning about their experiences. I was proud of tackling interpersonal conflicts in the classroom. I was proud of facing my fear of public speaking and presenting my work in front of my peers and professors. I was proud of the 60-page thesis I worked on for a year and a half. Then people started asking me why I still choose to work in a low salary office job that “doesn’t use my skills.”

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I hate the word “skills.” It is used to encompass so much, and I think the main difference between STEM skills and English literature skills is simply the fact that STEM degrees lead directly to a career path. Most STEM graduates end up working in their field soon after college and stay near that track for their working lives. I have worked in eight different positions since I graduated: restaurant hostess, bookstore clerk, substitute teacher, laser tag monitor, office assistant in a university resident hall, office assistant for faculty, office assistant for a graduate program, and office manager for a university’s financial aid office. Some might think that these jobs are less than ideal, and believe me I enjoyed some more than others, but I also learned valuable lessons from each one. I was able to take what I learned in my English literature courses and apply it to every single job.

My challenge to anyone reading this post is to question your thinking when it comes to prioritizing and ranking the importance of degrees and careers. At the end of the day, a college degree is simply a degree, and a job is a job. The title of this post is based on a fallacious belief that people earn worth based on what they do. Our culture tries to define us by our level of success in the workplace, but we are made for so much more than chasing the next promotion. We have inherent value apart from what we do and accomplish. Encourage the children around you to read, join band and choir, and write imaginative stories. I truly hope that my future children will never be made to feel that they are inferior to anyone else simply because they choose a degree outside of STEM. When we label fields of study as useless, we label the people in those fields useless as well, and that is an undeniable lie.

P.S. I took both photos included in this post while I was researching for and writing my graduate thesis. English majors work hard. I wrote a similar post 4 years ago when I started grad school. You can read it here: What Are You Going to Do With That Degree?

Learning With the “Marsh Girl”: A Review of Where the Crawdads Sing

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Photo taken from www.deliaowens.com

Finishing a good book is a lot like waking up from a dream or recovering from jet lag after a long trip. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Even though I finished reading it several days ago, I still find my daydreams drifting back to the world of Kya and her marsh.

It is no wonder then that Owens’s first novel easily climbed to #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list, where it still deservedly sits after 35 weeks. Within the first few pages, we meet 6-year-old Kya who is already grappling with the complicated and painful world she must navigate alone. Owens’s talented background as a nature writer is on full display; Kya’s love for the wildlife around her seeps through every sentence, drawing readers deeper into the heart of the marsh. Weaving through the waterways and hiding in the grasses with Kya in her dilapidated boat, we follow the impoverished and isolated yet vibrant life of a girl growing up on the North Carolina coast in the 1950s and 1960s.

The plot snakes and twists along with the marsh lagoons and estuaries, switching back and forth between the present and the future. The present is always uncertain, and we find early on that the future holds a mysterious murder and wonder how Kya’s story will cross its path. We learn to quickly love Kya’s strong and resourceful spirit even as our hearts break for her. Each kind word spoken to her brings a smile, while each cruel snub of the “Marsh Girl” hurts a bit more. Kya and her marsh are intermingled and inseparable from the first page to the last. Through her eyes we see how humanity mirrors the darker sides of nature all too often.

It is difficult to write a review of Where the Crawdads Sing without giving spoilers. The novel defies categorization in many ways—mixing mystery with history, nature, and a study of the human spirit and our capacity to love and to hate. The surprise—yet perhaps not such a surprise—ending will leave you blinking at the last page, unwilling to close the cover on her story. Read this novel, and you will not be disappointed.

 

Check out the website below to learn more about Kya’s marsh and the other wetlands of North Carolina! Blog post photo taken from: http://www.ncwetlands.org/learn/aboutncswetlands/types/

 

The Art of Waiting

When we are young, we count the days until 16.

When we’re 16, we can’t wait to be 18.

When 18 rolls around, we want to be 21.

We impatiently wait for high school and then college.

After that, the waiting gets harder. There are no set milestones, and so many times life feels like a terrifying blank page with no clear directions. Career? Marriage? Kids?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to fixate on the next best thing around the corner instead of fully inhabiting the moment and space that is now. Perhaps after a life so far spent making countdowns and believing that “things will be better when you’re older,” it is difficult to be present. The unknown can be scary, but learning to live in contentment with the reality of where you are is harder.

This C.S. Lewis quote from The Screwtape Letters has stuck with me over the years:

“The Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most temporal part of time–for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.”

I love his words here because I am reminded that we rob ourselves of so much joy if we are constantly waiting for what comes next, and we miss out even more if we live in nostalgia. The present is the only part of time that we can fully enjoy and partially control. That is a beautiful gift.

So, this is the challenge I have set for myself: I want to look for those “eternal rays” wherever I happen to be. Even through difficult times, there can be slivers of light. Even if something more exciting is around the next bend, there is still beauty here and now.

Maybe this is the hard work of learning the art of waiting. It’s different from being patient. It’s a choice to be fully here, right now, every day. It forces me to slow down and pay attention. It’s hard, but I know it’s worth it. Join me?

 

Image: https://dispatcheseurope.com/stranded-massive-construction-projects-interrupting-train-service-across-germany/girl-waiting-for-train-wallpaper/

Top 5 Thanksgiving Dinner Foods

Somehow Thanksgiving is only two days away! This year has flown by yet again.

The holiday season is by far my favorite time of year, and I decided it was time for another holiday-themed blog that lists my favorite things. Need more lists in your life? Read about my favorite Christmas movies and favorite Christmas music here!

And with a delicious Thanksgiving meal tantalizing in reach, what better list than my top favorite Thanksgiving foods? If there was any doubt, I am definitely a foodie!

Please feel free to add your own favorites in the comments! I know that some people would be willing to fight me on at least a few of these—or be appalled at some that I am leaving out.

  1. Pumpkin Pie

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In the number one spot, we have pumpkin pie! Yes, I do look forward to dessert most of all, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. Pumpkin pie must be served with whipped cream though, or it’s just not the same! It seems like most people either love or hate pumpkin pie, and I absolutely fall into the first category.

  1. Mashed Potatoes

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Mashed potatoes come in at number two for me, and I think they are simply wonderful for any meal or occasion! I especially love them with Thanksgiving when gravy covers the turkey and mashed potatoes. So delicious!

  1. Cranberry Sauce

Canned Cranberry Sauce

I think I might get some disagreements on this one. I love the canned cranberry sauce! The fancy homemade cranberry sauce with whole cranberries has a strange texture to me, and I always find myself reaching for the canned cranberry sauce if there is an option. Now don’t get me wrong, I love food. And I will eat the whole cranberry sauce if I must!

  1. Turkey

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The poor turkey—the central part of Thanksgiving dinner—comes in at number four, but I can’t have Thanksgiving without turkey. How else would I have such an amazing nap and turkey leftovers for days?

  1. Rolls

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What would Thanksgiving be without these perfectly buttery pieces of heaven? They’re perfect for soaking up gravy and filling in the last corner of room in my stomach! Rolls are the unsung heroes of Thanksgiving dinner. Now the question is, can you have just one?

If you weren’t already excited for Thanksgiving dinner, I’m sure you are now! I have successfully made myself hungry. Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you get to spend it with your family and friends and remember how much we have to be thankful for this year.

It will happen when you least expect it.

“When you know, you know.”

“It will happen when you least expect it.”

I used to hate hearing those words, because at the time they felt like meaningless platitudes people used to give me false hope.

Just six short months ago, I decided to give up online dating and dating apps. If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you know that I have struggled with singleness throughout most of my adult life. I finally got to the point when I realized that I was choosing to be unhappy, and dating apps simply did not work for me. I found it very stressful to peruse photos and brief bios and judge men based only on that, and it got to the point where I could not remember what small talk topic I had brought up with which “match.” The superficiality bothered me, and meeting strangers for dates was not appealing at all.

So, I decided that if I ever found someone, it would be in an “old-fashioned” way. I would either meet a guy through my normal daily life, or we would be introduced through family or mutual friends. I chose to focus my energy on the healthy friendships I already had and invest more time in things I truly loved. Instead of praying every night that God would help me find a boyfriend, my prayers shifted, and I began to pray that I would become healthier, more confident, and focus on all the good and beautiful people and things in my life.

Little did I know that mere weeks later, I would meet the man who has forever captured my heart.

We were introduced and set-up by my younger sister and a friend. I knew it was a set-up, but he had no clue until a week later when my sister masterminded a second date! She said her mission was to find someone for me, and she went above and beyond. Thank God for sisters! From the start, I knew there was a real possibility that something could happen between us, but I refused to let myself get too hopeful. I was terrified of getting hurt, and I couldn’t believe he was real.

Fast forward to now, and I have never been happier. There is nothing better than dating your best friend, and I am so relieved that I never fully gave up my dreams of what a healthy relationship would look and feel like. I recognized it when I found him. Now all those hazy daydreams have been brought into bright and colorful focus, and it’s him I see standing at the end of the aisle and playing with our future children.

I am so thankful and so blessed. For those of you still waiting, don’t give up. Now I understand what people meant. It really is true.

It will happen when you least expect it.

When you know, you know.

A Review of The Little Paris Bookshop

Every so often, I read a book and feel instantly compelled to write a review. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is one of those books. I cannot recommend it enough. Of course, George also somehow manages to encompass my loves of literature, travel, and romance in dazzling beauty, and even though I read the English translation from the original German, her phrases and descriptions are like reading art.

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I must confess that I first judged this book by its cover at my favorite local bookstore, Afterwords Books. The cover art caught my eye, and in this case, I was not disappointed. The Little Paris Bookshop follows the story of middle-aged Monsieur Jean Perdu, who has lived in heartbreak for “7,216 nights” since his beloved Manon left him. His only reprieve is the old barge he sets up as a bookshop on the banks of the River Seine and calls his Literary Apothecary. Perdu does not only sell books; he uses them to help heal the broken and hurting people who come to his store.

After a jolt from the past leaves him reeling, Jean Perdu suddenly unmoors his barge and his life and begins a journey to the south of France. Along the way he befriends a ragtag group and learns more about himself and the woman he loved for so long. His journey makes this a travel book of sorts as well, and George’s descriptions led me to look up the towns he visited in France. Did you know, for example, that Cuisery is a town dedicated to literature and books? It was quickly moved toward the top of my “Places to Visit” list.

George’s novel is a love letter to literature and a tribute to the healing power of stories. It is a map of one man’s literal and spiritual journey of discovery and memory. In Perdu’s own words:

“Books are more than doctors, of course. Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you’ve got those autumn blues. And some . . . well, some are pink candy floss that tingles your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful void. Like a short, torrid love affair.”

I would place this book in the “friends who wrap you in warm towels” category. The Little Paris Bookshop reminded me that our lives are all guided by stories; literature has certainly shaped my own. Love binds people together, and no matter where we call home, there are paths that connect us all.

 

All quotations taken from:
George, Nina, and Simon Pare. The Little Paris Bookshop: a Novel. Crown Publishers, 2015.

Choosing Marriage: A Short Book Review

I’ve once again been MIA for too long, but I’m back and wanted to share this review of one of my favorite author’s newest book. If you read my blog at all, you know that I write a lot about singleness, relationships, faith, and books. This post combines all of those topics. I was part of the launch team for Choosing Marriage, and today is officially launch day. I’m excited to get the actual paperback copy in the mail tonight! I definitely encourage you to read this book whether you’re single, dating, engaged, or married.

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Debra Fileta’s newest book Choosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start with We > Me is even better than I expected. I loved her book True Love Dates and consistently learn so much from her blog. Debra is a wonderful storyteller, and her vulnerability shines through her writing. She understands the struggles of navigating life as both a single and a married Christian, and her training as a professional counselor adds even more depth and insight. Debra’s writing style is familiar and never judgmental or prescriptive, a combination that is sadly rare in many Christian relationship books.

Her latest book is expertly written to include both singles and married couples in its intended audience. I have to admit that I was skeptical at first since I have experienced the feeling of exclusion in books and studies that are clearly for married people even if they claim otherwise. Choosing Marriage succeeds in going over and above my expectations. Debra’s focus on authenticity and personal stories is refreshing. Reading this book is like soaking up encouragement and advice from a best friend over a cup of coffee.

“Choosing to love someone is so much more meaningful than needing someone to love.” 

This quote is near the end of Choosing Marriage, but it stopped me in my tracks. Such a simple phrase—14 words that hold so much meaning.  I needed that reminder, and I know I’m not the only person who is sometimes tempted to make relationship decisions out of the deep need and longing for companionship rather than from choices of what is right and healthy. And someday, when I do find someone, I hope with God’s help to be able to choose to love him every day—not from a desperate need but from a committed and daily choice.

Don’t Miss These Top 5 Christmas Movies This Year

I’m back again and already getting excited for Christmas. If you remember from my post last year, it’s an impressive feat for me to wait until after Thanksgiving to start listening to Christmas music. (I failed again this year.) And good news! Thanksgiving is next week already! I love the holiday season.

Without further ado, here are my five favorite Christmas movies:

 

  1. The Holiday

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This movie has to be at the top of my list, and it’s hard to believe it is 11 years old now! It was released in 2006 and stars Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Jack Black. If you’re anything like me, Jack Black’s name makes you immediately skeptical. He does not seem to belong in that star-studded line-up, and yet his character is lovable and integral to the plot. Everything about this movie is relatable—even if the plot is somewhat predictable. What Christmas movie doesn’t have a bit of predictability after all? I don’t want to give anything away if there’s any chance you haven’t already seen it, but in my opinion, the story is extremely well done. The characters experience a range of emotions and reactions to relationship issues, and each of them end up stronger. The storyline switches easily between gorgeous scenes in the United States and England. All four of the main characters end up connected in some way, but it doesn’t feel forced as some plotlines do. Prepare to laugh and cry when you watch this movie.

Fun fact: Hans Zimmer composed the soundtrack, and the film’s music adds another level of enjoyment.

 

  1. The Polar Express

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Released in 2004, this heartwarming Christmas adventure is based on Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book. A young boy takes a magical train ride to the North Pole and makes fascinating discoveries on his journey. The entire movie is a reminder that the spirit of Christmas never fades for those who continue to believe, and it transports the viewer back to childhood. The film soundtrack composed by Alan Silvestri is also amazing.

Fun fact: Tom Hanks voiced six of the characters. See if you can guess all of them without looking it up!

 

  1. Elf

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I could never write a Christmas movie list and not include Elf. This film was released in 2003—and again, how has it been 14 years already! It is a laugh out loud comedy following the story of Buddy the elf, played by Will Ferrell, who leaves the North Pole and must navigate life in New York City after the discovery that he is not a “real” elf. Buddy goes on a search to find his father and through a series of hilarious mishaps, he ends up saving Christmas and finding love with Jovie, played by Zooey Deschanel. As Buddy says: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!” There is plenty of loud singing involved in this movie to fill you with contagious good cheer.

Fun fact: For fans of Game of Thrones, did you realize that Peter Dinklage was in Elf long before he starred as Tyrion Lannister in the hit HBO show?

 

  1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966 cartoon)

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Before you ask, yes, I have seen the live action production of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but there will always be a special place in my heart for the short 26-minute cartoon version. I remember watching it every year with my family. We would wait in anticipation all day, and then sit enthralled in front of the TV and sing all the words to every song. Is it possible not to sing along to “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”? You will feel so sad when Cindy Lou Who wakes up in the night and sees “Santa Claus” stealing her Christmas tree, and you will feel your own heart growing when the Grinch’s heart grows. For me there is no better representation of the Christmas spirit—especially when I remember how I felt watching it as a kid.

Fun fact: If you miss the show airing on TV this year, it is on YouTube!

 

  1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

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The last one on my list is this 1964 TV movie. This stop motion animated film was actually based on the classic Christmas song. If you haven’t seen this movie, it doesn’t really need an explanation. It is the endearing story of Rudolph and how he saved Christmas by being different even when everyone made fun of him for his red nose. Like all the movies on my list, Rudolph fills you with warmth and a reminder of why we love Christmas, even when the magic starts to fade in adulthood.

Fun fact: CBS will air Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on Saturday, December 9, 8:00 P.M. Eastern/7:00 P.M. Central. Don’t miss it!

 

I could have made this list much longer, but I’ll just add the runners-up here:

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and Frosty the Snowman (1969) are basically a three-way tie with Rudolph, but I had to choose one! Something else we all learned from this post is that we can thank the 1960s for some of the best Christmas movies ever made!

I also don’t know how I forgot to add It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) near the top! Obviously, this list could have been Top 10 or 20, but I’ll stop for now. Happy Christmas movie-watching!

Do you agree with my list? What other Christmas movies would you add to the list?

There Is a Time to Be Honest

I decided to share some honest thoughts and feelings today. Sometimes it is difficult to be honest, but this post is basically the thoughts that cycle through my head every single night before I go to sleep. And I know I’m not the only one who feels like this sometimes.

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My alarm wakes me up from a dream. Again. It’s a new day.

I drag myself out of bed, take a shower, eat breakfast, pack my lunch, drive to work, check my email, answer phones, organize, plan, work and more work, go to lunch at the same time every day, more work, drive home, binge-watch my current Netflix obsession, go to bed.

Repeat.

How many stories, books, and poems have been written about life’s monotony?

I’m sure some people would just say that I’m a stereotypical “millennial,” discontent and ungrateful. I’d agree that I tend to be discontent, but I’m not ungrateful.

Why am I discontent? My life is good. Full-time job, new car, my own apartment, master’s degree finished, family and friends nearby, my health.

Is this what being an adult is like? Is this what it means to be an independent 20-something? They told me it would be hard, but I never expected to worry constantly about how I would pay my bills or whether or not I could afford to go see a movie with friends—especially when I work 40 hours every week. People talk about de-stressing, but is that even possible? Stress does not go away; it compounds with interest. It is heavy and impossible to ignore – like a migraine on a hot summer day. No matter how hard you try to ignore it, there it is pounding itself back into your consciousness again.

This is not what I pictured. In all my naïve imaginings, there was one thing that is very absent in my current reality. That thing was a boyfriend and someday husband who would help, encourage, challenge, and love me. Someone to be a witness to my everyday life. Maybe that’s what makes life more difficult for me in particular, being alone when I wake up and when I fall asleep.

People tell me to enjoy being single—that I’ll miss it someday. Well, I’m ready to miss it. I’m done listening to well-meaning and trite advice, the good and the bad. I’m lonely and always trying to ignore a simmering anger and disappointment deep inside me. And it’s time to be honest.

I realize that compared to the pain and evil in this world, my “problems” are superficial and unimportant. But to me they’re very real and painful.

I am not unhappy. I am not ungrateful. I love my family and my friends. I’m thankful for my job. But something is missing, and I can’t ignore that empty space in my heart. I know that being in a relationship will not make life easier, but it will make my life brighter and fuller. Until then, I wait and keep trying to figure out this crazy life on my own.

My alarm wakes me up from a dream. Again. It’s a new day.