2017: My Year of “Why Not?”

I’m not one to make New Years Resolutions, plans, or promises of “change”. Actually I’m fairly cynical of such things, and it even took me years (literally) to even enjoy celebrating New Years at all – much thanks to the sweet NYE parties at the annual conference I attend.

But two weeks in to 2017 a theme is emerging: WHY NOT? I’m finding myself on the precipice of change. New seasons. Finding myself in a place where I’m forced to grieve old memories and let go – in order to move forward. But moving forward is hard, especially when I walk into the unknown and uncertainty.

At first I felt really scared: where was God going to lead me next? The last time I was in this place (3 years ago), it ended up being a hard transition – one of the hardest years of my life. I’m scared to experience that again (even if it was totally right, and what I needed). To step into the unknown and take a step of faith into something new. To leave the known and secure. Am I ready?

Actually, I think so. Even though the past 3 years has been challenging – it’s been strengthening, maturing, and stabilizing. I feel more self aware, more equipped, and ready to encounter new challenges with grace. I’ve spent the past 2 weeks with an annoying cold that isn’t going away – but I’ve also received more clarity and confirmation of next steps I need to take.


SO, 2017 looks like it’ll be my year of saying, “Why Not?” to:

  • Being on 3 continents (EEK – Africa?)
  • Affirming healthy boundaries in relationships
  • Living out forgiveness and reconciliation (it’s hard)
  • Moving overseas? (I’ve decided to apply!)
  • Finishing a seminary program
  • Pursuing new hobbies + talents (more on this on my next post)
  • Saying no + protecting Sabbath rest
  • New financial goals to invest in my future

I’m excited for what’s to come – and I hope to blog about what ends up happening right here on this blog. Thanks for journeying with me!

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Erinblack

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A Winter Wonderland [Photo Dump]

Spending 4 days in Rousseau at Muskoka Woods was a (winter) dream come true. I’m grateful to work for an organization that deeply cares for its staff – not only our day-to-day work but also our hearts. So at the end of a busy semester of school, escaping away to reflect, and spend time with God was a gem. I took my film camera with me, and my Moment tele lens to take some of these photos (film still yet to be developed).

There were blizzards, and snow drifts up to my knees. We went sledding, and did indoor rock climbing and sports. We played board games, had fun and sang songs.

What are some things you love about winter?

New [to me] Products I Love

I love discovering new products that either make my life easier, OR are beautiful and give me lots of joy. This year has actually been full of hearing about new companies, trying new products and establishing new favourites.

Here’s my top picks:

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This is a beauty company that sells products for face, body, kids + make up – all using products that are SAFE and healthy for you. First heard about it over the summer from fellow blogger Emily Morrice and ordered some products through her. Top picks (so far): Nourishing Cream Cleanser, Nourishing Day Cream, Citrus Mimosa Body Bar, Daily Shampoo + the Charcoal Cleansing Bar.

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For my fellow photography lovers out there: who doesn’t love beautiful products, stunning paper and intricate design? Artifact Uprising is a company that uses recycled products and wants to help you tell your story. Well I told mine this year through ordering a Wood Calendar for Mothers Day, Square Prints sharing memories with my closest friends, and a Softcover Photo Book highlighting the best moments of Quebec City. Super impressed with their customer service, I think this will be a company I’ll use for a LONG time.

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More photography! The sleek design of the external lenses for my iphone are incredible and help me take excellent photos. Moment boasts of the world’s best glass lenses for your phone – and they may be right. I ordered the tele lense for my birthday this summer and it shot stellar photos while I was in Quebec City. Although with any other photography related product, it won’t deliver an automatically good photo. You actually need composition skills, lighting experience and a good subject. But their incredible app helps too! Also check out their sweet blog the Momentist.

Enjoy!

Erinblack

[Photo Dump] Highlights of 2016

Whew 8 months feels long to be away from this blog. So much has happened in my life, and it’s happened off the internet. Well, except for my Instagram. I love writing, and being creative. My job has taken up much of my creative juices with writing, overseeing Communications, and juggling one too many plates in the air.

A ton has happened to me this year, from launching a new job role, traveling the country, cycling in summer, ballet in winter, and now preparing for more travel adventures in 2017. Here’s some travel highlights (+ things I love) for 2016:

It was a fabulous year!

Erinblack

la ville de QuΓ©bec!

Ok so my French skills are zero , but I do have exciting news. This summer as I celebrate the big 25, I’ll be basking in the late summer sun of Quebec City! With the throng of hundreds of other tourists I’m sure. It’s going to be magical. Road trip, outdoor cafes, the Plains of Abraham.. do I need to say more?

I’ll be the embarrassing English girl trying to order vin et fromage, and taking way too many photos (I already have ideas for making a photo book) – but it’s going to be amazing. I’ve never been on a trip like this with my mom before. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity. We’ve booked an amazing hotel and later in the spring I’m sure we can start to plan out exactly what we want to see and do. Feel free to comment below with any tips if you’ve been!

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source: http://www.quebecregion.com

Summer can you arrive any faster?

Erinblack

Returning to the mountains: I am new.

F1000006The last time I was in British Columbia my heart was breaking. I’d like to think I was a victim, but I made some pretty poor choices to get me to that place. No healthy boundaries, unrealistic expectations, and I just couldn’t let go.

Once you say “I love you” for the first time, in the same moment that guy is breaking up with you – yup it’s pretty much all downhill from there.

Providence was good to me and 2 weeks later I was packing my bags and on a plane headed for the west coast. I was angry, devastated, and heartbroken. Standing on a beach on Vancouver Island, looking at mountains was healing. I needed the silence and the distraction. The blossoming of new friendships, and the reminders of who I really was. I needed perspective, and clarity. I held my ground. 5 weeks passed, and then I was headed home.

The real work of healing my heart would last for another 7 months until I boarded another plane for India. That time for 4 months. Wow my life has had it’s fair share of drama. I’m really glad that chapter is closed. Not the India part – that was the best.

In a month I return to those same mountains, but a completely different person. 5 years has passed and my life has been dramatically transformed. I return still feeling like the girl who doesn’t know where her life is headed. But solid in where I’ve been and who I am. I know how to say “no” to unhealthy people. To fight for the relationships that truly matter. I’m learning how to pick my battles. Growing as a leader, yet desperately still needing guidance on how to love and serve others.

The heartbreak that once filled my life doesn’t exist anymore. My life is full, pleasant, and not boring. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t crave the rush or thrill of first love again. But I’m not desperate for it. Nope. Content with where I am, and hopeful with where I’m headed.

I return to those mountains with excitement, instead of grief. Passion, instead of sorrow. I feel like I’ve come full circle a little bit. I’m only 24 but perspective is still powerful.

Mountains, I can’t wait to see you again. See you in 35 days.

Erinblack

Deep Courage when Fear + Insecurity Strikes

F1000021Sometimes we need deep courage.

When we get out of bed. When we walk into work. On the phone with our mom. Facing that friend. Going to church. Life isn’t easy.

Lately for me, I’ve needed deep courage in ballet class. Leotards and tights. Buns and ballet slippers. What was once an excitement and highlight of my week, I now feel exposed and out of place. Looking at myself in the mirror, I can’t help but notice how my legs are larger than the girls beside me at the barre. Or how my feet don’t point as much as theirs. Or how my shoulders are wider. Fears that I’m not good enough, or too much, ring through my head. I need deep courage to persevere and focus on being healthy and working towards building a strong body. What do you need deep courage for? 

Often when we look at our surroundings, circumstances or fears can hold us back and whisper lies into our ears that we can’t do it.

I think Peter felt that way in Matthew 14:22-33. Exhausted from ministry, running from overwhelming crowds, Jesus’ disciples entered a boat to cross the lake while Jesus needed time in solitude on the mountain to pray. In the boat, the waves crashed and the storm blew fiercely. In the deep night, the disciples looked and saw Jesus walking towards them on the water – completely unfazed by the crazy weather going on around them. In the midst of what seemed like pure chaos, Jesus was calm and in control. 

Jesus called out to them, seeing their fear and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” In the midst of the storms of life, Jesus calls out to us, affirming us of who he is, and tells us to not fear. Peter needed some assurance, so Jesus called him to join him on the water. Walking on the water. What seems like an impossibility, is easy for Jesus. Come, said Jesus and Peter went. Eyes fixed on his Saviour, Peter walked with deep courage towards Jesus on the water.

With deep courage in who Jesus was in the midst of the waves in the storm, Peter was able to walk on the water. In the chaos of my life and circumstances, I can walk with deep courage towards Jesus with confidence in who he is and that he’s calling me.

When I enter that ballet studio, I know that even though my fears and insecurities are there – they aren’t controlling me. I’m grounded with my eyes fixed on Jesus. I can walk on the water because my faith is keeping me up. I don’t need to succumb to the lies that I’m too much or not enough. I simply walk on, knowing that my identity and value is more than how big my thighs are, or in how small my waist is.

Deep courage is possible for you too.

We discover deep courage to carry on when we’re secure in who Jesus is and his presence in our chaos. As soon as Peter doubted Jesus on the water he began to sink. But Jesus was there to catch him. When we doubt Jesus in our lives, we too start to sink in the fear and lies in our own minds. And too, Jesus is there to catch us again. All we need to do is call out, “Lord, save me.”

So today, fix your eyes on Jesus. See how he is a rock in your waves. Stable. Unchanging. Secure. We can depend on him when all else fails – because he cannot even fail himself. And when you stumble and start to fall again, just call out to him. He’ll always be there to catch you.

Erinblack

Preparing for Christmas & Skipping the Crazy

Christmas can be a tough season. It’s overwhelming, rushed, bustled, stressful, and can include family drama when everyone squishes together under one roof. This week I was inches from being run over by a car because they were too rushed to see that I was clearly right in front of them! I totally get it, because I’ve felt like that driver too many times before. Consumed by whatever circumstance, that you end up oblivious to what’s happening around you – and before you know it, it’s too late to make up the lost time. Well, that’s not what my Christmas season will be like this year. I realize that it’s already December 19 and perhaps too late for a post like this – but I’m learning and wanted to share some insights gathered.

No matter your family circumstances, situations, or expectations, I believe it’s possible to make the most of your holidays and experience the deep joy, hope, and love that we all crave. This year I’ve been following 3 principles that have been helping me get the most out of these few short weeks:

Make A Plan

I notoriously love organizing and planning – and my family motto is “play it by ear”! One example of how I’m an anomaly in my family. But with so much happening, events, and coordination, this really comes in handy. The main reason why I make a plan for my holidays isn’t just so that I won’t miss out on special events and time with others. It’s also so that I make sure I’m rested, and protect my own boundaries and needs. That statement may come off as selfish but I’m learning how wise the application is. I love serving others – seriously I volunteer to clean people’s bathrooms! But with the craze of the Christmas season I can easily volunteer for too many things. Too many events, too many parties, and allow myself to be surrounded by too much drama. Saying “no” is powerful and helpful to assert your own boundaries and help others stick to theirs.

Growing in self-awareness is helpful too. I’ve learned my energy cycles in a week and know times when I’m rested, and times when my tank will be dry. So I plan ahead and do organizing and plan making so that when my tank is dry I have a plan to fall back onto. That really helped this week when I felt super sick but had to pack for 2+weeks away from home! Learning my own rhythms is helping me make a plan to stay organized and healthy even during my most busy weeks.

Last minute scrambling is a NO-NO for me!Β This is my biggest pet peeve. And sometimes cannot be avoided. But planning ahead even by a few days makes last minute runs to Walmart on Dec 24 non-existent. I even call ahead to stores to help plan my errands and make sure they have exactly what I need so I don’t waste time. Coordinating this way has saved hours of driving and mall hopping.

Making a plan helps me stay emotionally balanced over the holidays. I love this article on dealing with dysfunctional families. Everyone has skeletons and it seems like Christmas is always the best time to drag them out. GAH. It can be exhausting and making a plan helps me stay sane and balanced. For instance, coordinating time with friends, or time on my own helps balance out social time with family. This year has already turned out WAY better than I expected it to. I’m heading up to Northern Ontario over Christmas which will be a exciting little getaway with family I haven’t seen for years. But even if you don’t have a mini Christmas miracle this year, make a plan for yourself so that you have some healthy escapes when you need them!

Keep It Simple

Ok, I LOVE decorating and giving gifts. It’s so fun! But it can also be time consuming and expensive. I like to wrap things and make them look pretty, but it’s also possible to keep it simple and cheap! (Hello Dollar Stores!).

IMG_6131Ok, now I think this box looks really pretty – and it was a hit at my work Christmas gift exchange. But it’s legitimately a paper box from the Dollarstore ($2 for a set of 3), tissue paper holding the gift ($1.50), and velvet ribbon ($1.50). So if I break down the exact cost of this gift wrapping it’s $1.56 – taking into consideration that I can use the materials to cover several gifts so it’s a major win. I just coordinate all my gifts so that I don’t need to buy too much. Minimizing my materials helps reduce cost and increase simplicity – something I love as I’m an aspiring minimalist. Plus I’m pretty sure over-sized bows are my thing this year – they’re so pretty and extremely easy to do! It took me 5 minutes to wrap this gift, saving me time for other important work.

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Ok so these I LOVE! Thankfully I have a small family (really!), and it’s only expected that I purchase gifts for 2-3 people. But there are others that I love to give to as well. This year I canned homemade applesauce in the fall and had enough leftover for Christmas giveaways. I wanted to decorate the mason jars with a simple printable I found on Pinterest (here) – had to do some digging for ones that would work the best for me. I found some cardstock at my Grandmas house and it took 2 seconds to print! Originally I didn’t want to do blue, but now I love it. It looks chic and is refreshingly not red or green. I cut them out and taped them on and voila! So simple. Then, I took some extra wire ribbon I had and some curling ribbon and did some more giant bows. I love how these turned out. So simple and personal, and pretty. The wrapping for these jars probably cost $1.50 total for the wire ribbon I bought. Thankfully my Grandma let’s me raid her stash of ribbon for the extra materials I needed!

IMG_6134So for my staff Christmas party I was requested to bring Candy Cane Chocolate Bark – which I joyfully obliged. But then I saw these guys online somewhere… (Pinterest?) and wanted to bring them as well – they were a hit! So cute and simple. I had never seen them done before. It was tricky to find good strawberries in December – but a kebab of fruit and marsh mellows couldn’t be cuter. They did melt while traveling to the party so if you make these I suggest serving them directly after assembly. They make a wonderful addition to the traditional cookies and chocolate around Christmas.

Examine Your Heart

While Christmas can easily become all about the gifts, treats, and whatever Costco has on sale, deep down we all want to experience meaningful community and joy-filled moments. I’ve slowly been examining my heart as I prepare for Christmas and it’s helped to keep me on track. Celebrating Advent (the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas as we celebrate Jesus’ first coming and prepare for his second), this year has looked like me reading this book by Nancy Guthrie:

IMG_6049I love how it’s a compilation of various Christian pastors and teachers spanning hundereds of years (Saint Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther… all the way to J.I Packer and John Piper!). Each chapter is a short snippet from each author’s work dwelling on the birth of Christ or the Christmas Story. Just read this chapter called “Wrapped in Humility” by Alistair Begg and the ending really hit me:

IMG_6193The humility of Jesus leaving a perfect heaven to come to earth to live of life of poverty, rejection, humiliation, and crucifixion is astounding. It’s like leaving a King’s Throne to roll around in a pig pen. I keep picturing Mary, afraid while giving birth in the stall of animals. If I were her, I would be like, “God, I’m not doing this – get me outta here!” Maybe it’s because SO many of my friends are starting to have babies, childbirth is becoming more real for me. Mary giving birth to Jesus, she just surrendered and followed God one step at a time. Jesus, doing the same. Following God’s commands and leading while here on Earth one step at a time. I could never have made the sacrifice he made simply by coming to Earth. But that’s exactly why He came – because I could never live the perfect life that He lived. A sacrificial gift is giving wholeheartedly to someone who will never be able to pay you back. I have nothing to offer God, but he came to rescue me anyways.

My Pastor said that we need to me “Mind Focused and Heart Engaged”. I need to engage my heart and examine it to what Christmas is really about. In a song to God before she gave birth, Mary sung,

for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1:49)

He who is mighty has done great things for me. Wow. For me! I love that. Not just because it’s easy to be me-centered. But because God actually cares about me and I matter to him. That’s encouraging to me. That when Jesus was contemplating coming to Earth, he knew that in 2 thousand years Erin would be born in a small city in Canada. “I gotta go rescue her and save her. It’s worth going through all that.” The all that in that phrase comes later at Easter. But don’t gloss over the beauty of Christmas and his birth. The long awaited Messiah has arrived! And it’s a beautiful joy-filled celebration!

It’s easy for me to forget that during the crazy that can be Christmas. I find that simplifying my season, keeping it focused and well planned out (as much as I can), helps me keep my gaze on what’s most important. So go an enjoy your holidays. I know this year I will be. And praise God for that!

Erinblack