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I have a small Winston Churchill obsession. It started about two decades ago and has culminated with me naming my dog after him.

Lately, I’ve been listening to some of his most famous speeches. I needed to hear what a great leader in a crisis sounded like—because I wanted to be that in my own little world.

I highly recommend listening to a few. No one is asking us for blood and toil, or telling us to fight on the beaches. But we are being asked to do hard things right now. And Churchill knew—hopefully more than we ever will—about going through hard things in scary times.

We held Michiel’s “Celebration of Life” service on the Sunday afternoon before Martin Luther King Day. It was the only day that those of us flying in to Seattle from around the country could all be there.

Before any of it happened, I’d had plans for the holiday. It fell on my birthday this year, and I’d intended to fly back into Charlotte after a long weekend with friends in Austin and go straight to a meeting at my church. It was going to be the first time a group of us with plans to plant a new church were gathering together.

Instead, I caught a red eye flight home from the hardest day of my life and arrived in Charlotte just after 6 a.m., exhausted and devastated. My mom had to have a minor surgery that day and so I had my birthday lunch in the waiting room of Novant Medical Center with my dad.

But I held on to my plans for the church gathering. I’d expected a simple meeting, but when I arrived, they said that we’d be walking over to our small sanctuary for worship. I almost left. “Worship” sounded emotional and I didn’t want to break down in front of all these people I didn’t know.

As we stood to sing, they began to play, “Your mercy never fails me, all my days I’ve been held in Your hands, From the moment that I wake up, until I lay my head down, I will sing of the goodness of God.” 

And I realized that I didn’t want to cry—something I’d done continuously that week. I found that every part of me wanted to praise the One who is “so, so good.” I’d felt His presence everywhere that week. I knew with certainty that He’d been there in every one of my darkest, hardest moments. And being able to stand there praising Him felt like relief—like a cool salve on the most painful burn. God created us for His glory. We were designed to praise Him.

I’m sharing this now because I know that many of us are going through dark times. We’re anxious and not sleeping well. Work—if we’re lucky enough to have it—is stressful and hard. Companions in our homes—if we’re lucky enough to have them—are driving us crazy. And, underneath it all, we’re all so scared—of loneliness, of loss, of sickness, of death.

But here is what I know: We can praise His goodness even when we’re in the middle of things we don’t understand. He is our refuge. His mercies are new every morning. And He is faithful. In Psalm 28:7, it says that He is our strength and our shield. “My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song.”

When we’re trapped in our homes and tired, worried, and scared, praising Him may feel like the opposite of what we want. But it is exactly what we need. And whether that looks like helping others, joyful music, or simply a bowed head, it’s what He wants for us.

Not because He needs it. But because He knows our hearts were designed for it. And because He really is so, so good.

Books to Escape

Yesterday I went on Audible to download a new book and noticed that multiple apocalypse themed books were trending in bestsellers. Which are basically the opposite of what I want to read right now. We’re stuck inside our homes in a situation that none of us feel especially good about—I’m looking for an escape.

So, I’m currently reading The High Season and listening to Big Lies in a Small Town on Audible. (One’s a chick lit-y novel set in the Hamptons and the other is a mystery set in an NC beach town. Can you tell I miss traveling already?)

If you’re also looking for something to take your mind away from the here and now, I’ve put five of my recent favorites in the “escape from reality” category below.

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The Family Upstairs

This book kicked off a serious Lisa Jewell reading spree for me. I’ve enjoyed all of her books, but this one was such an imaginative mix of characters in a perfectly creepy story. There’s a cult and murder and history and mystery with a little bit of romance weaved in, and it all takes place in London. It’s dark, but it’s thrilling and totally captivating.

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What Alice Forgot

This book seriously got in my head. The premise is that a woman wakes up from a bump on her head thinking she’s 29, happily married, and pregnant with her first child. In reality, she’s forgotten ten years and she’s actually 39, getting divorced, and has three children. I like all Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies) books, but this one is my favorite.

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The Secret Keeper

I love Kate Morton books for the way they jump between past and present—and bring historic events to life. Like many of her books, this one is set in the English countryside and alternates between modern day and WWII. In it, a child witnesses a horrific event in 1961. Only she and her mother know about it. Now, it’s modern day and her mother is dying, and she begins to investigate what happened and why it happened. There are so many plot twists and they’re all so good.

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Winter in Paradise

My favorite thing about Elin Hilderbrand books is always the setting. And while I love her novels set in Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, this one set on St. John is my favorite simply because reading it makes you feel like you’re on the tiny Caribbean island. Sure, there’s also plenty of mystery and romance—the main character’s recently deceased husband had been living a double life with a second family—but it’s the transportive nature of it that makes this one an especially good choice right now.

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The Royal We

I’m late to the party on this one, but I finally read this novel that can really only be described as Prince William and Kate Middleton fan fiction. It’s the story of “Rebecca Porter” and “Prince Nicholas,” and it’s light and fun and feels like reading the grown up version of a fairy tale. It gets a little long in parts and understand that this is the same kind of guilty pleasure of occasionally reading a copy of US Weekly, but we could all use a little guilty pleasure right now, right?

What I Know Right Now

I don’t like uncertainty. I mean this on both a micro and a macro level. Like, I like to make reservations for dinner and I like to have goals for the year. I like to know what’s on the schedule for today and I like to have a plan for the future.

So, like pretty much everyone right now, I feel very uncomfortable with all of the ambiguity and uncertainty around the current state of things. Which is why I’ve created this list of things I know right now. This is my anchor for today. Maybe these will help you? And maybe you can make a list of your own.

Spring is coming. This thing that seems to be stopping everything else can’t stop the seasons. Sunlight and flowers and birds chirping and fresh cut grass and lush green trees and warmth are all on the way.

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13.8) There’s so much changing right now, but not one thing has changed about His love for us.

Stories are a great escape. Whether you prefer yours on Netflix, podcasts, or in the pages of books, there’s something amazing about the way a story can take our minds a million miles and a thousand years from where we actually are in the moment.

Technology can connect us. I have had more conversations with my family and face to face time (virtually) with friends around the country in the last week that I typically have in a month. All that talk about how technology isolates us seems so 2019.

Food is amazing. I’ll be honest, I’ve ordered vegetable seeds to plant a garden to prepare to feed myself if this comes to a Great Depression (see “I like to have a plan for the future” above). But in the meantime, I’m letting myself indulge in the things that taste really good right now. It turns out that cheeseburgers are delicious regardless of whether or not you’re in a crisis.

You can always laugh. And an unexpected side effect of the virus is the internet being especially funny right now. Michiel, my friend who passed away in January, could—and would—laugh at the most irreverent things at the worst times. I loved that about him. And I think of him when I remember that you can always laugh.

We were given today. I think we’re all trying to “just get through this.” But even the darkest days should be appreciated. We only get so many sunrises and sunsets in our lives. I don’t want to wish any of them away.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love. (Romans 8:38) Not isolation. Not coronavirus. Not job losses or stock market crashes. Not poverty. Not depression or loneliness. Not fear. “Neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future.”

We need each other. Whether it’s your kids or spouse or the neighbor next door who could just use a conversation over the fence or across the balcony, we are craving community—and you can be that for someone. A sense of purpose in helping others is grounding.

There’s opportunity here. Winston Churchill said “Never let a crisis go to waste.” For me—for today—this looks like tackling some bigger work projects, giving extra time to a creative side project, and making my backyard look better than it has in years. Tomorrow it may just look like more rest than usual. There’s no wrong or right way to seize an opportunity—it’s just a good reminder to know it’s there.

Together*

Two months ago my best friend died. It has been the loneliest two months of my life. Not only because I lost the person I shared my life with every day, but because grief, by its nature, emotionally isolates us.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this the last few days as I’ve physically isolated myself from the world. It occurred to me today that in the strangest way, I feel less lonely now than I’ve felt in these last two months. Physically, I’m no longer around people. But emotionally, we’re all in this particular pain together.

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As I took my dogs for a walk around my neighborhood tonight, people I’ve never met called out hello from their front porches and drivers nodded with smiles as they drove past. A little girl—who must be a handful at home for her mom right now—pedaled by me on her tricycle, announcing that she wasn’t allowed to go to school and that her pink helmet was for unicorns.

It reminded me in its own way of the videos of the Italians singing from their balconies and the Parisians applauding the healthcare workers from their windows. We are all in this together.

Our world had become so increasingly divided in recent years. From political divides in the U.S. to Nationalism in Europe, we were literally building walls to separate us from our neighbors.

And now this virus has arrived and it doesn’t care about our arbitrary borders. It doesn’t care about the color of our skin or where we were born or what country we call home or who we voted for in the last election. And in the strangest way, it’s making us care less about that stuff too.

It’s horrible. And it’s destroying livelihoods and lives. And I’d never want to minimize that. But as a person who knows too much about feeling alone,  I think there’s something really beautiful about the way we’re coming together.

We may have been forced to shut our borders and shut our doors, but everyone I know is reaching out. And in the midst of all this sadness and uncertainty that makes me grateful for the goodness in people—and, for the first time in a long time, hopeful for our future.

 

 

*As the coronavirus has brought my social life to a screeching halt, I have some extra time on my hands. So, I’m taking a break from my regularly scheduled travel and food programming to talk current events. And probably to share a lot of dog stories. 

Hello, Harbour Island

It’s January in North Carolina as I’m posting this. It’s cold, dark, and I’m jealous of all the animals that hibernate. So, I thought I’d share one of my favorite warm and sunny spots I visited last summer. Lets imagine it together.

Picture this: A tiny island in the Bahamas. It’s filled with pastel-painted colonial homes, picket fences draped in bright fuchsia bougainvillea, and views of the azure Caribbean around every corner. There’s always a breeze in the hot, salty air—especially if you’re lucky enough to find yourself on one of its coral pink sandy beaches.

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It’s a favorite for celebrities—most notably, Prince Charles’ goddaughter, India Hicks, calls the island home (and owns a shop there called The Sugar Mill). And while it has its share of glamour, it still feels old-fashioned and authentic in a way that’s not always easy to find in the Bahamas.

Everyone seems to know everyone on the island that’s called Briland by the locals. And touches like the colorful handpainted signs directing you to the Dilly Dally shop (“Dilly Dally Dis Way” and “Dilly Dally Dat Way”) all over the small streets the wind around the island give it a playful charm.

Travelers come here to rest and relax in style. While you’ll find one nightclub (Daddy D’s where there is an actual Daddy D) and a few upscale resorts and restaurants, this island feels more… is there a word for “Old Money Bohemian?”

STAY

Sure, you could stay at one of the island’s gorgeous beachside resorts like The Dunmore, which is known for its pink sand beach and retro restaurant filled with old black and white beach photos. But the most photogenic spot on the island has to be the Coral House.

This historic cottage overlooking the harbor is easily the best Airbnb experience I’ve ever had and seriously could not have been more gorgeous. Do yourself a favor and click through the photos of it here. (And follow it on Instagram here.) It’s cozy and bright, and has beautiful spaces for outdoor dinners, poolside cocktails (it even has its own cute little bar!), and cooling off with a good book on the couch.

It’s easy walking distance to plenty of spots, but you’ll want to rent a golf cart to explore anyway.

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You’re going to want to spend most of your time here near or on the water. This is in part because that color blue is irresistible. And in part because there’s no better way to cool off in the hot Caribbean sun.

Spend an afternoon on the pink sands beach (there are plenty of public access points where you can park your golf cart). Or reserve a boat for the day from Da Salty Pig Adventures where the friendly Capt. Bruce will take you to pristine white sandbars and to the local version of Pig Island to swim with pigs.

If you’re in the mood to shop—or just need a break from the sun—you’ll also find some charming boutiques on the island. Stop by Dake’s Shoppe or Blue Rooster in Dunmore town for fun finds.

However, the best souvenirs may be in one of the small open-air huts along the road, A and A Hidden Treasures, which sells customized straw bags and hats. The trick is to go early in your trip so they have plenty of time to customize the exact bag you want to take home.

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EAT + DRINK

There aren’t many restaurants on the island, which actually makes it a great way to see who your fellow vacationers are during your trip. While we were there (for one of my friend’s weddings*) this other wedding was also happening. It’s such a small island that we ran into that group at every single restaurant we visited. So, fun people watching.

Start your day at Cocoa Coffee House, a cute little cafe on the second story of a bright yellow home just down the street from the Coral House. With fresh pressed juices, acai bowls, and avocado toast, it’s a good spot to start a day spent in a bathing suit.

Across the street is The Boat House restaurant at Valentine’s Marina, which is a breezy dockside restaurant with tasty fish tacos and potent cocktails that make an ideal midday meal on vacation.

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But the best lunch destination on the island may be Sip Sip, whose name is local slang for gossip. Sit on the umbrella-covered deck, order the lobster quesadillas and spicy margaritas, and settle in for people watching with a backdrop of pink sands beach and the turquoise Atlantic Ocean beyond.

If you’re looking for an elegant spot to indulge in the local seafood, make reservations at Rock House. The restaurant is part of a 10-room luxury hotel housed in an old colonial home overlooking the harbor (just steps away from Coral House). And its spectacular sunsets make this the perfect place to end your day.

Getting there: You’ll probably have to fly through Miami to get to Eleuthera—it’s a pretty tiny airport. From there, you’ll take a taxi to a speedboat water taxi, which will take you to the island.

*I feel I should also share that my friend Erin’s wedding was AMAZING. She had this beachside bonfire one night and her ceremony was on this incredible white beach. And seriously every single detail (down to these place settings at her rehearsal dinner) was just like a ridiculously gorgeous dream.