Looking For My Own Lovely

When I was searching for summer jobs in Tennessee this past May, I made a stop at the local LifeWay bookstore.

As much as my heart loves bookstores, they are a very dangerous place for my bank account. I am physically unable to leave a bookstore without a new (to me) book in my hand.

So on that particular day in May, I browsed through LifeWay’s neatly stacked paperbacks. My gaze landed on a navy blue book with red, yellow, and white doodles on the front: Annie F. Downs’ “Looking For Lovely.”

I bought the book before my brain could talk me out of it and began reading the introduction that night.

But for some reason, after reading the introduction, I sat the book on my nightstand and never returned to it all summer. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the book; Annie’s words resonated with me and her casual tone made me feel like she was my best friend.

I didn’t pick up the book to read it again until about two weeks ago, though. It was the first book on my Christmas break “Books to Read Now That I Can Read For Enjoyment Again” list.

And while I really should have read the book back during the summer, I’m glad I read it now, as I’m approaching a new year full of change and uncertainty.

In “Looking for Lovely,” Annie writes about how God transformed her thinking patterns and rebuilt her “broken crazy” into a healthy heart, body, mind and spirit.

As the book’s title suggests, Annie found that looking for the beauty in different moments, or “looking for lovely,” helped her persevere through some tough times. She writes, “I’m filling my mind and eyes and memories with good things, good gifts from God, so that my tank is refueled, so that my parched throat is soothed, before the journey continues.”

Her words reminded me of Philippians 4:8, in which Paul encourages his readers to think on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.”

As much as I’d like to think of myself as an optimist, I often slip into negative thoughts when life is overwhelming, confusing or stressful.

Annie’s book got me thinking about the lovely people, places, and things in my life and how God uses them to teach me truth, bring me joy and help me persevere during those hard times.

Annie writes about how she found lovely in sunrises, Ryman Auditorium, athletes, nail polish, sushi, gardens, and friends.

Looking back on this past year, I realize that God gifted me with many lovely memories, people, and things to remind me of his love for me.

I found lovely at a pub in Rome while watching American football.

I found lovely surrounded by books at the Williamson County Library in Franklin, Tennessee.

I found lovely at a small church in Plevna, Kansas, where I encountered the Holy Spirit in a life-changing way.

I found lovely in the process of editing and making words and sentences fit together in the best possible way.

I found lovely in the hugs (and more often tackles) of my sweet and crazy cousins at our annual Christmas gathering.

And I found lovely when I finally sat down to read a book that had been on my dresser since June.

Next year is going to be a year full of things I don’t necessarily find lovely, like choices and change. And that’s not just for me and my fellow graduates, but our nation as well.

We’re all going to need a lot of perseverance.

But as Annie writes, “There is a correlation between beauty and perseverance.”

At Christmastime, we celebrate the most beautiful gift God gave to us through baby Jesus. As I enter this new year, my goal is to look for the other lovely gifts God puts in my life as a reminder of his goodness and his grace.

I will have to make big decisions, move away and start a job, which is both exciting and completely terrifying at the same time. Through it all, I want my heart to collect the moments and memories that are truly beautiful.

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3 Fictional Characters That Inspire Me

There’s a social media challenge circling the Internet right now that has caught my book-loving eye. Instagram and Twitter are full of three-picture collages as users are challenged to describe themselves in three fictional characters.

As an English major, one of my favorite things to do is to analyze and deconstruct characters, so I jumped right on this bandwagon.

What three fictional characters describe me best?

That deceptively simple question led to a conversation with some of my housemates that kept us up well past our bedtimes. We began to dissect our own identities and the identities of some of our most beloved fictional characters.

We quickly realized that fictional characters are interesting works of art. Some are well crafted and real, while others have about as much personality as my cardboard cutout of Ron Weasley.

Humans are complex beings, with deep feelings and motivations, so characters that reflect that depth are often the ones we connect with the most, even if we’re not exactly like them.

So, instead of recalling the three fictional characters that describe me best, here are three of the fictional characters I consider to be some of the best.

1. Hermione Granger.

Her­mione Granger is the main female protagonist in the Harry Potter series. Since I finished the series just this month, she’s a fresh face on my list. Hermione is smart, brave and compassionate. She’s a strong, independent character who also shows emotions and dependence. She grows from an “insufferable know-it-all”—at least in some peoples’ opinions—in the first book of the series to the glue that holds the series’ main trio together.

Hermione is the only character on my favorites list that also appears on my list of characters that define me. We share a passion for learning and a deep love of books.

I admire Hermione for many reasons and I wish I would’ve been introduced to her earlier in my life. Her­mione has encouraged thousands of girls across the world to be themselves and find friends that accept them for who they are. She has showed it is OK to love books and studying, but that ultimately friendship and bravery are most important.

2. Atticus Finch.

When I had to read “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee during my junior year of high school, I wasn’t expecting to discover one of my favorite books. But the book’s themes and characters captured me from the start.

Atticus is probably one of the most famous literary fathers. He is patient, understanding, and, most important, he stands up for what is right, even when it’s not popular.

Atticus ranks at the top of many “best fictional characters” because he represents morality and reason. He knows what is right and acts on that knowledge, even though it makes him very unpopular.

For decades, Atticus has inspired readers to stand for morality and common sense. He reminds us that “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Side note: I have not, and will not, read, “Go Set a Watchman.” I started it and, after reading the first chapter, I haven’t returned. My opinions of Atticus are based on his characterization in “To Kill a Mocking­bird,” which I believe was how Harper Lee wanted it.

3. Lizzie Bennet.

From Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Lizzie Bennet is one of my favorite fictional characters that is least like me. She is strong, witty and willing to speak her mind. Her bold personality is very different from my quiet one, and I love her character because of that.

In the 21st century, women read Jane Austen’s work from a very different perspective than her original audience would have. We cheer on Lizzie’s defiance against the societal norms of her time. We admire Lizzie’s strong personality in comparison to her sister Jane’s and her friend Charlotte’s seemingly weak ones.

Lizzie stands as a role model for girls to stand up for themselves and defy oppressive societal standards. She is a flawed character who is full of, as the title would suggest, pride and prejudice. As with any fictional character, her flaws make her real and even more relatable.

These three characters are definitely some of my favorites because of their impact on readers. They have encouraged us to be smart, moral and bold. And I truly believe these characters, along with so many others, have transcended the world of literature to make the real world a better place.