Craziness! (And a Message to Readers)

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Hey, everyone!

Just a quickie post to let y’all know that yes, I am still alive! 😉 Life has been super hectic lately; I’m in the middle of a big transition and honestly, posting has been the last thing on my list of priorities lately. I’ve just been SO slammed with homework and commitments in these past few weeks since school started…I’m so sorry to have left you all hanging for over a month!  But I’m hoping to post this weekend — I have a few great posts in store, like the second installment of photos from my trip to France this summer, a new Quote of the Day (which I’m aware we haven’t done in forever), and a Faith post taking a closer look at what it means to really trust God, something I’ve been contemplating a lot lately as I try to navigate the most recent set of challenges life has thrown at me. Now, obviously, that’s not all going to happen this weekend, but you can look forward to those things in the coming weeks.

This is what my desk looks like right now!

This is what my desk looks like right now!

I’m going to try and post more often; I know I’ve been really bad about that. But even if I don’t get to posting this weekend, I’m not going to stress, because I don’t do this blog for anyone but me. This blog is a reflection of my heart and everything that makes me who I am. It is a place for me to come and pour out my all my innermost thoughts and feelings and to share my gifts and passions. If you like what I have to say, then great! I’m so thrilled that you enjoy reading what I write, and I hope you’ll visit often. If not…well, you probably wouldn’t be reading this right now. And that’s okay too — everyone’s entitled to their own thoughts and beliefs. But all I’m trying to say is that I’m not going to worry about posting too much, because this blog is for me. I post whenever I feel inspired and moved to post, and I’m not going to stress out if I just can’t find the time. I hope you all understand.  I am so, so thankful to all of you who follow SOTR, who actually take the time to read my lengthy posts and leave comments. Thank you so much, and I hope you’ll stay with me as I try to navigate my frenzied life!  Stay tuned for some new posts coming up (hopefully) soon!

Your friend, Olivia

 

STTA #10

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Hi! 🙂

I know we haven’t done an STTA in a while, so here’s a question for you all.

What do you do when you’re really, REALLY bored?

I just thought I would ask because it’s funny to hear about all the weird things people do when they have absolutely no clue what to do. When I’m super bored, I usually park myself in front of my bookshelf in my room and pull out random books that catch my eye and flip through them. Sometimes I pick a book and read it cover to cover. Sometimes I just turn the book over and over, enjoying the weight of it in my hands, and quickly flip through the pages to catch a whiff of the musty book-smell that I love so much (I’ll admit it; I’m a book-smeller). Other times, when I’m bored, I find something in my room to organize (there’s usually something that could use a little cleaning up). Most of the time what eventually ends up happening is that I find myself mysteriously drawn to the computer or some other electronic device, where I fruitlessly and aimlessly surf the Web for hours on end. (Google is horribly addictive. It has the potential to be life-consuming.) And now, I need to know — what do you do when you’ve got nothing to do?

Olivia’s Trip to France, Part 1: The Alps

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Bonjour, tout le monde! (That’s French for “Hello, everyone!”)

Long time no see! 😉 I hope you’ve been enjoying the summer! Can you believe it’s already halfway over? Eeek! I don’t know about you, but I am SO not ready to go back to school yet! Have any of you gone on any cool vacations this summer? Or have you been indulging in a relaxing staycation? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

As for me, I just got back a number of days ago from an incredibly exciting, jam-packed trip to France! It was the first time out of the good old USA for me and my brother, which made the whole ordeal all the more thrilling. My family spent three weeks in July sightseeing, drinking in history and eating good food, and we saw and did so much in those three weeks. We were also lucky enough to have family friends living in France with whom we stayed, which was a totally different experience than staying in a hotel would have been, and which gave us the opportunity to see three wildly different areas of the country — we spent our first week at their tiny alpine cottage in the Alps, the second week at a friend of our friends’ apartment in Paris, and the last week at their beach house along the coast of Normandy.  It was wonderful to be exposed to these three different areas of France, to witness the subtle changes in culture from one side of the country to another and the immensely varying geography, architecture, food, and history that can be found in France. It was an amazing trip — we got to see and do so much (and I feel I can honestly say that while even after a month in France I’m not fluent by any means, my French did drastically improve). Today I’m sharing some photos from the first stop on our vacation: the Alps. I hope you enjoy!

This is the view from the inside of our friends' cottage.

While tiny, our friends’ cottage was very cozy and comfortable, with sweet country charm and a breathtaking view of the mountains.

This was the view I woke up to every morning.

This was the view just outside my window. Pretty amazing, huh? I felt just like Heidi, waking up every morning to see rays of sun spilling over the snow-capped peaks of the Alps and down into the valley below.

The center of town with the majestic, snow-peaked Alps rising in the background,

The center of town with the Alps rising in the background. When I laid eyes on these mountains for the first time, I was at once blown away by their astonishing height and majesty.

A bustling market going on in the village's main street.

A bustling market going on in the village’s main street, lined with tiny shops, grocery stores, crêperies, and ski apparel stores, which runs through the center of town.

Walking along the main street in town.

Walking along the main street in town.

We were awakened each morning by the joyous ringing of church bells echoing throughout the valley.

We were awakened each morning by the joyous ringing of church bells echoing throughout the valley, the only sound breaking the stillness of dawn.

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We went on a five hour hike one day — yes, five hours — and on that day alone, I took over 200 photos! The view was absolutely stunning; there were just too many picture opportunities to pass up! Bright yellow wildflowers waved in the breeze while snow-peaked mountains rose on every side, and streams gurgled and whispered over the rocks on their merry way downhill. Needless to say, we were quite exhausted at the end of the five hours. We stopped to rest multiple times, but the majority of the time was spent walking, and it was rough going! The path was rocky, with edges of stones jutting out everywhere, and it was steep — which, of course, made it very much more enjoyable going down, less enjoyable going up.

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Look at the sun, throwing its rays over the top of the mountain! It almost hurts to look at this photo. 😉

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The pretty yellow wildflowers add a pop of color to this mostly green landscape.

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So great was the beauty around me, and so happy and light my soul, that I would have burst out singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music!” if it weren’t for the many other hikers trekking along the path.

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We came across several pastures where cattle stood grazing or dozing in the hot sunshine, cowbells clinking and clanking, sounding quite like wind chimes in the breeze.

A beautiful church nestled in the pine trees.

A beautiful church, in solitary glory, nestled among the pine trees.

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A gurgling stream meandering through the valley.

Cheerful daisies dotted the hillsides.

Cheerful daisies dotted the hillsides, lifting their faces up to the sun.

The village as dusk began to fall.

Twinkling lights down in the valley as evening began to fall. Something I will never forget is standing on the deck, watching the sun sink beneath the mountains, the last rays of dusk setting the tops of the mountains on fire, staining the sky a deep blood red. (I wish I had a picture to show you, but you’ll have to use your imagination. This spectacular phenomenon lasts for only a few minutes before the sun disappears behind the mountains and all is dark, and I was so captivated watching that I totally forgot about my camera!)

That’s all for today, folks! I hope that these photos gave you a sense of the utterly magnificent and noble beauty of the Alps. Look out for the second installment (photos from Paris), coming soon.

Votre amie (Your friend), Olivia

“There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”

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Hi, everyone.

I hope you’re having a relaxing and fun summer! I know mine has been – the lack of homework has been a bit of a shock to the system, I have to say. I’ve been sleeping in, reading a lot, and spending time with God – three things I haven’t been able to do much during the school year. So far, I’ve been able to keep up with my Bible reading and I am now onto Jeremiah, and let me just say that it’s been hard not to get depressed while powering through the book of Jeremiah! Jeremiah was a prophet during the time period described in 2 Kings, and his job was basically to deliver bad news to the people of Judah. God had warned them many, many times over the years not to serve idols, but to serve only Him, and these stiff-necked people just wouldn’t obey. They were determined to keep their evil ways and keep sinning against God. So God finally put His foot down and said “enough’s enough,” and Jeremiah was the guy responsible for warning all the stubborn, wicked people of Judah to turn from their ways before God brought disaster on them. Of course, this was NOT what the people wanted to hear, and Jeremiah was mocked, imprisoned, and threatened with death, all for doing God’s work.

Of course the people of Judah deserved every bit of the trouble that God was planning to bring on them. They had been persistent in their wicked ways, serving gods of other peoples, worthless, powerless images that were created by human hands, even after being warned not to. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes bad things happen when no one has done anything to deserve it. Sometimes bad things happen and there is no explanation. Sometimes bad things happen to the kindest, most generous, and most faithful of people. When this happens, we start to wonder, “Does God really love us?” The Bible tells us that He loves us always, and that His mercy is great, but when horrible things happen to people for no reason at all, it is not easy to believe that.

Just a few weeks ago, in church, the choir sang a passage that really touched me. Usually I recycle the bulletins after the service, but this time I held on to it. When I got home, I cut out the lyrics of the passage the choir sang, which I found just so beautiful, and tacked it up on the bulletin board beside my desk. Whenever I read the lyrics of the poem, called “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” I feel a certain peace come over me. The poem offers gentle reassurance of God’s great love and kindness, and it is a sweet, simple reminder that we are loved and forgiven no matter what. It brought me great comfort, and I hope it will do the same for you.

“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea;

there’s a kindness in His justice which is more than liberty. 

There is no place where Earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in Heaven;

there is no place where Earth’s failings have such kindly judgement given.

There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;

there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in His blood.

There is grace enough for thousands of new worlds as great as this;

there is room for fresh creations in that upper home of bliss.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind;

and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.

There is plentiful redemption in the blood that has been shed;

there is joy for all the members in the sorrows of the Head.

‘Tis not all we owe to Jesus; it is something more than all;

greater good because of evil, larger mercy through the fall.

If our love were but more simple, we should take Him at His word;

and our lives would be all sunshine in the sweetness of our Lord.

Souls of men! why will ye scatter like a crowd of frightened sheep?

Foolish hearts! why will ye wander from a love so true and deep?

It is God: His love looks mighty, but is mightier than it seems;

’tis our Father: and His fondness goes far out beyond our dreams.

But we make His love too narrow by false limits of our own;

and we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own.

Was there ever kinder shepherd, half so gentle, half so sweet,

as the Savior who would have us come and gather at His feet?”

~ Frederick W. Faber

I think these lyrics are just lovely. They are written in a very simple, almost childish manner, but the message comes across loud and clear: God loves us! He loves me, and He loves you! I hope this poem brings you comfort and peace today, as it did for me, and helps you to know the Father a little bit more.

Your friend, Olivia

STTA #9

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Hi all!

Whew, I know it’s been forever! I have been SO overwhelmed with exams and end-of-year events and auditions and appointments that, honestly, I haven’t even thought about this blog for a month! Well, I’m back (though not for long — our family will be leaving on a month-long vacation out of the country in July, so the flow of posting will be again interrupted for a little while). I have a few great posts in store, but I’d like to start with today’s long-overdue STTA:

What is one thing that makes you think “summer?”

Okay. So many things, but the first one for me would be the smack-smack sound of walking in flip-flops. There is just nothing that says “summer” more than that. Others would be the smell of chlorine and sunscreen, and eating juicy watermelon. Oh, yes. I’m getting excited just thinking about summer on the way! How many of you are on your break already? And how many are still in school? (Like me, UGH — but only for a week more! Hurray!) What are your plans for the summer? 🙂

God’s Beautiful World

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Hi, everybody!

So I’m onto the book of Job. Job’s story is important because it has a message that is relevant to all of us who have at some point struggled with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  Job lived at around the same time as Abraham, in the land of Uz, with his wife and family. Job had a pretty good life — he had a nice house, a large family, and extensive livestock and servants. Yet, despite all that he had, Job did not grow vain. He  helped the poor and the fatherless, and people knew him for his deeds.  And Job recognized that all of his blessings came from the Lord; he was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” (Job 1:1) Then one day, Satan challenged God, saying, “Your servant Job worships you only because you have blessed him abundantly. If you let me take away everything he has and strike him down, he will surely turn away from you.” God accepted the dare, saying, “Very well; everything Job has is in your power, but do not harm the man himself.”

Satan took everything away from Job, until the poor man had nothing left. He took away Job’s livestock and servants, destroyed his house, and killed his children. Yet, despite his tremendous losses, Job continued to praise the Lord and did not charge Him with wrongdoing. God granted Satan one more opportunity, this time permitting him  to harm Job himself, while sparing his life. Satan afflicted Job with painful, festering skin sores all over his body, adding to the poor, mourning man’s wretchedness. Job was suffering tremendous pain, pain that he could not escape from; Satan had struck both his body and his heart. There had never been a more miserable existence than Job’s. Job turned against God, blaming Him for all the bad things that had happened to him, cursing the Lord’s name and his own existence, though Satan was really the one to blame, not God. Job questioned the Lord’s fairness and justice, protesting that he was blameless and had never done anything to deserve his afflictions. But it was only when God asked Job a few questions of His own that Job realized that the the Lord deserved to be glorified and praised because of who He was, not because of what He gave. All along, the Lord had been testing Job’s faithfulness, as He knew that He would be the one to triumph in the end. Once Job realized what he had done, he apologized to God, and God gave him back everything that Satan had taken away from him, and much more.

Bad things happen to us. They just do. At times, it may be difficult to remember that God is the one in charge, and that He has our lives in His hands. However, sometimes, when it seems as if our life is ending and the world is against us, I have found that it helps simply to step outside. Especially in the spring season, as flowers are blooming and plants sprouting and new life beginning, God’s magnificent creation is in full display. We can see little glimpses of God’s divine majesty and heavenly authority all around us amidst the simple beauty of nature. He is the Lord who made the heavens and the earth! Can’t we trust Him to take care of us, as He cares for the flowers and the trees and the animals? Can’t we hope in His unfailing love and justice, and trust that everything He does is in our best interest? Can’t we understand that we will NEVER understand, and can’t we praise Him anyway? Today I ventured outside with my camera, and was surprised at the beauty I found all around me in my own backyard, reminding me that God is with us always; we just have to look for Him.

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”

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“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone — while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”

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“Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?”

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“Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken.”

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“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this. What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!”

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“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? What is the way to the place where lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, to water a land where no one lives, an uninhabited desert, to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass?”

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“Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Can you loosen Orion’s belt? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?”

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Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’? Who gives the ibis wisdom or gives the rooster understanding? Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together?” 

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“Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?” ~Job 38

Happy Spring, everyone!

Your friend, Olivia

There’s Something About the Beach…

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Hi, everybody!

Sorry to leave you hanging for so long! The entire month of March has been madness (which explains my severe lack of posts), and my family took a week long vacation to the beach, which we recently returned from. In any case, I’ve had a long time to rest and recharge, and I have some great posts coming up. Today, I’m going to share a few photos from our vacation.

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When we went onto the beach for the first time on our vacation, I ran to the water’s edge and just stood there, letting my feet sink into the sand and the waves wash over my feet. The water was chilly, so we didn’t do a whole lot of swimming, but it didn’t matter to me. I love the beach: the salty breeze, the murmuring waves, the chattering seagulls, the horizon stretching on forever. Just being there was indescribably, blissfully perfect.

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A cool action shot. The screeching of gulls is one of the many sounds that contribute to the ocean’s eerie, wild, and beautiful natural symphony.

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This picture gives you an idea of just how long and flat the beach is. You could walk for miles, and still soft, white sand and azure skies would stretch endlessly ahead of you.

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Spanish moss drapes over the branches of the mighty oak trees, giving them a coastal, breezy look.

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The wildlife here varies from Great Blue Herons to dolphins to egrets to alligators. (You have to keep an eye out when strolling along the lagoon for alligators dozing on the banks underneath the hot afternoon sun!)

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 I just think this is the coolest photo. We went kayaking on the lagoon, and I brought my camera along to snap some pictures from a different perspective. (Don’t worry, I was VERY careful with my camera!)

It was a lovely vacation, and a nice escape from the whirlwind of chaos that had become my life. Just being there and experiencing the laid-back, breezy lifestyle really helped me to relax and breathe. The ocean is my home; I don’t think there is anywhere else on this planet that I love more. There’s just something about the beach that makes you feel alive, that makes you want to leap and sing and dance and praise the Lord God for His creation!

“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch — we are going back from whence we came.” ~John F. Kennedy

Anyway, I am glad to be back, and I hope you’ll stay with me on SOTR as I try and brave the last crazy months of school and keep the posts coming! 😉 Happy Spring, everyone!

Your friend, Olivia