On The Bookshelf – The Joy Plan by Kaia Roman

Joy is interesting. In my own life there have been times joy was plentiful and an easy state of being to achieve – and at other times something that has seemed elusive and lacking. Most recently, I have been in a season of life where joy seems to be elusive and lacking. Some of that can be attributed to the challenges of parenting through the obstacle course that is our reality. But some of it can be attributed to the simple fact that I have a very bad habit of putting my own well being dead last on my to-do list.

True confession – there have been many occasions in recent months when my husband has flat-out asked me what I need to be happy. There was even one specific occasion I can think of where he looked at me and asked, “Where did your joy go?” It’s one thing to know in my heart that I am lingering too frequently in the dark. It’s another thing entirely for the person who knows me best in this whole world, to see me lingering in the dark and put voice to the fact that I have lost my joy. So when I was offered the opportunity to read and review an advanced copy of The Joy Plan by Kaia Roman, I did not hesitate.

The Joy Plan has been referred to as a “practical memoir”. It is part the very honest journey of one woman and part research backed scientific and psychological “plan” for cultivating joy. The combination of these two very different perspectives hooked me from the start. I love the rawness of a well told personal story and my inner geek loves anything that has solid research as a backdrop. Roman delivers on both as she weaves her own experiments in cultivating joy into a deeply personal account of the why and how she sought out and successfully increased her own levels of joy. She then takes it a step further and outlines a plan that others can follow to increase their own levels of joy.

Most importantly to me, Roman is honest. She is honest in how she lets us into her journey. She is honest about the choices she made that were ultimately joy stealers and the choices she made to help replace those joy stealers with joy builders. She does not pretend to assume that her joy plan is “the joy plan”. She shares her experiences, what worked, what didn’t, and provides some tools that readers may choose to use as a piece of their own joy plan – but she all does all of that while managing to steer clear of the “shall and must” territory that bogs down so many self-help type books.

My hunch is that The Joy Plan is a book that I will revisit sections of over and over. There is no doubt in my mind that at this point in my life, I need a joy plan of my own. As no two personal realities are the same, no two joy plans will be the same. Reading The Joy Plan gave me some inspiration and ideas for implementing a joy plan of my very own. I don’t think it will be quite as systematic as Roman’s plan, but hopefully the outcome will be the same. After all, it truly is the journey that counts, not the destination. And since I have a tendency to get derailed by the minutia, having another reminder to embrace joy on my journey is welcomed and helpful.

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On the Bookshelf -Only Love Today by Rachel Macy Stafford

I have been following the inspirational writing and work of Rachel Macy Stafford for a couple of years via her blog and Facebook page The Hands Free Revolution. The basic philosophy behind all of her writing encourages people to both love more and live more fully – a lesson we all need from time to time, and one that I have needed to hear over and over again in this season of life.

Rachel’s words are often just the lift my spirit needs, so when presented with the opportunity to receive an advance copy of her newest book Only Love Today I was thrilled – and once I actually began reading the book I knew this was something I would be both returning to and recommending to others for many years to come. This book has the ability to inspire change, heal wounds, and encourage conversation.

I inhaled every page of  Only Love Today, even though it is actually designed to be read in small bits – maybe once a day, once a week, or just when your soul needs to hear some healing words. It is designed to help us all root our daily interactions from a place of love. My copy is already dog-eared, and will likely become more well loved in the months and years to come as I revisit specific entries.

The tagline on the title is “Reminders to Breath More, Stress Less and Choose Love,” – and who doesn’t want or need more of those things in their lives? When you read the words on the page, you actually feel as if Rachel Macy Stafford is speaking directly to you. Her words are genuine and organic. Her message is universal and incredibly accessible. And best of all for me? She really GETS that we are all a little broken! From the book…”When we see each other’s scars, we love each other more…By displaying my true self, I might inspire those around me to display their true selves as well. What a gift it is to meet others in the light of realness, a place where we can love each other even more because of our shared imperfections, vulnerabilities and experiences.”

When I read those words, my soul cheered! My soul cheered and my heart remembered these words that I wrote at the beginning of my own journey toward sharing our family’s story, “We are all a little broken – and we have love and faith and stubborn streaks that win out when the days get hard.”

Rachel Macy Stafford would sum that up in three little words…Only Love Today.

Only Love Today, indeed.

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On the Bookshelf -Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations by Ron Fournier

I am a voracious reader. I love words. I love stories. I love ideas. I love to escape into a good book.

Some of what I read is for pure pleasure, some of what I read is to help me be better at my church job, some of what I read is to expand my understanding of our world, and some of what I read is to help me figure out how to help my polar opposite kids navigate this world. When I come across a book that I think is insightful or important in some way, I am going to share it with you all – just a glimpse of what is on my bookshelf.

“Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations” by Ron Fournier

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My son is a current events and news junkie. It has been a challenge for us to find outlets for his interest that provide balanced and non-sensationalized reporting. The only televised news he is allowed to watch without parental supervision is the News Hour on PBS. Several months ago he was watching the News Hour and I happened to walk through the room during an interview with journalist Ron Fournier. They were talking about his recently published book “Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations.”

I can’t say for certain what caught my attention and caused me to stop and listen. But something did, and I found myself standing in a room with my son who lives with a level 1 autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and my husband, listening to Ron Fournier talk about his own son who lives with ASD and his own emotional and physical journeys that changed his relationship with his son. I was riveted, and I instantly went to my computer and added the book to my Kindle.

Several weeks went by before I had an opportunity to begin reading the book, but when I did I found it difficult to stop reading.

Ron Fournier is a long time political columnist. He started his career in Arkansas covering then governor Bill Clinton, followed President Clinton to Washington DC, and covered the next 3 presidential administrations. He is also a son, a husband and a father to 3 including his son Tyler. This book is part fantastic reporting and part memoir. It is full of historical and social background, current research on childhood development and interviews with other parents; right alongside a recounting of his deeply personal journey to a stronger relationship with his adolescent son.

The book is set against a backdrop of a series of road trips Fournier and his son Tyler take to visit the homes and libraries of a handful of past US Presidents, including personal meetings for Tyler with both President Clinton and President GW Bush. Along the way, Fournier and Tyler forge a deeper and more empathetic relationship.

As I read, I could see so much of my own son in Tyler and so much of myself in Fournier. This is a book that broke my heart and then filled it back up again. “Love That Boy” is everything I write about on this blog – Family. Real. Raw. Broken. Beautiful. It is brutally honest look at parenting – not just parenting a neuro-divergent child, but parenting any child. It is a story of struggle and grit and love, and a family coming out stronger on the other side. It is a love letter to the relationsip bewteen parents and children everywhere – with the added bonus of some really amazing reporting on history, society and presidents.