Looking for my own lovely in a new year

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 set 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, where 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 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 hard times.

Looking back on this past year, I realize God has given me 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, Tenn.

I found lovely at a small church in Plevna, 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.

Watch for my next column at the end of January to read about a place where I wasn’t expecting to find lovely.