“The Shack” review

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All Christian films tug at my heartstrings. Even though most are on tight budgets, they still include phenomenal acting and in-depth screenwriting. Each displays a relatable message that leaves me with a new view on myself or the world. Movies like: The Blind Side, Facing the Giants, Courageous, Fireproof and War Room, bring forth reflection and tears during the first and consecutive viewings. I saw previews for The Shack earlier this year, and within the first minute, I knew I wanted to see it. Added bonus: it featured one of my favorite actresses, Octavia Spencer.

A few weeks ago, there was a viewing of The Shack at my grandma’s assisted living center that my mom and I attended. The movie was emotional and thought-provoking. I cried multiple times, but also laughed. Like the rest of its genre, I left with a new view on myself and the world. It left a lasting impact. I couldn’t let go of the connection I made with the characters. So when my dad said I should listen to the audiobook, I immediately agreed. He renewed the library copy and it soon filled my car during commutes.

Movies based on books are always slightly different. It’s impossible to cram every detail from a 300-page book into a 120-minute movie. Plus, films spice up their adaptations to reach the Hollywood standard. The movie version of The Shack shows all the action sequences while the book expands on dialogues that occur between the protagonist and secondary characters. Speaking of, let’s dive into the plot.

Mackenzie Allen Phillips’ youngest daughter is kidnapped during a family camping trip and murdered in a shack in the woods. This loss propels Mack into deep sadness for the next few years, pushing him away from God. One day he receives a letter instructing him to return to the shack to catch up with Papa, his wife’s nickname for God. When he goes, he spends time with the Holy Trinity: God/Papa, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. His faith is restored when he forgives himself and the killer for his daughter’s murder. The resentment he’d held onto is washed away after he learns that God cannot stop the world’s evil-doing because that would remove independence that was given to us through Adam in the beginning of time. All he can do is try to find the good in the evil that affects his children.

“Nobody knows what horrors I have saved the world from ‘cuz people can’t see what never happened. All evil flows from independence, and independence is your choice. If I were to simply revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning. This world is not a playground where I keep all my children free from evil. Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have the final say. Now it touches everyone that I love, those who follow me and those who don’t. If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibilities of love. Love that is forced is no love at all.” – Papa, The Shack

The Shack reaffirmed my belief that God will never resent us for turning away from him. He will always welcome us back with open arms when we realize our mistakes and want forgiveness. He simply wants a relationship with us because we were created for love. So when evil enters our lives and we focus on our pain, we quickly lose sight of him. This is what evil wants: it wants our focus and energy. Fortunately, if we invite God into our hearts to reside forever, he can help us find the good in our suffering. Everyone’s been affected by evil, and The Shack will give a new perspective to all who watch.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Guardian angel protection

I find the idea of guardian angels comforting. Knowing someone is out there watching out for you increases feelings of protection and security. It’s like having an invisible friend by your side 24/7. They keep you out of harm’s way and provide consolation during tough times. I like to imagine deceased friends and family serving as my guardian angels because of the personal connection we had before they each died. I like to imagine my Oma, who passed away on March 9, 2017, watching over me. She cared about me deeply when she was here and that love didn’t disappear just because she’s in Heaven now.

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We all feel signs that let us know our guardian angel is with us. I had a particularly scary experience yesterday on my commute to work. My commute is 10-15 minutes and doesn’t require highways, which is nice when the weather is bad. I was driving in the right lane when suddenly the car next to me started drifting into my lane. Our vehicles were probably a few inches apart before the driver quickly corrected and shifted back into his or her respective lane. My heart rate swelled during this less-than-thirty-second incident. I didn’t even think about honking or flipping off the other driver because I was too busy thanking my guardian angel for preventing an accident.

The other driver was most likely texting or doing something that diverted their eyes from the road for those few seconds. I’m sure their heart rate soared the moment they realized our cars were about to collide. The first words out of their mouth were probably, “OH S*%#!!!” I don’t harbor any blame because I can’t think of anyone who would willingly get in a car wreck. It was careless behavior that could’ve been caused by dozens of distractions: kids in the backseat, eating/drinking, texting, talking on the phone, among others. I’m just blessed I have rapid reflexes that classify me as a defensive driver, and thankful that both guardian angels were on red-alert Wednesday morning around 8:30 a.m.

“A Monster Calls” review

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After a glowing recommendation from my Dad, I watched “A Monster Calls” last night with my mom and sister. This movie came out in 2016 starring Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver and Lewis MacDougall. My Dad, not wanting to give anything away, described the film as very intense and thought-provoking. As long as it wasn’t a member of the horror genre, I was down for watching it.

A basic synopsis: Conor, a young boy, has a terminally-ill mother. Her continuous treatments are not yielding desired results, so Conor goes to stay with his grandmother who he does not get along with. His difficult life causes him great pain on a daily basis. Even when he sleeps he suffers from the same nightmare. Then one night a monster, transformed from a nearby yew tree, comes to visit him. The monster tells him three stories that guide him through a journey of healing, courage, and faith. So when his mother passes away, he’s ready to let her go with the monster’s help.

The movie was stylistically beautiful because both Conor and his mother are artists. This beauty bridged the gap between fantasy and reality. It captured me from the moment the opening credits started rolling. The drama was gripping, but entirely relatable if you’ve ever suffered the loss of a loved one. I lost my Oma (grandma) a few months ago. There was one scene in particular that aligned perfectly with my thought process leading up to the moment my Oma died. This was the most dramatic scene in the movie. It’s when the monster forces Conor to live out his nightmare. In the nightmare, Conor is trying to save his mom from falling off a cliff. He eventually can’t hold on any longer and lets her fall.

“The answer is that it does not matter what you think because your mind will contradict itself a hundred times each day. You wanted her to go at the same time you were desperate for me to save her. Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.” – The Monster

During this, the monster screams at Conor to speak his ultimate truth. He finally admits that he wanted it to end. He wanted the suffering to be over. He couldn’t hold on any longer. He tells the monster that he should be punished for saying that about his own mother, but the monster says, “You were merely wishing for the end of pain. Your own pain. An end to how it isolated you. It is the most human wish of all.” Watching my Oma slowly die was awful, and I wanted the end to come because I couldn’t watch her suffer anymore. I felt terrible for wanting that, but this movie taught me that it’s natural to want an end to the pain that’s happening to those you love.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Don’t settle for less than #1

Checking a huge item off your list is a massive stress reliever. The burden you were lugging around is now gone. You feel empowered because your persistence paid off, but what really made the difference were the prayers. Without God’s assistance, you wouldn’t be where you are. For me, I would still be apartment-less. Thanks to him, I locked in the apartment of my dreams.

“If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know it when you find it. “ – Steve Jobs

I started looking when my full-time job began two months ago. After seeing its commercials, Apartments.com became my source. The filtering option allowed me to limit search results to what I wanted: one bed/one bath, in-unit washer/dryer, local, smaller size, equipped with appliances, rent between $500-$750/mo., and reliable maintenance. After extensive online research, I visited three complexes in and around the Overland Park. One of them stood out because it matched everything on my checklist.

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The only downside was there wasn’t an A2 floor plan available. They only had an A1 available for mid-September. However, A1 units don’t include a washer/dryer. I told the agent I would think about whether I could live without the in-unit amenity. In an effort to convince me, she said only A1 residents have access to the on-site laundry facility, so I’d only be sharing with eight other units, and that didn’t sound totally unbearable.

After thinking it over, I scheduled a follow-up tour to show it to my parents. When I called to schedule, I found out the A1 was leased, but a couple A2s were getting vacated! We visited on Saturday, and they told us two first-floor A2 units were available. I hated to be picky, but I knew I’d feel safer on the second floor – plus, the upstairs-neighbor noise wouldn’t be an issue if I were on the top floor.

Dad told me not to settle. It was going to be my home, so I should get my first choice. The agent said she heard whispers about a second-floor A2, and told me to call on Monday for more detail. For the next couple days, I prayed and prayed. When I called, a different agent told me someone had applied for the A2. Before I could start crying (just kidding), she said another A2 would be available in October.

“This unit is better because it’s in a better location overlooking our pool and landscaping and not the parking lot.” I nearly yelled that I would take it! I swung by after work and danced through the front door of the leasing office to sign the papers and pay the deposit. God had once again shown his desire to take care of me. Not only did I get the apartment I wanted, it was also better than the one I’d hoped for. I can’t wait for move-in day in October.

Transfiguration: forfeit control & listen

This weekend was the Transfiguration. During Mass, our gospel reading retold the time Jesus was transfigured in front of Peter, James, and John on the top of a mountain. I’d already discussed the passage at my weekly bible study, which made hearing it on Saturday all the more fruitful.

When Peter, John, and James arrive at the top of the mountain, Elijah and Moses appear. At that point Peter starts babbling, Lord, it is good you have brought us here. If you wish, I will put up three tents—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he’s rambling, a strong voice breaks through the clouds, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” When the three look around again, Jesus is the only one there. After the incident, Jesus tells them not to say a word until he’s crucified and resurrected from the dead.

“Listen to Jesus and follow him. That’s the message of the Transfiguration.” – Pope Francis

Peter has a relatable trait in this passage. Instead of allowing himself to be in awe and trust God, he immediately tries to control the situation by asking to assemble three tents. We often plan our lives, foolishly believing we know what’s to come. Instead of slowing down and listening to God, we rush to fill in the gaps. When Peter tries to take control, God puts his fatherly foot down and tells him to “be quiet and listen.” If only he could say that so blatantly to the rest of us.

After the gospel, our priest put the passage into relatable terms. He spoke on the concept of transfiguration and how to get there we first go through disfiguration, or to speak plainly: to achieve desired change, we first go through resistance/suffering. If you want to be stronger, you add resistance to your arms by lifting weights. If we want to become better, we should embrace the struggle in our life – knowing well that God does not give us more suffering than we can endure.

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Our priest talked about the harm in interfering during disfiguration. He told us the story of a young boy who learned about butterflies. He brought home a cocoon so he could watch the transformation. When the cocoon started to wiggle, he cut it open to help the butterfly emerge faster. When he did this, he found a deformed butterfly. What the boy didn’t know is that without the struggle, the butterfly didn’t have a chance to develop its wings.

Transitioning from disfiguration to transfiguration takes time, and the period of disfiguration varies from person to person. Struggle ranges and so do the people who deal with it. It is in our best interest to learn from Peter – forfeit control and listen to the One who holds us in the palm of his hand. Embrace the suffering he gives us so it can transform us into better people when the time comes.

A new home away from home

“Hi, my name is Amy and I still live in my parents’ basement.” This is something most people my age would be embarrassed about, but not me. After I graduated from college, I moved back home, and I’ve been there for a little over a year. The plan was to move out once I found a job and started saving money. I’ve been employed for over a month now, and the apartment hunt is well underway. As exciting as it is to move out and start my own life, it’s daunting at the same time.

I applaud my parents for the way they raised me, but at the same time, I feel like they coddled me too much. There are huge gaps in my knowledge: what cleaning products to use for certain tasks, cooking elaborate dishes, car stuff (payments, insurance, etc.), finances and more. I know there’s going to be a significant learning curve once I move out and gain full control over my life. It’s going to be confusing and frustrating, and I’ll continue to rely on my family for support during this adjustment period. I’m sure my mom will receive dozens of trivial-question-based phone calls.

Moving out is like a when a baby bird jumps out of the nest to learn how to fly. Does the baby bird want to jump? Absolutely not. There’s the fear of falling to its death. However, with encouragement from mama and papa bird, the baby starts flapping its wings, and when it finally jumps natural instinct kicks in and the baby bird soars.

“To raise a child who is comfortable enough to leave you means you’ve done your job. They are not ours to keep, but to teach how to soar on their own.” 

I know without a doubt that I’m ready to strike out on my own, but that doesn’t mean I’m not nervous for the first step. This Saturday I’ll be touring three apartments. There are several factors that I’m looking for in an apartment – things I need/want and things I want to avoid.

  • Be within 30 minutes of where I work, so my morning commute isn’t awful.
  • Have an in-unit washer/dryer, so I don’t have to leave my apartment to do laundry. I do not want to have to drag a heavy bag of clothes to a laundry facility or worse, a Laundromat.
  • Top-notch security is a must. Since this is my first time living alone, I want to feel safe in my new home.
  • On-time fulfillment of maintenance requests is crucial. Most places I’m looking at have 24/7 emergency maintenance, which is very reassuring.
  • I’m neutral about apartment floor plans. I don’t need excessive space – a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room is more than enough.
  • Finally, living without a roommate(s) will inevitably result in higher rent, which is why I’m shooting for rent between $500 – $750.

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I pray that I choose the best place for my budget, lifestyle, and location. That is why I’ll be visiting each place with a list of prepared questions, so when I go back to create pro/con lists, they will be honest and thorough. I want to move into my new home knowing exactly what to expect in terms of security, maintenance, neighbors, staff, noise, and utilities. Hopefully, the important people in my life, who will be involved in this decision, will offer words of wisdom during this extensive process.

Game night and ice-cream

Introducing your S/O to your family is daunting, but so is introducing him to your friends. It’s important he gets along with the most important people in your life. If he doesn’t, it can present huge obstacles later on. My boyfriend passed the family test less than six months into our relationship, and he’s spent multiple occasions with them since. However, it wasn’t until a couple days ago that he met one of my best friends. I can’t believe it took almost a year and a half to coordinate this meeting, but we can finally cross it off.

For a little backstory, there was a reason I was nervous about this meeting. We all know guy/girl friendships are complicated, especially when one or both parties are in romantic relationships. Early on my boyfriend and I got into a heated argument about this friendship. When we resolved it, we concluded that neither of us handled it in the best way. I should’ve worked harder to set up a time for them to meet, but since I didn’t my boyfriend felt uncomfortable and shut out.

My friend lives in St. Louis and sporadically visits KC and my boyfriend lives an hour away, so coordinating a meeting time wasn’t easy. Finally, timing matched up. Saturday, July 8, my friend was in town during a day my boyfriend came to visit. Choosing what to do was difficult. I didn’t want my single friend to feel like a third wheel, so I involved my family – pizza and game night. When my friend showed up at the house, I anxiously introduced them. Like men do, they shook hands.

After dinner, the five of us, my siblings included, gathered in the basement and dug into a pile of games. We started with Phase 10, a complex card game. Next, we switched to Bananagrams, a freestyle version of Scrabble. The fun part of this vocabulary-based game was the fierce competition between my friend and my brother. They were both quick thinkers, so the game moved as fast as their minds. The healthy competition sparked laughter and shouting during both games.

After several rounds of Bananagrams, we took an ice-cream break, and then started a board game called Loaded Questions. This was the perfect game because the objective was to learn more about other players. Surprisingly, my brother ended up winning even though I was ahead for most of the game. Our final game was Apples to Apples – the adult version. Two differences between the kid and adult versions were contemporary nouns on the red cards and two adjectives to choose from on each green card. We played to five green cards, and my boyfriend ended up dominating us all.

After four games we were all exhausted. After we finished Apples to Apples it was after 11 p.m. The five of us ended up talking/sharing stories until close to 1 a.m. I was shocked my siblings stayed up so late. I guess when you’re exchanging fart stories… it’s difficult to not be entertained.🙄 At 1 a.m. my boyfriend and I drove my friend back to his Dad’s apartment and said our goodbyes.

As fulfilling as the night had been, I was sad it was so late. My boyfriend left at 1:30 a.m., and I was left wishing we could’ve had more alone time. However, I knew it was worth it because he met my friend and spent more time with my siblings. It was even worth waking up with a horrendous migraine the following morning after not going to bed until 4 a.m. – don’t ask.

I spent the next day recovering from my migraine with movies, R&R, and caffeine. During the day I kept having a recurring thought from the night before. During the argument we’d had about my best friend back in January, I was fighting to keep the friendship the same. After Saturday night, I realized the likelihood of the friendship lasting isn’t very high. In that moment, I realized I’d survive if it ended. He and I have been friends for 10+ years, but the reason I’d be okay if the friendship didn’t last is that I have a new best friend – the man I’m dating.

“There’s a reason BF stands for boyfriend and best friend. They should be one in the same.”