Category Archives: Beginnings

When God Calls: An Academic’s Experience

Almost three weeks ago, my denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, voted not to let major regional divisions decide whether or not they had the authority to ordain female clergy. I won’t waste time on the semantics of this vote, because the vote itself is not the point of this post. Rather, I am thinking in particular about one speech that caused me a lot of inner reflection. It is the speech of a young woman in a position of leadership, a young woman that spoke out against the ordination of women in ministry. It is a speech that has caused me to rethink what we mean by “calling.”

Brief disclaimer: I have decided, for the sake of Christian fellowship and transparency, to include the transcript of her speech, but not identify her or include the YouTube link to this post. I do not wish to shame her publicly, nor do I wish anyone reading this post to shame her publicly. Her opinion is her own, and I respect her right to her privacy and her opinion. If you, however, would be interested in watching the video for your own edification, indicate so in the comments or message me, and I will gladly share the YouTube link at my own discretion.

This is what the young woman said as a rationale for her NO vote to the ordination of female pastors in the Seventh-day Adventist Church:

  1. I want to speak on behalf of thousands whose voices are not being heard in my division. Thousands of NAD members do not agree with women’s ordination, and the initiative bringing it to the front has served not to unify but to polarize this division. As the president of GYC which has the largest annual youth and young adult conference in the Adventist church, I hear from those within the NAD who feel their voices have not been heard or at least not acknowledged. There are those in this division who believe that we should be considerate of the world church and what regional beliefs will mean for our unity rather than feeling the world needs to be considerate of us. And if our division has not acknowledged all the convictions within their own division, how can we anticipate that they will be considerate of the world church family on other issues when we once set a precedent that each locality can decide for itself?
    2. I am a young adult, a young woman, an ethnic minority, and a leader of one of the largest youth movements in Adventism, and Mr. Chair, God has already called me to work for Him and that is all the calling I need. Not all young people, not all young women, not all North Americans, want our church to be divided for the sake of having someone lay their hands on us. And while people recognize my work as the president of a young adult conference, they should give more recognition when I become a wife next February and a mother after that, since the Spirit of Prophecy says that position is higher than the minister in the desk or the king on the throne. We should focus on giving that the dignity and honor that it deserves.I say no to the question, no to dividing the church.

It’s this question of calling that caught my attention. This young woman asserts that, despite her position of leadership, there is no higher calling than becoming a wife and mother for her. Her confidence in God’s will for her life is inspiring, and I applaud her for it.

But does this apply to all women? Should her calling speak for all of us?

That’s the question I find myself engaging to this very day. The implication (given by many people, and not this young woman specifically)—that there is no higher or better calling for a woman than to be a wife and mother—suggests that unless a woman is married and has given birth, she has not fulfilled God’s calling for her. I am uncomfortable with this idea. I know many fulfilled women who do not have children, or who have not married. I myself did not always know if I would marry. And by the time I did, I had already discovered God’s calling for my own life. Yes, I am still a wife. I love my husband. I have grown closer to God as a result of my marriage. But there are many components of my life that I juggle, and it feels odd to chuck one of these pieces in favor of a calling that does not resonate with my own experience.

I’ve talked about the process of getting my PhD on this blog, but I’ve never shared how it all began. This is a story that goes twelve years back, though I had no idea at the time it had begun to unfold. About two days ago, I discovered my Senior English Portfolio, with my collection of writing projects from the course of my senior year. This list I now share, written when I was 18, shows that I had a very specific idea of what my life was going to be like:

Ten Things I Foresee in My Future:

  1. Enjoying new adventures at Andrews University
  2. Travelling all over in my new car
  3. Taking a year off to be a student missionary
  4. Falling in love and marrying a really sweet guy
  5. Graduating with a BA in English
  6. Teaching English at an [Adventist] academy
  7. Having two boys and a girl
  8. Publishing a novel
  9. Living in a two-story house that always needs repair
  10. Growing old with my husband, and enjoying grandkids

At 18, these were my big dreams. I thought in terms of other people: I would teach other kids, I would be a wife, and I would be a mother. These would define my identity and my life.

And then, God called.

My dad took me to my freshman orientation week at Andrews University. He and my mom were so excited for me. Though they are both medical professionals, they have always supported my love of reading, writing, and analysis, and they were excited that I was embarking on an English degree—a world so far removed from theirs. At the parent/student lunch, we were introduced to the Dean of Students, whose husband had been my dad’s dean at Loma Linda University Medical College. She jokingly remarked, “When you get your PhD, you can come back here and teach!” I remember laughing politely and turning to my dad after she left. “I’m not going to get my PhD,” I told him.

My dad looked at me and, with all seriousness, responded, “Don’t count it out.”

Those four words would mark the shift to a future I never even knew existed.

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I had never considered an academic career, and it wasn’t until my junior year in college that I actually returned to that moment and asked myself, “Is this what I should be doing with my life?” In the midst of rousing discussions of John Dryden (no easy feat), Aphra Behn, and Jane Austen in my English Literature II survey, I began to see a new idea and a new purpose.

And yet I decided to be safe and continue on my English education course. I determined to finish my degree as if I was going to teach high school, with an option for graduate school, if I really wanted to.

I forged on with student teaching, on the fence about what to do with my life. But that rigorous semester was fraught with the struggles of balancing preconceived ideas with the realities of high school education, questioning God’s plan for my life, and the simple discouragement from being mentally and emotionally drained constantly. I cried every Sunday night, because that meant school was starting on Monday (The Chancellor can attest to this—he and I had been dating by this point, and he often had to pep me up before the week even started). I had to face reality: this was not my calling. I returned to the fragile, yet growing, idea of going to graduate school, and I decided to take a leap of faith.

I spent money I did not have on the Graduate Record Exam and four MA program in English applications. I asked my professors for last-minute recommendations, which they all very graciously provided. And I waited. After two immediate rejections, I received the miraculous email from Western Michigan University. I was going to get my Master’s Degree in English.

When I began my program, I knew immediately that I had found my calling. I was stimulated by interesting, challenging discussions with my colleagues. I was energized by the diverse capabilities of the students in my classroom. On my worst day, I never felt any regret that I had turned away from my high school dream. I was called.

But at the end of my first year at WMU, I fully began to realize the implications of my calling. If God was guiding me towards a PhD, that would mean a LOT more work. It would mean spending money I didn’t have to retake the GRE to get a better score, spending more money I didn’t have on graduate school applications, getting rejected again, and then, at least four, if not five, years of school, which included qualifying exams and a dissertation to write and defend.

That summer, I had two big decisions to make. First, whether to apply for PhD programs. And second, what to do about my relationship with The Chancellor. I haven’t written too much about the US part of our marriage, for the sake of his privacy and mine, but this actually became really integral to my calling. He had just received his own calling. After finishing his MA at Andrews—where we had met in a young adult literature class—he had gotten an interview from a day school outside a large Midwestern city. I was in agony. I didn’t think there were ANY programs in the area. I began to think that I would have to make a choice: go forward with The Chancellor and give up my calling, or give up The Chancellor. I hated both ideas.

A lot of people in my personal or church life would have told me to get married and forget the PhD. After all, I was 25, not getting younger, and not at an Adventist school anymore.

Several academic friends and colleagues would have told me to go forward with my career. If The Chancellor did not fit in, he didn’t fit in. After all, this was my career.

The Chancellor had his own say: “If you give up the PhD to marry me, I’m breaking up with you.” This was perhaps the most miraculous intervention I’ve ever had. God did not present me with the “really sweet guy” I yearned for at 18. I mean, The Chancellor is a good and kind man, and yes, he can very sweet. But he’s also tough as nails, an ardent feminist, and a believer in standing up for what’s right and following God’s leading in your life. He’s the guy I needed to have the confidence in God’s calling for me, and for him, as well.

So, in the biggest leap of faith we both took, we decided to make it work. He would accept the job. I would apply to every PhD program relevant to my field (at the time 18th and 19th century British literature) within a three-hour driving radius (as it turns out, there were 11 such programs). And then we would get married in the summer of 2011. We were in this with God—together.

When God calls, it’s really scary. You make choices. You make sacrifices. You make it work.

I was accepted into Marquette University’s PhD program in English, which meant a 90-mile one-way drive. One of my dearest childhood friends and her best friend opened up their home to me, which meant I had a place to live during the week. But that meant being away from my brand-new husband for part of the week.

It was a wrenching and sometimes very stressful sacrifice. My first semester of my PhD was awful, in ways I will not expand on here. But I survived it, and I discovered the field I was meant to be in my second semester. From there, I began to find a rhythm in living two lives at the same time, of balancing my academic life with my teaching, my work life with my personal life, my marriage, and my friends. It was not easy, and it’s still not. Not everyone can do this. Not everyone wants to do this. Not everyone was called to do this. But I was.

Not every day of my teaching career at the college level has been magical by any means. But even on my worst day, I can’t even think of doing anything else. I have found the calling God made for me. I balance it with my daily life, and with my marriage. It is in my marriage that my calling has been strengthened. The Chancellor bounces ideas off me, and I off him. We read some of the same books, provide each other with inspiration, and challenge each other. I could not have done this alone. I am grateful that The Chancellor acknowledges my calling, and I his. We strengthen each other and glorify God together.

Fulfilling God’s calling for my life has meant research and teaching. It has entailed me to use my mind and challenge preconceived ideas with new ones. My calling has asked me to consider new perspectives and possibilities, to read books that challenge my Western ideas of thinking. It has asked me to accept students whose views are not my own and to treat them with dignity and respect. It has asked me to spend summer hours on my dissertation, to forgo pleasure in order to fulfill my role for God. And it has asked me to be open to communicating those ideas in my life, in my church, and in my work.

When God calls, and when you answer, there are beautiful moments beyond compare. I cannot describe the moment in which my name was called, and I walked across an auditorium stage to receive my diploma and have my hood draped around me. It all pales to the moment I heard my family and friends cheering loudly and shouting my name as I smiled into the light. The dream God had given me had come true on May 17, 2015.

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And it’s true to this day. While I do not have a tenure-track job at this moment (I’m on the market, so I hope to be employed full-time next year!), I do have teaching to look forward to. I have faith that God will provide me with the employment to fulfill my calling for Him. I have training, a mind He has prepared, a curiosity to seek knowledge and use it to make others’ lives richer and better.

When God calls…He changes your life forever. But only if you let Him do it. You can choose to follow the path you think is acceptable based on ideas of tradition, or you can accept His calling for you. Sometimes, it is that “traditional” path to which He leads you. And other times, as in the case of a teenaged girl with a third-grade education, He leads you beyond the boundaries of your home to reach classrooms, churches, ministries, individuals hungry for Him. When God calls…what will your answer be?

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Filed under Beginnings, Doctorate, Faith, Family, Feminism, Marriage, Teaching

The post-DQE update

If you are my real-life or Facebook friend, then you know that I passed my Doctoral Qualifying Exam on Wednesday. It’s been anything but a blur. I can still remember how I felt when I stepped into the elevator to go up to the examination room, the eager excitement welling up as one of my committee members tapped into an idea I’d been secretly playing with, the sweat on my palms as I waited almost 15 minutes (maybe it was 10–it felt a LOT LONGER) to hear my results. But I still find myself strangely incapable of putting together coherent, linear thoughts on this blog. So I thought, why not a bullet-points list? Sorry if it’s disjointed. You still get the picture:

  • I joked to my friend S that I felt like I was getting married again. Funnily enough, I wore the same sandals I got married in, as well as the dress I purchased on my honeymoon.
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Photo courtesy of Brad Leavelle, Red Dirt Photography.

And really, if you think about it, I *was* getting married: to my topic. Now that I’ve signed off on the paperwork and said “I do,” there’s no going back now. It’s finish or nothing at this point. What an exhilarating and terrifying thought!

  • Like my wedding, I was also filled with this strange enthusiastic energy to undermine any nervousness I felt. Although, at my wedding, it meant cracking a series of dirty jokes to The Chancellor during our photo shoot.

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    Do not be fooled by my innocent face. Judging by The Chancellor’s smile, I have just said “That’s what she said.” Photo courtesy of Brad Leavelle, Red Dirt Photography.

Thankfully, no dirty jokes were cracked. I did, however, make a gratuitous Benedict Cumberbatch reference during my DQE. As well as notes about Wills and Kate memorabilia cranked out by the Heritage Industries in Britain (though the latter was brought on by a question my dissertation director asked).

  • In the elevator, I prayed deeply and hard. I prayed for the calmness of spirit to not be nervous. I prayed for God to take it all, and empty me completely. I prayed to give it my everything.
  • I am super grateful to my committee, who made the exam an intense, but oh so valuable process. They asked tough but fair questions, pushing me to consider my own stance further, and to help me recognize my limitations at this point in the research.
  • Keeping Calm and Carrying On is a secret ingredient to success during QEs. It was important in helping me remember text names, theorist names, and certain ideas that I had wanted to bring up. And since I’m better at writing than verbal exposition, it was vital in not wandering off into a needless tangent.
  • I talked about Jane Austen, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, Hanif Kureishi, Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, Henry James, Louisa May Alcott, and William Dean Howells. A formidable host of writers, by whom I deeply honored to surround myself, both in the project research and the larger teaching field.
  • In the waiting room, I prayed again. Gratitude, joy, relief. Glad to be over, relief that my part was over, and joy that pass or fail, I had given it EVERYTHING. I would so much rather have failed honestly giving it my all than to half-heartedly pass.
  • Ultimately, I’ve decided that DQE was, to this date, the single-most beneficial exercise I’ve undertaken in grad school. I know where I stand in my research, how well I know my field, and what steps I need to take next to strengthen my project and my knowledge of my teaching field. What could be better than that?
  • I’m excited to start writing. Yesterday, I played catch-up with teaching and graduate business, and today, I found myself rereading my first text. During my reading and note-taking process, a potential chapter outline presented itself to me. So I wrote it down. You can understand my excitement.
  • Once the paperwork comes through (I’m guessing in a few weeks?), I’ll *officially* be ABD (that’s all-but-dissertation for my non-academic readers). The next best three letters to the best three letters I hope to receive!

So that’s the latest from my world. At some point, I need to write a teaching post, because I am simply in love with both my classes. They are energetic and bright women and men, and I have high hopes for their potential and success. Oh, this life. It fills me deep, abiding joy sometimes. And I can barely even scratch the surface of it in writing.

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Live Long. Prosper.

Tonight, my brother Spock graduated from high school.

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I am so proud. It has been the greatest pleasure to watch him grow up from the goofy little boy who told jokes to a kind-hearted and goofy guy who has forgotten more about Star Trek than I will ever know in this lifetime. I am so glad that he is my brother, and glad that I can also call him my friend.

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Teaching. LOVE.

Today marked my second day of my English 2 class. Already, I am overwhelmed by the exciting potential that resides in my class. Strangely enough, while I have a male-heavy class, I have a few very assertive young women who are eager to contribute. This excites me. Overall, my class seems to be a bit gun-shy about participating in whole-class discussion. We are going to break up in small groups to generate a bit more small-scale discussion, so that our larger discussions will ultimately be more fruitful. But this is a very typical first-unit kind of problem. I can live with that (for now).

Even more exciting are the professorial tasks I have been completing for students. I know that I may eventually dread writing letters of recommendation (not because of the students, but you know, just the act of doing them on top of everything else), but right now, the novelty of professional activity is joyous. I had a young woman from my MA institution ask me last week if I would write her recommendations for scholarships (of course!), a young gentleman who was in both last and this semester’s courses ask for a recommendation for a travel abroad program (absolutely!), and another young man who needs a letter of recommendation as he transfers schools (no problem!). I should probably hesitate more, but I can speak with confidence on all their abilities, character, etc. It just feels good to know that I can help a student achieve a better education, and consequently, a better life.

On that note, can I take a moment to brag about The Chancellor? Seriously, that man is one rad teacher. He and I network a lot about our classes, so I know what he teaches, just as he does for mine. Part of being an educator in a denominational setting means doing those extras, like going on class trips and extracurricular activities–more importantly, he participates in these activities. Every time I accompany him, I see how the students just glom onto him. It’s sweet (and in some cases, just slightly creepy) to see how much they like him. He’s not a scary “let’s be best friends, even though I’m ten years older than you” teacher (we all know one), but he takes time to get to know students as people. On our ice skating expedition last week, he told me about which of his students are fans of The Hunger Games and there was quite the conversation revolving around the series. Or the moment when, upon noticing me in the common room, one junior boy loudly proclaimed, “Mr. Chancellor! Your boo is here.” It’s moments like these, when seeing my husband’s patience, good humor, and genuine interest in his students’ success, that I renew my desire to be a better teacher, and more importantly, a better example for my own students.

 

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Farewell to 2011

It’s been a joyous, unpredictable, bittersweet year.

So long, 2011, and thanks for all the fish (in the words of Douglas Adams). I literally cannot wait to see what 2012 brings The Chancellor and me.

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Filed under Beginnings, Marriage, Outlook

12.7.99

Some people feel a distinct division in their lives: there’s a defining moment that bifurcates the segments of their lives that will never be wholly unified again. I am definitely one of those individuals, as today marks the 12th anniversary of the day my family’s universe was disturbed forever.

I should backtrack to provide a bit of context. In 1998, my six-year-old brother was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, and about the same time, my mom’s lingering health problems finally reached a definitive diagnosis of lupus. Let me tell you, it was an interesting year. By itself, lupus is a terrifying disease, simply because it’s so amorphous and unpredictable. There was a woman at church who faced down death a few times with her lupus and had to walk with a cane, while my dear friend RRC’s mother languished for many years while eventually dying to renal failure after years on dialysis. We had no idea how it would play out in my mom’s body, especially since she had suspected that something was wrong shortly after she gave birth to my sister in 1987. Imagine going eleven years and giving birth to two more children with undiagnosed lupus! In short: my mom was very fortunate to not be much sicker than she already was. She spent the next year tweaking lifestyle habits and working with a rheumatologist for medicines and exercises to keep her body strong.

Fast-forward to 1999. Everything seemed to be going okay, at least on the health front. I was in the throes of adolescence with zero motivation to do anything. As with all mother-daughter relationships at this time, my mom and I just did not get along. And since I am the oldest, I was the experiment. There was a lot of complaining, while my sister, the quintessential middle child, tried to reason with me and help me get along with my parents. My brother and baby sister (ages 7 and 3) were…you know, kids. I thought life was soooo difficult at 14. But an aside comment from my mom took my mind off petty things. When I overheard her talking about a biopsy, I looked at her and she said with forced calm, “I found a lump in my breast.” It was a few days before Thanksgiving.

We had about two weeks to wait for the diagnosis. In that time, I spent hours at night on my knees, crying out in agony to a God that I had tacitly believed in because my parents did. I prayed at first for her to be healed miraculously, then I asked Him to do His will. On a sidenote, it was, in the words of the song “Amazing Grace,” “the hour I first believed.”

The phone call came on December 7, 1999. My brother was playing, while I tried to watch both him and my mom talking tensely to her surgeon on the phone. But I knew as soon as she started to respond. Tears filled my eyes, as I knew that nothing in this life would ever be the same again.

What do you do, three weeks shy of your 15th birthday, when your mom tells you she has breast cancer and has to have surgery immediately, before the insurance coverage changes (for the worse)? How do you tell your siblings, 12, 7, and 3, that it’s going to be okay, when you don’t even know if that’s the truth? All I can remember about that day is going to the kitchen and washing a sinkful of dishes by hand. We had a dishwasher, but for some reason, my hands needed to be moving, because my brain was completely numb. For the first time, I had to face the possibility that my mom could die.

Two weeks later, she had a mastectomy, because her lupus would not allow her to undergo radiation for a lump. So, at 42, my mom had to undergo reconstructive surgery on top of that, because she did not want to lose her breast. We would find out in the next week if her lymph nodes were clean. I don’t need to tell you that my 15th  birthday was a subdued affair.

And then, that long-awaited call came on December 23, the day after my birthday. The nodes were clean. The cancer was gone. That moment marked the rest of my life, in which I determined never to take my mom (really, my whole family) for granted, and which I would always be grateful for the life we got to live.

Only a few times I have wondered what our lives would have looked like had my mom never had cancer. All I know is that we were all changed by it, in ways that have made me the woman that I am today. I am not glad she suffered, but I am glad we are all stronger, better, kinder people because of it.

Every December 7, I commemorate the day that has defined us, shaped us, and redefined us as a family, and this year, I am reminded of the closing lines of Tennyson’s “Ulysses”:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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Epiphanies on Consolidation

The Chancellor and I have just about finished moving in together. The wedding gifts have been opened, put away, and all thank-you notes are written (save one for a present received on Thursday–huzzah!). My clothes are put in their new dresser or hung up in the closet. Both of us can fit desks and computers in the office. All boxes (save for a few in the dining room) have been broken down and put into the recycling bin.

The books, movies, and CDs, however, have proven to be a bit more challenging. The problem is threefold: (a) I have a lot of books and movies, and a modest amount of CDs; (b) The Chancellor has a lot of books, movies, and CDs; (c) and we live in a two-bedroom townhome with no basement. I brought two bookcases into the house, and we bought The Chancellor one, as well as two media towers, from IKEA. As it turns out, all of that furniture, combined with a wire DVD tower, was not enough to hold everything. My books are double-stacked. Our movies could fit in all three towers, but there was no room for the music. The immediate solution seemed to be: purchase another bookcase, fill up, squeeze in between all the other furniture.

Then, as we discussed storage, a realization dawned on us: we both want to live in an urban/suburban area for as long as we possibly can (our large Midwestern city would suit us equally, but I definitely need a good tenure-track job, so there may be limited options on that front). Therefore, we are not going to live in large, country homes that will generate a mass of space for us to accumulate more stuff and display it all. It’s a very Midwestern American mindset, one that my family has espoused. So, if I want to be able to enjoy city living, I have to think with an urban mindset. One that declares, “Less is more.” A family friend listed his solution for DVD storage: all DVDs go in a special case, where you can store both the cover and the DVD in a sleeve. That way, you see the movie cover, but can recycle the box. We went to an electronic store, found the case, and went to work. We did stash our favorite DVDs, TV shows and “pretentious movies” (as I declared them) in the wire tower and one of the IKEA towers, just so that we could have a few things on display. It feels nice to have made more room for The Chancellor’s books.

And yet, as we’ve brought all his books down into the shelf, we’ve recognized another problem: we have so much. There are several duplicates of movies and books (after all, English folk do have similar tastes). We first pared down the DVDs so as to avoid the multiple copies. But as we’ve begun to eyeball our bookshelves (my sacred spot, I’ll admit), we realized that over the years, we’ve needlessly acquired so much. So many books we’ve planned to read and haven’t. So many books we bought specifically to read but didn’t care to keep. And for what?

The second epiphany is one that I’ve been pretending to ignore, but become increasingly more urgent: I need to find a better way to read. Already, I’ve begun utilizing my local library more. It has a terrific Inter-Library Loan system, and even has an increasing number of e-books you can “borrow.” Which brings me to the second part of the epiphany: it’s time for an e-reader. My dear mentor and friend GAT has showed me her Kindle and all its uses, but I’ve put up a fight. I love the feel of a book between my palms. And yet: an e-reader would enable me to carry more reading material with me, read more unfamiliar texts and genres with relatively little expense, and enable me to store said books without taking up room on my shelf.

So: The Chancellor and I vow to buy less, rent more, and be responsible in what we do purchase. I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, but I do believe in mid-year resolutions. I will start bracing myself for new mindsets and a reading paradigm shift. One last question: Nook or Kindle? Feel free to leave your feedback in the comments section.

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Filed under Beginnings, Books, Life and Living, Marriage, State of mind