Review: Dare To Bloom

Zim Flores (nee Ugochukwu) is extremely successful. Ask Oprah Winfrey, or Forbes (she was a “30 Under 30” awardee), or anyone familiar with her startup, Travel Noire, or her latest venture, Italicist. Flores, a Minnesota native, lives in Illinois but travels and works remotely from around the world. But behind her success story is a woman who has dared to bloom despite major setbacks, and learned to trust God to help her start again.

Dare To Bloom: Trusting God Through Painful Endings and New Beginnings was just released in 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Flores’ first book is a delightful, frothy confection that appeals to a feminine audience with gilt titles, botanical illustrations, and photos from the author’s travels to at least eight countries (I lost track counting in the image credits page), and running at 223 pages, it’s a super-short read. Beyond the aesthetics which certainly caught my browsing eye, is Zim’s story of displacement (the daughter of first-generation Nigerian immigrants) and the hard truth of grounding one’s identity in God, rather than in worldly success.

Dare To Bloom opens with an introduction of the concepts of “seasonal purpose” (temporary missions) versus “all-weather purpose” (lifetime missions), and learning as Christians to discern God at work in and around us, regardless of whether we feel like we are currently wandering through a spiritual desert, emerging out of one, or walking back into one again. Flores draws from Biblical stories like the ancient Israelites wandering through the wilderness, to, Jonah and his journey to Ninevah, or Abigail’s act of faith, or many other recognizable figures from the Old Testament, to illustrate how we can better learn to lean on God despite difficulties in our lives — specifically, on the topic of identity.

It’s an overused analogy (and one that Flores thankfully doesn’t revert to) but, when we anchor our identity on things, places, people or statuses, and then that is lost, we find ourselves adrift. We have, in other words, an identity crisis. We feel like we’ve lost a part of ourselves when we’ve lost that thing/place/people/status. Flores’ argument is that only by finding our identity in Christ can we have an immovable foundation, calling to mind the Biblical truths found in Hebrews 6:19 and the parable of the Wise and the Foolish Builders, found in Matthew 7.

Throughout the book, Flores has discussion questions at the end of several chapters, making this an ideal book club read, as well as an eight-page seasonal review, to help you identify what season of your life you are currently in and where you are headed with a series of questions on identifying the roadblocks that are holding you back, the areas of your life that need growth, where you have failed and the status of your relationships as you head into a new season. This in-depth overview of self-analysis is something readers can return to, again and again. My one criticism of this feature is that there is no room in the book itself to record your answers. It would be helpful if Thomas Nelson released a companion journal with the prompts from this book, so readers can really delve into these questions that Flores puts to the reader, ideally with some of the same floral thematic content found in the art design of this title.

Dare to Bloom may be a niche book, but how it appeals! Female readers, especially with a Christian background, may appreciate the book design, Biblical stories, travel photography, and memoir aspects, and anyone struggling with identity will find substantive questions for when you’re feeling uprooted. Recommended.

Learn more about the author on her website at www.zimism.com and @Zimism.

An Important Announcement (I’m No Longer Agenting)

Hey guys and gals, I have kind of a major change in my life to share with you today. This was my last week as a junior literary agent with Metamorphosis Literary Agency. Since I have mentioned on my website previously about this journey, I felt like this was something I needed to share here as well, now that it’s come to an end.

Nineteen months is a short time to dip into the publishing industry, but long enough for me to determine that I underestimated the challenges agents face, and my ability to cope and to adjust to them. It has been a struggle. After prayer and discernment, and looking towards the future, I have come to the conclusion that this is the best decision I can make.

If you have been following me here or on social media and were interested in representation, I can wholeheartedly recommend the nice folks at Metamorphosis to you for your consideration, but I will not be pursuing a solo agenting career or looking for another agency to join for the foreseeable future.

Since I cannot reach out to all of you personally, I wanted to say (here at least) that I am immensely grateful to everyone who supported me in this opportunity, beginning with Meghan Pinson, who I met at a writer’s conference in 2018 and mentioned that Metamorphosis was looking for interns; to Patty, Amy, and all of the other amazing agents at Metamorphosis who embraced me, believed in my potential as an agent, and taught me about the publishing industry; and to Stephanie Hansen, our fearless leader, for giving me the chance in the first place.

I’d also like to express gratitude to every author who ever queried or pitched to me for the honor of getting to know more about you and your projects; to the remarkable editors at countless publishers I’ve queried (I have so much respect for the hard work you do!); to the event organizers who opened up their doors to invite a new agent in; to anyone I may have inadvertently overlooked, and lastly, to all of the clients that I represented on behalf of Metamorphosis. Thank you.

This website and blog is still going to be a space where I talk about faith, writing and publishing (and other areas of interest) and I hope to continue to connect with people who are passionate about these areas. If that sounds like you, I hope you’ll keep in touch.

1/27/21 Correction: Post title edited for clarity.

Dulcimer

I have a story to tell you that is just beginning, of God’s faithfulness. Would you like to hear? If so, read on.

I started writing at a pretty young age and while I appreciate it, I have always admired people who could draw art or play an instrument. I tried a few different ones growing up and none really stuckā€¦piano, didgeridoo, flute.

When I was 10, 12, 13 (somewhere around there), I became aware of a television show set in the Appalachian Mountains about the English and Scotch-Irish who settled that region, and became fascinated by their musical history. As I grew older, I fell in love with folklore and especially, early American folk ballads.

Among them, I was especially drawn to the fiddle and to the mountain dulcimer. Now, growing up, my father had a fiddle we never played, but a year or so ago, I walked into a music shop to get it tuned and tried playing for the first time.

What I quickly discovered is that self-instruction can sometimes result in bad practices of fiddle playing that can be hard to break later, so I abandoned the attempt (for now). But, I have still been curious about the dulcimer, even though I’ve never tried it.

For a little while now, I have felt drawn to getting a mountain dulcimer. I don’t know why at this point in my life I decided to start pursuing it. I wasn’t even sure what they cost. After some research, I had a better idea of what a low-end dulcimer goes for around here.

A while back, I went dulcimer shopping. I experienced what I can only describe as “shopper paralysis” as there were so many options, but with none of them did I feel a stirring in my heart for, and I was horribly disappointed. I left empty handed.

I now had a better idea mentally of what I sensed I wanted. Realistically, it was never going to fit into my budget. I already had a conversation with God that if He wanted me to take this leap and get a dulcimer, He was going to have to work with what I could afford.

It wasn’t until I was woken up in the middle of the night by the devil whispering lies about God’s lack of provision that I started wondering if maybe I should’ve settled and bought a random dulcimer that didn’t fit my list, when I had had the chance. What if I missed out?

I went looking online to see if any of the ones I’d seen were still available, and that’s when I saw it; a dulcimer that I felt God said to my heart, “This is the one I prepared for you.” It was beautiful. It hit some (but not all) of my checklist, and it was the only one there.

Without going into all of the details, getting there to this particular music shop ended up being a challenge and I felt as if God was saying, “If you want this, you need to go today. This is the way.” I ended up walking 4km, up and down two hills, from the nearest transit stop, passing streets named after saints, and a wooden heart someone had nailed to a tree. When I got to the music store, not only was this particular dulcimer still available, but, the website description left off details.

Each of the things on my list, including the ones I thought didn’t make the cut, were all there after all, as if God Himself had seen my checklist and said, “Anything else?” And who am I to argue? And to top it off, the dulcimer and the accessories came a few dollars shy of the price point I’d given God to “work with”. If I’d bought a pair of strings, it probably would’ve rounded up to exactly that. No joke. It seems like God wanted me to own a dulcimer. So, I bought it and took it home.

Now, the very first weekend I had the dulcimer, I was looking forward to sitting down and trying to learn how to play. On the way home from work that day, I was thinking about how much I loved God, and singing or humming to myself songs about God and praying for people, and, I missed a raised slab of sidewalk, and went crashing, hard, and breaking the fall with my hands.

My palms looked like they’d been through a cheese grater. Mercifully, I was able to get home, unlock the house, and shut the door before the shock caught up with me and my brain registered the pain. I’ll spare you the rest of the details but, there was no way with my bleeding, stinging hands that I was going to be playing anytime soon. I didn’t even have gauze in the house to bandage them properly. It was just going to have to wait.

While I was thanking God for not being more seriously hurt, and for making it home safely, I felt His nudge again that I should practice playing my dulcimer, now, bleeding hands and all. So I found myself strumming and trying to read TAB (tablature) for “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, which turned into “Amazing Grace”, and while my palms were freshly opened and bleeding, my fingers were able to press the frets and hold a pick.

It was kind of around that time I realized, maybe I need to start documenting this journey with this dulcimer because, it seems significant, maybe even prophetic, to not only be facing a mild form of suffering but being called to praise God in the middle of it all, which made me wonder, what exactly does God have in store for this little dulcimer in my broken hands?

Arrayed, Victorious

Meditating on the first two decades of the sorrowful mysteries this morning, I had a series of successive thoughts that built upon each other that I thought I would share here.

I saw an image of our Lord, standing before me, wearing a white robe (like a long tunic shirt, but down to His feet), and across His shoulder down to His waist, He had instead of a belt, what I can only describe as a sash draped across, made out of roses.

I came to understand that this sash was a gift from Our Blessed Mother, who like any loving mother, gives good gifts to her children. The sash was fashioned out of the faithful Rosaries of her children, which she wove into a garment for her Son.

I also had the impression that this was not a decorative sash meant solely for adornment, it was like a military honor, gracing Our Lord in the symbol of victory before the final battles have been fought. For He has already won. I’d like to think (but don’t know if this is true), that the rose sash is perhaps the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, preceding His return.

That was the extent of the image as I prayed.

Rule of Life, Quarantine Edition

For the past couple of years, it’s become something of an annual tradition for me to share about my ongoing efforts to craft and keep a rule of life. Since our lives are always changing, it makes sense that this is something that gets adapted as we face different transitions and obstacles to overcome. If you would be interested in looking at past years, you can find them here (2019, 2018) as well as my initial post on how to create a rule of life (here). Today, I wanted to share about how that’s been going so far in 2020, which has definitely been impacted by recent events.

Mornings

I begin my mornings “in the usual way” (as Fr. Timothy Gallagher might say), with a prayer of gratitude in my own words, thanking God for the present day and all that is to be in it, good and bad, and ask for His help, that by my actions, He might be glorified, and my soul further sanctified. This transitions into my morning offering prayer (the Brown Scapular prayer). Usually after this, unless I’ve taken a brief break, I’ve transitioned to my favorite chair where I keep some of my Bible resources and begin other prayers.

This is a new change from last year, but over the past couple of weeks, I’ve begun by reading a bible verse of the day, and offering a prayer for the holy souls in Purgatory. Following this, I now pray a morning Rosary (5 decades) with the closing prayers. I am working on trying to memorize things as I go, like how to pray the “Apostle’s Creed”, or the “Hail, Holy Queen”, from memory. It’s a work in progress. When the rosary is finished, at the advice of a confessor, I have been praying the “Litany of Humility”, and because this felt incomplete, I wrap it up with the “Fatima Prayer” and an “Our Father”.

Most of my good intentions for prayers during the course of the day were completely abandoned unfortunately. That isn’t to say that I don’t pray during the day. I do. But they aren’t structured prayers like these typically. With intercessory prayers, they tend to be whenever it’s needed — either at the point I am reminded of a person or situation to pray for, or, if I’ve decided to pray for everyone at once, then at that point.

Sacramentals

Lately, with the stay-at home orders, there’s been a lot more time for Adoration, which has been something I’ve been trying to do on a weekly basis, or as frequently as is offered and my schedule allows. With the churches closed for the physical sacraments, these fleeting opportunities are ones I cherish. And our regular activities being suspended, it’s been a creative exercise in finding ways to still keep a sense of normalcy with everything going on.

For example, it’s been two months (here at least) since we’ve been able to participate in mass in person. I am very grateful for the live-streaming masses available from pretty much everywhere, but it’s just not the same. I also found the opportunity to go to Confession once during that time, which has been of great help (even with the social distancing requirements in place). And this isn’t a sacrament, but, additionally, my Bible study group has switched to using an online video conferencing system during this time, so that’s been an amazing way to keep in touch with spiritual friends and still discuss the Word of God together.

Evenings

All of my best-laid plans for evening prayer have gone more or less out the window. I still have a few bedtime prayers I say, as a way to end the day with the Lord. One of the things I’d been exploring was doing an evening examen, and that hasn’t happened at all. With the stay-at-home orders in place for the past two months, it’s really disrupted the daily rhythm of my life, and I find I’m going to bed later, and sleeping in longer, and not necessarily an improved change overall.

Other Matters

It’s been a time for introspection, prayer, and for processing a lot of emotions right now, and if I’m being quite honest here, I suspect that perhaps I’m not entirely alone in this. For those of you reading in a similar frame of mind, I’d like to encourage you to try and keep your heart tender to God speaking, and to be willing to act in obedience on His Word.

Cherish hope.

God has not abandoned us.

The Church will triumph in the end.

All evil is subject to God, who is still in control, and the mysteries of how He works are beyond our comprehension.

God bless you all.