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.

Everything Feels Unfamiliar and Uncertain Right Now

When Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay, surely for anyone else, that would have been a time when fear was a temptation. Her birth was imminent; surely God would not want His own Son to be born in an open field? They were faced with an imminent situation totally outside of their control, and throwing themselves upon the mercy of strangers, but it seemed like there was no mercy to be found.

Until finally, they were told about the cavern, not even fit for men, only good enough for livestock. But that is where they found themselves, in a situation completely outside of what they would likely have ever chosen for themselves — how could THIS be the will of the Father? And yet, when they placed themselves in the Father’s care, they found they were led to exactly where they were supposed to be all along — perfectly centered within His divine plan.

There’s no way that Joseph could have foreseen the humblest of places being the birthplace of his adopted son, or that the wonder of the universe would choose such a lowly place for His birth, without any acclaim from man, but that’s exactly what He chose. There’s a wonderful verse about how if men don’t praise God, that He will cause even the rocks to cry out. Instead, His angels appeared, proclaiming the good news of Christ’s birth to shepherds, and to kings. Christ was born for the lowly and the mighty, Jewish and Gentile. And He is forever worthy of praise.

Are you finding yourself in a situation where events seem like they are progressing and are unstoppable, like a woman in labor? Are you experiencing anxiety or fear over God’s provision, and whether you can find your needs met when doors seem to keep shutting in your face? Turn to God, trust in God, and be led by God. Allow Him to guide you to that unexpected place where you will be perfectly cradled in His will for your life. From the outside appearance, it may not appear to be what you’d ever have willingly chosen for yourself, but if God is in it, then there’s nowhere else you should be right now.

What’s Playing: Love 020

Viewed: 2019. 03/13-03/21

Netflix episode list and trailer available here.

This post is in no way sponsored or endorsed by Netflix.

I was bound to stumble upon this 2016 drama series sooner or later. Xiao Nai (Yang Yang) is a young entrepreneur designing his first game with his college-age friends when he stumbles upon Bei Weiwei (Schuang Zheng), a remarkable female gamer, skilled at combat in a RPG that is a national hit.

When Weiwei gets dumped inside of the game by her in-game husband, she receives a proposal from the server’s top player, Yixiao Naihe, who, unbeknownst to her, is the school’s most popular guy, Xiao Nai. They’re a formidable pair on the servers, but would they have any chemistry if they met, in real life? Love 020 explores the dangers of anonymous romances online, and the unspoken attractions of those around us, and quite naturally, the misadventures of unrequited love in a dramedy worth your time, if you’re a fan of online RPGs or of Chinese romances.

The romance is sweet and pure, and the conflict makes sense — it’s not all misunderstandings and love at first hate. As a former gamer myself, I was tickled by the scenes included in the series where we get to see their avatars interacting within the game, and that imagination come to life, from dealing with guild politics to fighting a mob boss. It was so much fun!

If you’re not sure about the investment of watching the full series (it’s looooong), there was a 103 minute film version released the same year (different actors) that consolidates the plot. Both were available on Netflix the last time I checked.

Over the past six weeks, I’ve been sharing some of my recent Netflix favorites with you and now, we’re all caught up. I’m currently working my way through another Chinese romance TV series right now, so there’s definitely a possibility that I’ll share my thoughts on that, if and when I ever finish it. Hint: it’s got, like, eighty episodes or something, it’s a long-term investment of my time, which has been limited of late.

Meantime, if you’ve got a great series in this genre that you highly recommend, please leave me a comment with your suggestions. If it’s on Netflix, I can add it to my watch later list, sooner or later. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed these brief looks at some fun drama/romance/comedies.

Edited (06/19/2020): Since this series did not continue beyond this point, for the sake of looking back, I’d like to briefly add some honorable mentions I also enjoyed during that period:

  • Inborn Pair
  • Love Alarm
  • Love, Now!
  • Rookie Historian, Goo Hae-ryung
  • Well-Intended Love

What’s Playing: This Is Not What I Expected

Viewed: 2019. 03/13

Netflix episode list and trailer available here.

This post is in no way sponsored or endorsed by Netflix.

A standalone film, This Is Not What I Expected is the story of a foodie hotel buyer and an unorthodox, but highly talented, sous chef with a flair for mischief. When Gu Sheng-Nan (Dongyu Zhou) is dumped by her boyfriend/boss, she throws herself into her cooking, stirring up those strong emotions into a culinary experience that catches the notice of potential hotel buyer, Lu Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro). It should be love at first sight, however, after a disastrous first encounter between the two, and subsequent awkward interactions that firm Lu Jin’s opinion of Gu Sheng-Nan as a klutz and a menace, there is little chance for either of them.

Comical chaos ensues as Lu Jin ignores the hotel acquisition in favor of attempting to pin out which of the male staff is HIS stellar culinary star even as he is attempts to evade Gu Sheng-Nan, and her penchant for trouble. When he discovers that the very person he has been trying to avoid is the same person he’s been seeking all along, well, things get interesting.

I found this to be a lot of fun although some of the situations are highly improbable and perhaps, would not be as entertaining if occurring in real life. If you enjoy romantic comedies with elements of drama and cuisine, then you may enjoy this too. Take a look and share your thoughts below. Have a great day and remember, keep reaching higher!

What’s Playing: Ashes of Love

Viewed:

  • 2018. 12/23-21/31
  • 2019. 01/01-01/18

Netflix episode list and trailer available here.

This post is in no way sponsored or endorsed by Netflix.

Ashes of Love, Ashes of Love. Oh, this was ever such a nice surprise! Looking for a palette cleanser after Meteor Garden, I stumbled onto this fantasy series about an immortal romance for the ages, a romantic comedy with plenty of drama mixed in for good measure. This series is based on the novel, Heavy Sweetness, Ash-Like Frost by Dian Xian, which I need to read at some point. If you haven’t yet noticed, I’m not exactly a stickler for reading the book before the film version.

Little Jin Mi (Zi Yang), is a humble grape fairy and she lives in the floral realm under the guardianship of Chief Peony (Peng Yang), who is the defacto ruler after the tragic death of the floral goddess, Zifen (Zhang Yanyan) whom is regularly mourned and honored, centuries after her death. Jin Mi, who has no concept of what love is, has one goal in life — to restore her friend to life, who was cruelly transformed prior to death into a plant. Jin Mi believes that if she can get enough magic, or find someone powerful enough to help her, she can get her best friend back. The only one powerful enough who perhaps could help her is the Heavenly Emperor, ruler over all of the realms. But she’s forbidden to leave the floral realm, so it seems impossible.

When a crow breaks through the protective barrier of the floral realm and transforms into a male immortal from the heavenly realm, Jin Mi demands to be taken there as reward for saving his life so she can appeal to the Heavenly Emperor for help. She doesn’t realize that this immortal is in fact Xu Feng “aka Phoenix” (Deng Lun), the son of the Heavenly Emperor, and brother to Run Yu (Luo Yunxi), the Night god. Like Dorothy traveling to the Emerald City to appeal to the Wizard, this decision launches Jin Mi into a journey fraught with danger, romance, and lots of magic.

The writing was really well done on this one and although it had a bit of a slow start, once I got into it, I was hooked. I was probably averaging several episodes a day, every day, until it was finished, and I forget offhand but I think there was something like 60 episodes in the series altogether. It. Never. Ended.

Until it did. And then, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth (just kidding…). But in all seriousness, this was amazing. There are other Chinese fantasy romances out there on Netflix right now, but I’ve hesitated watching any of them for fear that they’ll pale in comparison. It’s that good.

I haven’t really touched upon the romantic storylines or the points of the central conflict in the series because I really don’t want to give anything away but if you’ve had a chance to see this series, let me know what you thought of it by leaving a comment below. And if you know of any other series in this vein that measures up, please make recommendations! I’m always looking for the next bingeworthy series. Thank you for reading and remember, keep reaching higher.