Reading: April 2020

Entering our eighth week of shelter-in-place and I have been reading more. However, the pendulum swung from not reading as much as usual as SIP began to reading far too much, reading to avoid present circumstances.

Always slow to transition, I am slowly developing healthier rhythms. I’m finally sleeping most nights during mostly normal hours and life, while obviously uncertain, looks brighter. The spring sunlight on bursting blooms helps.

And I remain ever so grateful for my packed-to-the-limits bookshelves, and our online library system, so that no matter how long this season of life should last, I will never run out of reading material.

What are you reading?

What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and LoveWhat Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love by Carole Radziwill
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had never heard of the author or this book before a friend brought it to my doorstep.

Consequently, I almost gave it up. To start the narrative felt choppy until somewhere after her childhood it hit its stride. The author is also name-droppy, and since the only names I recognized were the Kennedys, I had no context for several key characters. I guess I’m just not a celebrity memoir fan.

The Madonnas of LeningradThe Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully life-affirming.

Even in the darkest of times–during war when people are freezing and starving to death, and when failing health steals our current reality and replaces it with long-ago memories–life’s beauties are available for those who choose to see.

I wanted a photo book to accompany the novel’s descriptions of the art, but instead had to use my imagination (and Google), though imagination hits straight at the heart of the book.

The Unexpected Joy of Being SoberThe Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like wine. I live 45 minutes from California’s famous wine growing regions in Napa and Sonoma. Until COVID-19, I worked at a wine bar.

And I’ve become aware of the growing trend of sober curiosity, of upscale mocktails, of dry bars. As a vegetarian, I know what it’s like to walk on the other side of the street from “everyone” else. I wanted to know more.

This book is a vulnerable personal memoir mixed with science and self-help. It’s raw and real, gritty and practical. I especially appreciated her section on mindfulness, or what to do with all the Big Feelings people drink to avoid.

Origin (Robert Langdon, #5)Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Formulaic and predictable, and still entertaining.

This bit felt prophetic:
“We are now perched on a strange cusp of history…a time when the world feels like it’s been turned upside down, and nothing is quite as we imagined. But uncertainty is always a precursor to sweeping change; transformation is always preceded by upheaval and fear. I urge you to place your faith in the human capacity for creativity and love, because these two forces, when combined, possess the power to illuminate any darkness.”

UntamedUntamed by Glennon Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Women have been taught systemically to keep quiet and not take up space. Men have been taught to expect that from women. All of us have been taught to be suspicious of women who speak up and take up all the space they please. Because it’s in the air we breath, we don’t even recognize our bias. Glennon has written a beautiful memoir of what she’s learned in the last few years and how she’s living her best wild life.

Favorite quotes:
“I am a human being, meant to be in perpetual becoming. If I am living bravely, my entire life will become a million deaths and rebirths. My goal is not to remain the same but to live in such a way that each day, year, moment, relationship, conversation, and crisis is the material I use to become a truer, more beautiful version of myself. The goal is to surrender, constantly, who I just was in order to become who this next moment calls me to be.”

“Brave does not mean feeling afraid and doing it anyway.
“Brave means living from the inside out. Brave means, in every uncertain moment, turning inward, feeling for the Knowing, and speaking it out loud.”

This one describes me to a T!
“I am a sensitive, introverted woman, which means that I love humanity but actual human beings are tricky for me. I love people but not in person. For example, I would die for you but not, like…meet you for coffee. I became a writer so I could stay at home alone in my pajamas, reading and writing about the importance of human connection and community. It is an almost perfect existence.”

Yes No Maybe SoYes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a couple of heavy reads, I wanted a YA to cleanse the palate and found this available for library download (thank God for library downloads during shelter-in-place!). It took a while to pick up, as at first I thought the authors had too much agenda. About halfway, though, I found myself hooked and from there it was a quick ride to a satisfying and not-too-neat finish.

View all my reviews

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases. 

Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Meatless Monday: IP Tortilla Soup (vegan)

We had a zoom call scheduled for 5 pm on a Sunday evening. I checked the clock and was surprised to see that it was already 4:40 pm. I had hoped to get dinner in the Instant Pot so that it would cook while we enjoyed our call. Could I do it?

This recipe was so simple, and perfect for shelter-in-place because the only fresh ingredients are onion, bell pepper, and garlic; the rest are spices and canned goods. And yes, I locked the lid on the IP just in time to pour a glass of wine before we logged in to zoom.

Spring in California isn’t necessarily what we think of as soup weather. But the Instant Pot takes the heat out of cooking, no standing and stirring a steaming hot pot. And by the time we ate our soup al fresco at our patio table, it was in fact cool enough to enjoy a satisfyingly warm soup.

Among the joys of shelter-in-place has been the opportunity to cook, to play with new recipes and pull out old favorites. Still, I find I need to balance my efforts between days when I want to cook elaborately and others when I wish I didn’t have to cook at all. Sometimes it helps to streamline the process, which the IP does beautifully, in order to maximize time together. And with everyone staying home, not rushing off to each one’s separate evening activities, we once again have time to linger over family meals.

BTW, this recipe can easily be made on a stove top if you don’t have an IP. Just taste and adjust time as you go.

Ingredients
1 medium onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced (or 3-4 mini bell peppers- I use an assortment of red, orange, and yellow for color)
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1-2 tsp chili powder (start with 1 and adjust at the end for taste)
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes, undrained
4 c veggie broth (I use Better Than Bouillon)
2 15oz cans kidney beans, drained/rinsed
1 15oz can black beans, drained/rinsed
Tortilla chips, to serve
Cilantro & green onions to garnish
Vegan cheese, to garnish

Directions
Add diced onion to IP and set to saute for 5 minutes. After 3 minutes, add diced peppers and garlic and stir well. Saute 2 more minutes, then stir in spices. Add additional ingredients and stir well to make sure nothing is stuck to the pot. Set to pressure cook on high for 10 minutes. Natural pressure release for 5 minutes and then carefully quick release. If pressed for time, add all ingredients and cook on high pressure for 12 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

To serve, add tortilla chips to the bottom of each bowl. Pour soup over chips, then top with a few more chips. Garnish with cilantro and green onions. If desired, sprinkle bowls with a little vegan cheese.

Unexpected

How are you holding up during the pandemic? I don’t typically experience anxiety, but I have during the five weeks the San Francisco Bay Area of California has been under shelter-in-place (SIP). Some days, or at least some hours, I’m fine, and others not so much.

I do typically seek out gratitude, and this discipline has become even more important these days. It has helped to hold me steady. So the unexpected feelings of anxiety have me looking for unexpected things I can be grateful for during this extremely unexpected experience.

Unexpected things I’m grateful for during SIP (beyond things I’m regularly thankful for, like walkable neighborhoods and blooming spring flowers):

Not having to rush everywhere
Our church has learned how to broadcast services and Sunday school resources, and folks who haven’t been attending church have been finding their way back
All the people we meet face-to-face (at a safe distance) while walking
Cleaning out closets, the pantry, the fridge/freezer, vacuuming under the bed, etc.
Family projects–both kids worked with their dad to create/update pet habitats and Q15 has a new live edge redwood desk with redwood legs
People rediscovering the art of correspondence
Also, rediscovering playtime–puzzles, games, hobbies, toys that had been outgrown and tucked away have been pulled out
New cooking/recipe groups on social media and time to try new recipes
Bartering–a friend swapped me two bottles of wine for homemade hummus and granola
Artists and musicians sharing their gifts and humor freely, and amateurs dabbling creatively
My overflowing (and occasionally crazy-making) bookshelves + our local online library service + more time to read and I will never run out of new material
Technology meeting the demands of new restrictions and reminding people that we can be connected even if we’re far apart
People have been leaving whimsically painted rocks along the trails and roadsides for others to find–like discovering Easter eggs all spring!

I’m also grateful for the opportunity to write Bible studies like the one below, in which Jesus showed up to His grieving friends. I’m grateful for the reminder that I don’t have to have it all together for Jesus to be with me, to love me just as I am.

Connect
What unexpected things have you discovered you can be grateful for during shelter-in-place?

Study
Read aloud John 20:1-18.
What did Mary, and then Peter and John, expect to find at the tomb (vv1-3)?
What different responses did Mary, Peter and John have as they approached the empty tomb (vv1-9)? Who do you most relate to in this scene and why?
Why do you think Peter and John went back to where they were staying while Mary remained at the tomb (vv10-11)?
Why didn’t Mary recognize Jesus (vv9-16)? What did it take for her to recognize Him?
Describe the interaction between Jesus and Mary (vv15-18).
What instructions did Jesus give Mary, and why is it important then and now (vv17-18)?

Live
How do you typically expect to approach and interact with Jesus?
How has Jesus recently surprised you by bursting beyond your expectations?
When coming to God, are you more of a “clean it up first” or “bring the whole mess” kind of person? Explain.
What does it sound like for Jesus to call your name? How do you respond?
How has Jesus met you in the grief and disappointments of life?
What difference does the resurrection make to your life today?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray for eyes to see the Lord.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on John 20:11-18 individually and with your family:
What makes you sad?
How can Jesus comfort you when you’re sad?
Pray for eyes to see Jesus.

If you’d like to hear a sermon based on this passage, my husband preached a grace-filled message for our church today. You can watch here.

Cover Image by TC Perch from Pixabay

If Only…

Pre-pandemic pause, we said:
If only…we weren’t so busy.
If only…we had more time.
If only…the family could do more together.

During this pandemic pause, we say:
If only…this had never happened.
If only…I had my own space.
If only…we could go back to normal.

[Please note: This pandemic hasn’t thrust us into the same boat, but into the same storm. So, truly, people say lots of different things to express their experience from their perspective in their boat in the storm. All valid.]

If only…we could wish ourselves out of whatever situation we’re in.

Instead, how about being present, whatever that means, no matter how hard. Let’s fully experience it, feel the feelings, do our best, and move forward to the next right thing, whatever that might be?

After the crucifixion, the disciples did their best. Confused, they did their next right thing. And the resurrected Jesus met them there, in their “normal” as fishermen, because that’s what they knew how to do.

Whatever you do. Whatever your “next,” do what you need to do.

Jesus will meet you there. Always and forever, He loves you. He can’t wait to be with  you.

In case one of your “next right things” is spending time with Jesus, here are some questions to guide you…

Connect
When recently have you said, or heard someone say, “If only…”?

Study
Read aloud John 21:1-14.
Why did Peter decide to go fishing, and why did the others go along (vv2-4)?
How did “the disciple whom Jesus loved” recognize Jesus (vv4-7)?
Why did Peter get dressed and jump in the water (v7)?
Why do you think Jesus helped the disciples catch fish (v6) and asked for some of their fish (v10) when He already had fish (v9)? What might that tell us about Jesus? About us?
How do you understand the disciples’ reaction to Jesus (v12)?

Live
What regular activities do you do to distract yourself from feelings of “If only…”? Do they help?
Share some of the healthy ways you deal with negative emotions.
How do you recognize Jesus when He shows up?
What have you heard Jesus saying to you during shelter-in-place?
If you can, share about a time when you witnessed Jesus do something remarkable.
Where in your life would you especially like Jesus to show up?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray for God to do more than you can ask or imagine.

 

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on John 21:1-14 individually and with your family:
What miracle does Jesus do in this story? How do you think the disciples felt about it?
What miracles would you like to see Jesus do in the world today? In your own life?
Pray for God to be powerfully present in your life.

 

Image by jürgen Scheffler from Pixabay

Easter Sunday 2020

“Jesus isn’t dead anymore!” [the angel] said. “He’s alive again!”
And [the women’s] hearts leapt. And then the angel laughed with such gladness…

Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

For those who want a fresh take on Luke’s familiar resurrection account, I offer some questions to guide you.

Connect
Reflect on a favorite Easter celebration from your childhood.
How will/did you celebrate Easter while sheltering in place?

Study
Read aloud Luke 24:1-12.
Who went to the tomb, and why (vv1, 10)? What do you know about these women (see also Luke 8:2-3)?
What did they find/not find (vv2-7)?
Summarize in your own words what the angels told them (vv5-7)?
Why did the apostles not believe the women’s testimony (vv9-11)?
How did Peter respond, and what did he find at the tomb (v12)?
Why do you think the angels appeared to the women but not to Peter?

Live
On a practical level, what does the resurrection mean to you?
Do you think people still “look for the living among the dead,” and if so, how?
If you can, share about a time when you told someone about Jesus and they dismissed it as nonsense. How did you respond?
What about Jesus and the resurrection still causes you to wonder?
What will you do this week to live out the reality of the resurrection?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Praise God for His gift of His Son, praise the Son for His gift of Himself on the cross, and praise the Spirit for the power to live as God’s people.

 

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Luke 24:1-8 individually and with your family.
What good news have you heard recently?
Why is it great news that Jesus rose from the dead?
Thank God for Easter!

 

During Lent 2020, I read and reflected on The Jesus Storybook Bible.You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

And special thanks to my loyal readers who encouraged my heart each time they read and liked one of these Lenten blog posts, especially to Robin Leann & Simply Wendi!

Lent 2020: Maundy Thursday

“My body is like this bread. It will break.” Jesus told them. “This cup of wine is like my blood. It will pour out.”
“But this is how God will rescue the whole world…. So whenever you eat and drink, remember,” Jesus said, “I’ve rescued you!”

My husband just popped dinner in the oven (a frozen veg lasagna he bought when he braved the grocery store this morning, restocking us for Easter + two weeks) and brought me a piece of fresh rosemary focaccia bread to nibble as I type.

The bread is soft and delicious, a little chew from the crust and a salty-herby punch to its flavor. He only brought a small piece; it’s enough to make me want to get up for more.

Does every “taste” of Jesus make me want to get up for more? Do I eat mindlessly, or do I notice the delicious and nourishing taste?

I love to cook. I love to serve my family nutritious, tasty meals. I follow several cooks online, always on the hunt for new recipes. During shelter-in-place, when suddenly lots of people have opportunity to indulge their culinary efforts (or not, at least their good humor), I’m in additional “whatcha cookin” type groups.

And still. It’s easy to just eat. To mindlessly put food in my mouth to satisfy my hunger and/or my anxiety. To mindfully serve my family and yet forget to remember and thank the Source of all good things.

Today is Maundy Thursday. We should be going to church. But even on Sunday, Easter, we will stay home. The world turns upside-down…

Jesus, help me to remember–when I eat and all the time–that you allowed your body to be broken because you came to rescue us. Your body saved ours. Your love infuses our blood. Now as much as ever, we need your rescue.

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020: I Pray…

“Did you know that God is always listening to you? Did you know that God can hear the quietest whisper deep inside your heart, even before you’ve started to say it? Because God knows exactly what you need even before you ask him…. So when you pray, pray in your normal voice, just like when you’re talking to someone you love very much.”

Well, that’s really great news, Jesus, because we hear so much bad news. The world, our lives, have filled up with so much uncertainty that we don’t always know what to say. We don’t always know what to think or how to feel or even what to do next.

I’m so grateful that God is always listening. I’m grateful that He knows the quietest whisper deep in my heart. I am grateful that He knows what I need, because I’m not always very good at knowing what I need.

Jesus, I pray for all those who are sick; comfort them and their loved ones. I pray for those who serve the sick. Thank you for the helpers. Keep them well so they can continue helping. I pray for those who feel anxious. I pray for those who have lost jobs. I pray for those who are working from home, especially if they’re also caring for little ones. I pray for parents who are suddenly cast in the role of school teacher. I pray for students who feel the weight of isolation, doing their best to learn using new formats. I pray for the bored and confused children cooped up at home instead of playing on playgrounds. I pray for the scientists working on cures, and I pray for world leaders to be wise in their recommendations.

I pray for peace. I pray for unity. I pray for the whole world to feel your presence. I pray for your Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love to reach every person and fill up every heart.

Amen.

 

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.