2019 Reading So Far

Apparently, today is World Book Day. I didn’t know this was a thing but, as an avid reader, this seems like a good day to post about what I’ve been diving into so far in 2019.

The Clockmaker's DaughterThe Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was like a meandering dream, weaving in and out of place and time, characters familiar and strange, each drawn and returning to a beloved house along the river. It’s an ode to home, and one in particular, currently occupied by a lovely ghost.

I liked the book while between its cover but, as I shut them, I felt disappointed. Some of it was too predictable, some threads too neatly tied while others were left to dangle. I guess I felt like I simply woke up from the dream.

“He would never see her again. And yet he wished he could have told her that he’d lost his way, too. He’d lost his way, but hope still fluttered in and out of focus like a bird, singing that if he kept putting one foot in front of the other, he might just make it home” (261).

“Home…the perfunctory description accorded the building in which one currently resides, but also the warm, rounded name used to describe the place from which ultimate comfort and safety is derived” (310).

I Owe You OneI Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I hit a total reading slump and needed a light bit of chick-lit to jump start me out of it. This did the trick.

I’ve read most of Kinsella’s books, with some clearly rising to the top (Can You Keep a Secret? or Remember Me?). This one feels more emotionally mature than all the others combined while still maintaining the meet-cute/rom-com strategy that clearly works for her. I appreciated the emotional growth a whole family experiences as our heroine questions her long-held beliefs and pays down her own emotional debts.

Two Steps ForwardTwo Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished this novel (based on the authors’ real-life experience) about walking the Chemin/Camino through France to Spain feeling much as I did after reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Oregon–I want to undertake a long walk!

If you know me, that probably sounds both surprising and true. I am not the fittest tool in the shed, and I am one to undertake crazy adventures for the sake of spiritual discipline.

I enjoyed the back-and-forth between female and male characters on the trail, both the main characters and the many they encounter along the way. Watching how their physical quest allowed their emotional/spiritual quest to…”unravel” isn’t quite the right word, because, though unraveling did occur, they arrived at a more enlightened place….so, whatever it did, it kept me turning pages to grow with the characters.

“The Chemin will change you…” or “The Chemin walks you…” – both were offered as predictions of what would occur. Both did. And I feel just a little like I’ve been changed as well.

Now, which of the many world-wide walks will call to me? I can’t wait to find out!

Almost Everything: Notes on HopeAlmost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As she wished her father, who wrote a lot of knowledge but not much truth, had written a book of all the truth he could pass on to her, here Lamott attempts to write down all the truth she can pass down to her grandson and niece. And, by extension, us. As such, it’s a little haphazard, hit and miss. But then, such is life, and I’m so grateful Anne keeps plugging away at her computer, butt in chair, writing shitty first drafts that eventually come to us, cleaned up but still imperfect. Who of us can hope to do more?

“That we are designed for joy is exhilarating, within reach, now or perhaps later today, after a nap, as long as we do not mistake excitement for joy. Joy is good cheer…. Joy is always a surprise, and often a decision.
“Joy is portable. Joy is a habit, and these days, it can be a radical act.” 56

“Reading and writing help us take the blinders off so we can look around and say ‘Wow,’ so we can look at life and our lives with care, and curiosity, and attention to detail, which are what will make us happy and less afraid.” 99

“…more than anything, stories hold us together. Stories teach us what is important about life, why we are here and how it is best to behave, and that inside us we have access to treasure, in memories and observations, in imagination.” 179

“‘Why?’ is rarely a useful question in the hope business.” 183

“Life is way wilder than I am comfortable with, way farther out, as we used to say, more magnificent, more deserving of awe and, I would add, more benevolent–well-meaning, kindly….
“We have all we need to come through. Against all odds, no matter what we’ve lost, no matter what messes we’ve made over time, no matter how dark the night, we offer and are offered kindness, soul, light, and food, which create breath and spaciousness, which create hope, sufficient unto the day.” 189

The Female PersuasionThe Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliant! A feminist manifesto in story form, this book covers just about everything related to what is to be alive and a woman at this point in history. Smart, but not hit-you-over-the-head, not at all preachy, just great storytelling.

Sea PrayerSea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I snatched this off the library’s Lucky Day shelf having heard nothing about it. I let it sit until right before it was due, intuiting that it would be a quick but painful read. It’s an illustrated poem, a letter from father to young son, but it’s not a children’s book. Even though I had not yet read the author’s statement, throughout I couldn’t help but remember the images of the 3yo boy who drowned trying to escape Syria’s war. Little Alan Kurdi was, in fact, the child the author had in mind as he wrote. This book is beautifully written and illustrated, and I can imagine a middle school or high school English or social studies teacher reading it aloud to the class to help them imagine what that life would be like, leaving everything behind and risking everything in hope of escaping the horrors that people inflict upon each other.

The Curse of the Warmbloods(Gregor the Overlander#3)The Curse of the Warmbloods by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gregor and the Marks of Secret (Underland Chronicles, #4)Gregor and the Marks of Secret by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gregor and the Code of ClawGregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

 

Nine Perfect StrangersNine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not at all what I expected, and far more intense. Nine strangers, all with their own backstory baggage, meet at a health resort for a ten-day restorative retreat that quickly turns more than unconventional. I enjoyed the romp, though it will make me think twice about signing up for something like this. I’ll get healthy on my own, thanks very much, minus the strangers and shamans.

Featured photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

Thankful Thursday – Fall Blooms

About this time six years ago, a few weeks into Tween’s second grade year, his teacher found me admiring bulletin boards in the breezeway.

She said, “Hey, can you give me a tip? Tween doesn’t seem to realize he’s in school.”

I immediately replied, “Oh, give him some time. He’ll realize it’s no longer summer by, let’s say, Thanksgiving.”

I wasn’t joking, but let’s all take a quick moment to imagine her dramatic eye roll…

(In my defense, c’mon, this is California! With the amazing weather, he was in the pool weekends and after school until Halloween…!)

After I’d spoken the words aloud, I realized their truth deep in my being: not only does Tween transition slowly, but our whole family stinks at transitions.

You may see us going through the motions. We may be in the right place at (mostly) the right times, getting things done. But that doesn’t mean we’re organized, on top of things, present to the moment. We may–or may not–be any of those things, depending on the hour, day, week, minute…

Six years and so many transitions post-epiphany, you’d think we’d know to anticipate our bad transitions. You’d think wrong, my friend. Oh no, every time, whatever season, we find ourselves once again thigh-deep in the muck, repeating for the umpteenth time: “Oh, yah, transitions…”

And again, and again, and painful as each one of us has to come to our own conclusions about how we individually and as a family are weathering the current storm.

Locally and globally, we have had a weird-weather fall. In NorCal, we’ve had record-breaking heat (115 should not happen here!), followed by mellow days, then more heat with thunder and lightening storms, now wind and my allergies are threatening to do me in. Still, I’ll take it over the storms that hit Houston, the Caribbean and Florida, or the earthquake in Mexico.

Then, this:

These fantastic flowers burst forth in my front yard. The pink one is the size of a face!

My soul stills in wonder at their beauty, and I remember that all things bloom in their time, in their season.

Including me, us, this family.

Due to date miscommunication-confusion, a friend showed up when I wasn’t at home. She left flowers. Cut flowers from plants I’d purchased for her, that she planted, that continue to thrive. The gift keeps on giving, flowers and friendship keep blooming.

Nine days ago I noticed my gratitude journal, forlornly forgotten in this transition-season; I jotted some thanksgivings, and promptly forgot it again. Today I tucked in a print-out of a poem, shared by a friend and meaningful in this time. I will add more personal items tonight. I need gratitude, especially now when transition makes discipline difficult.

Banksy recently posted on Twitter: “The only thing making you unhappy are your own thoughts. Change them.”

And with our dear St. Anne and the communion of saints we pray: Help, Thanks, Wow!

Any one of us might point to demanding circumstances, taxing days and long hard nights, excuses all–many understandably so!–for being unhappy. Thanks changes our thoughts. It keeps us in the now, present to the moment whatever the feels it holds, and gently/forcefully unfolds in time an as-necessary different perspective.

Let’s give thanks for the season, for its unfolding, its blooming, for the unpredictable beauty here and yet-coming.

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Get Your Butt in the Chair

Today’s guest post comes from a friend with whom Guy and I laughed ourselves silly during The Great 2010 Washington DC Snowpocalypse following the National Prayer Breakfast (we might have, at moments, engaged in the alternative–tears and hair-pulling–but laughter proved more helpful). We prayed together and then got stranded together in the gorgeous hip-deep snow we waded through to enjoy DC monuments and distract ourselves from where we were supposed to be. And yes, we did participate in the (we heard) record-setting snowball fight in Dupont Circle.

Create Challenge #26: Cara Meredithhome-office-336378_1920

I spent 45 minutes crafting a single sentence last night.

You see, the perfect idea existed somewhere in the back of my brain. I knew where I wanted to say it. I had an idea of how it would help the article come together, but the actual practice of clearly communicating what I wanted to say took more than a little while to get there.

I don’t think I’m the only one.

Anne Lamott, my writing saint of saints, says that it’s merely a matter of getting your butt in the chair. But taking the time to sit down, to wait for inspiration and creativity to come, is oftentimes the hardest practice of all.

On Saturday, I sat across from a young woman who wants to be a writer. She has a book idea down pat, so much so that she’s even carved an outline of its contents.

“So, have you written the book yet?” I asked her. She looked at me and laughed.

“No,” she replied. “I’m waiting.”

I, of course, continued to ask her questions. After all, she asked to meet with me about writing; she wanted to know how I’d gotten from Point A (teaching) to Point B (ministry) to Point C (writing). Naturally, I wanted to know the secret of her waiting game. It wasn’t a matter of time: working part-time, she knew she had more than enough hours in the day.

She was waiting for someone to want her. She was waiting for someone in the publishing industry to hear her great idea and offer her a book contract on the spot. She was waiting for the world to see and hear and believe in her potential, even though she’d hardly done any of the work to get there.

I leaned across the table and locked eyes with her.

“You have to do the hard work, my friend,” I told her, as gently as I could. And then I told her my story.Every-writer-I-know-has

Words have always been my thing. I read. I write. I say things. That about sums it up.

As a student, I dreaded math homework but looked forward to English assignments. Given the option of a standardized 80-question test or a five-paragraph essay, I’d choose writing every time. And through writing, I found what my insides really thought and felt and wanted to say. Through writing, healing came. Through writing, I discovered who God intended me to be all along.

Sure, I dabbled in other professions first: I taught high school English, expounding on all the great writers of American and British history. Could I be a great American writer too someday? Surely that wasn’t in the cards. Surely God would have made my path clearer and put a blinking, neon “Be a writer, Cara!” sign in front of me.

Then I spent eight years in outreach ministry to high school and middle school students. At one point, a mentor asked me to tell her three things that gave me life in my job.

“Being in students’ worlds. Mentoring young adult leaders. And writing and speaking – at club, at summer camp, in monthly newsletter communications.” I paused. “If I could do anything in the world, I’d write and speak. That’s what gives me life.”

She paused our conversation this time.

“So, why don’t you?”

Eyes wide, I stared at her, every bone in my body like a deer caught in the headlights. Surely, this wasn’t possible. I couldn’t make money, at least not enough to live in the Bay Area. I couldn’t leave the job and the ministry I’d known for almost twenty years by that point. Who would I be? And all of this would take time: time to find my voice and trust my words and discover the message that was mine alone to give. I’d have to get my butt in the chair and make it a priority – and this was something I couldn’t give at that point in my life.

I wasn’t ready. But mostly I wasn’t ready to give up fear.

I wasn’t ready to say yes to the heart-thumping thing that gave me life. So, for a long time I played it safe, hoping an opportunity would instead come my way, that someone would find my blog and see my words and say, Yes! We’ve found her: the next best writer the world has ever seen!

The latter never happened. But eventually, I began to write, almost every day. Eventually, I began to trust that the Writing Muse would visit me, when the time was right. Eventually, I began to put my work out there, even if I received more rejection letters than is humanly possible.

And eventually, I discovered the creator I was destined to be all along: a maker of words, a crafter of phrases and sentences and paragraphs alike.

So, what is it for you?

Who has the Great Creator made you to be?

And what, I ask, is keeping you from getting your butt in the chair and doing the hard work to get there?

CMeredithCara Meredith is a writer and speaker from the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Co-host of the Shalom Book Club podcast and a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, she is passionate about racial justice and reconciliation, the great outdoors and dinner around the table with people she loves. She holds a Masters of Theology (Fuller Seminary), and can be found on her blog  Facebook or Twitter.

Help. Thanks. Wow.

Anne Lamott, or as others call her, St. Anne, claims that the Essential Prayers sound this simple:
Help.
Thanks.
Wow.

I have prayed many, many words over many, many years, but I’m not sure I could come up with a prayer, petition, or praise that wouldn’t fit those three categories: help, thanks, wow.

Other than Tween staying home to vomit all day – and yes, this almost feels normal in a skin-crawling, crazy-making kind of way – today had been a good day: gym time, coffee with a friend, productive meetings; a friend brought her kids over to help Tween with homework (read: play), which meant moms also had time together.

Too much of an almost-good day? Teen locked his jaws on a potential outing to which I’ve said a solid, emphatic “NO!” I know he wants freedom, and I get that I represent his jailer, but I can’t say yes to this one. But ADHD hyper-focus shuts down his compassion and he bites hard, and long, and it’s all I can do to breathe and answer in a whisper so as not to provoke him further.

Interruption: the splash of Tween being violently ill.

Breathe. Pray. Breathe. Pray.

I made dinner and left it on the stove. I mentally went back to work to avoid my life’s chaos. When I thought I’d heard the end of Guy and Teen hashing out the same conversation I’d endured earlier, I cautiously emerged. Also, Tween was feeling better and able to eat.

I ate a few bites. Teen apologized and hugged me harder than ever. Even so, I spied my little eye into the liquor cabinet (Mexican food = margarita, right?) before Guy mentioned he’d chilled chardonnay. And then I noticed the pinkish light through our windows.

I poured two glasses of wine and invited Guy outside. Glasses clinked, we stood silently and watched as blue became grey became pink, peach, plum, dusky purple. The horizon lit orange, fire colors. Hot and intense, casting now yellow, autumnal light. We followed the light from front yard to back, where we sat to watch the colors change through our tree-silhouetted skyline. I thought, “This is what I needed. I am putting myself in the way of beauty (my “word” for 2015). This beauty, this WOW, will help me breathe.”sunset

Help: Help us make it through this abdominal migraine cycle. Help Doctors discover a way out of future cycles. Help Tween persevere through this mountain of work. Help Teachers respond with grace and kindness. Help Teen put his focus on Needs rather than Wants. Help Guy and I to stay on the same page in this whole parenting deal. Help maintain my sanity!

Thanks: Thanks for these three fantastic men you’ve put in my life. Thanks for Friends who surround us – with prayer, moral support, offers to cook and shop and even tutor, pop-in work and play dates, even tangible gifts (Homemade feed corn ice-heat packs? Awesome! Essential oils? Escential!). Thanks for killing our blender just as Guy was in Costco, and Big Thanks for the VitaMix he brought home to replace it. Thanks for holding us safe in Your Great Big Hands.

Wow: Seriously, this gorgeous sunset? WOW! The picture doesn’t do it justice. That these vibrant colors came from smog, sure, but I am wowed that you continually choose to bring beauty from bad, redemption from our rubbage. Tonight, I am wowed that you are an ever-present Help; that you are the source of any good thing for which I can say Thanks; that you are our WOW.

And just in case I sound too precious, Teen demonstrated his love for me – his goofy-kid way of saying sorry yet again – by trusting me with his beauties just as I finished writing (evidence that I’m growing in love for him, too, that I let these two crawl around on my lap).snakes