Books: end-2017 reading

Goodreads (jokingly) tells me there are two reasons to read a book: to enjoy it, and to boast about it. But Goodreads stats page isn’t working, so I can’t boast about my year-end reading results. I know I read 44 books, less than last year but enough considering the year it was. I think I’ve now read most of Fredrik Backman’s books (there may be a short story I haven’t seen). I’ve read a good balance of fiction and non-fiction, books for adults and books ‘for’ teens. I’ve always enjoyed fiction that takes me places I’ve never been and introduces me to people in situations I’ve never encountered, so little surprise that I’ve found my way to a few books about immigrants, especially given our world situation.

Below are the books I read October-December 2017. What are you reading?

Behold the DreamersBehold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This. Book…!

Dreaming of a better life, a family struggles and saves to move from Cameroon, where they have no prospect of bettering their lives, to New York. To America, the land of opportunity. There they encounter other dreamers, Americans by birth, each of whom live out the American dream differently.

I have no idea what it’s like to be an immigrant, but this book helped me to imagine it, to see their perspective and my own privilege with new eyes and insight.

High school teachers and college professors: find a way to incorporate this book into your curriculum now! It deserves a place alongside American classics such as The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby.

My Not So Perfect LifeMy Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Light, fluffy, funny–just the kind of simple-sweet escapist book I was looking for. Not perfect, but that’s fine by this not-so-perfect me!

 

The Art of Creative ThinkingThe Art of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book offers lots to chew on, 89 different ways to see things, in fact. I kept googling artists and art pieces because I had to see for myself the amazing work he described. I underlined so many quotes that I have four typed pages of notes! Some of the entries seem to contradict each other, but that’s okay, too, since creativity can be different each hour for each artist…

A few quotes:

“Creativity is not about creating a painting, novel or house but about creating yourself…” (vii)
“A creative mindset can be applied to everything you do and enrich every aspect of your life” (3).
“Put your personality before practicality and your individuality into everything” (32).

The Revised Fundamentals of CaregivingThe Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure when I’ve read a novel about such sad and pathetic characters that held so much hope. Trev can’t help himself physically; Ben can’t pull himself out of life’s biggest emotional pit; together, they take a trip that changes both their lives. I didn’t always love this book–it was slow at times–but by the end I enjoyed it. The author tells more than one story, back and forth between short chapters; sometimes it gets confusing, but not overly. And it works to keep you turning pages.

“Listen to me: everything you think you know, every relationship you’ve ever taken for granted, every plan or possibility you’ve ever hatched, every conceit or endeavor you’ve ever concocted, can be stripped from you in an instant. Sooner or later, it will happen. So prepare yourself. Be ready not to be ready. Be ready to be brought to your knees and beaten to dust. Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: nothing is indestructible” (236).

“Because I still care deeply… I’ll never stop caring. But the thing about caring is, it’s inconvenient. Sometimes you’ve got to give when it makes no sense at all. Sometimes you’ve got to give until it hurts. It’s not easy, and it can be downright thankless…” (275).

Tomorrow There Will Be ApricotsTomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two women at opposite ends of life, both grieving from losses of different kinds, come together through cooking. A familiar premise, and the end was also a bit predictable, yet satisfying. This was one of the saddest books I’ve read in a long time, and I thought about putting it aside. I’m glad I didn’t. The heavy descriptions of grief, the ways people hurt one another intentionally and inadvertently, and the power we have to help one another heal even as we move ourselves toward healing–powerful.

“Happiness is an act of faith. But you can’t let it in and be done with it. Emotions come at you from all directions. I forgot to cover my head. It had been a while” (122).

The Sun Is Also a StarThe Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I almost never reread books, simply because there are too many books to be read. But I liked this book so much I could imagine rereading it–even as I was reading it!

Do you follow your head or your heart?
Do you move with the wind or follow a plan?
Do you live to fulfill someone else’s desires for you, or your own?

Daniel and Natasha couldn’t be more different, and maybe that’s exactly what makes them good for each other. They represent different values, different cultures, a different way of moving through life.

I liked this book for so many reasons: short chapters kept me turning pages. Characters who obviously represent ideology, but passionately so. Daniel and Natasha come from different cultures (he’s Korean, she’s Jamaican), and their American-ness stands in contrast to their immigrant parents. The book read almost like a play, with bit parts fleshed out in significant ways to add nuance to the story. And I enjoyed the diversionary chapters that provided information on science, culture, back or future story, or fairy tales.

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As we’ve passed books back and forth, my friend has been on me for some time to read this book. She was right (as always): my fav of all Moriarty’s books so far, better than Big Little Lies.

If you woke up and ‘forgot’ ten years of your life, what would you have missed? Who were you then, and who might you have become, and which would be preferable? What relationships would you miss, want to re-cultivate, to let go or rediscover? Even if you regained all those lost memories, what would you do differently going forward?

I’ve read a few amnesia books, but this was the best. The most thoughtful. The one about which I want to wonder, ponder, journal. Who was I? Who am I? Who would I like to be?

And entertaining read (thick book, quickly digested), with lots to consider.

“She had always thought that exquisitely happy time at the beginning of her relationship with Nick was the ultimate, the feeling they’d always be trying to replicate, to get back, but now she realized that she was wrong. That was like comparing sparkling mineral water to French champagne. Early love is exciting and exhilarating. It’s light and bubbly. Anyone can love like that. But love after three children, after a separation and a near-divorce, after you’ve hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you’ve seen the worst and the best–well, that sort of a love is ineffable. It deserves its own word” (421).

Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious LifeOf Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life by Jen Hatmaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked For the Love, but I love Of Mess & Moxie! I’m convinced that Jen is my Southern, funnier, sarcastic personality doppelganger. We both write; we both married pastors; we both come from 3-sister/1-baby brother families; she is also an introvert who uses her phone as a phone never and married a verbal processor; and really, I think I’ve written less funny versions of so many of these chapters. She is just so real, so vulnerable, so the kinda gal I want to hang out with or, TBH, be.

Fav quotes:

“We have important memories from every house—some painful, some instructive, some delightful, some necessary. But how thrilling to realize that even now God is designing a new blueprint, tailor-made, and His creativity extends to the very trajectory of our lives” (9).

“…fear is a liar. It cannot be relied upon to lead well, to lead out, or to lead forward. It is an untrustworthy emotion, not of God, and it never leads to health, wholeness, wisdom, or resurrection….The truth is, God created us with resiliency. Mankind is incredibly able to heal, to rise back up, to stare down pain with moxie….Rather than cower under its weight, we force pain into a partnership, using it to grow, to learn, to catapult us into a deeper, wider, sturdier life” (39, 41).

“Love is a genuine solution. It breaks down barriers and repairs relationships. It invites in the lonely and defeats shame. It provides the lighted path to forgiveness, which sets everyone free. Love makes us brave, pulls up seats to the table, defuses bigotry, and attacks injustice. It is our most powerful spiritual tool. Do not underestimate it as the solution to almost everything that is broken” (82).

“I, too, just want to make beautiful things. Don’t you? Don’t we want our lives to be lovely and creative and productive and meaningful? Don’t we want to offer exquisite, sacred things to the world? This draw toward creation is important, worthy of our time and attention and nurture. We have these magnificent minds and hands and ideas and visions, and they beg us to pay attention, give them permission, give them life.
“I sincerely believe we are created by a Creator to be creative. This is part of His image we bear, this bringing forth of beauty, life, newness….That thing in you that wants to make something beautiful? It is holy” (94).

“…creators create and creating is work and work takes time” (97).

“I cannot write a good story if I am not living one” (99).

“Send kindness out in big, generous waves, send it near and far, send it through texts and emails and calls and words and hugs, send it by showing up, send it by proximity, send it in casseroles, send it with a well-timed ‘me too,’ send it with abandon. Put out exactly what you hoop to draw in, and expect it back in kind and in equal measure” (211).

Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a phenomenal book! Blending the world’s current volatile and distressing dystopian reality with just enough sci fi to allow us to enter in without risking too much, this book provides a personal and insightful look at the refugee/immigrant crisis.

Favorite quotes:
“…to love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you” (165).

“…in Marin, Saeed prayed even more, several times a day, and he prayed fundamentally as a gesture of love for what had gone and would go and could be loved in no other way. When he prayed he touched his parents, who could not otherwise be touched, and he touched a feeling that we are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another, and out of this Saeed felt it might be possible, in the face of death, to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world, and so he prayed as a lament, as a consolation, and as a hope, but he felt that he could not express this to Nadia, that he did not know how to express this to Nadia, this mystery that prayed linked him to, and it was so important to express it, and somehow he was able to express it to the preacher’s daughter, the first time they had a proper conversation, at a small ceremony he happened upon after work, which turned out to be a remembrance for her mother, who had been from Saeed’s country, and was prayed for communally on each anniversary of her death, and her daughter, who was also the preacher’s daughter, said to Saeed, who was standing near her, so tell me about my mother’s country, and when Saeed spoke he did not mean to but he spoke of his own mother, and he spoke for a long time, and the preacher’s daughter spoke for a long time, and when they finished speaking it was already late at night” (202).

“We are all migrants through time” (209).

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great book! A widowed bookstore owner, depressed and a little snobby, adopts a baby girl and falls for a publishing rep. Love changes his life, unsurprisingly. The book takes shape as A.J. recommends to his daughter his favorite short stories, like the “book talker” recommendations you see attached to bookstore shelves. Very readable, an easy recommendation to most readers, and a great way to stave off the post-Christmas blues.

Favorite quotes:

“No man is an island; every book is a world” (8).

“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone” (249).

“We are not quite novels…We are not quite short stories…In the end, we are collected works” (249).

“…we are what we love. We are that we love….We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on” (251).

“…we tell stories to understand the world. All stories–anecdotes, cave paintings, blog posts, book reviews, news articles, songs, poems–are attempts to explain the world to one another and for ourselves” –Conversation with the Author (266).

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and LongerAnd Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novella is imperfect, patchy and broken, and so lovely because of it. The author comments that he wrote it to personally process life’s big questions, never intending to send it forth in the world. The world is better for his having chosen to send it out.

As Grandpa comes to the end of his life, as his brain stops working, son Ted and grandson Noah (or “Noahnoah”–because Grandpa “likes his grandson’s name twice as much as everyone else’s”) look for ways to help Grandpa ease into Space. Meanwhile, we see Grandpa and Noah, and Grandpa and Grandma (who has preceded her husband into Heaven), enjoying time together inside Grandpa’s Square, the place of memories inside his brain. The Square gets smaller every day, while the road home gets longer. Ted and Noah have the sweet privilege of walking the long road home with Grandpa.

I don’t often reread books, since there are So Many Books, but I can foresee myself rereading this short gem. So many insights into life, love, and death. A sweet, perfectly imperfect last read of the year.

One bit of Grandpa’s wisdom: “The only time you’ve failed is if you don’t try once more” (29).

The Most Amazing Gift

This Create Challenge began as a challenge to myself – and to all of us – to think outside the box on what it means to create, to be creators, to engage in creative activity. Because Life = creative activity. Because miracles abound in the mundane, the sacred infuses the secular, play does a happy dance at work. So I absolutely adore that my friend Jessie challenged her own traditional thinking to recognize the Creativity inherent in the everyday moments of full days with energetic littles. Jessie has long been one of my favorite people to laugh and talk with, and I’m so excited to share her story with you.

Create Challenge #8 – Jessie Colburn

I used to think of myself as a creative person. Now I think of myself as a stay-at-home mom for these two young girls:JCbabies

Most days, I’m just aiming to make it through. Forget creativity. To quote Sweet May Brown: Ain’t nobody got time for that. Forget plans. Forget recipes. Forget anything that makes me feel like I’m in control of my own life. I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m literally making stuff up as I go.

This is the honest-to-God formula for my time with my little people:

Three-ish square meals + snacks + not too much TV + not dying = success  

My life feels a lot like this picture: blurry, messy but smiling, and at the same time— fighting with my 4-year-old over who gets to push the button.JCblur

Not exactly the stuff creativity awards are made of.

But here’s the thing: I feel as though God has given me the most amazing gift. Motherhood, He whispered, is the most creative thing you’ve ever done. You are made for this…this selfless, extraordinary, boundless love.

My response? Motherhood (Parenthood) as a creative process? That’s insane.

I mean, being creative means you create artistic things! And I absolutely LOVE people who create artistic things. I am, in fact, a lover of those artistic things they create! But I’m not one of them.

My friend is a crafty genius. She takes simple things like fabric, or yarn, or unmilled flour, and makes something entirely new out of them. (Julie, you are fantastic). Not only is the end result beautiful, but she legitimately enjoys the process. If you consider yourself creative, then you know that one of the most important ingredients you invest is your precious time. These things my friend makes from scratch do not happen overnight. That’s part of what makes them so valuable: they take time, and effort, and attention, and care.

I realized that I had been working with a very literal interpretation of the word “CREATE.” Per Webster’s Dictionary, I understood it to mean: “to produce through imaginative skill.” Like a painting, or a book, or some other tangible form of art.

I told myself that being a mom doesn’t flex those same muscles. I told myself that 24-year-old Jessie should have written this blog post. She was a budding actress! She took creative writing classes; she attended improvisational workshops; she went to see lots of live theatre…

She also:
* slept in
* had morning sex with her husband
* ate dinner after 6pm
* did not dress like a homeless person
* watched adult TV during the day (not adult as in “porn”; adult as in “created for people over age five.” Just wanted to clear that up.)

The life she had…well, some days I really miss it. Now, I “create” things like PBJ sandwiches. I “make” rules like “Sometimes Mom gets to poop with the door closed.” Why? “Because sometimes Mommy needs a minute.” I no longer produce through imaginative skill.

But then… I do.

Motherhood is, absolutely, an ongoing creative act. It is an ever-present process. It takes time, and effort, and attention, and care. Whether intentionally or subliminally, mothers constantly create—schedules, traditions, memories. These little acts during long days will eventually lead to one full life. We do create.

The end result of my subtle creative acts might not hang in a museum. But I’m absolutely a creative person:
* I create meals to feed my family.
* I make space for my little girls to play.
* I carve out time for adventures.
* I force them (lovingly) to eat their vegetables.
* I draw baths.
* I paint tiny fingers and toes.
* I teach them when something is not OK.
* I sing songs.
* I say prayers.
* I tell stories and read books.

Added together, these are not small things. Mothers CREATE a childhood.JCtrail

The parenting stakes are high. The weight of so much responsibility tempts me to totally lose my mind. What if I screw it all up, creating a sociopath, serial killer, or mean girl? The self-doubt is so palpable and, at times, all-consuming. Because, shoot. This mothering thing is HARD. So many days I think: I’m doing this wrong. Or I’m just not good at this. Or worse: My kids might be better off with a different mother.

For all the good I create, my very real fear is that I also create not-so-good things:
* I make mistakes.
* I create excuses for the kids’ bad behavior and mine.
* I lose my temper and yell at my babies.
* I let them eat terrible things.
* I give into unreasonable requests (who has energy to fight every battle?).
* I tune them out.
* I choose my phone over giving them my presence.
* I park them in front of the TV so I can shower, or cook, or just close my eyes for 20 minutes.
* I go back on promises.
* I do what is easy instead of what is right.

Sigh. That list makes me die a little bit inside. But moms are human. We will never be perfect. Our job as parents is not to create magical childhoods that result in well-adjusted adults. We don’t actually have much control over that. Our job as parents is to love our kids extravagantly.

We contort and concoct and misinterpret this role so profoundly. And truth be told, I think it breaks our Creator’s heart. He did not create us to be perfect. He created us with the knowledge that we would fail so epically that we’d need to be rescued.

So why do we look at mothering through this lens of unattainable perfection? I’ve been a mom for almost five years (a relative newbie, I grant you), but I’ve been deeply saddened by how negatively most mothers view themselves.

Thankfully, there is an upside. Because with God, there always is.

This creative, beautiful God who made us—who made our kids—made us for community. We were not meant to do this job (or live this life) by ourselves. Community sustains us and empowers us. It nourishes our soul and gives us the strength to keep going. It gives us a healthier voice to counteract the negative self-talk that swirls around in our minds.

One of the intensely powerful blessings I’ve discovered is the community of other moms. They are the voices of women who cut through the noise and, instead, deliver grace and love. And for me, they come from all over: from church, from work, from my kids’ preschool, from my own family (Grandparents, here’s looking at you). Sometimes they’re from blogs or books of people I don’t know in “real life” but capture my sentiments exactly—Bunmi Laditan, for example, is my spirit animal. Jen Hatmaker, the hilarious genius behind For the Love, I assume wrote that book for me personally (Thanks, Jen. That was really nice of you).

The point: there are people on this planet who help me in this intensely creative quest.

These women validate my experience. They confirm that my kids will turn out OK; they affirm that I’m doing my best; they remind me that God is in charge; they let me cry when I feel guilty; they laugh with me when my offspring does something entirely preposterous; they love my kids when I find them to be a bit too much; they are a source of encouragement, wisdom, and advice; they remind me to breathe between the waves in this sea of baby vomit and dirty diapers and toddler meltdowns.

Most importantly, they remind me I’m not alone.

I do, actually, LOVE being a mom. My daughters light up my heart. They are so funny. And they are good kids. We have fun together and I genuinely love being with them. No question, they are my absolute favorite people.JCpink

But they exhaust and overwhelm me, too. And it’s OK.

Speaking from my limited experience, what I do know is this: This mothering thing is an insanely creative process that takes a lifetime to learn. You know how the song goes: He wrote the notes on your heart before it took its first beat. The melody won’t be perfect, and at times you won’t recognize the sound—but let yourself sing it. You are producing through imaginative skill. You are creating something beautiful.

Well done, mama.

JCbio

Jessie Colburn is wife to Chris, mom to Kate & Charlotte, and a general lover of books, friends, family, and wine (not necessarily in that order). You can usually find her on a hike with her kids, in her kitchen preparing a meal, or near the teen fiction section at her local independent book store. While most of her time is spent raising her babies, she’s also a freelance children’s book editor. Her favorite activities include laughing, eating, reading, and talking.

What’s Your Dance Party?

I’ve been thinking about “YES!”yes

This word, “create,” requires saying Yes to life, to invitations, to play, and, sometimes worse, to those things that intimidate or downright scare me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for saying “NO!” as necessary. I believe in it. Oh baby, YES, we have to say NO! from time to time. My everyday hero, Jen Hatmaker, says: “People will take as much as you will give them, not because they are terrible humans, but because they only want this one slice of you. Plus, you’re probably good at their pet thing. But they don’t observe the scope of your life and all the other tricks on your beam. You can say no, and no one will die. God wants this freedom for us.” Sometimes we have to say No in order to say Yes to something more important. I’ve been thinking on that a lot lately, too.

But, YesGetting out of our comfort zone to live a full, exuberant, energetic, creative life, that requires Yes answers where No might be our instinct.

i-dare-me-clubI’ve been reading a book, I Dare Me!, about a middle-aged wowza-successful gal who felt stuck. To un-stick herself she created a list, with lots of help, of Firsts she could do every day of the year. She began with one of her biggest fears, swimming in the ocean, and so she took a New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge. I’m not afraid of the ocean, and still, Yikes! Some were way more do-able, like taking a new class at the gym, trying a new recipe and/or restaurant, even going without make-up for a day (and yet, she’s an on-air news anchor, so…). It’s inspirational. I don’t want to do many of the things she did, but I’m asking the big question: What could I do? It’s a Yes to life!

Yes is about letting go of what others think, of what you think, of who you should be or what you should do. It’s embracing the whole range, from silly to ridiculous to meaningful.

Today I said Yes, if only just for a few seconds.

At our moms’ group, a sweet gal shared her story of birthing three babies in rapid succession, and in that time two household moves, of post-partum depression that lasted too long, and from all of that, to Zumba. You read that right, Zumba!zumba-in-the-circuit-logo-2

Previously, I had only ever Zumba’d in the privacy of my own home, not-jiving to a library DVD. I tried a few days in a row, working on steps and rhythm, before I decided I have neither steps nor rhythm (my gals will attest: after a few late-night glasses of wine, I might be convinced otherwise, but we keep that to ourselves).

Zumba was the thing God used to heal this sweet mama. She loves to dance, and so when her youngest began sleeping through the night she first took one class, which led to three, which became a dare from her husband to become an instructor. And so she did! Through Zumba she left depression behind. She grew lighter and brighter and, along with her, so did her family. And today, so did 150 or so women at our church as she led us in a simple, just-for-us routine.

The friend behind me had dressed the part: yoga pants and tennis skirt. Me, not so much. I confessed (uh, she was standing behind me, it wasn’t gonna take long…): “I don’t dance.” Thank God, she replied (surprisingly!) in kind.Andy-Grammer-Keep-Your-Head-Up

The song was Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up.”

You gotta keep your head up, oh
And you can let your hair down…

Step side-to-side, I got it (sort of). Add hands and body, I began to lose it. I thought, No Way am I gonna shake my tush in this room, with windows to my side, friends and co-workers nearby, What Are We Doing???

Then I looked around. One hundred-plus women shimmied around the room, each with her own size, shape, and style. Our group founder, about five gals in front of me and about as close to 90 as I am to 50, wiggled and giggled with glee. The smile stretching across her face, the obvious joy-filled un-self-consciousness she was experiencing, it moved me.

I remembered to Dare Myself. To Say Yes (also one of the rules of improv – always say “Yes, and…” – which also means you are fully present in the moment, Not Overthinking).

I let go. I shook my hands, my hair, and my rear. It could not have been pretty, but it was free. I reveled in the beauty of the story we’d heard, of how one gal found her way back to herself through dance and movement.

I believe we were made to move, and we all move to a different beat. And I believe we all have a passion, each different from the others, something that brings us to life and energizes those nearby. The dance-mama found her jive in Zumba. Mine is writing – I get bright-eyed and energetic thinking about what I will write next. It’s not all joy; some of it is excruciating hard work, but it’s still worth it. It’s my passion.

What’s yours?

End of 2015 Reading

As a result of my last reading post and the reading crisis within which I found myself, a generous friend gifted me a book: Me Before You. An avowed Read-Page 1-To the End reader, whereas I am a Read-the Last Page-About a Chapter In reader, she swore me to uphold End Page Secrecy. I did, and I’m glad. I couldn’t possibly have understood the last page before its time.

And then I have these ambitious friends who have posted on Facebook their tremendous accomplishments of having read 60 or so books in 2015. Egads, people! You must read at Light Speed. And yet, they inspire me.

So I looked at my Goodreads account a few weeks ago and gauged a realistic number: I could reach 30 books by 2015’s end. The last one is a bit of a cheat, a book of “cat poetry” I read aloud with Tween, accompanied by his hilarious cat-howl laughter. It was fun, not at all serious together-time, and worthy for those very reasons.

So here are my last few books of 2015. Happy reading in 2016!

Me Before You (Me Before You, #1)Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In desperate need of a new story to whisk me away, a friend gave me this book. Indeed it whisked me away. I fell in love with two worlds-apart characters who meet up over extraordinary-ordinary reasons: need and money. Without beating me over the head, this story had me think deeply and want to live bigger, and with more love. And it broke my heart in the best way.

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seemingly ordinary yet terribly broken characters crash their lives into one another, telling lies and believing whatever seems most convenient, until tragedy befalls each one. Not a perfect book, but a quick and suspenseful read.

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible StandardsFor the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book of essays made me laugh and cry and think and feel. As a 40-something pastor’s wife/writer with kids at home, Jen and I share so much in common that occasionally I wanted to beat the book on my head and ask, “Why didn’t I write this?” But she is much, much funnier than I am, and I will read whatever she writes. I preferred Seven, but I’m sure I will return to the essays in this book from time to time.

Three Times Lucky (Tupelo Landing, #1)Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great read-aloud to share with my Tween – original characters, entrancing writing, fast-paced and engaging story. I would guess the only reason this Newbery Honor Award book didn’t win the Newbery itself is because of tough competition in 2013 (winner: The One and Only Ivan, also a delight).

A Northern LightA Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A coming of age story set in 1906 Adirondacks, this book gives a fascinating view into another time and place, centered on Mattie, a poor, smart farm girl raising her siblings after her mother’s death from cancer. She longs for a life of the mind while struggling against the harsh physical realities of her days. Mattie’s life juxtaposes Grace’s unfortunate and untimely death, one who can change her fate and the other eternally trapped. Not a perfect book, as the jumping back and forth in time make it confusing at times, especially for a YA book.

A Year of Living Prayerfully: How a Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer LifeA Year of Living Prayerfully: How a Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer Life by Jared Brock
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book is fairly well-written, entertaining, thoughtful and funny in turns, and a complete mess. I have marked sections I want to remember and wish I could excise whole chapters. Brock is smart, energetic, and wants to change the world in Jesus’ name. To do so, he knows he needs to learn how to pray. But some of the stops along his journey seem intended to shock more than educate – Westboro Baptist, really? Benny Hinn? Even Tony Robbins (and coal walking)? He knew before he went in that those folks were not going to teach him what he wanted to learn about how to sincerely pray in Jesus’ name. He did learn a few things about prayer throughout the year, and he  gleaned truth to share, I just wish the book had been more carefully orchestrated and edited so as not to poke fun at those who have enough trouble already and to be more genuinely helpful without the distractions.

I Could Pee on This And Other Poems by CatsI Could Pee on This And Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Recommended by cat-loving friends with kids, we bought this for our cat-loving Tween. He giggled throughout, and the giggles themselves were worth the purchase price.

Thankful Thursday – Sweet Friends

A week ago I was asked: If you could spend one day with someone – celebrity/historical figure/anyone – who could help you grow in your vocation, who would it be?

I write, so my mind easily wandered to writers. But I’m also easily intimidated. I don’t want to spend time with someone too in/famous who would have me too quickly tongue-tied-tripping over myself.

I “enjoyed” two retreats and one seminar with Madeleine L’Engle, perhaps my all-time favorite writer, while she lived. I adore her for countless reasons. But she was harder to adore in person – too staunch, serious, intimidating. On the page she can be funnier, poke fun at herself, even cut-loose. Less so in a group of strangers. [I will say, one of my all-time favorite Time with my Mom memories occurred during a silent retreat with Madeleine at a Santa Barbara monastery (please ask: why does one do a silent retreat with a famous author? Answer: to be near, to soak in the very few words one receives. Il/logic). Mom and I, enduring a covenant of silence, hiked very quietly in the Santa Barbara hills, laughing ourselves silly along the way].

So I thought through my favorite contemporary writers, gals I respect for their honesty, spunk, wit. I admire so many faith-filled writers, and it pained me to sort through them – too ironic, satirical, political, intimidating – to choose among them.

My choice? Jen Hatmaker. Pastor’s wife, raising a brood, loving the world with a big humor-filled heart that recognizes brokenness and our need for grace. SHE is the one who wouldn’t intimidate the crud out of me or kick me to the curb for being just me trying to write this crazy faith-filled life.

Since then I’ve been thinking This Good Question: how can I be the person who would intimidate No One and Invite Everyone? Oh friends, I want you all to know: if you hold any place in my life it’s because I love you. I don’t judge you. Let’s be friends, and let’s get real!

We’ve had a week. some bumps, disappointments, uncomfortable edges meeting the file….So when today I received an email (to follow), let’s just call it Balm for the Soul.friends

We invited Tween’s friend along on Teen’s family-friendly event. He couldn’t come, but in response his mama loved me with her words (more than she knows, but I hope she knows…). Unlike me, she is Korean. Like me, she is faith-full; she serves as mama to two boys; and she blogs – and this is where things get seriously unfair – in Korean. She can read my blog, whereas I can’t read hers.

Tonight she translated her blog for me. Because she wrote about me. And it simultaneously lifts my heart and breaks my heart because we have been too-lately friends – she will move with her family back to Korea in December of this year.

My Dear One writes (her words, edited only to omit names):

I have a friend, a writer, full of belief in God.
It is my big pleasure to read her article. She might not know I am a big fan of her as a writer.
Sometimes sorry to her because she can’t read my blog written in English. It is all about beautiful town, small town story.

The reason I like her articles is that her story is so sincere, frank, touch people. She influence on my way of writing. As a writer, she is my teacher. I think about why I write and for what I am writing like that.

Even though we haven’t met many times, I feel like understand her more. She talks like writing and watches the specific moment, sometimes takes a picture of it but I know she is thinking about the theme of next writing. Just like me.

She is very open to the different worlds and full of curiosity. I can easily guess how adventurous she is and how much she is tring to understand and hug all the other world. And she is very beautiful too!

I am sorry to know her just one year ago. If I know her in Feb 2012, when I came to USA, I am sure we would share friendship more. But good thing is that I can read her articles in my country forever. She ask me to write my story in English but still not enough to write it in English. Thus mail to her would be my first small article for her written in English.

I don’t have enough time living here. Very sad so I try to express my feeling and gratitude to my friends. I think you guys are great my friend who understand my poor English. I was so happy to know you.

Thank you, my writer friend.

Thank YOU, my writer friend, for loving me enough to write your first blog post in English to me. I’m shedding happy tears! I desire your friend-ship so much more than your fan-ship, but I’m humbled, honored, that you read my writing and want to learn from it. I want nothing more than to write sincerely, from my heart, in a way others can relate to and learn from. That you see my life – actions, words spoken and written – and that you notice me taking pictures and anticipate the blog post to follow… YES, that’s right! It all has to flow, each piece from another.

WHY did we not meet earlier? I simply don’t understand. My heart aches that you and your darlings will leave us so soon. Your friendship feels so life-long, so rich and fun-filled, and I don’t want to think past December when you will return to Korea and we will have a gaping hole. It won’t be, can’t be, filled. And, gosh-darnit-all, I can’t read your blog written in Korean!

But I will love you, worlds-away, no matter what.

backs

Curb Your Appetite

As the day began, I didn’t intend to fast.

Hustling the kids off to school, I rushed out the door to meet a friend for coffee and conversation. Heading on to work, I realized I hadn’t packed lunch. “It’s Ash Wednesday,” the Spirit nudged. “Do without. Spend time with me.”

One of the spiritual practices ideas I’d provided for our church included skipping a meal and spending time in prayer. I hadn’t thought God would mean it for me. Apparently He did.

When I was more directly involved in leading youth ministries, I used to fast once a year for World Vision‘s 30 Hour Famine. Adults and students together raised support for World Vision’s work around the world and then went without food for 30 hours while we also engaged in learning and service activities. We broke the fast with a simple meal together and communion. It was one of my favorite ministry events of the year.

More recently I have taken on different kinds of fasts during Lent, giving up sweets or alcohol or Facebook. But not food, because I like food and one of my primary Mom-jobs is providing food for my guys.

So yes, I was surprised that God called me back to a food fast, albeit a pretty short one. I skipped lunch on Ash Wednesday. Just long enough to feel hungry and pray instead of eat.

7 - a great book on what fasting can look like

7 – a great book on what fasting can look like

Jen Hatmaker defines a fast this way: “…an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God’s movement in my life. A fast creates margin for God to move. Temporarily changing our routine of comfort jars us off high center” (7: an experimental mutiny against excess, p4).

I wasn’t fasting to ask God to move mountains. I fasted because I felt like God asked me to and I want to listen and obey.

All in all the day went surprisingly well. In our staff meeting devotion, during prayer time, honestly, Jesus and I got close. Like the end of An Affair to Remember, when the lovers realize their separation has mostly been a misunderstanding (not that sin is a misunderstanding, but go with me) and they fall into each other’s arms, embracing and mushy-gushy kissing, that was me and Jesus. We’re having a steamy affair. It’s hot.

Typically, fasting is supposed to be “in secret” (Matthew 6:16-18) but my stomach dramatically declared its emptiness to two co-workers who giggled. Oh well. Extra temptation presented itself when Guy called to offer me take-out from one of my favorite local joints. Ouch, but no thanks.

What surprised me most were the conversations God and I had throughout the day. Hatmaker quotes Richard Rohr: “The point of emptiness is to get ourselves out of the way so that Christ can fill us up” (7, p43). Earlier in the week I had solidified Psalm 46:10 in my memory: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” When I got hungry I repeated those words to still myself before God so He could fill me up.

Each time I prayed, I became extremely conscious of my physical body. On the one hand that makes perfect sense: I denied my body the food it wanted and I felt it. But this was different. I have at best an uncomfortable relationship with the physical shell that houses my mind/spirit, but instead of feeling the usual criticism, God impressed upon me that He gave me my body as His gift to me. I know that to be true, but I don’t always feel it. That day I felt it, and it was good.

I might even try fasting again this Lent, but I’m not telling.

One more thing: the gal who read Scripture in church this morning mispronounced “stones” in the following passage as “stories.” Go ahead, read it both ways.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones [stories] to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:1-4)

She went back and corrected her mistake, but I think it was a divine mispronunciation. Yes, Lord, may these stories become bread, the stories of Scripture and the stories of our lives. A final Hatmaker quote: “Our stories affect one another whether we know it or not. Sometimes obedience isn’t for us at all, but for another. …the story of God’s people comprises a billion little moments when an average believer pressed on, carried through, stepped up” (7, p114).

So here we go, people, pressing on, carrying through, stepping up, and along the way, sharing our stories of God’s faithfulness. Amen!

Connect
Reflect on an experience when you denied yourself something you really wanted.

Study
Read Matthew 4:1-4.
How did God’s Word sustain Jesus in the desert? How is this like/unlike the sustenance of food?
Read Matthew 6:16-18.
What does Jesus expect His followers to do/not do when they fast, and why?
Read Isaiah 58:3-7.
What was wrong with the way the people approached fasting (vv. 3-5)?
What do vv. 6-7 mean? Is this a different kind of fasting or fasting with a different attitude or outcome?

Live
How is fasting different from dieting?
Reflect on your past experiences (if any) with fasting.
How does fasting focus your prayers and help you to seek God’s face?
What practical considerations would you need to take into account in order to implement a discipline of fasting?
Which Faith Training Exercises might God call you to this week, and why? Reflect on joys and struggles with any Faith Training Exercises you’ve tried so far.
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use your spiritual training to make you fit in new ways for Christ.