Reading: Sept-Oct 2018

I read exactly the same number of books (seven) in two months of my busy season than I did in my slow-speed summer, opposite reactions to bad news. This summer, I felt too stunned to read much. Summer came and went and, other than our trips, I’m not sure what I did. This fall, I escaped inside books. A couple were light and fluffy; a few were for young readers, though that doesn’t mean fluffy; three were written by the same author; one was exceedingly excellent.

Surprise MeSurprise Me by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Dan and Sylvie have a physical on their tenth anniversary, the doctor tells them that, due to increasing lifespans and their overall good health, they can plan to enjoy another 68 years of marriage. Which sends them into a tailspin of dread over how they will possibly maintain a marriage for so long…

This one took me a while because I’d have quite the opposite response. When I said YES to “til death do us part,” I truly hoped it would be forever and then some.

But true to Kinsella’s style, they have more than a few LOL comic moments and eventually the story becomes bigger than the immediate crisis and, in the end, they grow as individuals and as a couple. Yay, them!

I'll Be Your Blue SkyI’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Clare meets an old woman, Edith, who speaks such gently piercing truth that she calls off her wedding with only hours to go. Weeks later, Clare discovers that Edith has died and left her a house, a place of her own. Thus begins Clare’s adventure into unraveling the mystery of Edith’s life even as she discovers her way back to her own true home.

de los Santos is an excellent writer, and occasionally I read and reread a beautiful turn of phrase. But I found myself working too hard to recall her characters’ relationships in her previous books, Love Walked In and Belong to Me. And then when the big reveal happened in this book, again, I slowly pieced things together although the characters made it sound obvious. Maybe if you read the trilogy altogether it would work better.

Connect the StarsConnect the Stars by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book jacket explains, “Sometimes you have to get lost to find yourself.” And this book beautifully illustrates that point in exquisite detail.

Audrey and Aaron are both middle school misfits. But then, just about every middle schooler I’ve ever met is a misfit during that time of life. It’s kind of the whole point. Anyway, they each find themselves on a journey through the desert and into belonging as The Fearless Foursome (alongside Kate and Louis).

They have an adventure I would never have undertaken at their age, nor would I knowingly send my kids on such an adventure. But then, that’s the point of adventure, right? If you knew, you might not go. No one intends to truly get lost. Yet that’s the very point of discovery.

I love Marisa de los Santos even more for providing me with a book I can put in the hands of my own middle school child. A book about family, friendship, the instructional power of the wilderness, forgiveness, and self-appreciation.

“‘If the four and a half billion years the Earth has existed were compressed into a single twenty-four hour day,’ said Aaron, very, very quietly, ‘humans would have appeared one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight.
“All that time, without us.
“A shiver went from my heels to the top of my head.
“Who cares if people lie? I thought. This–right here–is why the word ‘awesome’ was made.” (179)

All We Ever WantedAll We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book, like our current cultural/political climate, sits uncomfortably. While very readable, I wasn’t expecting to read a story that could have been ripped from today’s headlines.

The One-in-a-Million BoyThe One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a perfect book. It meanders like the mind of an old woman recalling her 104 years of life in the company of an unusual Boy Scout. But it is a charming book, with characters unique and human, the best and worst of themselves on display as they bump into and around one another like pin balls. In the end, it’s a reminder that life can be hard and sweet and we need others with whom to share it fully.

“But certain [people], they move in and make themselves at home and start flapping their arms in the story you make of your life. They have a wingspan” (p199).

Saving Lucas BiggsSaving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love that books for young readers can take on serious issues and make them understandable and engaging. No smut, just great story. This one takes on corporate corruption and its effects on individuals and families over generations; fracking; murder and the death penalty; bravery and fear; love, friendship and family. All in one entertaining package.

Another one I’m passing on to my 14yo!

“…sure, the past matters–but the present? The present is here and here and here, a sky full of light, a path under your feet, your hair lifted by wind, the smell of flowers, green grass, red rocks, all of it tumbling toward summer, and all of it yours. All you have to do is set fear aside and stretch out your hand” (278).

Blood Water PaintBlood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a woman who reads, get your hands on this book. Do not let the verse intimidate you. It’s not difficult poetry, just carefully chosen words to convey the thoughtful reflections of a woman who prefers self-expression through paint over words.

This beautifully written book is art about art. The layers of women’s stories, the use of different writing styles to convey different voices, the truth it tells about what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world, and an extraordinary woman in anyone’s world, all compelling.

Hollow-ing

After school drop-off, after a mellow stroll at the park with the dogs, I flopped in my favorite chair, holding the arm rests as if I might slide to the floor.

I felt gutted, empty, numb.

Somewhere in the wee waking hours, my goal of practicing yoga that morning had withered; the pounding in my head causing fear that I might conk over in the first inversion.

I noticed my weary body pulsating with every beat of my heart. It might have been the three cups of coffee I inhaled to keep my eyes open.

The day before I received the call I’d been expecting–dreading–for months. The second data recovery company to examine my wiped hard drive confirmed: my files are beyond resurrection. All gone. Buh bye.

I thought I’d moved beyond tears, but still they flowed. Grief comes in waves.

Forget Halloween, this October has become my Hollow-ing.

Those who misunderstand the situation have said: “You didn’t back up? Most people learn that before their 20’s.”

Or, worse: “You must have clicked on something…” Which, to my ears, sounds akin to blaming the victim: She got attacked because her skirt was too short. Or: The IT company wiped your files without telling you because you are stupid.

Yes, I know you’re supposed to back up files. I thought they were backing up on the company server. I trusted the IT company to do their job well. They didn’t.

So. Nine years of work, research, life, gone. Hence, the Hollow-ing.

I’m sad and not sleeping. Again this week I recalled yet another document I’d like to have but don’t. I’m frustrated, hurt, struggling to trust. I don’t understand what happened, how, or why. From a human perspective, it all seems a colossal mistake, a breach of protocol that resulted in no damage to anyone but me.

But now that we’re here, now that hope has died a slow and painful death, I have to move on. I have to trust, as I have throughout my life, that God has a plan. Not that God did this or caused this, but that God has something in this for me. Not that God wanted those projects to poof! disappear, or that He doesn’t want me to ever attempt to recreate some of them, but that He might be redirecting my focus. At least for now.

So what’s next? The only response I have echoes in the hollow: I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

Back Up

I’ve been unintentionally off the blog for two weeks. Unintentionally, because my computer was hacked three times in three months.

The first time, in April, we didn’t know my computer was the hacker’s way in. Hacked again exactly one month later, I happened to be on my computer and watched as I was locked out, Amazon and email opened, before I did a hard shut down. A work-issue computer that I also use personally, our IT department felt certain that they’d found the equivalent of “dust on my tires,” and that the malware program they installed would keep me safe.

They were wrong. I’d planned to keep my computer turned off on June 3, but those pesky hackers caught me off-guard by jumping in on June 2. Again, I happened to be sitting at my computer. They tried again to get to my Amazon account, but I no longer had my password stored, and my husband had set up two-factor authentication. Determined, I watched them search my computer for passwords before the shock wore off and I did another hard shut down.

Yesterday I got good news and bad news: I got a brand new computer (hooray!) and all my personal files were infected and have been wiped (wait, what? BOO!).

It seems that, because I didn’t want our staff to have access to my personal files, the way IT set up my files was not ideal. Not a techy, I didn’t know the desktop icon I clicked to access my files was any different than any of the other files on my desktop which are a) inaccessible to the staff and b) backed up on our server which means c) safe. In other words, I didn’t know that no back up was being done, that I should have been doing my own back up.

For nine years.

Nine years of writing, research, reading notes, correspondence, school files (including IEPs for those who know what that means), recipes, and God knows what else, all wiped out. And a draft of a book that, save for some footnotes yet to be added, was just about ready to send to a prospective publisher. A book I’ve been working on (ridiculously slowly) for three years. Gone.

I feel sick. Honestly, I waver between numb, sick, and angry.

There may yet be hope. The drive will be sent to a data recovery company who will charge a pretty penny to see what they can retrieve. Hope is the lifeline dragging me through the too-fast water slapping me in the face, choking me as I try not to drown…

Moral of the story: back up your work. If you don’t know if you need to, ask. Save yourself from this heartache.

When It Clicks

College, first semester freshman year, I had a professor (in a non-writing class) who taught me one of the most useful skills I have ever learned: freewriting. “For the next minute [or three, or five], put pencil to paper and Do Not Stop! If you cannot think of anything to write, write that. If that bores you to tears, draw dots. Keep your pencil moving until more thoughts come. Do not reread what you’ve written and DO NOT EDIT! Just keep your pencil moving down the line, down the page. Now WRITE!” I have used this approach bazillions of times in my life to come unstuck. I have taught my teens to do it, and now I know even Jack Kerouac knew the way of (what I call) the brain dump. Add exercise, physical play (any kind of play that moves you), and your freewrites might click in ways you’d never imagined…

re:create recess #11: Paul Quinlivan

There I was, somewhere deep in the middle of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, a few miles west of Mt. Adams and East of Mount St. Helens in Southern Washington state, when everything clicked. I had already walked over 350 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail from Crater Lake, heading north toward the Canadian border. I had sweated and cried, been scared and felt calm, lost myself and then allowed myself to be found, seen unspeakable beauty (see Sisters Wilderness) and brokenness (think miles of forest ravaged by a forest fire); I had experienced nearly every emotion you could name and then a few more, but something still seemed incomplete even if I couldn’t name it. That was, until things clicked.

At some point it happened. On a random patch of trail in the middle of the woods I suddenly had the urge to create. Poems somehow appeared in my mind. Images from my past and present converged and all I could do was ride the wave of creativity. When I reached my destination that afternoon I was in a tizzy with poem after poem, story after story, attempting to document all that came to me. And I use that language intentionally, because it came to me. It was probably in me all along, but I needed that moment, that ‘click,’ when the cosmos of the world came together and all made sense.

I am a firm believer that each of us has a multitude of moments such as this throughout our lives. Most often they pass us by. We have become unpracticed at either noticing or doing anything with these moments. Too busy running between our jobs and children’s soccer games and faith community meetings to slow down enough to actually document the spirit of creation coming upon us. Or maybe we are blocked by shame, or fear, or the voices of inadequacy or doubt and self-contempt to risk the tangible act of putting into the world all that floats around in our minds and bodies. Whatever the reason, we don’t take full advantage.

Those that create professionally are not all that different from the non-creative others except that they pay attention to the moments and cultivate practices–rituals–to document the waves of inspiration. Jack Kerouac famously engaged in what he termed “spontaneous prose,” sitting at his typewriter documenting everything that came to mind. Most of it was probably crap and rarely became published work, but then again some of those words gave us a classic that defined a whole generation of artists. I also believe that the best practice, or ritual, to bring forth these inspired moments is play, an activity that takes us out of the creative blocks we have put in place.

I spend the majority of my professional life as a mental health therapist working with adults, adolescents, families, and couples struggling with the effects of abuse, complex trauma and general relational discord. While there are many technicalities to what healing might look like for my clients as a general rule, if I could invite them to play more, to recreate, they could begin to have greater freedom in their lives and their treatment. Recreation invites us back into our child selves when the world was safe and large and whimsical. It means, like a child, we engage in an activity where we don’t hold back our imagination for what the world could be and how we could be active participants in it.

For me to get to this place, I go on long walks. As I hike my body begins to remember what it was like to be free to explore the beautiful expanse outside my door. Inevitably, somewhere along the way I forget I am walking and something clicks, and I am taken again by the spirit of creativity.

Place of my Youth
Have you ever watched a sunset over a mountain?
The rays playing in the branches, the alarming mist.
It fades to its becoming horizon leaving the tree tops on fire
The sky begins to melt from a bright blue, to navy to purple
The air cools and wild ducks make their final peace with the disappearing lake edge
The expanse above welcomes the darkness as the eldest, brightest stars grace the veil until their sisters and cousins come to dance across the world above
inviting you to remember your youth
Have you ever watch a sunset over a mountain lake?
I have. It has awakened my soul.
Father, Husband, Friend, Therapist, Hiker, Surfer, Mystic, Writer, Farmer and Teacher are but a few of Paul Quinlivan’s many monikers. He lives with his lovely wife Alyssa, 20 month old son and 5 month old daughter, 4 chickens and their South American dog in a slowly gentrifying suburb of Seattle. When he is not attempting to recapture his artistic self through writing he works to help others find themselves as a therapist at a local community mental health agency and in private practice. More info on Paul and his practice can be found at www.wildgoosecollective.org

 

Re:Create • Sanctified Imagination

Pictures of cute kittens and babies aside, one of the more useful benefits of social media is connecting with people you haven’t seen in a while. That’s exactly what happened when, a few years ago, I got a message from a friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. He had stumbled across our church website, then found my picture, and reached out. Since then I have been grateful to be back in touch, especially through his posts on Facebook and his blog. Quite a thoughtful writer, I am thrilled to have him share on the blog today. We would all do well to consider how the people in our lives shape the stories we read, tell, and live.

re:create recess #2: Randy Ehle

Re:Create
One of the greatest truths of our humanity is that we are created in God’s image. And being created in the image of the Creator God—the creative God—means we, too, are creative. Creation came into being when God spoke. He has revealed himself for all history through his Word, written. His redeeming Son, Jesus, is called The Word. And so my image-of-God creativity is expressed in words.

Re:New
I grew up in the church, so I knew all the stories, all the books, all the characters. I knew about daring to be a Daniel and being patient like Job (though frankly, Job never seemed all that patient to me once I really read him). I knew the twelve disciples and most of the twelve sons of Jacob. I knew Moses and Joseph, David and Jonathan, Samson and Delilah. I’m sure I had the full set of Little Golden Books, including Jonah’s whale and Jericho’s tumbling walls.

But by the time I’d become a pastor, the stories had become merely that: stories. Even with more translations at my fingertips than Legion’s demons, I could scarcely read my Bible without already knowing what comes next. Familiarity had bred, if not contempt, at least complacency. Then I met Carolyn.

Carolyn volunteered in our church office. Warm, chatty, deeply caring, and ever wanting to learn more about Jesus, Carolyn and I had long conversations about life, the Bible, and whether the God of the Old Testament changed in the New. I learned as much from Carolyn’s questions as she did from any of my seminary-trained insights. I also learned something about disabilities. You see, Carolyn had been in a wheelchair for a quarter century, the result of a freak accident in which her mail jeep overturned, pinning her under a mound of first-class letters, junk mail, and packages.

Carolyn's baptism in the American River

Carolyn’s baptism in the American River

As I got to know Carolyn, I also met anew some men and women I’d been reading about since childhood: the blind men, lepers, and paralytics whose lives intersected with, and were changed by, Jesus. As I heard more of Carolyn’s story—not just the accident, but everyday life with a lower spine injury—I began to wonder about the lives of those biblical men and women.

Re:Write
Though I’ve enjoyed writing since my school days, for most of my life I wrote only for myself. Even when I began writing a blog, I did little to solicit readers. Writing was an outlet for the thoughts and ideas circulating in my head, but I never felt I had much to add to the world’s conversations. Any conversation. Meeting Carolyn began to change that, and led me to think about another paralytic:

His friends created the world’s first skylight, lowered his bed through the hole, and hoped beyond hope they wouldn’t have to lift him out the same way. Waving the swirling dust away from his face, the itinerant healer in the room below spoke … not words of healing, but of conviction!

“Your sins are forgiven.”

We who are familiar readers of the text barely skip a beat here. We rush right on by, scarcely noticing the crowd’s incredulity. We want to get to the good stuff, the miracles, the healing. We know what comes next and love to watch Jesus stick it to the self-righteous religious folks … who, of course, are not we. Because of Carolyn, I read the words with new eyes; like a blind man given new sight, I began to see beyond the words on the page.

The over-crowded room had only packed tighter with the invasion of the horizontal alien from above. The dust and dirt of the impromptu renovation choked throats while the brief cooling from the escaping air was replaced with the heat of the noonday sun now streaming onto their heads.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

What?!? What in the world does that mean?

Neither the hushed crowd nor the prone man could believe what they’d heard. They were equally incredulous, but for vastly different reasons: the crowd, because of the healer’s audacity to think he had the right to forgive sins; the paralytic, because of the audacity to think he—crippled as he was—had even the slightest capacity to sin.

If we were filming in 21st century style, we might pause the action here and focus the camera on the man’s reclined face. He would speak an aside, directly to the audience, revealing his inner thoughts and feelings. Having no such cinematic tools at our disposal, however, we are left to our imaginations – our sanctified imaginations. It’s a term my mom uses often to encourage deep, extra-biblical thinking about feelings, thoughts, and actions the Bible doesn’t tell us. And so I write—or rather, rewrite—from that sanctified imagination.

In recounting the story of the paralytic, the gospel writers are concerned with Jesus’ divine authority. Saying “your sins are forgiven” is easy and shows no visible effect; but causing a known cripple to walk is no cheap trick. In fact, the evangelists tell us, this is more about confirming Jesus’ authority to forgive than about demonstrating mercy.

There’s more to the story; more to the story that’s written, and more to the story that’s not written. Maybe my re:creation—my sanctified imagination—will open others’ eyes to the Creator. Maybe my words will open others’ ears to the Word whose Word is Life. Maybe I have something to add to the conversation, after all.

rehle-bio

 

Randy Ehle is a husband and father, coach and teacher, writer and speaker. He was—and longs again to be—a pastor. He’s lived in Canada, Germany, England, and throughout the United States; and has traveled on four of the seven continents. A self-described “rushed contemplative,” Randy has known life and death, gain and loss, wisdom and foolishness. He uses writing as a creative outlet, spiritual inspiration, and personal challenge for his readers. Find more of Randy’s thoughts at www.randehle.com.

re:create recess

In 2015 I decided to adopt a word (actually, a phrase) that significantly affected my decision-making: put yourself in the way of beauty. Unlike any resolution or goal setting before it, that phrase began a work in my being–mind, heart, body, soul–that continues to this day.

Create was my 2016 theme, and it picked up where beauty left off. However, it didn’t take long to recognize the connection between creativity and play. I began to feel more playful, to enjoy life in new and fulfilling ways. Yes, sometimes creativity involves hard work, and still creative work can feel playful.

Which makes sense when you think that we often use recreation as a synonym for play. To recreate means: “to refresh by means of relaxation and enjoyment, as restore physically or mentally.” The creative process refreshes and relaxes me, leading to joy as I differently engage my body and mind in play.recess

I wondered if play would be my 2017 theme. But no, I’m not done with create. Yet I am interested in exploring the association between creativity and play and how both have the power to re-create (transform) us and the world around us. Hence, re:create—another take on create (“re:”) with an emphasis on play.

2016 was a mixed bag. Personally we had joys and more than a few bumps. So did our friends. And our nation experienced, arguably, one of the worst divides I’ve witnessed in my adult life. One month into 2017 and less than two weeks into a new president, the divide seems to be widening. Now more than ever we need to create, to play, to enjoy some good ol’ fashioned recess (preferably minus the playground bully, but we’ll try to ignore him…)

We can create…

…art, beauty, childhood and childlikeness, community, compassion, design, experience, family, friendship, growth, health, home, hope, innovation, joy, laughter, legacy, love, marriage, meals, memories, music, peace, play, poetry, rituals, service, stories, traditions…

Questions to ponder (and an answer):
What do you create? Or, what activities fill your days with life and passion?
I create a life, love, a home, a safe shelter for my guys. I create experiences, memories, traditions and rituals that enrich our life together. I create hospitality for friends and space to go deeper together. With all these beloved people, I create relationship, friendship, and laughter. We create hope and courage for one another when things get rough. I have created this blog as a means to record and reflect on miracles in the mundane, and through this blog I have created a community of writers/creatives and readers.
How do you recreate/play?
How does recreation affect other arenas of your life?
Why do you re/create?
How has creativity/play recreated your heart, mind, soul, body, life?

Next Wednesday I’ll feature 2017’s first guest post, and throughout the year we will hear from creatives of all stripes and spots: parents, teachers, painters, musicians, designers, coaches, pastors, thinkers, and of course, writers… They will inspire and challenge us with their unique expressions of creativity, play, and transformation. I’m calling this re:create recess and, just like in elementary school, I can’t wait to get to playtime!

Create Challenge Top 10

never-stop-creatingDuring 2016 I invited people I admire for a host of reasons to guest post on Miracles in the Mundane. The topic: creativity. Wednesday became one of my favorite days of the week for having the opportunity to share their stories of creativity, expressed in as many ways as individuals: writing, painting, poetry, business, and relationships. Through their posts they inspired me to live more creatively and more authentically.

Here are the Top 10 posts based on numbers of readers–which really means, not only are these great posts, but also that these folks encouraged the people in their lives to hop on over to read their contribution. You may have missed some, so here they are again!

Creating forgiveness: “Just one time.” by Karyn Bergen.

Creating a safe place for the creatives: Unicorns & Rainbows by A.J. Brown.

Creating colorful waves of art: Daydream Painter by Matt “Cheeks” Hoag

Creating space to hear God through the creative process: To Unite Creativity to Communion with God by Danielle Humphreys

Creating courage in others: Create Hope by Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch

Creating peace for his inner child artist: The (Wounded) Artist by Paul Quinlivan

Creating hope in Haiti: Empowered for Creative Investment by Scott Sabin

Creating a welcoming table: The Table by Cari Jenkins

Creating an openness to God’s plan in painful circumstances: Creating Trust by Sarah Johnson

Creating a fulfilling and thriving new business: Leap of Faith by Shirley DeFrancisci

How about you? How do you create? What do you create? And why?

 

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