Books I Read in ’18

Why do you care what books I read? I don’t know, but I’m thinking some people are like me and work on recommendations.

Did you ever wonder why there wasn’t a rating system for books, though? I do. Especially when I want to suggest a good read for my young teenage daughter! Is it R? PG-13? G? Who knows? Hey, maybe now I have my idea for Shark Tank.

img_6502-1
These are random old books I did not read. Kindle makes it really hard to take artistic photos of books you did read.

Anyways, here are a few books I read in 2018:

  • A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller: I just can’t say enough good things about this book. It resonated with everything I appreciate in a book that is geared towards inviting me closer to God and growth in my walk with Jesus. I gave it to lots of people at Christmas. And, it’s really cheap and short so you have no excuse to not read it.
  • Paul and Gender by Cynthia Long Westfall: This is a graduate level academic kind of book and it really challenged me. It shone some light on big issues within the church regarding the interpretation of certain passages on men and women. I’m still pondering it and figuring out what it means for my daily life. But, I believe it is an important read no matter where you fall on the Complementarian/ Egalitarian spectrum.
  • The Guernsey and Literary Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer: This was a delightful read. Laughter, tears, sorrow, and joy. I thoroughly enjoyed it and the letter format employed. I loved imagining the scenes referred to in part in letters. Pick this up when you need to unwind and relax. It’s a good one. In writing this post, I discovered the author died before publication. She never lived to see the success of the truly wonderful story she created.
  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Backman: Well, I love this author and he delivered again in this thought-provoking book about how we see life and the people we love. It’s also about courage to face our fears and the freedom it brings. Oh, and it will make you laugh and cry which are the marks of truly great books, in my opinion.
  • The Stand by Stephen King: I can’t recommend this one. It is definitely rated R and it disturbed my sleep. Reading this was a huge break from my normal selections and I’m not sure I’ll read any more of Stephen King’s books. The surprising thing about this book (the reason I’m even telling you I read it!) is that he understands sin, righteousness, punishment, and grace and brings it to very vivid life. Sin is evil and he understands it in the mild forms we often pass over, and also in the trajectory evil takes. It is chilling and too horrifically true. The only positive thing I can say about seeing that is that Jesus and His Way stands out. King also brings to life right things. Things as they should be and the constant push and pull we experience as humans choosing between the two. Stephen King knows his Bible really well. I found that really interesting. I still recommend his book On Writing. 
  • Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult: This was a thought-provoking read on race, racism, and how it looks today. It’s a primer on the issues of modern-day racism and white supremacy in a fictional story. If you want to delve into these issues, this book is a good step into the shallow end.
  • The Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance: I enjoyed this memoir about Vance’s life. It is thoughtful and brings to attention a section of society that doesn’t often get  highlighted. It resonates with my idea that most people we meet are culturally different from us in some way even if they are citizens of our own nation. And, that we often share cultural similarities across different socio-economic realities. It’s a good read and doesn’t feel too academic.

So, what will I read in 2019? I’m not sure. My friend put up some good books on a recent post. I like to work on recommendations!

I’ll also be reading numerous academic books in preparation for 3 or 4 seminary minimesters this summer. Pray for me! Ha. I guess I should read some more fiction before I get swallowed up by footnotes.

Slowing Down

The first few days of January is the time for me to slow down. Our town is relatively quiet. There are New Year’s events but mostly I stay home with some or all of my children while my husband works a conference.

Generally, I have longer times reading my Bible in the morning and I stay up late (way too late) reading good books. In the daytime I get a few things done while children play more than normal amounts of Xbox. I make some returns, pack up Christmas, think about Bible study plans for the spring, and generally slow down.

The phone chimes pretty rarely and just about absolutely nothing is on the calendar as far as appointments or meetings. I can wear the same thing multiple days if I want, as long as its clean, or I can wear all the things that are comfortable, even if they don’t match! Its divine…and uncomfortable at times.

I realize during this time how much I like to do things to feel worthwhile. Spending the time with myself is like looking someone in the face for just a little longer than is socially acceptable. It’s a bit uncomfortable and revealing.  And, I think it is absolutely necessary to slow down enough to look yourself in the face long and hard at least once a year.img_6469

When I slow down I relearn stuff about myself. I regain my affection for cooking. It actually occurs to me that I would like to try a new recipe that I wouldn’t enjoy tackling when school is in session and life is busy. I stack up scheduled posts on my blog.

Slowing down restores my spiritual health. Reading the Bible a little longer and without much of an agenda is like having a date with my husband where there’s nothing we have to get at the store or plan and there’s no time we have to be home. It’s just free time together.

My life is a little peculiar in that it is very seasonal and shifts very quickly from a lot of people intensive time and scheduling then changes to working on more back burner stuff like planning and development. Then, we take the 6 week work related trip most summers! Not everyone has that kind of work.

So, how do you take time to face yourself? Consider wrestling with this question and figuring out some creative solutions like taking a day off for a long weekend spent without obligations. Or, wipe a week clear of anything that doesn’t absolutely have to be done. For a tax accountant, that won’t be April, but there’s probably a few days somewhere that the cycle of the job is at a low ebb.

It’s taken living in the U.S. for almost 5 years and our current home almost 4, to discover some rhythms. That’s one of the hard things about a move internationally, a change in jobs, or a significant life change like becoming a mother or kids going to school or leaving the nest. There are new rhythms and it takes at least 2 years to figure them out!

The first year, everything is new and I constantly adjusted. The second year, I remembered the first year and tried to figure out what was an every year thing, or an anomaly. The third year solidified some distinct patterns to life like this first week of the year slow down.

I’m glad I have it because next month our oldest kid gets her learner’s permit. Hopefully all these stored up reserves will be enough! She swears she is going to drive like a grandma and we need to worry about our middle kid who has some Michael Schumacher speed in him.

We will see. He’s 2 years away from a permit so I have 2 more slow downs before he drives.

 

Stepping into a New Year

I hardly ever make it to midnight awake. Usually I roll over about midnight, disrupted by the rumble of a few fireworks, then drift back to sleep. The day dawns and I wake to find myself in a whole new year that feels just like another morning.

Except that most new years days I spend a chunk of time reviewing the last year. I took up this habit one year when we lived overseas and I spent a quiet, sunny morning going over Michael Hyatt’s 7 Questions to Ask About Last Year. I still remember the chair I sat in, it was that powerful.

Since that year, I look forward to reflecting every new year. Lest you be afraid this somehow leads to those resolutions, be afraid. Somehow, these questions and reflecting on the past year just naturally lead to revealing what’s important to take with me into the next year. Maybe it’s also the coffee that kicks in about the same time, but I end up holding onto a few thoughts about what I want the next year to include, if it’s up to me.

img_7530Read on for this year’s ruminations on reflecting…. Basically, reflecting on reflecting!

Remembering is a funny thing. I lived a lot of life this last year, and forgot quite a bit of it. Memory to me feels like I’m holding a bunch of groceries at the grocery store like when I think I don’t need a cart. I can only hold so much and my brain just drops things  that it can’t keep holding onto. Sometimes they are the right things, sometimes not. It can be startling what I forget and remember.

Why? Why do I remember some things and forget others? I’m not sure. But its a reality. Reflecting on the past year is a means to much grace and mercy. I look into the year and lay out the events and experiences before the Lord and myself and sift through them. Are there themes? Regrets? Disappointments? Joys? Always, yes.

This year, I stood back and looked and saw a year of great adventure and drama. As I sorted through it, I saw more clearly the reality I’ve felt as the year drew to a close. It was a roller coaster year…again. I’m ready for a little boring. A bit less adrenaline.

Extensive travel, romantic drama, medical issues, rich family time, and ministry to others defined our year. It was a good year. It was also a full year with lots of ups and downs, twists and turns. So many good things but also a few very real, hard, new things to navigate.

In the middle of it, it has been easy, maybe even necessary, to just pack experiences in my bag of memory and do the next thing that needs doing. The problem with that is that I need to look up every once in a while and see the bigger picture, the distances traveled, the goals ahead, the victories and sorrows along the way.

Like a rest stop on the journey, I need the time to reflect so I can acknowledge God’s hand in it all, and recognize that He has been with me the whole way. That He sees and He cares even if it’s not all worked out, resolved, or better. I can have joy when I look back and remember what He did work out too.

What distilled over the course of my morning was that…

  • writing is still very important to me. I regretted not keeping it up this past year. I need to make time to write.
  • exercise took a back seat for different chunks of the year and that was necessary. It is now important that it not stay in the back seat.
  • making peer friends in this season of life is challenging because of the many demands on life. I greatly value having good friends and I need to keep moving forward in cultivating friendship.

Notice there’s not a lot of specific goals. I don’t really have a word for the year. But, now I have 3 areas of life that I know are important to me that need some attention. It helps tie a tiny, imperfect bow on the past year and move a bit more confidently into a new year.

If you end of spending the time to go through this process, please share what came out of it for you!

 

 

 

Come, Follow Me!

It probably looks really sweet to the observer. My boys with a hand around my waist and close by my side guiding me. Little do they know this action is totally self-serving and only happens when they think mom has talked to enough people and we really need to get home and eat, for goodness sake.

My boys seriously detest waiting around while I talk to people. Schools, grocery stores, on a walk, in church. There are so many places we see friends and I do what most women do, I seize the opportunity to gab.

They’re pretty effective at moving me along while I’m talking to them about poetic things like the gift of community.  But, they’re not buying it yet. I get it. I grew up waiting in this big room called the narthex (what kind of name is that?) staring at a world map while my parents spent hours, I’m sure it was hours, talking to people at church. I’ve always been pretty good at geography.

Sometimes I wish it was possible to do this for people in their spiritual lives. Escort them a little forcibly to the next destination. But it is not so. My husband pointed out to me simply, God is on the move and people have to leave stuff to follow Him.

I should know this. It’s not like I haven’t seen it time and time again in the Bible. Come, Follow Me! But my eyes have skipped over this passage so many times, I began to miss it.

Each person He invited had to leave something. A job. A task. An appointment. A lifestyle. Friends. Family. A home. To answer the call, they had to move physically from their present activity and start walking. img_7629.jpg

Jesus didn’t come over and force them. He didn’t escort them around their waist along the road. He invited and only the willing accepted the invitation. They left what they were doing, and followed Him.

Sometimes I find myself trying to do a little more than just invite. I smooth the path extra flat. I try to make an offer they can’t refuse. I bend over backwards to wait around and hope they start moving towards Jesus.

But I can never make the choice for someone. There is no detour around the fact that we must leave things to follow Jesus. And the truth is not everyone will answer the call to become a disciple, a learner of His way. Some people will not leave their way to follow Jesus’ way.

It saddens me as it must have saddened Jesus. They’re missing out. There’ll be a price.

But I cannot ever force someone to be a disciple. I can only invite. They must answer the call themselves. They must make the decision to put aside what they’re doing to move with Him. Only then can they be with Him.

As a former youth pastor said, wherever you go, there you are.

So stupidly profound.

Before Surrender

We stood there on the tallest point overlooking a historic town, an historic river. Clouds puffed in the sky and I snapped pictures of the scene before me. Rolling hills, a picturesque river, quaint buildings, and boats on the water. All was at peace that warm summer day.

That tallest point? A fortress more than 500 years old. That town? Passed back and forth between warring kingdoms for most of its existence.

The people who faced each other across the river were not always part of the same kingdom either. The vacation boats on the river now used to be vessels of war, of conquering. Hence, the need for a fortress to fight off invaders.

Surrender is a word that comes up frequently in my spiritual life as a Christian. Surrender. Surrender anything that stands between me and the Lord. Surrender my way for His.

Recently, I’ve sensed that my romantic view of the word (picture hands raised and a white bird flying up to the blue sky while sunlight shines down ready to accept the glowing bird), fails to grasp the brutal reality that surrender is more a battle front term.

Back track a little and before surrender comes division and a battle of two or more opposing forces. Similarly in my own life, a battle usually rages until I face that I’m losing, big time. My way, my army, my kingdom is weaker than the one I ultimately fight. God.

Then, there’s an honest reckoning, a realization that I will not win. I cannot win. I will be defeated. At this point, I face a choice. I can continue fighting a losing battle out of pride or I can make some tough calls.

I can be…

A Captive: I lose the battle but think I should have won it. I nurse the idea that I could have won it if I’d just done a little something here differently or fought a little harder there. My allegiance has not changed. I’m still fighting. Life is full of strife as I live in rebellion to the King, constantly seeking a way of escape.

A Deserter: I turn and run from the battle. I live to fight another day thinking I can still win. I live on the run not knowing when I will need to turn and fight again. Life is about escape and hiding from the more powerful and ever pursuing King.

A Defector: I change sides because I reckon that the other side is better, more worthy of allegiance. Now I use my weapons for another King and His kingdom. I live at peace in the protection of the King’s fortress, guarded by Him and sent to do His work. My former identity as an enemy combatant is known, yet I am not sidelined out of suspicion or fear. I’m fully accepted.

The choice to surrender now starts sounding more like a laying down of arms than a moment with a dove.

Sometimes I figure out things fast and lay down my weapons before serious blood is shed. But there are times when I don’t and I come in wounded to my own surrender, a little beat up in the battle. A bit chagrined that I misjudged my allegiances so poorly.

This week it was about a kid’s homework, surrendering a better grade to preserve our relationship. A few weeks ago it was about choosing to happily do a task I didn’t fully want to do.

Every day it is choosing to step out and follow Jesus, rather than stay on my own path, fighting for my own way.

Grief, the Uninvited Guest

Quite a few friends and acquaintances recently entered seasons of grief. For them, I repost a piece I wrote the summer after my father died from the ravages of a brain tumor.

~~

I have a guest these days. Grief is his name. I did not invite him, but he came and at the worst of times, too.

Grief is a strange beast.  Sometimes I don’t mind him very much and we sit with each other awhile. Other times, I mind him very much, especially when he surprises me in public. I’d prefer he just stay at my home. DSC_0150

I always hope he’ll follow the rules I lined out, but he doesn’t which annoys me. He rarely takes up the guest room but stays in odd places like the shelves of a cabinet, between the pages of a beloved book, or in the smells of familiar food. He’s often in my way when I’m trying to get things done.

He has some shockingly bad habits. He’s a nocturnal sort and has the gall to shake me awake in the night and, then, not let me go back to sleep! He stares me in the face upon waking some days which is a horrendous way to meet the day.

Kind friends come over expecting to meet him, and he is out for the moment. Things are like before, and it’s strange. Then, Grief barges in without knocking. We quickly lay a place setting for him. Then, he doesn’t use the proper utensils if he uses them at all!

If you caught a look at him, you’d know why. Grief is a foreigner. His customs are strange. Though I’ve befriended those with this same house guest, I learned little about how to host him myself. I’m not sure anything can acquaint one so well with grief except a house visit, which no one really wants. But, we all seem to get at some point in our lives.

I get the feeling grief means to stay for a long, long time-maybe forever. I don’t know how I feel about that. Some expect grief to behave, stay for a respectable amount of time, and then depart.  But, as I said, he hasn’t yet followed any rules, even the rules of hospitality.

I’m learning an odd comfort in grief’s companionship. It’d be nice if he paid some rent, though, or helped out a little with the chores. I’d prefer a kickback to the pain in the arse he is from time to time.

My close friends expect grief to stay far longer than I hope he does and seem to welcome him with much more grace than I can afford. I’m afraid grief means to put his name on the deed, and I’ll never be rid of him. I get the feeling that once he comes, he never completely leaves. I also see that others who host grief graciously are ones I respect. I long to learn how to host as they do.

There is one Friend who is with me every moment. He is well acquainted with my house guest having hosted grief himself for a long, long time. He is such a comfort and an excellent help with this added load.

I’m beginning to recognize when other people are hosting grief like I am. So many are these days. Sometimes they don’t want others to know, and hide their guest which I think is a shame. He is a tough one to manage, and I can’t imagine trying to do it alone. I guess I understand. Grief is not the most attractive.

Others host a grief that is so painful and soul crushing, I can only shed tears for how violently he invaded their home. I, too, am at a loss to know what to do with such shocking behavior.

I hope I will not run from my guest or scorn him or shut the door on him. He’s not the type that tolerates that well. In fact, I know he chases those down that try to escape him. He always catches up. It’s better, I hear, to just let him in.

My best Friend says there will be a day when grief will leave. When there are no houses with tears, sorrow, and pain. Everything my Friend says seems to come true, and I believe that day will come.

It’s a great comfort to anticipate such a world, a world without grief.  It helps me deal with today and Grief’s demands with a little more energy.

But, just a little.

High Places

Our bus roared up the side of the mountain as the announcer introduced our tour. The buses, he informed us, were specially designed for the steep inclines and sharp descents. As the intercom spoke calmly to us, telling us some history, the bus navigated turns with terrifying familiarity up a very winding road.

My palms began to sweat as I glanced at quaint villages shrinking below me. My stomach dropped and that familiar feeling of fear invaded. I believe I felt my adrenal gland squirt out all its adrenaline.

I’m not so good on the high places.

My children noticed my growing anxiety and jumped at the opportunity to claim superior courage. They were fearless, mom was not. They reminded me that clutching the armrest provided absolutely no help if the bus left the road and tumbled down the mountain. We were all goners.

Yes (tightly), I know!

They estimated how far we would roll and why we would need the tool hung up on the side of the bus to break the glass since, of course, there would be no survivors. They deduced the tool was there to calm the passengers on the ride.

Thank you for pointing that out. Good job on the deductive reasoning, children.

I became the focus of the ride as they did their best to exacerbate my fear and have some fun. We finally came to the top and the kids ran to the open fence that any large adult could slip through to see the views of the valley way, way, way below. They turned back with sly grins to wait for my inevitable, uncontrollable, completely expected, tense reminder.

Do not climb the fence!

It took me awhile to adjust to the high places. My view was initially limited because it was mainly the ground in front of my feet. By sheer will, I looked out tentatively. The villages below so tiny. The fences so non-existent. The air that stretched out before me when there should be hard ground.

I knew I was missing out on enjoying the spectacular sights because of my fear. Fear is so overpowering and irrational, it steals the moment. I didn’t want to miss out on this moment. The beauty, the grandeur, the awe of the high places.

I had a choice of whether I was going to embrace the high places with all their danger and beauty. My memories could consist of dirt and rocks below me, or vast distances of beauty before me.

When I did start looking farther out, I saw deep blue shimmering lakes nestled between mountains. Green and yellow patchwork fields rolled between quaint cottages. Blue skies stretched far with white clouds and jutting grey mountains meeting.

It was spectacular.img_7517

My husband and I agreed that the kids needed him to fully enjoy climbing the rocks. I wandered the high places, a bit farther back from the edge than some, reflecting on that book I love, Hinds Feet on High Places.

The ascents to the high places with God are terrifying. Medical issues suddenly come to light, conflicts arise, disasters happen and we’re on a red bus screaming up to the high places where we are forced to trust Him or be miserable.

No one wishes for these things. On those ascents, I often live in the very immediate circumstance rather than lift my eyes up and out to look at the expanse of His creation, the beauty and the majesty.

After many ascents, I know the views from the top with the experience of His faithfulness on the way up, they are not to be traded. When I clutch the armrests of life, thinking I can save myself, the control I exert ends up controlling me.

The trip down the mountain in the special red bus was better. I looked out the window and enjoyed the views. My palms didn’t leave as much of a slimy residue on the armrests. The kids gave up their antics as they saw mom had finally gotten a grip on reality.

I suspect surrender always involves a battle, a reckoning, and a white flag. My regrets looking back on those ascents are that I didn’t acknowledge God’s sovereignty sooner.

I might have experienced more freedom and seen more of His wonder had I surrendered earlier.