What I’m reading

My most recent read was a book about the Enneagram (a personality-ish scale that helps reveal blind spots from a Christian perspective) called, “The Road Back to You” by Ian Morgan Cron and Susan Stabile. At a girls night a couple months ago, my friend Heather mentioned this book and said she bet she could guess my number (vs letters in the Myers-Briggs). I held up my hand to stop her and told her I had the book reserved at the library and wanted to read it first before I got pegged. A friend at church had recommended it and I’m kind of a junkie for things that help with self-awareness and reveal an opportunity for growth.

I read this on a recent trip with my Dad who is a Myers-Briggs fan thinking I could read aloud sections and we could dissect it together, which we did. It was interesting and I found myself nodding along as it said things like, “this person tends to do this in stress” and “their motivation for doing this is ___” and “if they can try this instead, this could be helpful.” All in all, a good read if you’re into nosing around and getting to know yourself a little better, even the unpleasant parts.

I also read a little Richard Rohr, my first time reading his work, with the book, “Simplicity.” He’s a Franciscan priest and I enjoyed his direct and simple writing that resonated with me. One thing I really liked was when he talked about talking with God and reminded us that God is already in us through the Holy Spirit so really, all we need to do is quiet ourselves enough to hear Him speak. He said it’s so simple that it’s actually hard for people to understand. Last year at church we talked about the whisper of God’s voice and I have found that to be true in my own life. The times I hear most from God is when I’m quiet. Not when I’m like, “Hey God, can you tell me what to do?” (right now, please?). But when my thoughts have run out and I’m just sitting in silence. Sometimes then I can hear a little stirring. His book comes falls in line with things I’ve been interested in lately, like slowing things down to be able to hear from God.

Last month I read “Present over Perfect” which I loved by Shauna Niequist. Such short chapters packed with lessons on dialing back and determining and then focusing on what’s important. I probably liked it because it confirmed a lot of what Andy and I have been working on the past 18 months-2 years or so. Paring down responsibilities so we can see what needs attention. Stepping away from good things, good organizations, and doing the hard work of putting time and energy and lots of communication into our marriage. That’s been a big focus and I’m things are getting better.

I also read, “Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult. My first fiction book of the year, though it was inspired by a true story. I loved this book and parts of it were downright painful to read. I remember stopping reading to squirm a little bit. It takes place in current time and is about current events regarding racism. It is helpful in pointing out white privilege and is something I am working on understanding more. I definitely recommend this book.

Next, I read “Chasing Slow” by Erin Loechner. Sensing a theme after Present over Perfect? Yeah, I like to learn from others on things I’m currently working out in my own life. It’s easy to read, encouraging and well written. She’s an engaging story teller and I felt like I was sitting in her living room just having a real conversation about life- which is pretty much my favorite thing on the planet.

Oh, and in April, I read another Anne Lamott book, “Small Victories.” I can’t get enough of her self-deprecating, refreshing honesty about spirituality, life, and relationships. And it definitely helps that she’s hilarious. I plan to get through all of her books eventually.

That’s what I’ve been reading– how about you? Read anything lately that you really enjoyed? I’m always looking for new recommendations!

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Recent Reads- When we were on fire

This spring I started and finished Addie Zierman’s first book in two days, When We Were on Fire: A memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting over.

A friend recommended it to me based on her honesty in the book. My very favorite part was at the end during her Q & A. She was asked, “Where are you now in your spiritual life? What kind of church do you attend? What qualities attracted you to it?”

I would say that I’m still in the place of rebuilding and redefining what I believe. Our church journey was a long, difficult one. The church we ended up at in the final chapters of this book is not the one we attend now- though it was a safe place to land for a while. We connected with a few other couples and had a chance, for the first time, to share our story vocally and honestly. Our years there played a major role in my own journey of relearning to love “Church People” and in making peace with certain aspects of the evangelical world.

The church we’re at now is a small community church, and it’s really not all that different from any other church. But when we walked in, I could feel my heart expanding- and it was almost inexplicable to me, the suddenness of it. The pastor spoke, and he wasn’t saying anything new, but for the first time in years, I could hear it.

And I think in the end, you’re not really looking for “the right church.” You’re looking for yourself. Finding a church is about finding a place where your specific, beautiful heart can hear good news and take it all the way in. A place where they talk about God in a language you understand. A place where you can serve with your whole, broken heart and be healed in all that giving. 

I don’t really know. All I know is that we landed in this tiny church one Sunday morning and I felt entirely myself. And we’ve been there ever since.

This resonated so much with me because I’ve felt that heart expanding feeling before. When I got my driver’s license I visited a new church because it was the first time that I could choose to go somewhere on my own. They met in a large gym and we sat on wooden bleachers and I thought that was cool. I loved listening to the pastor and I remember walking up and challenging him on something he preached a few years later when I was in college. We disagreed, but he was kind. I wandered around a bit but kept coming back there for the next 10 years.

The next time I felt at home at a church was when I walked into a new (to us) church 8 years ago. We were there for five minutes when I turned to Andy and said, “Can we go here?” And we did, for 7 years. And so many wonderful things came out of that time. Deep friendships that feel like family. The opportunity for us each to serve in a bunch of different ways. Years of volunteering with teenagers who are simply amazing and many who have turned into incredible twenty-somethings that we still get to hang out with! There we learned the value of vulnerability by hearing others stories, told openly and honestly and in turn we were able to share our own.

In the last year I’ve felt that heart expanding-ness again at a new church (okay, technically it’s the same first church I found when I was sixteen but it’s changed and I’ve changed in the past 8 years). As I read Addie’s words, they rang so true. I can hear the good news and take it all the way in– in a language I understand and relate to. I look forward to the serving part. It’s been a year with very little volunteering and I think that’s okay. This season has required some extra space for healing.

Thanks Han, for suggesting that book. And thanks, Addie for writing true words.

Recent Reads- From Vacation

This past winter Andy and I went on our first warm weather trip when it was cold at home. My Dad and his wife had been inviting us to Mexico with them for years and this was the year we finally went with them. From the moment we arrived to sunshine and warm air, we wondered why we had waited so long.

We swam in the ocean, ate great food, took in as much vitamin d from the sun as we could handle. We shared stories over meals together, laughed and sang along with the mariachi band. It was a restful and peaceful time. And I read during our downtime, which was most of the time.

“Jesus Feminist” was the first book I read on this trip, and I really enjoyed it. It was refreshing to read something that was so different from what I had learned in church when I was younger. I even hesitate to use the word “learned” because I don’t know that I was explicitly taught that women should be quiet and submissive and that husbands should be the spiritual head of the household. But somehow that’s what I grew up understanding.

Sarah Bessey explains a bit more about the culture going on when Paul was writing about women being quiet in church. Women hadn’t been allowed in church before so they were excited and asking questions which was interrupting the teaching. But Paul never said that women shouldn’t be in leadership, though many churches still practice that if not explicitly say it outright. In fact, he suggested the opposite, speaking highly of women that were leaders in the church.

And best of all? Jesus was a feminist (for the sake of argument I’m breaking down feminist to its most basic definition that women and men should have equal rights). He said in Christ there was no longer male or female, slave or free, jew or greek. I really enjoyed reading this- it rang so true and sounded so much better than things I had believed for so long. Sarah talked about her own marriage and how she and her husband take turns leading or calling out the next steps for their family- but only after pressing in and taking a next step based on following Jesus. I shared this with Andy and we both resonated with this. We were able to look back and point out different times where we’ve taken turns leading in our marriage.

Okay that was a long recap, another book I read on this trip  was, “When Breath Turns to Air” by Paul Kalanithi. I’ve been on a bit of a death/grieving kick this past year (go figure) but each book I’ve read has been so interesting. This is written by a neurosurgeon who discovers he has brain cancer and he starts writing this book just before he dies. It is well written and captivating.

“Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert was up next, for something a little lighter. I liked how she talked about having a commitment to her art (for her, writing) from when she was young. She made a promise to write every day and to not put the pressure on her art to be her source of income. And she kept that promise for a long time, until her fourth book became super popular and it didn’t make sense for her to keep her day job anymore.

The last book I started on this trip was “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman. Finally, a little fiction. This was my second fiction book this year- I know- I’m weird. What can I say? I love a true story! This book is about a cute old curmudgeon and the people in his life. The relationships were well developed, a good read.

Has anyone read any of these, or have anything else you’d recommend?

Being Mortal and Living Soft

WILLOW TREE BENCH

I’m reading the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and it’s fascinating. It’s about growing older, allowing people to maintain independence and dignity as they age, while giving opportunities to continue to live.

He’s done a crap ton of research and the stories he shares are captivating. My favorite so far is from a woman who had a near death experience at age 21. Before the car accident she had spent her time thinking about finding the right person to spend her life with and what she was going to do next in life. After the accident, her perspective changed to not caring about those things at all, she just wanted to spend more time with loved ones because she was so grateful to be alive.

She wondered if how we choose to spend our time depends on how much time we think we have left in life. So she did studies.

Her theory was that “When horizons are measured in decades, which might as well be infinity to human beings, you most desire all that stuff at the top of Maslow’s pyramid- achievement, creativity…. But as your horizons contract- when you see the future ahead of you as finite and uncertain- your focus shifts to the here and now, to everyday pleasures and the people closest to you.”

I watched this happen to my brother. My dad described him as “soft” the closer he came to the end of his life. And I think that is the best word for it. Little things that used to get him riled up, he barely flinched at, in fact, he took a couple opportunities to chastise my mom when we would get worked up over things. He waved his hand and told us, “It doesn’t matter” and “you need to let that go.”

On the anniversary of his death this year, I was laying in bed staring at the ceiling and talking out loud. It was part prayer, part thoughts. I was trying to determine what Justin had taught me that was the most valuable. And I realized it was this- this softness that my dad talked about. How could I learn to live like that?

I saw the shift in my uncle TJ too, as he realized the days he had were a gift, not a guarantee. Almost nothing ruffled him. It was the littlest things that made him the happiest. Spending time with people he loved was his favorite, and my brother’s too.

I feel like I get the spending time with people I love part, but I am terrible at the not letting little things (that truly don’t matter) irritate me part.

In the studies this woman did, she saw this shift in perspective based on people’s age. The younger ones valued time with people they thought could teach them something new and they valued building new relationships. The older ones valued time with people they were emotionally close to. And when they studied people who were sick with a terminal disease, whether they were young or old, they all responded the way of the older people. And to further verify her findings, when the older people in the study were told that a new development would allow them to live 20 extra years, they all shifted their responses to value the things of the younger people.

Then, they studied people in different cultures just after a big event occurred where lots of people died. For the US, it was following 9/11. “In each case the results were consistent. When, as researchers put it, “life’s fragility is primed,” people’s goals and motives in their everyday lives shift completely. It’s perspective, not age, that matters most.”

Death can have that effect on us as humans. For me, my brother’s death was a total wake up call and a shift in perspective. I realized that if he could die, anyone could. And yes, I realize how stupid this sounds because in reality- we will all die at some point. Side note: My uncle used to tell the story of the doctor telling him he was dying. He quickly quipped, “So are you!”

One thing my brother’s death did was normalize conversations about death. Andy asked me just a few weeks after my brother died, what I would do if he died. I told him I’d sell the house, I’d take a break from work to grieve and I’d probably travel. When I asked him the same question he had the same answers, plus he specified he’d visit my friends and ask them to tell him stories about me. I told him his idea was sweeter than mine and now I’d want to do that too, for him.

Once we acknowledged how easily one of us could die, it caused us to narrow in on some of our dreams and figure out what do we want to do before we die. But even more so, how do we want to live?

If I want to be a softer person who lets things go, doesn’t read into stuff, and learns not to fill in the blanks for things that may or may not be true– how do I practically start to do that now?

It’s a great question- and one I’ve been asking myself. I’ve been applying a “practice things until they become a habit” idea to a couple different areas of my life and I’m giving it a whirl in this one too. I remind myself it’s okay to be a work in progress. When I start to feel stress, anger, or frustration, there are things I can practice to help things bug me less, or (ideally) not at all!

Taking a minute to take a few deep breaths to focus on that instead of the issue is a good place to start. Resisting the urge to jump to conclusions (I can’t say this without thinking of Office Space) and read other people’s minds is a good place to start. Repeating “not my monkeys, not my circus” to remind myself that other people’s stuff is not my stuff- is a good place to start. Going on a walk outside in the fresh air to process while moving is a good place to start.

I don’t want to wait until I’m staring death in the face to be a softer person. It’s just going to take some practice.

Book Thoughts- January and February

I’ve been reading a bunch lately and I figured I’d go back to recap my favorite parts of some books I’ve read recently.

Since I last wrote about reading here, I finished numbers 2, 3 and 4 from that list. For the love, Vagabonding and The Shack, respectively. My favorite of the three was, The Shack.

I loved the way that God belly laughed, cooked and didn’t take him/herself too seriously. The easy way that Jesus spoke often brought tears to my eyes because the words resonated and sounded so true. The Holy Spirit was represented in such a fascinating way, I loved reading it and wondering if parts of that were real.

Side note: I heard some people didn’t like that God was represented as a woman in the book (the reason why is revealed at the end of the book). It didn’t bother me for two reasons. First, I was reading it as fiction. Second, if both women and men are created in the image of God it doesn’t seem overreaching to me that God could appear to a person as either gender.

This is a book I picked up at a rummage sale for a quarter, but I will be happy to keep it and read it again.

In February I read Choose Joy by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver. It is primarily excerpts of Sara’s blog with pieces filled in by her friend Mary. Sara had an illness that kept her housebound and eventually took her life. She wrote to stay connected and found even more friends through her writing. She had an incredibly positive outlook on life despite the fact that she couldn’t leave her home and lived in chronic pain.

One thing Sara wrote that stuck with me was about being a woman without kids. She went on to say that all parents should have a childless friend to love their kids and be proud of their accomplishments too. She figured that friends who were parents could be happy for their friend’s kids but may hold back a little still thinking their kids are the greatest (as they should). A childless friend can be unbiased and unashamedly happy for and proud of your own kids.

I liked this part purely for selfish reasons because it affirmed the way I think about our nephews, nieces and all my friend’s kids. They’re all are amazing! Some are talented athletes and musicians. Some are sensitive with huge hearts. Some are hilarious, creative, and thoughtful. Some love to sing and dance. It’s fun to agree with family and friends that yes, their kid really is the best at xyz. Because it’s all true and I really mean it.

I also read Spark Joy: An illustrated master class on the art of organizing and tidying up by Kon Mari. This book was very similar to Kon Mari’s first book on purging excess belongings, with just more examples of how to put her method into practice. Great in theory, yet I have yet to get back to purging my way through the house.

A friend of mine found a free online checklist for the Kon Mari system and we had been working through it in our own homes. But I totally stopped over a month ago. I don’t even have a good reason. I was going to blame it on the fact that I lost the sheet. But I do remember seeing it when I was looking for a recipe the other day- so now I know right where it is.

Blerg.

Okay it’s a short list, but I have more books to share thoughts on for another day. To sum up, The Shack was my favorite of these…and yes, I am endorsing a book that came out 9 years ago that I just got around to reading this year.

What I’m not reading

Andy and I went to a conference in 2013 where a speaker talked about his “Family Rules.” We loosely implemented a few of them in our home- primarily as a way to gently tease each other when we do something poorly.

One of the Family Rules is “Finish the job.” Whether the job is unloading the dishwasher, folding laundry, whatever, you keep going until it’s done. Logical? Yes. Easy for me? No. I’m a pretty lousy housekeeper. Just ask the friend who visited while Andy was out of town and upon taking two steps into the house had a receipt stick to her foot.

Anyway, I was reminded of this rule when I decided to see how many books I have started but not finished reading. This is what I found:

  1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. I started this book over a year ago and stopped when I was crying too much while reading it. I still have a bookmark in it for when I’m emotionally ready to read about the holocaust again. (who is ever ready for that!?!)
  2. For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. I started this book when it came out this past summer. And I stopped for no reason whatsoever. I have five-ish chapters left and should just stop this post to finish the book now.
  3. Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. This indulges my dream of travel and I have read it slowly because I’m adding little sticky notes throughout the book. I have about one chapter left, I made some progress on it this week.
  4. The Shack by William P. Young. I started this about a month ago and have been loving it. Again, just a few chapters left.
  5. Through the Eyes of a Lion: Facing impossible pain finding incredible power by Levi Lusko. Oof, this one is good and hard to read, which is probably why I put a temporary hold on it. The man writes of losing his daughter suddenly. My counselor recommended it and I said, “Oh, I own that one, just haven’t read it yet” (a related problem I have) so I picked it up but put it down again after some tears.
  6. Out of Sorts: Making peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey. This one is really good but it’s due back at the library so I think I’ll need to re-check it out again. I regretfully didn’t get to it fast enough.
  7. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. This one I just started yesterday so I don’t feel bad about it not being finished yet, but it is already SO good. This was a gift from Andy this Christmas.

I’ll admit I was a little surprised to see the number so high- I thought I had four or five in process. In between starting books 2-5 I did read other books in their entirety. Maybe I’ll get to sharing about them on here. But for now, it looks like I should keep reading to get a few of these off my nightstand.