Books I Think You Should Read

I’ve read three books recently that I think you should read.

First, there was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I grabbed this on a whim, after receiving a nice iTunes gift card for Christmas. I bought a bit of music (Joni Mitchell’s Hejira album, which I know by heart but only own as an record) and then looked for something to read over our Christmas holiday. I downloaded it to my iPad, began it right before we headed home from Ohio and could. not. stop. reading.

In fact, a few weeks later, when I suffered a torn retina, I felt so guilty; I was certain that six hours winding through the back roads of Pennsylvania and Virginia while staring at my iPad because I couldn’t devour that book fast enough was the culprit. Full disclosure: the doctor said, “Absolutely not. It’s just your nearsightedness and your age.”
There we go with the age thing again…
Anyway, Gone Girl was a fascinating read. An interesting whodunit with a a huge twist and a tantalizing look at a marriage from the inside out, and back in again. I really, really enjoyed the read – can’t say I’m a better person for spending a few hours with this book, but it was absolutely entertaining. Highly recommended for a beach or vacation read.
Next up: The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldana. This book was completely unfamiliar to me; my mother-in-law handed it to me when we arrived in Cleveland. She mentioned something about Syria and the current political situation and said, “I think you might like this.”
The thought of delving into Middle Eastern politics was, to be honest, not appealing. But I trusted her instincts, took the book home and picked it up early in January.
Oh, my.  This memoir traces Saldana’s journey to study Arabic in Damascus, to explore her own spirituality, to dig into the pain of her past and the uncertainty of her future, all with an unapologetic and unglamorous tint. A realistic look at an Eat, Pray, Love journey without the sex and the Cosmo-girl style vibe I pulled out of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir – though I did admire Gilbert’s journey and did enjoy her book. There’s just something a bit earthier about Saldana’s work; perhaps the spiritual exploration was more resonant for me. Perhaps the ending – which brought me to tears (actually, not the ending per se, but the acknowledgements – you must read the acknowledgements to get the full story) was so much more satisfying. Whatever. This book completely surprised me, which made me love it more. You will do well to read this book. Especially Lisa and Diane and Tammy and Donia and my mom; you will love this book.
Lastly, I dug into Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. Let me share here that much of my reading material is courtesy of my mom; she uses the Chesterfield County Public Library book reservation system like her own personal reading valet. Every week, another wildly popular new book gets her name strapped to it with a rubber band; she gets the notice and in she goes to claim her prizes. I always get to read our favorite authors’ newest works thanks to my mom and her system. I love that we share this. Anyway, the Kingsolver book came in thanks to mom’s system, and she kindly let me read it first.
I can’t say that it was a compelling read; it was, actually, a bit of a chore to get through. But two-thirds of the way in, there was no way I was giving up on the characters. I loved the way Barbara Kingsolver wraps the language into rich, authentic dialogue; the way her characters burrow into the day and somehow become part of the landscape. While reading, I wouldn’t have said that I loved the book; but now, a week later, I still can’t stop thinking about the characters. They are still out there, somewhere; very much real. Incredibly well-crafted, beautifully honed technique. I really admire Barbara Kingsolver and I’m very glad I read this book.
Next up on the list: Finishing Anne Lamott’s Help Thanks Wow – it’s a small book, but I’m reading slowly and letting it sink in – and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Not on the list, but still in process are a few books for work: re-reading The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni and Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley. 
You? Anything on YOUR list worth reading?

The God Who Wastes Nothing

I woke up at 6AM to drag myself out into the kitchen. David wanted French toast. Sometimes he gets what he wants; other times, I doze off on the couch while he gets ready, before waving him out the door with a kiss and another “Bad Mother of the Year” badge.

Today, I won another badge. My head was killing me. My nose was stuffy, my body ached, and my boy got nothing but a weak, “Have a good day…”

I had a day full of important meetings with important people. It kills me to call in sick, but for reasons a little less than honorable. See, I still think that the world will stop spinning without me. Sick days are an indictment of my mere humanity.

What a wretched soul I am.

Regardless, not much of a battle ensued. I felt terrible. I sent a quick email and a few texts, took a handful of aspirin and crawled back into bed.

As I type, the day is long over. I am still in my pajamas; my teeth have yet to be brushed, much less my hair. It was that kind of day – purely nothing.

But so much happened while I did nothing.

I slept and rested through the morning and awoke with a brighter demeanor and less of a headache. I recalled the words that lingered from last night, as my husband prayed over me. He asked for guidance, for help. The opportunity for an answer to that prayer was in front of me, so I read.

I journaled.

I cried.

I sat in stillness.

I listened.

I finished the first section of Anne Lamott’s Help Thanks Wow and accepted the simple theology therein. I need so much help.

And then I picked up Rob Bell’s Drops Like Stars and took in the delicious, abstract, beautiful truth that came with a lot of empty space and ridiculously opulent colors. A gift from friends, I’d treasured the card but set the thing aside; it’s the size of a coffee table book and the heft discouraged me.

But it’s what a sick day seems made for; “Oh, look, here’s a book that’s probably too long and wordy to read on a normal day let’s just take a look.”

And there was this page, here, with this photograph. And on the facing page, these words:

When I’m meeting with my counselor and I use words like “mistake” or “failure” or “waste”, he stops me. 
He then reaches into his desk drawer and pulls out a sign and holds it up so I can read it – again.

And it is this, these words in the photo – Hebrew letters, first, and then the translation, which looks oddly sterile and somehow stripped of their power – but still ring true.

The God Who Wastes Nothing


And I burst into tears. Right then, right there, completely unbidden. Overtaken by surprise and sobs, holding my face in my hands. Sorrow.

What?

What is this season I am in? For the past decade, I have been The Girl Who Wasted Everything – and yet found redemption and restoration. I was enveloped in grace and it moved me forward and into ministry and fueled my passion. Like some superwoman, “Grace Girl” – it was my calling card and my truth.

My identity.

A few days ago, I watched a bit of a message I delivered about 18 months ago; I was talking and preaching and singing and telling and the passion was real, the Biblical truth buttressing the experiential truth of my grace-filled life.

These days, I live in that grace, still. But.

There’s more.

Or less.

Less drama, maybe. I am happily married, glad for the quiet moments in the company of my husband. Happy to be home in the evenings with my sons, content cooking soup and washing the dishes.

I have arrived someplace.

I’m not sure where I am.

And regardless of the fact that I feel I have “arrived”, I still wrestle with my humanity, with my weaknesses and my failures and the million times each day I think I’m getting it wrong. I worry I’m getting it wrong. I don’t know who I am trying to please, but daily, I feel as if I am coming up short.

And maybe that’s it.

Maybe I’ve gotten it in my head that since I’ve arrived someplace, that I’ve now worn that SuperGraceGirl cloak long enough; that it’s high time I ought to Have It All Together and be still and know he’s God a good bit easier than I seem to.

Maybe I think I ought to be a little less broken by now.

Maybe I’ve forgotten that forward motion, new joy, security and real love don’t really ever negate the need to ask for help. Anne Lamott says,

“There’s freedom in hitting bottom…relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It’s exhausting, crazy-making. 

Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through.  

It is the first great prayer.”

I have forgotten this one thing, that the pivotal point in my life ten years ago secured me to a tether that held me upright while my help came. And the trajectory since then has been filled with other pivot points, thumbtacks in the map tacked to the wall of my life, stringing a path of ups and downs and all over the place moments of mistakes and disease and death and tears and joys and loss and gain.

That place of great unknowing can be my soul, every day. And God knows there is so much around me that needs fixing…starting with me.

Help. I need that tiny miracle.

Today, I got my hands on it, and it felt good. Soft and warm and taut with potential.

And my headache went away.