Reflections on ten years

We moved to Athena on November 26, 2008. Everything about the move was difficult and uncertain for me. We’re coming up on 10 years here and I’ve been reflecting about God’s provision and my gratitude.

We had been living in Rosalia, Washington for just about 3 years when Chris told me he wanted to leave the company he’d been working at for the last 6 years, accept a new job, and move to his hometown. I’ll not say that I greeted this news with great joy.

Our years in Rosalia were incredibly difficult. The first year we lived there we struggled, mostly alone, through difficulty staying pregnant and fears that we would never be able to have children. Then I got pregnant with Helen. Her birth was a miracle and obviously a huge blessing but it also began probably the most difficult year of my life. I was alone, 9 hours away from my family, with a husband who worked atrociously long hours and a baby who would not be put down, at all, ever. We had no friends and no connections and I was just so alone with the best and most difficult thing constantly in my arms. (I’m sure that the extremely difficult first year of her life guarantees us easy teenage years, right?)

We never really felt very connected there but by the time we decided to leave, we had finally found a church in Colfax that felt like home and about 6 months before we left my sister and her husband had moved into a place just a couple of blocks from our house. I still really didn’t have any friends except for my sister but she was really all I needed. Living down the road from her and her family for that brief period will always be one of the great joys of my life.

On top of the feelings of disconnection, our time in Rosalia was incredibly financially difficult. Chris and I had a conversation about my going back to work not long after Helen was born. I can remember rocking my very small daughter, just begging God to provide and telling Chris (in what I am sure was a very helpful tone) that I didn’t want to go to work, I wanted to stay home with my baby. We muddled through but when we moved here we were very, very broke. I maxed out a credit card filling the car with gas and spent the last $30 in our checking account buying a few groceries the morning after we moved here. Then on the trip here the engine in Chris’s pickup blew and we had to borrow $3000 from my parents to have a new engine put in.

So, we arrived here and things were tense. I was sad about moving away from my sister. I was 5 months pregnant with Patrick and worried about money. I was sore and grouchy from moving and from not enough sleep on the floor of our new house. It was a rough morning. In fact, Chris and I joke now about the fight we had in front of his sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law. It’s a miracle that they still decided to get married after witnessing my stress-filled reaction to disappointment and fear.

Things didn’t get easier right away. The first winter we were here we lived 7 miles out of town and that winter there was enough snow that the road drifted closed for almost a week. I think it might have been January when that happened and I remember wondering what we would do if something happened and I went into labor early, how we would get to medical care. There were things about our place out of town that I loved and that I grew to love even more during the years that we lived there but that first winter was very isolating. I’m not quick to make friends and living so far out of town sometimes made that even more difficult. One day, probably 2 or 3 weeks before Patrick was born I sat on our living room floor and cried because I couldn’t imagine how I could survive a year like the first year of Helen’s life living out in the middle of nowhere. At least in Rosalia I could walk to the library when I needed a sanity break.

But then Patrick was born and his first year was a piece of cake compare to Helen. He let me put him in his crib! It was like a miracle. And I started making friends in town. Amanda Calvert was legitimately a life saver to me. She came over to my house and invited me to hers! We had lunch together, we canned applesauce with our 5 children running around under foot, we talked about things not related to children! Then Angela Schmidtgall invited me to be a substitute in her bunco group and suddenly I was invited to become a regular! Shawna Calvert loved me even before we spoke, I think. She became Auntie Shawna to my kids and practically a second mother to Helen. There are so many other names I could say of people who have been part of the blessings of life in Athena.

Moving here was not what I wanted to do. But now Chris and I both have employment that brings purpose and meaning to our lives. We both have jobs we love and are good at. That happened because we moved here. Our financial situation no longer causes heart ache. We have deep connections in our church and in the community as a whole. Our lucky kids attend excellent schools and they will graduate with the kids that they went to kindergarten with. They have connections both with peers and with adults who love them and are invested in their future success. These are things that have happened because we moved here.

I have been thinking about God’s provision and how to make sense of hard times. I don’t think that times were difficult in Rosalia because we were outside of God’s will when we lived there. In fact, I think God uses the hard times to teach us to trust Him more fully. In a lot of ways, I think that’s what God was teaching us during our years in Rosalia. I’m sorry to say this but Rosalia has become a byword to us for pain and suffering, both because of our hard times there and because Becky died there. But in all of those things God was teaching us to love Him and trust him.

In a funny way, I think He uses the good times that way too. We are in a sweet season right now. It might be about to end (I mean, we are going to have a teenager next year) but I think He’s showing us things in these good times that are meant to help us trust Him more fully and follow Him more faithfully. God’s also teaching me to be grateful. This might sound strange, but I’m so grateful for the hard years in Rosalia. I would not want to go back but I am grateful for the way those years taught me to love God more fully. I’m also grateful for the way those years taught me to love and rely on my husband more fully. Those hard years were full of lessons and love.

Ten years go by in a flash. I couldn’t have imagined anything about our current life situation 10 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined it would be so good and rooted here. Reflecting on these 10 years makes me think about the next 10 years too. I don’t know what to expect but I’m excited to see what’s next.

When your family is in crisis

Last night allegations of sexual misconduct against a well known church leader were made public.  I don't know the man personally and I've never attended his church, but the news hit me like a gut punch.  I've been in tears, or close to it, since hearing the news.  I'm just so heartbroken.  I think I've figured out why I'm taking it so hard and, really, this latest news is only one small part of a much larger problem.  My family is in crisis. 

If you know me you probably know that I grew up in the church.  Church people loved and nurtured me.  Church people are my literal, biological family and also my metaphorical family.  I have more brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents than I can count.  Like any family, my church family has crazy uncles, rebellious sisters and proper great aunts.  Like any family, we have squabbles and disagreements.  The church is my family and I love it.  Every time you read a news article that says something about "Evangelicals" I want you to read that as "Kristin's Family."  Do you see what I mean when I say my family is in crisis?

There's a story from the ministry of Jesus that is sometimes hard to reconcile the popular conception of Jesus as gentle and loving.  This story is often called the "Cleansing of the Temple."  In the gospel of John it's described this way:

"When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” John 2:13-17

Can you picture Jesus doing this?  This isn't the sweet Jesus with the lamb over his shoulder that you remember from Sunday School.  Jesus is angry and grieved because these things that are making it more difficult for people to come to the Father.  The money changers are sellers of animals are supposedly doing work that makes it easier for people to come and worship God but, in practice, they are cheating and swindling those people.  They are making it more difficult for people to worship.

I wonder if Jesus is overturning some tables and scattering some money changers in the church right now?  Is that part of what all this family crisis is?  And then more personally, I wonder what tables need to be overturned in my own life?  I would much rather take the tables down myself than wait for Jesus to come in with angry whips.

I will never stop loving the church.  But I do pray for a day when we are not so broken and dysfunctional.  My family is in crisis.

New Year's Rulin's

Have you ever checked out Lists of Note?  I really like it and you never really know what you're going to get.  Today I noticed New Year's Rulin's in the most read list.  I don't know why I haven't noticed it before but today was a good day to read it.   This is Woody Guthrie's list of New Year's resolutions for 1942.  I'm including a picture here and you can click on the picture to check out my source.

I really appreciate this list of Rulin's.  I like how it encompasses both the big - "27. Help win war - beat fascism"  and the small - "5. Take bath."  I think sometimes we forget to concentrate on the small things that we do every day that make our lives better.  My life is better when the kitchen is tidy at night. My life is better when I make a menu plan.  My life is better when I go for a walk.

At the same time, I think we can get so caught up in those every day tasks that we forget to look beyond ourselves.  Not every thing I do should be solely predicated on what makes my life better.  So I resolve to keep my eyes focused on things outside of myself.  I love that Woody Guthrie resolved to love more and that he was specific about the people he wanted to love.  There is power in naming things. 

I also love Guthrie's resolutions number 15 and 19.  I, too, resolve to learn people better and to keep my hoping machine running.

Joyful Confidence

In his book, Soul Keeping, John Ortberg recounts a conversation he had with Dallas Willard.  Ortberg was facing a time of difficulty and called Willard for counsel and, he hoped, an answer that would help smooth the way.  Dallas Willard said to him, "This will be a test of your joyful confidence in God."   Willard's gentle challenge to him was to remain confident in God, joyfully confident.  This short, simple sentence has been clanging in my head for a little more than a week.

The day after the election I deactivated my Facebook account.  There is nothing about the 24 hours leading up to that decision that wasn't heartbreaking to me.  On election day morning I shared a post of excitement about what I thought would happen that day, a post about what I thought was going to be the realization of a lifelong dream.  And even before my dreams were dashed by the actual results of the election, some my Facebook friends stomped on my heart.

I get it.  The election this year was difficult and it is too easy to quickly write something on someone's Facebook post without considering the actual person behind the post.  I know I've done it.  I might have hurt you with a flippant, unthinking remark.  I am sorry.  If I do something to hurt you, would you please tell me?  I don't want to be a cause of pain in your life.  There's enough hurt in this world. I don't want to add to it.

I do not hate anyone because of who they voted for.  I may think you are wrong but I deeply believe in your right to vote for anyone you choose to vote for.  I am very concerned by what I am seeing in these days of transition into President Trump's term of office.  I am very concerned by some of the things being said, some of the people being tapped for positions in the administration, some of the actions being taken as a result of the election. And I am worried about the future of our country and the path we may be headed down.

This election has goaded me into action in new ways.  I spent more time than I like to admit researching local offices I might want to run for.  I've added to the list of organizations that I believe in and want to support, both with my time and with my finances.  This is not about politics.  This is about working for good.

I reactivated my Facebook account today.  I had to because of some pages I manage but also I don't want to remove myself from things.  Truth is, Facebook does make a difference (even if Mark Zuckerberg wants to deny it).  I feel so, so different from many of my Facebook friends.  But differences are good and I'm not going to go away just because those people aren't like me. 

Thoughts on Maundy Thursday

These thoughts born out of today's Lectionary reading: Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35

 

Exodus 12:2 "This month shall mark the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you."

God rescued his people, Israel, at the beginning of the year and from that rescue forward Jews have opened the year remembering God's provision.  (Listen, this is a little confusing because the Bible clearly says that the spring month of Nisan is the new year but we think of fall's Rosh Hashanah as the Jewish New Year.  I thought this site had a good explanation.)  As I read the reading in Exodus I thought of how I usually mark a New Year.  I might spend a few moments remembering the events of the previous year but most of my thinking is centered on the new year, on what I want to do and how I want to improve in the months ahead.  

But God gives the Israelites a "lasting ordinance" at the beginning of the year in the form of the Passover remembrance.  God tells them to remember their salvation and deliverance at His hand.  God preserved the story of that deliverance for me too.  So I read about the spotless lamb who was sacrificed for their salvation, of the way the lamb's blood was spread on the doorposts.  And I remember the spotless Lamb who was sacrificed for my salvation, of the way the Lamb's blood is spread on the doorposts of my heart.

Exodus 12:13 says, "The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. "  I've always thought of the lamb's blood as a sign for God, that God would see the blood and pass over, relenting from bringing judgment on that house. That was God's promise, for sure, that He would see the blood and no plague would destroy them.  But this time I notice something else, it says, "The blood shall be a sign for you...."  God asked them to put the blood on their doors in a visible way.  God didn't need that.  He sees all and knows all.  He could have told them to put the blood in a secret spot in their closets and He would have known about it.  Instead He asks them to be very public about it.  This is them declaring out loud that they believe that God will provide for them.  This is a sign for each other and for themselves.  It is an open profession of obedience and dependence.  The same open declaration is required of us.  The reading from Psalm 116 makes the same declaration in verse 14, "I will pay my dues to the Lord in the presence of all His people."

 

1 Corinthians 11:26 "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes."

What does it mean to proclaim the Lord's death?  Matthew Henry says it is:

"to show forth Christ's death, to declare and publish it. It is not barely in remembrance of Christ, of what he has done and suffered, that this ordinance was instituted; but to commemorate, to celebrate, his glorious condescension and grace in our redemption. We declare his death to be our life, the spring of all our comforts and hopes. And we glory in such a declaration; we show forth his death, and spread it before God, as our accepted sacrifice and ransom. We set it in view of our own faith, for our own comfort and quickening; and we own before the world, by this very service, that we are the disciples of Christ, who trust in him alone for salvation and acceptance with God." 

And now the Lectionary moves into a passage that opens with my favorite verse in all of scripture. 

John 13:1b "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end."

The first part of verse 1 tells us that Jesus knew his time had come to depart from this world.  Sounds pretty mild when you put it like that, right?  But I think Jesus knew what was coming and just how difficult it was going to be.  Even with this knowledge, though, Jesus kept on loving and loving to the utmost.  This describes his love for the disciples sitting at the table with him that night but I think it also describes his love for his own who are in the world right now.  I'm going to quote Matthew Henry again, because I love his way with words.  "Those whom Christ loves he loves to the end; he is constant in his love to his people; he rests in his love. He loves with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3), from everlasting in the counsels of it to everlasting in the consequences of it. Nothing can separate a believer from the love of Christ; he loves his own, eis telos-unto perfection, for he will perfect what concerns them, will bring them to that world where love is perfect."

 

John 13:34 "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."

Today is Maundy Thursday.  The word maundy is derived from the word for commandment.  John 13:34, then, is the focus of this day of remembrance.  Tomorrow we will meditate on the crucifixion.  Sunday we will celebrate the glory of the resurrection.  Today we focus on the new commandment that Jesus gave us in his final hours on earth.  He says we should love one another just as he loved us.  How did he love us?  To the end, to the utmost, eternally.  His love for us cost him dearly.  His love for us is defined by action.  Jesus loves us because we are his, yes, but he also loved us before we were his.  That's the kind of costly, unconditional love he was commanding us to love with. 

Are you fulfilling the new commandment Jesus gave?

 

 

Some of the things that made me think today

This morning I took my kids to school and then went for a run. It was just sprinkling when I started out but the rain was coming down pretty hard when I was a couple of miles in to the run.  Rainy spring runs are the best.  I love the sound of my breath swooshing in and out of my lungs, the delicious ache in my legs as I push up the cemetery hill.  I love the calculus involved in a run: if I turn here I can add another mile, how far if I turn there?  When I got back to the house I was drenched and exhilarated, ready for the rest of the day.  

I spent most of my day elbow deep in tomato sauce and cheese and noodles.  I'm preparing dinner for around 70 people tomorrow night and I did a bunch of prep work today.  At first, when I agreed to do this I just thought it would be a good way to support an event that I care about.  Today in the kitchen I was enjoying myself so much that I think it was really a gift for me to get to do it.  I layered sauce and noodles and cheese.  I dipped pounds of strawberries in chocolate.  I talked to myself and listened to a great book.  I chatted with a good friend.   It was pleasure and purpose combined.

I was working alongside a friend for a bit today and she nearly burst to show me a picture of her brand new grandson.  He's fresh on the scene, just born this morning and he is glorious.  Then she showed pictures of the new grandson alongside pictures of her son when he was a baby.  And all I could think was, I bet she still sees that baby when she looks at him.  When I look at my kids I see their baby faces and their toddler faces and their preschool faces and all their faces just smooshed into who they are now.   All those faces, just like they were yesterday before they grew into the giants they are now. 

My Aunt posted a picture on Facebook today because it's her wedding anniversary.  I haven't seen the picture before and it is just so beautiful.  She is dancing with her husband and she is absolutely luminous in the picture.  She's a beautiful woman, don't get me wrong, but the beauty in that picture is a result of the love and the grace and the gift of that day.  The best part of that picture is that my Aunt still looks just that luminous, even these 15 years later.  I was an adult when my Aunt got married and for a long time I thought I wouldn't be able to give someone new the name Uncle.  I was wrong.  Even if he weren't a great guy, which he is, I would love him for how well he loves my Aunt.

My precious friend's grandma died today, on her 85th birthday.  I'm sad for my friend and for her family but I can't help but feel happy for her grandma.  If someone had told me on my day of birth that I'd die on that same day 85 years later, I wouldn't be sad about it.  She had a great life, full of people who loved her and cared for her.  And on her 85th birthday she died in her home without a great deal of pain.  A trip to heaven doesn't seem like a bad birthday present.

Sometimes I'm just so overwhelmed by how beautiful it all is.  Life, I mean.

What I read this week: February 21-28

A big part of my reading this last week was a complete re-read of Evicted by Matthew Desmond.  I didn't mean to re-read the whole book.  I was really just planning on going over a few bits to help me finish a review.  But the book is incredible and deserved another go.  I really can't recommend that book enough.  If you are at all interested in public policy, social justice, poverty, race issues, etc you should read it.  If you are a human person, you should read it.  On the surface it doesn't seem like it would be super applicable to my life in a very rural community, since it has to do with housing issues in urban areas, but I think there are a lot of things that apply to life in the sticks.  I wrote about it for Englewood Review of Books and I'll share a link to that when it goes up.    

I did read a few other things.  So, here goes.

  • Dietland by Sarai Walker.  This book is just weird.  I can't say that I liked it and I can't say that I didn't like it.  Dietland features a fat protagonist named Plum Kettle.  Plum spends her whole life waiting to be skinny so that her real life can begin.  Because she lives in shame about who she is, she wears clothes that she doesn't like, she does a job that she hates, she eats food that is tasteless.  But she believes this will all change when she is finally skinny and becomes a real person.  Through a series of strange events, she is connected with a group of women who live on their own terms and she learns to accept herself  as she is. 

The premise of the book is great.  I liked the idea that we've all been brainwashed into believing certain unattainable body types are attractive and anything outside of that ideal is to be hated.  I also thought some of the lines the author drew between pornography/disordered sexuality and advertising/disordered body image were interesting.  The problem is, I really did not like the main character.  It's hard to get on board with these revolutionary ideas when the main character is someone you don't want to be and wouldn't want to hang out with.  Anyway, the idea of the book was interesting, I just didn't love the execution.

  • Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos.  I picked this up because I really enjoyed the author's previous novels, Broken for You and Sing Them Home.  This novel was lacking, for me.  I tend to be a very linear person.  If an author can keep control of a narrative that doesn't follow a standard timeline or that jumps between perspectives, it can be really great.  I didn't feel like Kallos did that.  Not my favorite book of the year.  You can probably skip it.

 

  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari.  I actually listened to this one and laughed way more than you might expect when you pick up a work of social science research.   I guess that's the first thing you should know about this book.  Aziz Ansari (comedian) wrote this book with Eric Klinenberg (NYU sociologist).  The book uses loads of data on relationships and dating to completely convince me that I'm glad I got married when I did.  Okay, I'm sure that wasn't the point of this book but it definitely was one of the results!  They outline the way things have changed: it used to be that people regularly married someone who lived in the same building/neighborhood/few blocks as they did.  It was often someone they were introduced to through family connections and usually the marriages happened in the early 20s.  Today, people are marrying much later and rarely marry people that grew up in the same place they did.  Aziz Ansari claims this means people are more romantically fulfilled than they were in the past but I wonder what to make of rising rates of divorce, etc.  It would be interesting to take another look at the data and see what could be made of that.  Anyway, good book.  I'm guessing you'd like it.

 

  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.  My sister loaned me this book because she likes to make me cry.  Unless you live under a rock, you've heard of this book and it's not a spoiler if I tell you that Paul Kalanithi died last March.  This book is a meditation on life and death and love and marriage.  It is gorgeous and should be read by everyone.  I also particularly enjoyed the last bit, which was written by his wife after he died.  I liked her thoughts on marriage at the end of life.  It is a really excellent book.

 

That's it for next week.  Right now I'm reading The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee, Night Driving by Addie Zierman and Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy.  I'll tell you all about them next week!

 

What I read this week (for two weeks!): February 8-21

I got busy last week and forgot to write about what I read.  So this will be for the last two weeks.  I'm sure you've just been anxious to see this.

  • Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward.  I talked a bunch about this book in this post.  I loved it.  You should read it.  

 

  • Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa.  This novel is a fictionalized account of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.  I really enjoyed the author's use of multiple points of view and the way the points of view alternated.  The novel asks questions about the kind of world we want and the kinds of things we are willing to do to get that kind of world.  It also explores hope, optimism and a sincere desire to affect change but doesn't really delve in to what happens when those things get out of control.  I really liked it as a novel but I think it left a bunch of unanswered questions.

 

  • The Expatriates by Janice YK Lee.  I really wanted to like this because of how much I enjoyed Lee's debut novel, The Piano Teacher.  The Expatriates, though, felt a little flat.  I didn't really buy what Lee seemed to be saying, which is that motherhood itself requires a woman to become a kind of expatriate.  I still enjoyed her writing and the way she expresses herself, I just didn't really connect with the characters or the situations the book explores.  I definitely suggest you read The Piano Teacher, if you want to experience this author's best work.

 

  • The Run of His Life: The People Versus OJ Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin.  Like many people, I have been captivated by The People vs. OJ Simpson on Fx.  It's kind of a moth to the flame effect, I can't look away.  I was in high school when the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman took place and in college when the verdict was finally reached.  I remember the day of the verdict vividly but, honestly, I don't remember much about the details of the trial and such.  I think I was busy doing other things.  So, because I've found the TV show so interesting, I wanted to go back and read the book it is based (loosely) on.  

First, I think it should be said that any book Jeffrey Toobin writes is an education.  I especially recommend The Nine, which is about the Supreme Court and Too Close to Call, which is about the 2000 election. (Also, this piece in the New Yorker about Scalia is amazing, if you are looking for a current event think piece from him.)  But, really, anything he writes is worth reading.  The Run of His Life is really eye opening.  I always had a kind of vague belief that OJ was likely guilty of the murders but Toobin's very thoughtful, step by step look at the investigation, evidence and trial strategies (both of the prosecution and the defense) laid it out in such an incontrovertible way that I genuinely can't see how the not guilty verdict was reached.  Except, at the same time, I can see it.  You have to give OJ's defense team credit because their work in getting a vicious killer off Scot-free was really remarkable.  In the end, I really just felt sorry for the majority of people who were involved, especially for the jurors who were really faced with an impossible task and for the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.  I could not put the book down and highly recommend it to anyone interested at all in pop culture/ the law/ true crime/ politics/ good writing.

 

That's all for the last couple of weeks.  I'm currently reading When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, and Dietland by Sarai Walker.  I'm sure there will be others by the time next week rolls around.  Stay tuned.

When Beyonce and Jessmyn Ward made me feel all the things

Usually I am not cool enough to know about big pop culture things as they are happening.  I usually find out about things just when they are starting to become uncool.  I wear mom jeans and drive this generation's equivalent of a minivan.  Actually, I don't even think I was cool back when I thought I was cool.  Anyway, that's not the point.

This weekend, I happened to be scrolling through Twitter when Beyonce dropped her new video, Formation.  So I watched it.  And I watched it again.  And again.  I don't think I can count how many times I've watched the video now.  It is mesmerizing.  It is gorgeous.  It makes me uncomfortable.  I've since read a billion think pieces about the video and what it all means.  And I think I'm supposed to be uncomfortable.  I think it's good that it makes me uncomfortable.

I've been made most uncomfortable by the varied reactions I've seen to the video.  Almost to a person, every negative reaction to either the video or the Super Bowl performance I've seen on my Twitter and Facebook feeds has been from a white person.  And almost every African American reaction I've seen has been positive.  This isn't the first time I've noticed this kind of divide.  Many, if not most, of the people (nearly all white) who live in my area have been unsympathetic (putting it kindly) to the deaths of young, unarmed black men in confrontations with police.  I've seen many comments about how they should just "do what the police tell them" and if they don't, "that's what they get."  (These same voices, by the way, are up in arms over the death of Lavoy Finicum, a man who is shown in videos to be reaching for his weapon.  But that's another story.)  What is becoming more and more obvious to me is that our country is terribly divided.

Last week I started reading Jessmyn Ward's memoir Men We Reaped.  The book is at once very personal and terribly universal.  I had heard it described as a memoir of loss.  This is a memoir genre that I've become a student of in the last 5 years and so I picked it up.  And it is a memoir of loss in many ways.  Jessmyn Ward weaves the stories of the loss of her brother and four other close friends into a discussion of family and relationships but also of race and economic disadvantage.  These five seemingly unrelated deaths become a microcosm of the ways that we have not cared for our neighbors.  Actually, let's go further.  It's not just that we haven't cared for our neighbors, that's too passive, it's that we have actively hurt our neighbors. 

The deaths Jessmyn Ward tells about in Men We Reaped have many causes.  From one point of view it could be argued that the young men caused their own deaths, in one obvious instance of suicide the man did die by his own hand.  Yes, there are aspects of personal responsibility in all the deaths Ward remembers, with the possible exception of her brother's death by drunk driver.  At the same time, Ward rightly points out the ways in which we are all complicit in these deaths: few job prospects, lacking educational systems, high rates of incarceration, the world is a very precarious place for young African American men. 

Christians like to trot out Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  It's true, we are all one in Christ but our practice of that oneness is far from perfect. When Christians, white Christians in particular, ignore the systems of injustice that oppress our brothers and sisters, we are not only a part of the problem, we are caught up in generational sin that is far from what God intended for His people.  

I get it.  Acknowledging systemic racism is hard and it will require real work and real change that may be painful.  It is so much easier to pretend it doesn't exist.  Let me be the first to admit that I don't have any answers about this and even less real knowledge.  None.  But I think awareness is the first step.  And I think a big part of moving toward reconciliation is being willing to listen to other voices.  I have enjoyed (and been made uncomfortable by) Christena Cleveland (her blog and her book, Disunity in Christ), Osheta Moore, Eugene Cho, Austin Channing and others. 

"When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don't get to decide that you didn't."  I've seen this Louis CK quote making the rounds on Facebook lately and I think it applies to this situation perfectly.  Our brothers and sisters are telling us that we've hurt them.  It's up to us to help change the things that are causing the hurt.

What I read this week: February 1-7

I hardly read anything this week.  Wait, that's not true.  I read just as much as usual, I just didn't finish very much.  In fact, I only finished one book this week. 

  • Running: a Love Story by Jen A Miller.  I received this as an ARC and it is scheduled to be released March 22, 2016.  I think this might be a book that only a runner could love.  I really liked her descriptions of running and of races.  I didn't so much care for the series of crappy relationships she described. 

 

That's all I finished this week.  I'm deeply caught up in several other books:  Out of the House of Bread by Preston Yancey (which requires some work and introspection, I might not finish that one for a while), re-reading Evicted by Matthew Desmond (because I'm going to review it for another publication), and Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward.    Listen, Men We Reaped combined with Evicted and Beyonce's "Formation" is giving me some feelings.  I'm not sure how or if I'll write about it because I'm not sure I'm equipped to write about it.  But those feelings are a lot of why I read so little last week.  Stay tuned for more.

 

What forever is

In the months after my sister died I had this feeling that her death was something I had to live with for a while but then, eventually, things would get back to normal.  Like, maybe, she was just on vacation for a time.  I think this is an example of Joan Didion's version of  magical thinking.  In her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion recounts her experiences in the year after her husband died unexpectedly.  One of the episodes I remember most vividly from the book was when she talked about being unable to give away her husband's shoes because she knew he'd need them when he returned.  I know that kind of thinking, that if these things are still true, this other thing must also be true.  It's easy to rely on magical thinking, in the beginning, at least.

Life doesn't return to normal.  Or, maybe, there is no normal.  This is what forever is.


In the years before our daughter was born, when it was incorrectly assumed that we were struggling with infertility, well-meaning, kind-hearted people would say things like, "don't worry, it will all be worth in in the end."  Or, "you'll get pregnant just as soon as you stop trying."  And, my favorite, "this will all make sense in retrospect."  These are the kinds of things people say to each other when they don't really know what to say.

The truth is, we never struggled with infertility, at least not in the traditional sense.  I never had a problem getting pregnant, I just couldn't stay pregnant.   We lost untold babies for unknown reasons.  (I say untold, not uncounted.  Every one of those precious lost ones were counted and known by us, we just haven't told everyone about all of them.  But that's another discussion.)  The reasons for the losses we experienced remain unknown to our doctors and to us.  Some things we just don't get to know, this side of heaven.  This is what forever is. 

But I think about those well-meaning comments.  How can I make sense of it?  Or how much retrospection is needed to make sense of it?  How do we reconcile our deep feelings of grief over the lost ones with our deeper feelings of joy over the precious children we did birth into this world?  If the lost ones had survived the precious ones we have wouldn't have been born.    So, what does it mean that it will be worth it, as those kind-hearted folks promised?

I think these are the questions I'll be asking for the rest of my life.  This is what forever is.


In the immediate aftermath of a loss, people who care about you ask you how you are doing.  They check in on you a lot.  How are you holding up?  How are you coping with your sister's death?  How are you getting through?  I suppose that's the proper response in the beginning. The start is a traumatic wound, a gaping hole.  We treat wounded people with care.  That's right. 

Then, as time progresses, the wound becomes a scar.  But it seems like people still want to talk about the scar.  Now, when people ask me how I feel about my sister's death, I feel like they are trying to pick at the scar.  If I saw an amputee in the grocery store, I wouldn't ask her how she lost her leg.  That's what it feels like to me when people want to talk about my sister's death, like they are asking me how I lost my leg.

When people ask me about how I'm coping with my sister's death, they are making her all about me.  I don't always want to talk about me.  When I am 85 I don't want to just remember that I had a sister named Becky who died when she was 32.  I want to remember my sister Becky who had an impish grin and was a world class sarcasm dealer.  I want to remember that she was compassionate in the extreme and absolutely broken at the idea of someone she loved not knowing Jesus.  I want to remember that she was smart and thoughtful and goofy and stubborn.  I will always want to talk about Becky but I don't want my talk about Becky to always be about her death.


When I think about what forever is I am constantly drawn to the only thing I know to be true beyond the shadow of a doubt: 

For the Lord is good;
His steadfast love endures forever,
and His faithfulness to all generations.
— Psalm 100:5




Just waiting and wondering

If you've been reading this blog since the beginning you might remember that I'm hoping and looking to get back into the workforce after being a stay at home mom for 9 years. You may even remember that back in November I applied for a dream job.

I've been waiting and wondering about that position since then.  The dream job was with a University and Universities are incredibly slow with their hiring process (at least in my experience) so I've been trying to practice patience.  This is not easy for me. 

While I've been waiting and wondering I've kind of been holding on to and polishing that dream.  I built it up in my head, how great I would be at the job (I would be, that's not a joke), how great the job would be for my family (that is total conjecture, of course), how much I would love going to work every day, all the excellent things we would do with the piles of new-found money this job would provide (okay, so piles might be an exaggeration but extra money for extra things, including paying off my student loans with greater speed, would be nice, no denying) .  I've been building that dream job up into something it couldn't possibly be.

This week I learned that I am not among the candidates that were selected for an interview.  And my dream came crashing down.  The thing about dreams is that they aren't reality (aren't you glad you read this blog for all the stunning bits of wisdom I share, like that special bit).  I know that when I go back to work it will create some difficulty for my family.  I know that there will be things about my working that will be a challenge, for me and for everyone else.  It won't be all sunshine and flowers.  But it will be purposeful and challenging and good.  I look forward to going back to work.  

I never intended to be unemployed for this long.  Honestly, I've been quietly watching for a good position since we moved here.  Okay, that's probably a lie.  Let's say I've been watching for the last 6 years, since my baby was a year old.  There haven't been a lot of available positions in my field in those 6 years.  But the last 6 months have been a kind of explosion in my profession, at least in this area.  So I've been applying.  And it's hard.  It's hard for me to get certain positions in my field because I am too qualified.  It's hard for me to get other positions in my field because I have too little experience.  It's hard to know, in general, if I'll even remember how to be a librarian.  

So, the dream job is gone, at least for now.  The thing about dreams is that they are always in the background.  Maybe a dream job will reappear again someday.  For the time being I am waiting to hear on 3 other positions for which I've applied.  Until then, I'll be here, just waiting and wondering.

What I read this week: January 25-31

This was a strange week for reading.  My daughter was sick so I read a bit less than usual.  I'm also including a couple of cookbooks that I read this week.  I won't include every cookbook I ever look at on this list of what I'm reading but I will include cookbooks that I read through cover to cover or specifically sought out because of some focus they have that interests me.  I actually flip through a lot of cookbooks but I promise not to overwhelm you with all of that.  

  • Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour.   I received this as an ARC through Netgalley. It it scheduled to be released February 9, 2016. I chose to read this book because I will be parenting a teenage daughter in a few years and because I am interested in parenting books and psychology.  Overall I thought this was a good book.  I can already see my 9 year old flirting with some of the seven transitions that the author talks about.  There were moments when some of the things the author describes about raising teenagers felt like such a loss of relationship but the message wasn't all grim.  In many ways I felt like the theme ways: be the adult while your kid is figuring out what that means.

 

  • Age of Consent by Marti Leimbach.  I received this as an ARC through Netgalley.  It is scheduled to be released July 26, 2016.   I'm sorry to say this, especially because it was an advance copy and I feel like that deserves every effort, but I had to give this one up.  The book opens with a hotel rendezvous between a 14 year old girl and her 29 year old "boyfriend."  He is a jerk and she keeps justifying his behavior to herself and the reader.  I read the synopsis and I gather that later she realizes that he is a nasty predator and she confronts him, possibly in a court of law, but, still, I just couldn't read it.  If you are 14 years old, a 29 year old man is not your boyfriend, he is a rapist.  That is all.

 

  • This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp.  This novel has been mentioned several times on the All the Books podcast so I finally requested it from my library.  I'm glad I did!  The entirety of this young adult novel takes place in 54 minutes.  It opens with the end of a start of semester assembly and students attempted to exit the auditorium.  It soon becomes clear that all exits are blockaded.  Then the gunman enters.  What follows is a nearly minute by minute account of a school shooting told from the point of view of 4 people in different locations and with different connections to each other and to the shooter himself.  I thought this was a well told story.  It does rely on some of the same old conventions about school shootings so don't expect anything that will suddenly clarify why they happen.   This is Marieke Nijkamp's first novel and I will be interested to see what she writes next.  I also think it is interesting to note that Nijkamp is an executive director of We Need Diverse Books, a grassroots organization of children's book lovers that exists to advocate, produce and promote diverse literature for young people.  This is a cause that I appreciate and I noticed that the author did include diverse characters in non-stereotypical, non-forced ways in this novels.  Good for her!

 

  • The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth LaBan.  On the first and most intense day of my daughter's illness, I needed something to read that did not require a lot of brain power (that means something I could read while caring for her and also while sitting with her when she watched a ton of House Hunters).  I found this novel in the Kindle Lending Library and it fit the bill.  It was quick and it was basically entertaining.  The main character is married to newspaper restaurant critic (hence the title) and I did enjoy the food descriptions and such.  I thought the challenges of moving to a new city where you know no one were aptly described.  I also thought some of the main characters feelings about new motherhood were realistic.  However, I hated the husband.  He was self involved and selfish.  He was unreasonable and, honestly, delusional.  And all of that behavior could have been dealt with but the main character basically ignored it and allowed her husband to treat her in highly unreasonable ways.  By the end of the book she basically decided that her husband was right in his unreasonableness and changed herself to accommodate his selfishness.  I could not stand it.

 

  • Good Food, Good Life by Curtis Stone.  You may have heard of Curtis Stone.  I've seen him on the Food Network and on morning shows from time to time.  He is the one with the cute Australian accent.  This is, I think, his 6th cookbook.  I like his recipes fairly well.  In general his recipes are veggie-heavy and don't use a lot of obscure ingredients.  That is helpful to me: I live in the middle of nowhere so some less common ingredients are more difficult for me to source.    This book had nice pictures and commentary on the recipes but for some reason, none of them really grabbed me.  I didn't make any of the recipes, which is unusual for me, I can usually find at least one appealing recipe in any cookbook.  I don't think this cookbook is unappealing, I just think the recipes seem more like warm weather food.  I may revisit this one in the summer.

 

  • Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan.  I love to can.  There is something so wonderful about filling jars with summer-y goodness and then opening them in the dead of winter.  There is something so gratifying about opening the cupboard to row upon row of provisions.  This canning cookbook is glorious.  I checked it out from the library but I will be purchasing my own copy because nearly every recipe is one I want to try.  I read through this book and made lists of the things I should plant so that I can put it up later.  I love that they are mostly small batch recipes.  This is especially nice for jams, chutneys and relishes.  I mean, gingery pickled beets sound heavenly but I doubt we need more than a few pints (especially since that's one thing I'll be eating by myself).  If there are any other canning aficionados  reading this, Food in Jars is definitely a book to add to your collection.

 

  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.  I received this as and ARC from Netgalley.  It is scheduled to be released on March 1, 2016.  You are probably going to want to read this, especially if you have any interest in sociology/ causes and effects of poverty/ etc.  This book tells the stories of 8 families in and around Milwaukee but, honestly, place doesn't matter.  The stories would be similar in any American city.  Matthew Desmond tells that eviction used to be incredibly rare and met by neighborhood protests.  Today, most lower income families are spending more than half their income on rent and face eviction with alarming regularity.  In one instance described in this book, a family couldn't pay both the rent and the electric bill so they would stay current on the rent during the winter months (when it is illegal to issue shut off notices in Milwaukee) and then during the summer months they would pay the electric bill so that the next winter they could take advantage of the no-shut off rule again.  The book surprisingly, is beautiful.  I expected to hate the landlords but, honestly, they are depicted, for the most part, as caring but clear-eyed.  And the tenants, basically, as people caught in a cycle that they can't seem to escape.  I really enjoyed this book.

 

That's it for this week.  Up next is Running: A Love Story by Jen A Miller, Night Driving by Addie Zierman, Out of the House of Bread by Preston Yancey, and surely something fiction!

 

 

 

When I ask you to do something hard with me.

Lent starts on February 10 this year.  I usually try to do something to observe Lent in some way.  I don't always or even usually give something up but I usually try to devote myself to some kind of reading plan as a way of anticipating Easter. 

This year I'm going to spend the 40 days before Easter reading through the Bible.  The whole Bible.  So, that's approximately 30 chapters per day.  It takes about 45 minutes in an audio Bible to get through that many chapters so I'm guessing that the average reader could do it in about 1 hour.

1 hour.  That's not too bad, right?  You could find an hour in your day by cutting back on your Facebook time or skipping a couple of Friends reruns.  And I think you gain a lot in reading the Bible straight through like this.  You gain an understanding of the whole arc of God's story.  You gain some perspective: did you know that if you read the Bible straight through in 40 days, you'll be reading Old Testament for all but 9 days of that time!  What does that tell you about the Old Testament?  I also think reading through the Bible like this can give you a new understanding of who God is. 

So, here's what reading through the Bible in 40 days is not about.  It's not about deep study.  This will give a broad understanding.  You are going to run across things that you want to go deeper on, that's part of what this is about.  I recommend that you do this with a journal right beside you.  Make notes, write down questions that you have and passages you want to return to.  Hopefully this broad exercise will inform your deeper study for the rest of the year!  You may want to attempt this reading in a different version than your usual study version...maybe try the NLT or The Message for some different perspective.

I'm including my Lenten reading plan here.  Notice that it doesn't include any readings on Sundays.  You can use those days to rest or, if you need to,  catch up.  I hope some of you will join me.  I'm praying that God reveals Himself to you in a fresh way through this reading.  (Also, if you want a printable version of this reading plan, send me an email.  I'm not awesome enough to figure out how to include that on this post, sorry.)

 

 

40 days through the Bible - a Lenten Reading Plan

  • February 10 - Genesis 1-27

  • February 11 - Genesis 28 - end

  • February 12 - Exodus 1 - 34

  • February 13 - Exodus 35 - Leviticus 15

 

  • February 15 - Leviticus 16 - Numbers 13

  • February 16 - Numbers 14 -  end

  • February 17 - Deuteronomy

  • February 18 - Joshua 1 - Judges 10

  • February 19 - Judges 11 - end; Ruth; 1 Samuel 1 -13

  • February 20 - 1 Samuel 14 - 2 Samuel 10

 

  • February 22 - 2 Samuel 11 - 1 Kings 6

  • February 23 - 1 Kings 7 - 2 Kings 5

  • February 24 - 2 Kings 6 - 1 Chronicles 10

  • February 25 - 1 Chronicles 11 - 2 Chronicles 2

  • February 26 - 2 Chronicles 3 - end

  • February 27 - Ezra and Nehemiah

 

  • February 29 - Esther and Job

  • March 1 - Psalm 1 - 50

  • March 2 - Psalm 51 - 100

  • March 3 - Psalm 101 - 150

  • March 4 - Proverbs

  • March 5 - Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs

 

  • March 7 - Isaiah 1 - 40

  • March 8 - Isaiah 41 - 60

  • March 9 - Isaiah 61 - Jeremiah 18

  • March 10 - Jeremiah 19 - end

  • March 11 - Lamentations; Ezekiel 1-20

  • March 12 - Ezekiel 21 - end

 

  • March 14 - Daniel and Hosea

  • March 15 - Joel; Amos; Obadiah; Jonah; Micah; Nahum

  • March 16 - Habakkuk; Zephaniah; Haggai; Zechariah; Malachi

  • March 17 - Matthew

  • March 18 - Mark

  • March 19 - Luke

 

  • March 21 - John

  • March 22 - Acts

  • March 23 - Romans and 1 Corinthians

  • March 24 - 2 Corinthians; Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians; 1 & 2 Thessalonians

  • March 25 - 1 & 2 Timothy; Titus; Philemon; Hebrews; James

  • March 26 - 1 & 2 Peter; 1, 2 & 3 John; Jude; Revelation

What I read this week: January 18-24

This week I read several works of non-fiction that were thought provoking and informing and a couple of novels that grabbed me and wouldn't let go.  It was a pretty great week for books!

  • To the Table by Lisa Graham McMinn.  I loved this book!  You can read a pretty thorough response here.

 

  • Life Without a Recipe: A Memoir of Food and Family by Diana Abu-Jaber.  I have read and loved every one of Diana Abu-Jaber's novels.  They are always so rich and full of sights, sounds, tastes.  She is an excellent writer.  This is her first memoir.  I enjoyed it but it really wasn't the same kind of feast for the senses that I've come to expect from her work.

 

  • Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.  I was lucky to get an ARC of Curtis Sittenfeld's new book, which is due to be published April 19, 2016.  Eligible is the fourth entry in the Austen Project, a series of re-tellings of Jane Austen novels by modern authors.  Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid came out April 2015, Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope was released November 2014, and Emma by Alexander McCall Smith was released April 2015.  I actually haven't read any other other Austen Project novels, and they haven't been very highly reviewed, but I am both a Curtis Sittenfeld fan and a Pride and Prejudice fan so, obviously, Eligible is right up my alley.  

So, I'm sure you just gathered that Eligible is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice.  It accomplishes that goal very well.  The Bennett family, with the exception of Jane and Liz, are just as annoying and unappealing in this version as they are in the original.  This version really emphasized, to me, how spineless and imperfect Mr. Bennett is, maybe I haven't paid him close enough attention to notice in the original version.   Jane is portrayed as a calm and zen yoga instructor, which is how the kind purity of the original Jane is made modern, I guess.   Lizzie, known as Liz in this retelling, is a self-sufficient career woman who doesn't need a husband to be fulfilled.  I think there's a lot about this portrayal of Liz that Sittenfeld got right.

There are things that don't ring quite right about Eligible, to me at least.  For one, it didn't ring quite true to me that a modern mother of 5 daughters would be so set on her daughters making "advantageous marriages."  What, even, does that mean in a modern context?  Also, Jane's eventual husband, Mr. Bingley, is written in a really unflattering way in this novel.  I remember being very happy when Jane and Mr. Bingley finally resolve everything in the original Pride and Prejudice.  In Eligible I feel quite certain that the lovely Jane could do much better!  Liz and Darcy work fairly well but, again, it doesn't seem quite the love story that the original is.  Over all, I enjoyed the book and feel like it was a fairly faithful modernization.  If you can overlook some small faults, I think you'll enjoy it.

 

  • Coming Clean: A Story of Faith by Seth Haines.  Coming Clean is a memoir of addiction.  It is written as a journal of Seth Haines' first 90 days sober.  Obviously, Seth's addiction is to alcohol but so much of this memoir can be applied to other addiction.  Haines says addiction isn't so much about whatever thing you are addicted to but more about whatever pain you are trying to numb.  For him, addiction was about lack of faith. I feel like there were so many little thought provoking points in the book.  One stopping point for me was  this question: "In what ways am I most alienated from God?"  I think I read that one sentence at least 10 times.  I love a book that forces me to stop and process.  I really enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it.  I will be honest, it took me a little more time than usual to really get in to it.  Like any journal, it is not very linear at all and sometimes I had difficulty following the arc of the story (probably because there really is no arc).  I'm guessing this wouldn't cause everyone difficulty but I just really like linear thinking.  So there you go.

 

  • The Guest Room by Chris Bojalian.  The Guest Room was the second novel I read this week.  It tells the story Richard Chapman and his family and how they were destroyed by one terrible night of violence.  It starts with Richard making the bad decision to host his brother's bachelor party at his home. Richard believes it will be more "wholesome" to have the party at his home rather than at a strip club.  So Richard allows his brother's best friend to arrange for strippers to come to his home.  This seems like a safe decision to him.  Almost immediately Richard has reason to regret his decision.  Rather than use a reputable stripper service (is there such a thing?), the friend arranges strippers through some Russian mafia thugs.  It turns out, these strippers are actually young women who are sex slaves.  Things really spiral downward when the two women murder the thugs who are posing as bodyguards but are really their captors and then run off into the night. 

Obviously this series of events causes further problems.  Can Richard's marriage survive this terrible event?  Will Richard's brother actually get married when the fiance learns of all the things that led to this evening?  What will happen to the women who escaped from this situation? How did the women become trapped in this slavery in the first place?  This was a very interesting and tense novel and I enjoyed it, as much as a person can enjoy a novel about rape and nasty bachelor parties and slavery.  Chris Bohjalian is a writer I always enjoy and this book was no exception.

  • When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams.  What does it mean when your mother is dying and she leaves you her journals, shelves full of journals, but asks you not to read them until after she is gone?  What does it mean when you finally do open them only to discover that they are all empty?  What is family?  What is womanhood?  What does it mean to have a voice?  When Women Were Birds grapples with these questions in quiet and moving and haunting ways.  I don't have anything to say about this book except that it is beautiful and I loved it and you should read it.

 

That's it for this week.  I'm currently reading Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood by Lisa Damour.  I have so many feelings and thoughts about this book, I can't wait to finish and process it more fully.   I'm guessing I'll have a lot to say about it next week.  After that I'll be reading Lit by Mary Karr, Evicted by Matthew Desmond and, hopefully, some kind of lighter fiction to give me a break from these intense books!

 

On a theology of food

As the wife of a farmer, much of my life revolves around the production of food for human consumption. Conversations around my dinner table follow an obvious seasonal arc.  Winters are for debating the relative merits of planting peas, lentils, barley or wheat or for seed contracts and crop prices.  Springs are for worries about rain (not enough or too much) and fertilizer or insecticide discussions.  Summers are for harvest talk: this machine broke down, that field had incredible yield, which kid fell asleep on the way home from an overnight harvest shift.  Falls are for planning for the next year, planting seeds and preparing for the circle to start again.  It’s funny, as much as food production consumes my family’s life, I rarely think about the ways food connects us to each other and to God.

I just finished reading To the Table: A Spirituality of Food, Farming and Community by Lisa Graham McMinn.  The book delves into the idea of a theology of food, something that I am deeply interested in.  The author argues that our need for food “reminds us of our utter dependence on something outside of ourselves for our existence” and because of that mindful eating habits can have deep impact on our spiritual lives.

This book isn’t so much about what we eat as it is about what it all means.  I am particularly taken by her idea of eating together as vehicle for reconciliation.  She quotes Norman Wirzba who said, “Eating is an invitation to enter into communion and be reconciled with each other.”  There is no doubt in my mind that food is a relationship builder.  I can think of so many examples in my own life where a particular dish calls to mind a particular relationship.  One of my husband’s favorite treats is a particularly 1960s style strawberry Jello and Cool Whip “salad” that he calls Grandma Jello.  Every time we eat that salad we sit at the table and talk about Chris’s grandma, a woman my children and I never had the pleasure of meeting.  Yet even without meeting her, whenever we eat this dish that brings her memory to the mind of Chis, we are experiencing relationship with her.  I can think of so many other examples of this type of mystery: Blacky’s Brisket reminds me of a larger than life man who was only a part of my family’s life for a short time, Almond Roca brings my grandma to mind, my mother in law’s expertise at frying chicken has been a relationship builder for her and I and now also for my kids.  And I could go on and on.  I’m guessing you could too.

My husband and I are getting together with several friends to start up a supper club.  We are all so excited about it.  Sometimes I think about it and my hopes are just so high: I want this group of people to become people of significance in our lives.  I want these to be the people who we turn to in good times and bad.  I’m hoping this adventure turns in to something true and long-lasting.  It’s a lot to ask of a dinner party.  Or is it?  Lisa Graham McMinn says, “Eating isn’t simply a functional pleasure. We are created with potential to enter each other’s lives as we break bread together, to give and receive and enjoy pleasure as we partake in food that keeps us alive.  The mystery of communion is that we eat in order to live more fully.  We eat with others, with Jesus in our midst, that we might live better, love better, and be grateful.”  The whole chapter about communion with one another and with God around a dinner table rings true and lends the weight of truth to my hopes for our little supper club.

I’ll tell you the truth, the very section that gave me such hope for supper club also made me pause in thinking about our daily family dinnertime.  Usually when I think of Communion, I think of that particular part of every Sunday’s worship service where the bread and juice are taken to remember Jesus and His sacrifice.  But what if Communion with God were something we tried to cultivate daily (even hourly and minute by minute).  In her book Eat With Joy (also a fantastic book on this subject and I highly recommend it), Rachel Marie Stone argues that things that happen around the table can’t happen anywhere else. “Perhaps more than anything, it’s the place where children absorb the message: These are my people, and I belong here.” What if we treated the family dinner table as a time of Communion, with each other, sure, but also with God?  I confess, our family dinner time doesn’t often feel like a time of communion and I wonder what changes on my part would be necessary to make it that way?

I feel as though I have only scratched the surface of the thoughts To The Table has sparked in me.  Questions like: who is involved in producing my food and what responsibilities do I have toward them? Questions about making sure animals are raised humanely and even soil treated in ways that fosters its health.  Thoughts about being more intentional in my gratitude for the thrice-daily miracle of sustenance.  These kinds of questions should beget many kinds of intentionality.  If I believe God is creator and provider of all things then the way I interact with His creation and provisions is an expression of my faith in Him.  

What I read this week: January 11-17

This week was a pretty full week for reading.  I read several books that I liked well enough and one that I gave up on.  I'm including books that I don't finish here just so you get a full picture of my reading.  This week I also started receiving advanced reader copies through Netgalley.  When a book I read is an advanced copy I'll note that by saying ARC and I'll try to include the publishing date when possible.

  • H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  This is the book I gave up on.  You can read more about that in this post.  

 

  • One More Day by Kelly Simmons.  This is an ARC and the scheduled publication date is February 1, 2016.  This is a novel about a child who is kidnapped in a moment of inattention by the mother.  The book is written from the point of view of the mother and seems confusing in spots.  At first I wasn't sure I liked it but as I continued reading I realized that the confusion really added to the reality of the novel.  I imagine that if your child was kidnapped you would be quite confused.  Throughout the book the mother struggles, both because she is the focus of the police investigation into the kidnapping and because her child is gone.  The book also does a good job describing a marriage under that kind of stress.  I liked it a lot.

 

  • You Are Not a Stranger Here by Adam Haslett.  This is a book of short stories told primarily from the point of view of main characters with mental illness.  I thought the author did such a good job describing things: I felt manic when the character was manic, depressed when the character was depressed, etc.  Short stories aren't usually my favorite but this collection is really beautiful.

 

  • Losing the Light by Andrea Dunlop.  This is an ARC and the scheduled publication date is February 23, 2016.  At first I thought this was going to be one of those cheesy early 20s girl makes it in New York City fashion industry kind of fluff novels.  That's the impression the first chapter gives.  But then the real story starts. This novel really tells the story of Brooke Thompson's year abroad in college.  Having spent some time as an exchange student during high school, I could really identify with some of Brooke's feelings at being in the world for the first time.  At first she is totally enamored of her new country but as her year goes on she begins to notice cracks in her fairy tale view of things. The book is about friendship and love and growing up.  I liked it and can definitely see it being a perfect book to take on vacation with you.

 

  • City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg.   This is Garth Risk Hallberg's first novel.  He received a $2 million advance for it.  It received loads of pre-publication buzz last year.  It was supposed to be the it book of 2015.  Then it was published and no one talked about it again.  That is the main list of reasons that caused me to pick this book up.  Someone thought it was going to be a best seller and then it wasn't.  Things that make you go hmm.  First of all, this novel is a monster with more than 900 pages.  I love super long books, really I do, but they have to move along right from the beginning.  This book did not. No wonder people didn't read it, you have to slog through the first 200+ pages.  I almost gave up on this one but it did finally start moving.  Secondly, it's kind of hard to care about New York City in 1977.  The 1970s don't seem to have much to recommend them (except my birth, of course).  Finally, let's talk about the characters.  There was only one that I really liked and he was only infrequently the focus of the narrative.  Overall, this was a novel that could have been really good but it didn't quite get there.  I'm thinking he could have cut about 400 pages and probably told a better story.

 

  • Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker.  This is a collection of letters Mary-Louise Parker wrote to various men in her life.  It doesn't sound very interesting but I think it was for the most part.  The description makes it sound like it's about these men but, in fact, it's about her and the things she's experienced.  I liked it, basically.  Not a totally glowing review but I don't regret that I read it.

 

  • And It Was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Goodbye by Kara Tippetts.  This is an ARC and the scheduled publication date is March 1, 2016.  Do you know about Kara Tippetts?  Kara wrote a blog called Mundane Faithfulness.  It was lovely and moving and true and hard.  I really liked it.  This book, And It Was Beautiful, is a collection of some of her blog posts gathered in a way that tells the arc of her end of life story.  Kara fought breast cancer long and hard and eventually died March 22, 2015.  I loved this book.  I loved the honestly with which Kara shared her struggles and discouragement.  I loved the beautiful way she showed the juxtaposition between anxiously awaiting life after death while dearly holding on to the ones who would be left behind.  This book is a quick read and much of the story can be gleaned on Kara's blog but I love having it in one volume.  You should read this book.

 

Whew!  That's it for last week.  Next I'll be reading When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams, Coming Clean by Seth Haines and an ARC of Diana Abu-Jaber's memoir, Life Without a Recipe.   Come back next week for the whole scoop!

On letting go of hurts

Several years ago, almost five, really, something happened between me and a friend of mine that hurt me deeply.  I've nurtured that hurt since then.  Nurture is such a good word for it because I've cared for that hurt.  I've fed it and sheltered it and protected it.  Carrying that hurt around has become important to me. 

It's been easy for me to justify my care for that hurt.  I mean, I didn't hurt myself, after all.  I wasn't in the wrong.  In some ways, taking care of that hurt became self-protective.  Like I needed to remember that first hurt so that I wouldn't be hurt again.  My friend has never acknowledged the hurt.  Maybe that would have helped, maybe if my friend had noticed the hurt I wouldn't have had to nurture it so much.  But probably not.  I probably would have cared for my hurt anyway.

Yesterday I realized that nurturing my hurt has meant missing out on some things.  I guess it's hard to know if I would have been a part of the things I've missed out on if I hadn't been taking care of my hurt.  But I definitely haven't had time for those other things.  If I made room for the other things I wouldn't have enough time to take care of my hurt.  Hurts need a lot of attention if you are going to keep them growing for five years.

Today I did some things to start letting go of my hurt.  I'm not going to lie, letting go of a five year old hurt isn't something that just happens in a morning.  But today I did acknowledge that my nurturing of the one hurt actually created some new hurts.  Hurts are ugly and hurtful things.  And today my hurt seems just a little smaller.

 

On giving up

I gave up on a book yesterday.  I know some of you are shocked but sometimes I just decide a book isn't worth it to me.  Yesterday the book that wasn't worth it to me was H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  I wanted to love it.  I wanted to love it so much.  The whole world has been raving about how wonderful and transforming this book is.  I wanted to be taken in by the "breathtaking" writing.  I wanted it to be "one of the loveliest things" I'd read all year.  One of the reviews said, "her book is so good that, at times, it hurt me to read it."  All the blurbs I've read about it, all the reviews, all the people who have talked about this book made me believe it would be one of those once in a lifetime type books. Oh, I wanted to love this book.

But I didn't.  I gave it a fair shot, I think.  The book is 283 pages long and I read 70 of them.  That's nearly a quarter of the book and seems like enough of a chance for the book to grab me.  I once heard Nancy Pearl (rock star reader's advisory librarian) say that you should subtract your age from 100 and that is the number of pages you should give a book before you decide it isn't for you.  I've always liked that guideline...I mean, if you are 99 you shouldn't have to give more than 1 page of your time to a book that you aren't loving!  By Nancy Pearl's metric I read more than I should have.  So I don't feel guilty about giving the book up. Some books just aren't for me and that's okay.

I don't always use the Nancy Pearl rule.  Honestly, I think some books call for more patience and some books are clearly not for me even 5 pages in.  So, here are some thoughts I have on when to give a book up and when to keep pressing on.

  •   Consider the source.  The first thing I think about when I'm considering giving up on a book is how the book came into my hands.  If it is just something I randomly picked up at the library I'm much more likely to give it up quickly, I have no real stake in the book.  If it is a book that was recommended to me, I consider who recommended it to me and the context of the recommendation.  For example, if I picked up a book because I saw that my sister gave it 5 stars on Goodreads, I'd probably give it more of a chance than a book I'd just randomly picked up.  If my sister specifically talked to me about the book, I'd give it an even longer chance.  And if my sister physically put the book in my hands, I'd probably read the whole thing even if it wasn't really grabbing me because I know that a book that meant that much to her will probably be meaningful to me too.

In the case of H is for Hawk, I picked it up based on the buzz around it.  I try to read the books that people are talking about.  I also picked it up because it is, at least in some ways, a grief memoir and I have read and enjoyed many of those types of books. It was not recommended to me personally by anyone who knows what I like to read so I didn't feel bad when I decided to put it down.

  •   Consider the reason.  When I am decided to give up on a book, I always ask myself why I want to quit reading it.  Sometimes I know by page 5 that the book isn't going to be right for me and in cases like that I don't make myself give it any more time.  For example, there are some writing styles that just don't appeal to me.  That's okay and I don't feel like I need to torture myself just to finish in those cases (I'm looking at you, James Joyce).  Some people are sensitive to particular content issues.  If you are someone who doesn't want to read books with certain kinds of sensitive situations, don't feel bad for one second about putting a book down if you come to something that makes you uncomfortable!  

Sometimes the reason to put a book down is that it just isn't interesting you at that moment.  That's okay too.  Reading isn't an assignment (unless it is an assignment, in that case I guess it doesn't matter if you think it is boring, you should just finish the book).  There have been books in my life that I have given up on at one stage and have picked up later (sometimes years later) and loved.  Some books need to be read when you are in a particular mindset.  

The truth is, I gave up on H is for Hawk because I found it boring.  Every once in a while she would get into something that really interested me (background on TH White, for example) but the bulk of the book just didn't appeal.  I don't care about goshawks, falconry isn't even close to my circle of interest and too much of the book was about the specifics.  I have read great books about things I don't really have interest in doing myself but that have made whatever that thing is into a metaphor for life but this book just didn't do that for me.  I don't feel bad about giving up on it.

  •   Think about when not to give up on a book.  There are reasons for giving up on a book that I don't have patience with at all.  I've caught myself thinking these from time to time and I don't let myself give up on a book if this is the reason: "it's too hard" or "I don't understand" or "the characters just aren't like me."  I don't think these are good enough reasons to give up on a book.  Characters don't have to look/think/be like me to have something to teach me.  My favorite books are full of characters that have experiences so far outside of my own experiences that they might have been born on another planet.  Those are the best books, the ones that show us something we'd never see without them.  Not understanding a book isn't a good reason to give up either, it's a reason to work to understand.  Same with a book that seems to hard.  Push yourself for those books.  The books that are too hard are the ones that will leave the deepest mark.

 

Life is too short.  That's the truth.  And part of life being too short means that you shouldn't torture yourself over something that is supposed to be pleasureful.  Reading is a glorious pleasure.  I think sometimes it should be a challenge.  Challenge is good.  But there are times when you have to give up on a book.  Giving up on books is good too.  Yesterday I gave up on a book.

What was the last book you gave up on?  Do you have any "rules" for giving up on books?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!