on reading

IMG_0457I don’t need assistance in reading more.

I need help reading intentionally.

It’s easy for me to read to escape—when things start coming up I have to remind myself to stay present and to feel the feelings, to embrace what’s happening in my body instead of fighting it. I LOVE books. More than movies. More than television. And with every good thing given, it’s balanced on a razor’s edge. It’s so easy for me to take something good and abuse it, using it to escape instead of to grow. And the more I am using books to escape, the quality of what I’m reading plummets. I’m looking for my next escape and I end up reading all sorts of random things that aren’t beneficial for me.

This year I felt an invitation to be more intentional about what I was reading. I hope this will combine my love of reading and remind me to stay present in my life.

So I’m using the process created by Anne over at http://modernmrsdarcy.com/

Her process is simple: 12 books in 12 categories. Here’s what I picked for this year

Series: A book published this year

The High Mountain of Portugal

Author: Yann Martel

I adored The Life of Pi. I had never ready a story that surprised and delighted me as much. I haven’t read anything else by Yann Martel, so I’m looking forward to meeting up again with this story-teller.

 

Series: A book you can finish in a day

glassmagicianThe Glass Magician

Author: Charlie M. Holberg

The first book in this series, The Paper Magician, kept popping up as a recommended read every time I turned around. And even though I enjoyed the first book, it took me a lot longer to read than it should have because I kept getting distracted. I am notorious for not finishing series so I decided to a) make progress in this series and b) not have it hanging over my head.

Series: A book you’ve been meaning to read

lifechangingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Author: Marie Kondo

I first bumped into this one at Barnes and Noble. I was intrigued and glanced through the first chapter. I didn’t buy it that day but I kept noticing it. I finally bought it after hearing Anne rave about it, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

Series: A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller

TBD

Series: A book you should have read in school

taleoftwoA Tale of Two Cities

Author: Charles Dickens

I never read this book in high school like most of my peers. I know the opening lines and am familiar with the plot, thanks to Wishbone (anyone else remember that show about the dog re-enacting stories?). It’s time to check it off the list.

 

Series: A book chosen by a spouse, child, BFF, etc.

waterWater From a Deep Well

Author: Gerald L. Sittser

I have been geeking out of over Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water for over a month. (There’s a blog series in the works.) The same friend that gave me that book said this was next up. I’m looking forward to learning more about the rich heritage of my faith.

 

Series: A book published before you were born

thomasmertonContemplative Prayer

Author: Thomas Merton

I have been reading several things lately whose authors have quoted Thomas Merton. I have also recently had the opportunity to practice contemplative prayer in a group setting. I am interested in learning more about this practice

 

Series: A book that was banned at some point

colorpurpleThe Color Purple

Author: Alice Walker

I googled banned books and was drawn to this one. Like most, I had heard of it and have a vague idea what the plot is.

 

 

Series: A book you previously abandoned

magicianslandThe Magician’s Land

Author: Lev Grossman

This is the third in a series. It made the cut because I just want to finish the series. I enjoyed the other two books, but didn’t love them. They are darker than most magic/fairy-tale books I read. I do appreciate the difference, but it’s not something I’m drawn to.

 

Series: A book you own but have never read

usesofenchantmentThe Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales

Author: Bruno Bettelheim

I love fairy tales and magic so I bought this because of the title and never read it. I’m looking forward to carving out space for this one this year.

 

 

Series: A book that intimidates you

warandpeaceWar and Peace

Author: Leo Tolstoy

I started this book years ago…and got bogged down. It’s been sitting on my bookcase waiting for me to come back to it. I loved Anna Karenina and desperately want to add this to my repertoire (it’s a pride thing, for sure…how many people have read this one?) but I’m also sacred of it. It’s a thick, involved story set in a culture and time from which I am far removed.

Series: A book you’ve read at least once

poisonwoodThe Poisonwood Bible

Author: Barbara Kingsolver

I might be most excited to revisit this one. I read this when I was still in high school. I didn’t like it. I was too young and immature in my faith to appreciate how true these types of stories are…how often in our pride and arrogance we hurt the ones we claim to love. Slightly older (and maybe wiser), I’m looking forward to reading her words and letting this story unravel and sitting in the tension. Even though I didn’t “like” it fifteen years ago, this is I story I haven’t been able to forget.

What’s on your TBR list for 2016? Have any other recommendations for me? And hop over to Anne’s blog to get her printable and to sign up for the challenge.

on Streams of Living Water (a book review)

It’s frustrating thinking you have the world figured out only to have it be turned upside down. In my last post I mentioned that I had spent years trying to fit into an Evangelical mold. This wasn’t anyone’s fault. I grew up in an Evangelical church, and gravitated towards a similar church as a young adult. I thought Evangelical meant Christian: If one wasn’t Evangelical then they were missing the gospel. (The funny part is, I wasn’t even quiet sure what Evangelical meant.) It wasn’t that I thought God only loved Evangelicals…I just thought that the Evangelicals had a “more right” relationship with God—like somehow my/our human choices could make the relationship more right. We had it figured out.

Oh, how pride goes before a fall, little one.

So understandably when I started moving away from an Evangelical tradition, I encountered a crisis of faith. If I didn’t believe this anymore, was I still a Christian? And I know some people walking on the fringes of my life wonder(ed) the same thing.

I made it through. Or, more precisely, I am making it through. I am clinging to Jesus and giving a little more space for him to sort things out. I know a whole hell of a lot less—and I care less about clinging to my “right” answers.

A friend recommended Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water. I held it in my hands and turned it around. I opened the book and didn’t put it down—the words were new and refreshing. It painted a picture of a rich tradition of faith with many different streams: Contemplative, Holiness, Charismatic, Social Justice, Evangelical, and Incarnational. He showed how people connect to God in many different ways, but all were of one body, coming from One source.

I didn’t know that all of these different streams could simultaneously be sacred and holy and good. Foster taught me that as a diverse people we are all going to relate to God in different ways. Each tradition has it’s own strengths—things we can garner and learn and practice—as well as it’s own perils and pit-falls.We are invited to learn from one another, care for one another, serve one another while being gracious and kind.This takes an extra dose of humility—it’s hard when you understand something and think you’re “right,” to hold space for someone else at the table. And I couldn’t/wouldn’t do it when I was younger. My way was the best way, and there was little compassion for another way.

But through Foster’s book about the different streams, I began to appreciate the rich heritage that has gone before me. That at each moment in time, each of these streams has leant itself to the world as the way forward, a light in the darkness. It’s a beautiful picture of what we, the Church, can be.

A few things came about from my time with this book. One, is that I learned that the stream I am most drawn to is the Incarnational. Some of that is because it’s less about doing and more about being. It’s because my mundane, small existence can still be beautiful and wrapped in Jesus. Folding laundry, cooking dinner, baking bread, teaching my kids and drinking coffee with friends become sacraments. Or rather, they are sacraments because I am doing them. I can cease striving to be something I’m not and just live as Christ invites. I find peace and strength in that. The second thing that came about is for the first time in about three years, I felt an invitation to crawl back into Scripture—I could start reading it again. I could sit with my Bible open on my lap and read the words. Instead of obligation I was reminded to appreciate my own Evangelical tradition—this book is holy and sacred and to be taken seriously[1] (thanks to Sarah Bessey for her teaching on this). I wanted to read it again.

And I began to notice and appreciate the way I saw and experienced others wrapping flesh around their faith. Recently, the Pope had the chance to go before some world leaders. Thanks to social media I saw some who were frustrated with him and questioning his love for God because he didn’t share the gospel. The beauty of seeing our faith tradition as different streams all coming from One source, is that we can trust the way God is moving in and around our fellow believers. I don’t have to questions my brother’s faith because he’s not “preaching the gospel.” Instead, I get to appreciate that he’s showing the world how Jesus loves through his own hands and feet—through his compassion.

There is space for all of us at the table, space for our histories, our streams, and our stories. I want to be quick to hear and slow to speak. Quick to hear your experiences and your stories and your practices and how God has met and moved you and slow to offer my own platitudes and judgments. This is hard work. It is holy work, but hard.

[1] Bessey, Sarah. Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith. New York: Howard, 2015. Print.

on epiphanies and transactions

It’s my first year to follow the liturgical calendar and to notice that Christmas ended yesterday. I like the idea that Christmas lasts for twelve days—twelve days of remembering Emmanuel, God with us. Twelve days to wrestle with Creator becoming (sort of) created; divinity wrapping itself in flesh. Twelve days to sit with the mystery and hold the weight that Christmas, so Easter.

And now we enter the season of Epiphany. We talked about epiphanies on Sunday. Today is the first day of Epiphany…I’m still not sure what it means. But I wanted to mark some things, some changes in the way I think about thinking about God.

Growing up I was encouraged, exhorted, taught, convinced that I had to wake up early in the morning and spend time praying and reading my Bible. It was something I strove to bring into focus in my life. I was taught to pray for myself, for my friends, my community, my church, the city, the state, the United States, the world, the planet, the universe AND spend 30 minutes reading the Bible…I think at one point in order to do “all the things” I was having to wake up at 4am. Needless to say it was never a practice that stuck for more than a day or two. Queue the guilt.

When my first was born, and sleeping became erratic, I learned to have “quiet times” when he laid down for his first nap. Epiphany: my time praying and reading didn’t have to happen as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning, just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. It could happen in those quiet moments—whatever quiet moment I carved out of the day. It was sacred and holy time, no matter if I had been awake for a few hours and eaten breakfast, or after running to the grocery store, or worked out, or slept in because hello 2am and 4am feedings. It was my first taste of freedom—my practices aren’t going to look like anyone else’s and that’s OK.

After years of church work and forcing myself to fit an evangelical mold, I crashed and burned. I found Scripture dead and heavy work. I couldn’t pray.  Along the way I learned about breath prayer. I was breathing, at least. So I matched prayer to my breath. It was simple when I needed simple, connecting mind to heart to body to spirit.

I breathe God in.

I breathe God out into the world.

It was the only prayer I could say. Anything else felt forced, contrived and even trite. Who am I to know the heart of God? I didn’t know what to ask for—for you or for me. That breath prayer was the only prayer that felt honest. Epiphany: being me, bringing my full self to the table is more important than any program or structure. I couldn’t read my bible and journal and pray the way I had before. But this time, sometimes only five minutes of breath prayer in a hectic morning, was just as sacred and holy. It carved out space for me to re-center on the One who continually calls me to his side. Another epiphany: God is always waiting for me in those spaces. Lighting a candle and leaving it, coming back to it. That was a picture God gave me—never leaving, always ready and waiting to welcome me back to God’s light and warmth. I can never travel to far or too long. And there is no judgment—I can just slip into God’s arms once again, like sitting in the light of the candle on my couch wrapped in blankets. Warmth and comfort and a welcome back, love. I missed you.

Yet…even in a season of early morning prayers and late night prayers, I find myself experiencing frustration when the promise of peace doesn’t linger. When three minutes after waking up the littles, there are tears and frustrations and fights. And I find myself turning my anger towards God, almost hissing you promised! If I did this, then…

Epiphany: all these years later, I still viewed my relationship with God as transactional. I expected to feel good and for the good feelings to last no matter what. I felt betrayed when it didn’t. Angry when I carved out space and it wasn’t all I wanted it to be, either because the good feelings didn’t come, or they dissipated soon after the chaos from the day began. I don’t even know what to do with that one. I think just leaning into it, confessing and being present in the feelings (frustration, anger, bitterness) as they come. And here it is again…I expected the 30 minutes in the morning to last all day long. I set aside this time for this activity and now I’m good. I worked out for an hour today. I don’t have to do it again.

Epiphany: praying isn’t a work of once and done—it’s a continual state of my heart. I learned this, once, when I read Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God. It radically released me to view mundane tasks as opportunities for prayer. But I still viewed that morning time prayer as more sacred and holy and enough so that I never “had to” think about prayer again. But this is a relationship, not a work out. My people that I’m closest to? We text multiple times throughout the day, checking-in. I can’t wait to tell them the good things. I need their encouragement and exhortation when the bad things rise. I turn immediately to share with them the deepest pieces of my heart. If this thing with God is a relationship…then 10 minutes in the morning is beautiful and sacred. But there will be a continual turning of my heart towards him. In the moments when the feelings rise, turning to the one who knows me and saying, did you see? I feel…THIS IS AMAING…I feel so frustrated!!!…I can’t believe…God, comfort her. Let her feel your presence…

or

when words fail

I breathe God in.

I breathe God out into the world.

I’d love to hear from you—what are your epiphanies? What has woken you up, shifted, or changed the way you either approach God or think about the way you approach God?

bloom

Providence.

I’ve been encountering it a lot lately.

Things lining up in that subtle yet perfectly orchestrated way. I can’t miss the gift given, nor the Giver.

Last night I didn’t want to be alone. My soul felt heavy in my bones. Words were failing and I needed to be out of my own head. I spent an hour trying to find someone to come over and sit with me.

I texted her, some random comment. She’d been here late the night before and had a full day of work. I didn’t want to intrude. If I’m being honest, I feel like I’m sucking out her soul as I’m losing mine. I’m scared she’ll be annoyed with me if I need one more thing from her.

She saw through my words and asked “do I need to come over?”

I laughed. It was funny-not-funny. I whispered yes and wept. This season has been one of starts and stops…things I thought were givens feel like they are turning to dust in my hands. The breath comes, jagged and sharp. But still there. I have hope. It lingers and sparks…I see it in the 11:11 time stamp, forever my reminder to pray.

I see it in the $42 thrifted boots—24 hours after asking for a pair for Christmas.

I see it in the care of friends for my children.

I see it in my husband as love, once waning, is rekindled and burns bright.

I receive the gift and I see the Giver, gracing me with good things that speak only to my soul. There are low moments, moments when I forgot to see and my words become jumbled. Where I listen to my words instead of Wisdom. Where I know I’m forcing instead of receiving.

But that’s life, isn’t it? A journey of starts, stops, falls, and perils. Yet hope blooms forever along the roadside.

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