Thursday, June 16, 2016

Summer Book List 2016

I love book lists, don't you? In the summer I feel completely allowed to read all sorts of impractical fiction because in my book brain I am still in sixth grade and summer is when I get to read whatever makes me happy. Summer Book Lists are like a trip  to Disneyland, except there are no lines and you can stay in the air-conditioning.

I used to choose one author in the summer and read everything I could get my hands on. In college I chose classic authors every summer. That's how I read everything F Scott Fitzgerald ever wrote, the Brontes, and everything by Jane Austen. I'll never be sorry I did that. Reading old books by choice is a special kind of winning in life. Reading new books is for all the cool kids, the hipsters, the high on lifers. So you need both.

Reading both is how you end up standing at a dinner party saying things like, "Oh, yes, I've read all the Brontes.", and then "You're from Seattle?? I died laughing when I read Where'd You Go Bernadette!" Then find your people when they jump up and down a little and you talk for hours about Jane Eyre or Big Little Lies. Or you alternately get odd stares from people who would rather see the movie. At which point, move on, honey. They just don't know your life!

These days, I cherry pick various authors and genres with random abandon. There are simply so many books I want to read in life, I can scarcely keep up. Here are my summer reads, for your perusal. I've divided it by genre, as usual. Comment and tell me if you've found an amazing book I have to read next, because that's true friendship, and I'll never forgive you if you keep your books to yourself.

1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I had a little difficulty getting into this book at first, it is told through letters, and they didn't "grab me" at first. But now I'm hooked. I am halfway through, and thoroughly smitten. The story takes place in England post WW2, and is about an author and her correspondence with her editor, her friends, and a literary society on the Channel Islands. I would put it in the same category with A Fall of Marigolds, which was on my reading list last summer.

2. The Flavia De Luce Series by Alan Bradley. I adore Flavia. She is a cheeky British preteen obsessed with chemistry living in the post WW2 English countryside. Flavia likes to solve murder mysteries, and she is completely delightful. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the first book in the series, and the latest one, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, is being released in the Fall. I want to read the whole series again before my pre-ordered copy arrives in September. These books definitely work well as YA Lit for older middle school and high school. I can't wait for my boys to read them! 

3. A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman. Backman writes beautifully, with a poetry that sort of sounds more like wisdom literature. This story takes place in modern day Sweden, but also tells Ove's life story, so it jumps back and forth a little. Ove's life is a sad and yet funny tale. It seems so true you easily forget this is fiction. The book is about a man of another era who is forced to accept the post-modern world he lives in by the neighbors around him. This is not Christian literature, so if you don't like to read books with very post-modern morality and worldviews, it's not for you. But it is a redemptive story in a lot of ways, and so if you can hang with the secular ways of the characters, you'll find yourself loving these awkward, broken people with great sincerity of heart. If you liked All the Light We Cannot See, I think you'll like this book.

4. After You by Jojo Moyes. I am going to shoot you straight. I didn't like Me Before You, the first book in this series. And I won't see the movie, because I'm scared of it, frankly. It was too tragic, too sad, and made me furious. Moyes's book The Girl You Left Behind made me crazy angry, too, so I have a little chip on my shoulder with this author. She makes me really care about her characters and then something happens to them that RUINS THEIR LIVES. It's hard to take, man! But lots of people have told me this sequel is redemptive, and so I am slowly reading it whenever I am at Barnes and Noble, because my library doesn't have a copy, and I can't buy it if it ends up making me mad, too! I know, I'm weird. I'm about a fourth of the way in, and so far, I am liking it, but I still don't trust her. LOL.

5. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty. I have pre-ordered this book, which releases July 26. Moriarty writes fun beach reads, and I love her books so much! She writes well-written fluffy stories about life and people, and her books are completely worth reading in one sitting if you can get your kids to leave you alone and stay up until 3AM dying of joy. I loved her books What Alice Forgot and The Husband's Secret so much, I will probably read every book she ever writes, because when you love a writer, you stay loyal.

1. Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg. I've only cracked this book, and then I tragically left it at the gym yesterday, so I'm dying inside. But I've heard amazing things about it, and I will go hunt it out of the lost and found so I can experience it firsthand.

2. Home is Where My People Are by Sophie Hudson. This is a fun, funny, southern memoir. It's delightful in so many ways, like sitting on the backporch with a tall glass of sweet tea and hearing your best friend's truest tales. It's about faith and church and home and family. It's perfect summer reading material. 

3. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I pre-ordered this one, too. It releases in August. I enjoy Nieqist's writing. I loved Bread and Wine, Cold Tangerines, and Bittersweet. I have a feeling this one will be just as good.

4. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. Another book on writing. Because I want to write so well about God and life that the people who read my words yearn for the love and freedom and the hand of God upon their weary brow. I don't know another way to say that, and I don't know any other life that could make my heart sing. The books we read can help us fulfill our dreams, live better, more whole lives. So, yes. Another book on writing. 

Well, that's it! Have you read any of these? Did you like them? What are reading, you guys??? Tell me, tell me! I'd love to hear your book recs, and please say someone else struggled with Me Before You. Because seriously, it sent me into the darkness for several hours. 

Peace out, book peeps. And happy reading!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

shalom: for these days when nothing is as it ought to be

I'm starting to feel like the world is one giant swirling gust of wind.

Swoosh... there are ants in my kitchen and I can't seem to get rid of them. The bug guy says they live in the walls. SUPER!

Swoosh... my left eyelid is starting to wrinkle at an unprecedented rate, like it's in a race to look eighty-five before I hit fifty. It's so ahead of its time. I think I may name this new wrinkle "Adele" because it says Hello to me every time I look in the mirror.

Swoosh... my daughter asked to be baptized spontaneously last weekend.  We squeezed this monumental moment between first service worship and my son's baseball game. She also cut all her hair off last week, so basically my baby is all grown up now. Waaahhhh!!!!

Swoosh... so many people we know have hit a wall and  are believing for a miracle of some sort. Miracles and justice are hard to find when we really need them. I'm pretty sure they're out there, but they hide in plain sight and it takes time and faith to see them.

Swoosh... the election is more complicated and confusing than we can bear. Every election reminds me that I don't actually understand the intricacies of the political process, but this time around I also am learning I don't understand anything about people, the media, psychology, speech writing, political parties, or the best way to fry an egg. (That egg part was randomly placed in there because I am that confused about all the other things- I don't think it actually has anything to do with the election. But maybe it does. I don't really know.)

Swoosh... people are gunned down in an Orlando night club. Girls are trafficked right off our streets. Foster kids have nowhere to go. What are we going to do, you guys? How can we right the wrongs when they are in such great abundance?

Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh. I can barely stand some days.

James 4 says our life is like a mist, appearing one day and disappearing when the sun appears. No wonder the swirling wind of life affects us this way.

Then I pull out this old video of my daughter when she was three years old, and somehow her disjointed theology makes me laugh and remember that faith doesn't always have to make sense to be true.


Can you see God? Yes. Can you see God? No. But God is always with you. It makes me think of the disciples on the boat in Luke 8, stormy winds swirling, and Jesus right there asleep in the boat. I want to shake Him awake with my prayers, but I also want to amaze Jesus with my faith that because He is God with us, everything will be okay in the end.

Gosh, I just want everything to be okay in the end.

Morgan preached about Shalom on Sunday. Shalom means peace- the kind of peace where all is as it ought to be in the world. My new dream is to make space for shalom in the lives of the people I know and love. Even if my personal shalom is small, I am trusting it will grow.

And so today, I am making cookies for the neighbor who has never spoken with me until last week, when she told me in broken English that she "want to be friendship" with me. I want to be friends with her, too, and cookies are the best way to say "friendship" I know.

I'm folding laundry and filling the pantry with food and playing a card game with my kids, because shalom is in all those acts, too.

I'm saying Hello back to that wrinkled eyelid, telling my aging skin it's doing a great job facing the world without the collagen it once boasted. Shalom looks like being a little more kind to my own self some days.

I'm writing a book about ministry and all the ways we bear in our lives the gospel of transformation, and all the ways we suffer for the sake of a higher calling. Because shalom comes in the form of pastoring and shepherding our churches.

Most of all, I am praying. I pray you find shalom in God's presence. I pray that even though the wind blows and it seems nothing is as it ought to be in the world, you find you find a way to lie down beside Jesus in the boat and rest until the wind dies down and the boat carries us all home.

Shalom also means being brave and clinging to this promise Jesus gave us:

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
-John 14:27

Peace, shalom, and Happy Tuesday, you guys. I love ya bunches.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

re: all the things and the Sunday I preached in church

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” 
-Colossians 1:16-17

Lately I’ve been overwhelmed by all the things.

Finishing up school, baseball tournaments, church related stuff, writing projects, etsy shop details, dance classes, as well as the omnipresent laundry/dishes/parenting gig I can’t seem to outsource at all; the western world's struggle to survive is not for the faint of heart. It would be so easy to just lie down and enjoy our comfy sofas and endless streaming media. But, alas, we are not of those who shrink back one minute before 10pm on a Friday night, when we binge HGTV or ESPN while eating ice cream.

I used to think I was a good multi-tasker. But now I think I am just a uni-tasker with a case of overdeveloped self-confidence. Turns out I don’t juggle as well as I thought I did.

For example, two Sundays ago, I was supposed to speak in church. Morgan asked me to speak on the same weekend Boy 1 had his championship baseball tournament and I was hosting our Volunteer Appreciation Night at the church. With a packed schedule like that, how could I say no?

I woke up Sunday morning, grabbed my coffee, and spent some time with Jesus. I got the kids toast and juice and gave them instructions about proper church attire. (Why do children who have gone to church every week of their life act like they’ve never heard these rules about not wearing ancient ratty t-shirts with holes in them?) Then I took my shower, got dressed, and started doing my hair and makeup.

All the children wanted to be in my room, reading or playing with some toy while I finished the monumental process called “make the forty year-old woman look not a day over thirty-nine”. It’s precious, the way my kids all want to be with me. Except they don’t just want to “be” with me. They want to talk to me. They want to talk a lot to me. In fact, that particular morning my kids wanted to bond with me as they retold me Peanuts comic strips, discussed the batting averages of MLB players I’ve never heard of, and analyzed every movie we’ve ever seen as a family. I think one of them wanted to discuss the progression of our foreign affairs from the Cold War to the present day, and how that’s affected the free market. Or maybe they just asked why I don’t buy Pop Tarts very often. I’m not sure. All I wanted was to get my eyeliner on straight, because forty year-old women look like they’re trying a little too hard if they don’t get their eyeliner on straight.   

So I kicked them out. Actually, Morgan kicked them out because he is a good husband. Also, I was his guest speaker in church that morning, and hearing me shriek about eyeliner and 1980s politics (or Pop Tarts- whatevs) was little scary for him.

I finished my hair and makeup in peaceful silence.

We all rolled out the front door a little later. After I turned out of the neighborhood, a tragic realization crept upon me from the back of my consciousness. In the midst of the discussion of all the things I didn’t want to talk about, I forgot to put on most of my makeup.

I looked in the mirror, and there was my face, wearing some blush and eye makeup, but nothing else. No foundation. No powder. Nothing to cover and soften the charming laugh lines or the scars on my forehead or my wicked awesome crow's feet.

No big deal, right? Besides, I was speaking on vulnerability and the courageous Christian life. I could have been my own sermon illustration. No more masks! Real life! How brave of her, everyone would have said. I would reach heights of epic courageous vulnerability in the western world for this act of bravery.

Just kidding. I turned around and drove back home and slathered every bit of makeup I own on my face. Because I like how I look with it, and although I am willing to be brave and vulnerable, I suppose I am also a little vain. It would have distracted me all morning, knowing I was walking around with a naked face. I wouldn't have felt courageous, I would have felt ridiculous.

I preached my sermon with a fully made-up face. I talked about stretchy pants and guacamole in church, and proved once and for all I am totally crazy. Bless it. (If you want to listen to my message, it’s posted here.) Then I took my kids home and begged them to help me clean up our messy house before Morgan got home from a post-church meeting. I ignored the laundry, and ate gummy bears that night instead of being responsible.

I'm still behind on all kinds of things. I forget things like make-up all the time. U-turns and re-dos are my specialty. It seems like the balls I’m juggling in life are flying so fast, they are all a blur.

But they are my blur. I love every crazy thing I am juggling today, don't you? We all have some crazy thing God is asking us to do, and He is holding it all together while we gad about trying to spin plates or walk tightropes that look terrifying. 

These circus acts of ours are the best way we can worship our God, who holds all things together by His power (even when we are overwhelmed). He is worthy of our obedience, and delights in the unique way we find our rhythm as we follow Him.

Go ahead, take the center ring and make magic happen in your life. (Even if that magic is just laundry or office spreadsheets or sponsoring a child in Haiti or applying the proper amount of eyeliner for your age.) Do all the things for Jesus, as an act of worship to Him. He's here, holding it all together so He can make something amazing out of our little sideshow juggling acts. It's incredible, really, to just be a part of His beautiful plan for the world.