Sunday was one of those very rough days. You know, the type of day you would like to pretend you never have. The middle part of the day I spent curled up in bed with a book because dealing with life just brought me to constant tears.
I was exhausted, see, from that full February (and part of January) I had. I went from one event to the next, just pushing through, until on Sunday, I was done pushing. There wasn’t a next big thing I had to get to. It was just normal life until the next birthday and Easter was upon us.
The tears started during the church service. Then I had to deal with a public mistake I made, that was visible to everyone. It wasn’t a big deal, but given my tearful, exhausted state, it was. I had a hard conversation with a friend and saw myself in a slightly different light (not in a positive way either). By the time we were done with lunch, I was a wreck. Tears fell freely and I had imagined myself dirt–a mean, bitter woman who didn’t have anything together.
Don’t be concerned–I recovered fine from that. I emerged from my nest in my room, ready to belt out the songs from Frozen, much to the chagrin of my children who were watching the movie. Tears were just part of my exhaustion and my recovery.
It seems no small thing that Lent starts today—three short days after that morning I felt every bit a sinner, far from the person God has called me to me. When I think about what sent me over the edge on Sunday, how I felt others viewed me and how that reflected on my recent words/actions, I knew what I had to give up for Lent.
In Girl Meets God, Lauren Winner quotes her priest, Milind, from his sermon about Lent:
That is how it is with the gifts we give to God. I want to encourage you to give something to God that really matters. Something you really love. Something that is hard to do without.
Winner gave reading for Lent. Her reflections on giving up reading:
[Giving up books] left me starkly alone with my life….But I also read to numb any feelings of despair or misery that may creek my way…
But I also find myself praying more because I don’t have my usual distractions. When I am stuck in a puddle of sadness and mistakes, I cannot take them to Mitford [a book series by Jan Karon]. I have them to take them to God.
I begin to suspect that Milind didn’t want me to give up reading just because it was the equivalent of some dearly loved green sundress, but because it might move me closer to Jesus. It might move me to my knees.
This morning I started my annual Lent reading, Breath of the Soul by Joan Chittister. The entire little book is on prayer. In years past I had underlined:
To grow spiritually, then, I cannot hid–even from myself. I must pray for self-knowledge, for the searing honesty that, with the grace of God, can bring me to the heart of God.
Self-knowledge saves us from ourselves.
I realized as I read Chittister’s first reflection on prayer how essential Sunday’s emotional experience was. For a few hours, I had brutal self-knowledge and I was no longer able to think that I came to God as a woman who was good and ok. I prayed repeatedly that day, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” which happens to be the prayer for today, this first day of Lent when we remember that we came from ashes and will return to ashes. I am but dirt. I need God, which is at the heart of Lent–the knowledge and acceptance that we need God’s wonderful, unboundless, unending love, which thanks to Jesus, we can never, ever be separated from–even when I am feeling like dirt.
What I am giving up for Lent is two-fold. I am giving up Facebook. While Facebook has it’s positives–keeping up with others, sharing pictures and antidotes with my family, it also is a substitution. I go to Facebook when I need a break, when I am exhausted, when I feel like I can’t do life anymore, or when I need acceptance from others. I turn to Facebook instead of God, which makes Facebook a bit an idol, I believe. (A quick note on logistics–I can share this link on Facebook without actually getting onto facebook–just in case you were curious).
Second, and the more difficult practice is I am giving up the need to be always be right. As anyone who knows me well (and probably those who don’t know me so well) knows, I need things correct. I don’t have room for exaggerations or hyperbole normally. Everything in speech and otherwise needs to be as factually correct as possible. In addition, I think my opinions are the correct ones as well. It’s not uncommon for me to push these opinions on others as fact until they too can see that my opinion is correct. This is not a good thing.
In fact, it’s my need for my opinions to be correct (and for everyone to share my correct opinions) that was my emotional downfall on Sunday. Not only do I seem to be a bit of a jerk in the conversations, I also am failing to follow the two greatest things Jesus called us to do–loving God and loving others. It’s obvious how my pushiness and exactness fails to love others–in some instances, I don’t value their opinions enough to not try to convince them to see it my way. It also ties into the whole leaving Facebook idea–that need to seek others approval. Regardless, it’s not very Christ-like. It also causes me not to love God as fully. If I am always right and correct, it cuts down on the need for God a bit. In fact, it makes a bit of a god myself.
I follow my rabbit trails–my connections from one idea to the next that I could easily miss if I wasn’t paying attention. I connect Lauren Winners words to Joan Chittisters words to conversations and emotions I had on Sunday. For Lent this year, I am giving up hard things. For the record, I can assure you that I will probably not be successful, especially for giving up being right. But with the grace of God, I am going to try. I will pray about it, I will guard my words. I will repeat today’s prayer frequently–Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.
February has come and gone, with me just posting twice—in the same week. That was it. It was indicative of a full, full February.
We had Curtis’s sister and nieces staying with us for a little over a week. His brother-in-law came down for the first weekend. They normally live in California and were Oklahoma City for a work training. The nieces are the age of my oldest two and it was a wonderful time for the cousins to be together.
Someone turned seven. He opted for a lower key birthday this year, which was just fine by me! Instead of a biggish party, he decided he wanted to go to the Lego Movie with his best friend (and his best friend’s dad). The four of them (including Curtis) enjoyed the movie. Afterwards, the friend’s entire family joined us for a pizza and cake birthday dinner.
We had snow days with no snow and ice. Just the threat of an icy day was enough to close schools after the fix Atlanta found itself in.
There was also Valentine’s day, in which I received two of my favorite Valentine’s Day cards ever from my two oldest. We ate seafood stew for supper and indulged in chocolate fondue for dessert.
Despite all this, I managed to fit in books, mostly before and after our out of town guests were here. In retrospect, I can’t believe I read seven books. In no particular order, except for memory:
Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf. My middlest is still struggling with reading and we are starting down the possible dyslexia path. I’m sure there will be more about that in another post. I loved this book. It discussed the history of reading–how cultures moved from oral language to highly complex written languages. From there, it shared how the brain reads–all the different parts of the brain that is involved with learning to read and later reading, including how the brain works varies between different types of languages. In the last section, which was why I picked this book, Wolf discussed dyslexia–how the dyslexic brain works differently, what dyslexia looks like, and how dyslexia varies across written languages. This was one of my favorite books of the month.
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. It was bit of a rabbit trail that led me to this book—articles shared on Facebook from my alma mater (because Gladwell is a Mennonite!!!) and then mention from someone in our small group from church. I loved this book as well. The first section didn’t appeal to me as much as the second and third. However, it was in the second section that Gladwell brought up dyslexia and started me questioning my son’s reading problems (and in fact, it was Gladwell that recommended Proust and the Squid to me). In the third section, Gladwell challenged to retaliation/retribution versus forgiveness in the case of two parents who had lost children to violent crime. In this section, Gladwell’s faith is most evident.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. I enjoyed this fiction book. It didn’t change me or challenge, but was quite enjoyable.
Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner. This was one of those funny books that I didn’t particularly love when I was reading it. However, afterwards I kept thinking about some of the things Winner said in her spiritual memoir, especially about Lent as Lent fast approaches. I gave this book three stars on Goodreads.
God Has a Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This book couldn’t have been more timely. February found me exhausted from the hectic schedule (thrown into the above was also a work trip for Curtis). When I sat down and started reading this book it was comforting. I checked it out from the library at first, but it quickly made it’s way to my Amazon shopping cart. It now is finding a place next to Richard Rohr and Henri Nouwen on my bookshelf. Hopefully, there will be much more written about this later.
Carry on Warrior by Glennon Melton. I was a bit ambivalent about this book. I understand why people love Melton’s writing. I think it’s really important. But, for my January/February it didn’t really grab me. It sometimes didn’t feel very connected and more like a greatest hits from her blog posts. I love what Melton is doing and creating–a place for people (women in particular) to be fully human.
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffers and Annie Barrows. I didn’t really like this book. I know it’s a really popular book, but, no. This was our book club pick this month, which was the main reason I made it through. I didn’t like the structure (a variety of letters). It felt clunky and I had a hard time really getting into it.
This month was spent watching three things–the Olympics, Downton Abbey, and Sherlock. I was a bit disappointed in Downton Abbey. The pace was lot slower than usual–I kept waiting for things to happen. I enjoyed Sherlock, but didn’t find this season quite as enjoyable as the first two. I liked how they varied their episode structure. The Olympics….well, I love the Olympics, always.
We squeezed in The Monuments Men on the last day of the month. It was a wonderful movie. It had the right amount of everything (and that’s all I’ll say because I don’t want to ruin any of it).
I made a lot of cake and cupcakes this month–a birthday cake for my mother-in-law at the beginning of the month, strawberry cupcakes for a Valentine’s day party, and another birthday cake at the end of the month for my boy’s seventh. The best of the three was the last. I used my mom’s chocolate cake and chocolate icing recipe (and managed not to over bake it this time) and then filled it with Ina Garten’s peanut butter icing.
In eating out, my girlfriends and I ordered take out this month from a Chinese restaurant this month, Asia Cafe. It was super yummy. We got cupcakes from Cupprimo for my son’s actual birthday (because I just couldn’t bake more cupcakes/cakes). Our small group went out to eat one evening and we had a wonderful, slow meal. Z’Tejas’s food was good, but the company was even better. We took Curtis’s sisters family out to lunch after church at Lucy’s Fried Chicken and the weekend Curtis was out of town, I took the kids to Pinthouse Pizza after church for lunch. I also revisited Michi Ramen by myself after listening to Rachel Held Evans talk (wow!!! That was awesome). I liked their ramen a lot better this time than the first time I was there.
Since the beginning of 2014, our Sunday School class at church has been using the Animate:Faith curriculum through Sparkhouse. Every Sunday, I’ve found myself challenged–spending Sunday afternoon thinking about a line from the video or a something someone in our class said. This week was no different.
Our topic was the Bible. Easy topic, right? 45 minutes to discuss the Bible supplemented by short video clip from Lauren Winner
Why, as Methodists, don’t we read the Bible more? What’s the difference between a Bible church and a regular church? Aren’t we all “Bible” churches? I know we aren’t because I hear people say with pride (and a little bit of judgement) that they go to a Bible church and I wonder what kind of church we are then. Are we just a hang out on Sunday morning and eat donut holes church? Are we a take care of the poor but don’t read the Bible kind of church?
Or is more how we read the Bible? The majority of our Sunday School class reads the Bible as God-inspired, the living God-breathed Word. To borrow a classmates words, we see it more as a guidebook than a rulebook. I view the Bible as a combination of historical facts (parts of Kings and Chronicles for example) and parables–present throughout Genesis in addition to Jesus’s parables in the New Testament. I believe that the Jesus was the Son of God, who walked on earth and taught us how to act. Jesus came to rise above the rules, not to make a new set of rules, because love?–it trumps everything. Our commandments are to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus was flesh of God’s love, killed because we couldn’t stand having someone around who upset how things were (just because you were rich, powerful, and religious didn’t mean you were God’s chosen people). Jesus rose on the third day. The early church spread and taught that nothing, nothing at all, can separate us from the love of God.
But I digress. I love the Bible. I struggle with it sometimes though. I have a hard time figuring out what some passages mean. I don’t understand the contradictions, however, I am learning that as I read it more and more, I am increasingly comfortable with the contradictions.
Lauren Winner said something in the video segment that stuck with me. She talked about Thomas Merton, a 20th century Christian mystic. He said that initially he wasn’t sure about the Bible, but he realized that all the spiritual writers he loved were devoted to reading the Bible. I thought about some of the writers I love: Lauren Winner for one, Barbara Brown Taylor, Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey, Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey, Madeleine L’Engle, and Joan Chittister. One of my favorite subjects to read about is the Bible (Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermons, Lois Tverberg and Shane Hipps diving into the Greek and Aramaic, Peter Enn’s studying the culture of the ancient world and how it affected the Bible).
Which brings me back to the question I was dying to ask during Sunday School, but for some reason didn’t. Why don’t Methodists (or the Methodists at our church) read the Bible more? Why isn’t there a culture of bringing your Bible to church or Sunday School? Lauren Winner posed the questions, Is the Bible worth re-reading countless times? I’m wondering is the Bible worth reading at all?
For me, it is. The Bible is a central component of my faith. Without it, I am making up my own faith as I go–kind of the spiritual but not religious type. Yes, there are hard things in the Bible–things I don’t understand, things that contradict each other, and things that I don’t like. The Bible also demonstrates how we should act–in imitation of Jesus. Without the Bible, how would we know what Jesus did?
So I read the Bible again and again, every year. I’m not always doing so great by June (the kids out of school really challenges me to find a new space for quiet), but I start again every January. I approach it with an open mind–not reading it looking for a fight—but looking for what I may learn or what I may notice this time that I hadn’t before. Every time I read a passage, and I’ve been reading the Bible since middle school, I find something different depending on the stage of my life. In these middle years of my life, I’m noticing more the amount of weeping that goes on in the Bible–whether it be from Jesus or from Esau, pain and suffering is great in the Bible. I read the Old Testament looking to see what they can tell me about Jesus and our relationship with God. I read the New Living Translation Chronological Bible some years. Other years I read Common Prayer by Claiborne, Wilson-Hargrove, and Okoro which include daily readings from Psalms, the OT, and the NT. I have also just gotten Celtic Prayer which has two years worth of daily readings and some time, I want to check out Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours (which I suspect also has daily Bible readings).
The Bible reminds us exactly why we need grace–we can’t do it by ourselves. In July, when I am two months behind in my Chronological Bible, I know I am forgiven–I know God’s grace extends to me not reading the Bible as well. The Bible soothes me–I can easily list passages that I start quoting when the going gets really rough—”I lift my eyes up to the hills, from where cometh my help?” ”When you pass through the waters, I will go with you. The wind and the waves will not overcome you.” ”You have searched me and known me. Before I was formed in my mother’s womb, you knew me. You know my going out and my coming in.” The Bible is not God, yet we need to the Bible to help us deepen our relationship with God, for the Bible is God’s love letter to us.
My Bible Book List:
A Bible–I like the study Bibles that have notes at the bottom. I use the NIV and the New Living Translation.
A Chronological Bible–This puts the books of the Bible in order that they are written. This is especially helpful when you get to the Prophets and Paul’s letters–you will find minor prophets in the middle of Isaiah readings or I and II Kings or Chronicles. Again, I like the New Living Translation for readability.
Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro. This is what I am using this year. In addition to daily prayers and reflections, there is a Psalm, Old Testament, and New Testament Reading for every day.
Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community. This is similar to Common Prayer. However, they have two years of daily Bible readings, again from the Psalms, Old Testament, and New Testament.
Books about reading the Bible:
The Bible Jesus Read by Philip Yancey. A look at the Old Testament and how it would have influenced Jesus.
Selling Water by the River by Shane Hipps. Shane looks at some of Jesus’s teachings and puts them into the context of the Greco-Roman world. He brings in the original meaning of Greek words, which I really like.
Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg. Similar to Hipps in that it looks at some of Jesus’s teachings and digs into the original meanings of Aramaic (or Greek) words and the culture of his time.
Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns. Enns looks at the Old Testament, starting with the creation in Genesis and compares it to other ancient near Eastern creation stories (and what makes the Jewish creation story different). Enns looks at several historical and archeological documents (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, Enuma Elish, and the Siloam Tunnel inscriptions). This is by far the most academic book on my list.
The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggman. Brueggeman looks at the Prophets from the Old Testament and how Jesus uses those prophesies. This one is also very academic.
Books made up of sermons based on the Bible:
Bread of Heaven by Barbara Brown Taylor
Pastrix by Nadia Bolz Weber. The first half of her book is memoir, the second half reads more like sermons.
The other evening, we went out to dinner with friends from our Sunday School class. We knew each other to varying degrees. The women had all hung out with each other before, as had the men. However, not often did we all hang out together. We laughed together and talked, as usual–women talking to each other, men talking to each other. Then, one woman said, “Tell us the story of how you met.”
We all told our stories. One spouse would start and then the other spouse would interrupt, adding details or correcting something they disagreed with. We all had things in our stories that made everyone else say, “What were you thinking?” –the “hanging on” boyfriend or girlfriend someone had when they met or dating forever or almost dropping a ring in a lake. We shared those things that we may normally leave out when we explain to people about how we met. ”In grad school, in high school, or at church” being the short answers.
I left the evening feeling happy inside. I felt like I knew everyone there better afterwards, not only knowing their stories, but watching the couples interact in such human, real ways.
I had the wonderful experience this past week of listening to Rachel Held Evans speak at Austin Presbyterian Seminary’s MidWinter Lecture series. Her topic was why the church was losing Millenials. She said the last thing millenials (and any of us, for that matter) want in a church is to be “sold” something. We are bombarded by advertisements and are constantly trying to be convinced of something. We’re surrounded by should’s. When we go to church, we don’t want to be sold a religion or convinced to do something. We don’t need something else we should be.
Instead, Rachel Held Evans suggested churches would do well to take a lesson from AA. Millenials are done with put together, perfection, especially in churches. Church, Rachel Held Evans said, is still the place we are expected to hold it all together all the time. We want to appear to everyone else that we have Christianity and the Jesus thing all figured out. We have no doubts. We need Jesus, but we don’t really need Jesus because we’ve got it going.
I’m reading SheLoves magazine’s book club selection again this month. The current book is God Has a Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. These past couple of weeks have been full of real life for me–nothing terrible, nothing unsurmountable, just normal ordinary life. I have found myself picking up Tutu’s book on those days when I am feeling unusually overwhelmed or defeated. Thus far, his book has been the arms of God around me, reminding me that I am beloved child of God and nothing can ever separate me from that love. I grasped on the brief bit Tutu wrote about parenting:
Unconditional love for our children means that we truly love and accept them regardless of whether they succeed or fail, behave or misbehave…But I do mean we should not try to push them into our mold of success, but rather let them experience life on their own terms….God gives us freedom to be authentically ourselves and so must we give our children this same freedom.
A little later in the same chapter, Tutu goes a little further to explain what God’s unconditional looks like:
When we begin to realize that God loves us with our weakness, with our vulnerability, with our failures, we can being to accept them as an inevitable part of our human life. We can love others–with their failures–when we stop despising ourselves–because of our failures.
I have two, if not three children who are biologically prone to perfectionism. This is a genetic trait I’ve decided (all of these statements that sound like I know things are actually based on my observations and the opinions formed out of those observations. I’m no expert). I have very few perfectionist qualities. My husband has a lot. My sister has a lot. There are advantages of this, for example, if they create something, it will probably turn out right, unlike what I may create (which I finish just to get.it.done). Those perfectionists got way better grades in school than I ever did. However, there are also disadvantages, like fighting with the feeling that if they don’t get things just right, people may not love them so much.
What I keep realizing over and over, is we all worry, to varying degrees, that we need to do things to be loved by God or loved by others. As a parent, it is my job to help my children learn that they can make mistakes. They can do the hard things in life. They can fail.
Madeleine just started taking piano lessons through a studio this winter. She loves practicing, but dreads the lessons. The second lesson was particularly bad because she had to repeat a piece. She didn’t get it perfect the first time, and she was upset. She hated piano, she sobbed to me. We talked about what her teacher said (and I have sat in on some of her lessons and her teacher is just fine), and then she practiced a lot that week. Now, 6 lessons later, she’s not shocked when she has to play a piece for yet another week. She’s getting more comfortable with not doing things perfectly and realizing no one treats her any differently because she has to play a song again.
John does swim team every summer in our neighborhood. After his very first meet ever, when he was just 5, he hoped out of the pool after a long and painful to watch swim across the pool, and asked “Did I win?” He was so furious to find out he didn’t and went sulking back to his age group tent. By the end of his second swim season, his visions of grandeur were somewhat diminished. He no longer asked if he won or not, he was no longer mad when he didn’t. He had fun being with his friends and didn’t have to be the best. Whether or not he won the heat or the event didn’t change how his friends treated him or how much we loved him.
We are God’s children. God loves us more perfectly than we could ever love our children or our parents have ever loved us. God doesn’t expect us to be the best at what we do. We can’t fool God into being more with it than we really are. If our relationship with God is our model for all of our other relationships, then why can’t we learn it’s ok not to be number 1?
It’s a fight every day to live like being number 1 doesn’t matter so much as loving justice, seeking mercy, and walking humbly. Relationships matter more, contrary to society’s pressures. Relationships are built when people share stories of when they messed up or did things less perfectly. Let’s all face it, we grow tired of the Facebook posts elaborating on how perfect someone’s life is. Some of the most popular Christian bloggers–Glennon Melton at Momastery and Jen Hatmaker–regularly write about how they fail. That’s why people love them. For brief moments, people are released from needing to perfect and allowed to be beloved humans because these hilarious, insightful women also make mistakes. Without fail, my most read and most shared blogposts are the ones that usually talk about how I was the less than stellar parent.
In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown says:
If we want to cultivate worthiness in our children, we need to make sure they know that they belong and that their belonging is unconditional. What makes that such a challenge its that most of us struggle to feel a sense of belonging–to know that we’re a part of something, not despite our vulnerabilities, but because of them.
Even Jesus was vulnerable. He was crucified and publicly was humiliated, tortured, and killed. He wept at the death of his friend. He was fully human (yet fully God). Why do we insist that we shouldn’t admit our struggles? Why should we be so scared to fail? Why are we so afraid our children will fail? I try to keep teaching my children to maintain their vulnerability. Kids were born vulnerable and over time, become more independent and are told to lose their vulnerability. I don’t want my children to be scared to fail. I want my children to love themselves, all bits and pieces of themselves, so they can love others better, and experience God’s love more fully.
The unheard of happened this month–not one, but two days off of school because of icy roads. The kids loved playing outside, Madeleine made pretzels, they made movies using the Puppet Pals App, and played with a lot of legos. Funny how unscheduled days off are more fun than the scheduled ones. The day is an unexpected gift and naturally puts everyone in great mood. The second day was especially sweet because the kids didn’t know it was coming. Unlike the first day, they slept later than usual and were delighted with the surprise.
Other than that, it was quite an ordinary month. No adventures or trips or trips were planned as we settled back into routines after our traveling Christmas break. Needless to say, I did lots of reading.
Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor by Margo Starbuck. This wasn’t my favorite book nor will it make it onto any of my recommended book lists. That said, I still enjoyed it and found myself challenged by it. I didn’t love the format of it, although it was unique for non-fiction (Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books from elementary and middle school? That’s how the book was set up…). It did challenge me to think about how I spend my time and money and whether I am using both to glorify God.
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. This one was significant and will be on my recommended lists for a long time. I got this book from the library after Curtis recommended her TEDTalk. I finished the library book, returned it and immediately ordered Daring Greatly and Gifts of Imperfection from Amazon. The book helped me understand myself, my husband, and my children better. I suspect it will impact my parenting choices more so than most books I read. Read this book, or at least listen to her TEDTalks.
Seven: An Experimental Mutiny of Excess by Jen Hatmaker. Our book club read this book this month. While I missed the meeting due to inclement weather and a husband (stranded) in Phoenix, I loved this book. Read my thoughts about it here.
Selling Water by the River by Shane Hipps. While I was looking for any of Brene Brown’s books at Halfway Price Books, I found this book. I bought it because I knew he was a speaker in the Animate:Faith series we are doing in Sunday School. This is book about Jesus, Jesus’s life and actions, and interpretation of the Bible. In other words, with all the cultural, contextual and Greek references it was right up my alley. I wrote about this book in another post too.
Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. Yeah, I read this book two months in a row. It was totally worth it. I wrote about Jesus Feminist elsewhere as well.
Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl. I actually form “To Read” booklists from what other people read on Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into link-up. In December, several people talked about reading this book, so I put it on my library hold list. I enjoyed this book. I like Reichl’s voice and despite her living a very different life than me, I didn’t feel her coming across as pretentious or snobby at all. Plus, she wrote lots and lots about food. I like food. One of the most interesting parts I found was when she was describing the first “foodies.” My, we’ve made the ability to be a foodie so much more accessible than it was when they were first written about. When I’m looking to add books to my “To Read” booklist again, I may add another of her books.
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. This was another book I found on Leigh Kramer’s link up (if you are looking for book recommendations, this is a great place to start, friends). Instead of a novel, like most of Patchett’s books, This Is a Story of Happy Marriage is a collection of essays that Patchett has written over the years for a wide variety of publications (I loved finding her connection to Reichl–she wrote for Gourmet, and Reichl for awhile). I enjoy essays and the freedom that reading essays give me. It’s easier for me to put down books of essays because there are definite stopping points. If there’s an essay I don’t enjoy (like her long one on writing), I can skip it and go on to the next. This was a delightful book.
What Alice Forgot by Lianne Moriarty. One of my two grown up fiction books this month, What Alice Forgot did not disappoint. The story was great–a 39 year old woman falls off the spin bike at the gym, hits her head, and forgets the past ten years of her life. It left me with fascinating questions afterwards–would I recognize my life if I looked at through my 29 year old eyes? How has the past ten years made me cynical? It reminded me to look at things with a little more hope and a little less weight (metaphorical weight) than I feel sometimes. This was a long book, but it didn’t take me long to finish.
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. This was my other fiction book, which I also loved. There was a lot of jumping around between times (1900, 1907, 1913, 1930, 1975, and 2005) and characters (Eliza, Nell, and Cassandra), but I found it much easier to follow than other books with similar structure. Both this book and What Alice Forgot I found online on a booklist. Maybe Sarah Bessey’s? Both booked are good winter reading–not too dark or depressing. Interestingly enough, substantial parts of both books take place in Australia. (I also loved the brief reference to Frances Hogsdon Burnet’s Secret Garden).
Odette’s Secret by Maryann MacDonald. Sometimes, I give in and read a book Madeleine is recommending to me. This was one of them. Odette’s secret is written as free verse poetry about a Jewish girl living in Nazi occupied France (both Paris and the countryside). It is a Bluebonnet (Texas’s upper elementary reading award, the winner being decided by students) nominee for 2014-2015. I am glad I read it and could talk to Madeleine about it afterwards.
TV and Movies
Hmm…not much here. Spent my evenings reading, with the exception of the new seasons of Downton Abbey and Sherlock. Thank you Sunday nights on PBS. This will change in February with the Olympics.
Restaurants–Some restaurants I’ve been to before, like Frank and El Chilito. El Chilito didn’t disappoint. I only wished I was there for lunch instead of breakfast. Mmm, their cochinita pibil burrito with guacamole….The kids and I went to Frank on their scheduled day off of school. They enjoyed it. I enjoyed my Southern Belle hotdog (hotdog plus pimiento cheese, fried green tomato and a couple of sauces). Their poutine is not what I’ve been looking for. However, I realized I normally don’t eat so much greasy, processed food when my belly slightly protested in the afternoon. I was also on the eastside for a while one day and dropped into Hillside Farmacy–another one of my favorites. I couldn’t decide what to get so I just had their fried egg sandwich. I love runny yolks, especially when they ooze into perfectly toasted bread.
I also went to a couple of new restaurants. Hands down, favorite restaurant I’ve been to in awhile was Bufalina. We had wonderful, wood oven pizza–with brussels sprouts, seranos, smoked ham, and house made mozzarella. There also an arugula and prosciutto pizza Curtis really enjoyed and the best ice cream I’ve had in Austin. My girlfriends and I also went to Odd Duck, which was good, but shadowed by Bufalina.
At Home–I made my version of espresso shortbread cookies that I had in a restaurant once. Wonderful. We also made a new pizza dough recipe that Curtis cooked in his Big Green Egg. We discovered the problem with our pizza in the past wasn’t the method of cooking it, but the dough recipe. This recipe took substantially more time (it needs to sit overnight), but no more work. We are hooked and can’t wait to make more pizza. I think we may even splurge on better pizza ingredients because the dough makes it all worth it. We also made Vietnamese Crepes again (I found enoki mushrooms at the nearby Asian Grocery Store) and decided we needed to have a monthly crepe night.
I’m linking with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into again this month.
I’m doing something almost unheard of for me. I am reading a book for a second time. While that in itself isn’t terribly uncommon, the unusual part is that I am reading the book two months in a row.
Normally, I read books and do one of three things: I return the book to the library, I put the book on my Half Price Books stack, or I find a home for a book on the shelf. The first time I read Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, I was careful not to mark in it–I took photos of the quotes I wanted to remember, just in case I decided to put it on my Half Price Books stack (because really, who wants a second hand book that’s all marked up with underlines, smiley faces, exclamation points, and hearts?). About a third of the way through the book, I decided it was a keeper, but I still refrained from marking in it for some reason.
As I mentioned in a previous post, many of the books I’ve read this month have challenged me significantly. After Selling Water by the River (Hipps), I decided I needed a break. Over at SheLoves, my favorite online “magazine,” they started a book club. Their first book is Jesus Feminist. Why not? I thought. I knew this book was a gentle reminder instead of an earth shatterer. I need books of both kinds.
I’ve read some of the books Bessey references–Half the Sky (Kristoff and WuDunn), Half the Church (Custis James), and both of Rachel Held Evans books. I’ve heard the debates for before about the need for Jesus feminists–how we should use the gifts God gave us, even if they are preaching. What I love most about Bessey’s book isn’t her justification for equality of women in the church, although I am on board with that. My favorite part is her description of marriage.
Let’s be honest. None of us have perfect marriages. We all have times we struggle and don’t communicate and connect as well. We all bring all of our past with us into our marriages no matter what that may be. We’re human. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. It’s part of it. Part of what makes a couple celebrating their tenth or twentieth or thirtieth or fiftieth, or even their seventeenth wedding anniversary so special is the knowledge that no marriage is perfect. Wedding anniversaries are important to acknowledge and celebrate because it is a way of saying, “Hey, we made it through another year! We managed to set aside ourselves enough to remain this new, somewhat-unified being.” Anniversaries are acknowledgements of overcoming difficulties and struggles and just plain old everyday life, which sometimes isn’t easy.
I kind of expected that once my kids were this age, marriage would be easier. Granted, my marriage has never been particularly difficult, just the normal bumps, but I for some reason, I thought the elementary school years would be lots of time for Curtis and I to sit and gaze deeply into each others’ eyes or to go out to dinner have deep theological and philosophical talks. It hasn’t quite been that way. While we are both sleeping better, which I thought was the culprit–my sleep depravation, we didn’t have any more time for us. We seemed to pass each other in the driveway more often. I would take one kid and he would stay up with the others, or vice versa. Saturday mornings, we juggle three sports schedule, not seeing much of each other until the afternoon, when it was all done.
With work schedules and kid schedules, connecting with each other has been harder this past year than some. We are no longer in the trenches of babies. Our kids are easier to take care of and for the most part, we’ve got our household routines and rules down. We learned that we must take the time and effort to talk in the evenings–to turn off the TV and close our books and check in on each other. Like so many hard things, it’s been a good thing. That may be why I appreciated Bessey’s words on marriage so much:
We have gone to the high places and the lowest places of each other, crossing the dry desert, drinking deep of the oasis, and we are still dancing.
My husband has forgiven me when I could not forgive myself for how I had hurt us. I have held him up when he was sinking in the mires, praying joy right back into him at night in our bed while he was sleeping. Sometimes–oh my–we can infuriate each other, and we’re just so different from each other; but there is bone-deep knowing that we–this marriage, all of it–are meant to be.
Bessey put into words so well what the past ten years, and the past year in particular, have been like. There is no shame in crossing dry deserts or sinking in mires. Both Curtis and I have done both, multiple times. Yet we are still dancing.
We are still dancing.
In my reading this month, I also read Ann Patchett’s new book of essays, This is a Story of a Happy Marriage. When I got to the title essay, I found one part that resonated with me as well as I thought about marriage, and our marriage in particular. Patchett writes:
We do things differently, and very often we do, I remind that it is rarely a matter of right and wrong. We are simply two adults who grew up in different houses far away from one another.
To extend on Bessey’s metaphor of dancing, there is no right or wrong way to dance. Granted, others may laugh at your dance, toes may get stepped on, but there’s a lot of laughter in dancing as well. We learn each other’s dance, and over time, create our own dance.
Back to Bessey (but the emphasis is mine):
And I know just when to slide into my turn as the shadow; but we’ve stomped on each other’s toes a time or two, been horribly out of step–oh yes. Sometimes he leads; sometimes I lead. It changes because our relationship is alive and organic, still developing–but it’s always us, trusting each other’s heart, trusting we hear the same music from the old piano. We’re still learning to move seamlessly together. If we can’t move together, then we wait, holding on, in the pause between steps.
Bessey says many other beautiful, challenging things in her book. This second time through, I just went ahead and put a heart by chapter titles because I loved the whole chapter. However, in this ordinary, elementary (school-aged) time I am living in now, it was the dancing I needed to be reminded of. It was the arms around my waist, swaying that was important for me to remember. I needed a reminder to work to be connected to Curtis, that this hard work we do in carving out space for the other to fit into, is some of the most important work I am doing now. Otherwise we fail to hear the same music and our dance steps are terribly uncoordinated.
We are still dancing.
(I read Jesus Feminist as part of She Loves Magazine January book club. Check out another response to the book and the discussion over at shelovesmagazine.com)
I watched Isaac carefully this afternoon.
“What side do I use Mommy?” he asked. ”The rock,” I responded.
He sat very straight and still on the little stool in our bedroom. He carefully rubbed the pumice stone across the bottom of the his feet. I pretended to keep reading on my bed, but all the time, I watched him slyly. A moment later, he walked over to me smiling.
“This?” he inquired as he held the aquaphor container out to me.
“Yes. But me sure to just use a little bit because it is very, very greasy.”
“I know, Mommy. I wash my hands when I done.”
He went back to his stool, sat down, and proceeded to gently rub the aquaphor over his feet.
How many times had he watched me do this, I wondered? Once, twice, maybe five times at the most. Yet, he knew exactly what to do, in what order, and that he needed to wash his hands when he was done.
“Feel my feet, Mommy.”
I agreed they were very soft, and he grinned proudly to himself, mostly.
How much he notices I thought. Driving home from the gym this morning, he told me he was going to have a truck when he grows up, “Just like daddy.” I realized it again as I did a little happy dance after smelling my soup simmering on the stove. I looked at my petite mirror, doing the same silly hand moves I was, grinning from ear to ear.
Isaac is the least subtle at hiding everything he takes in. At four and a half, he still mimics our movements and wants to be just like Mommy and Daddy. However, Madeleine at 8 isn’t all that different. I notice her being short with her brother when he is looking for something or is bothering her. I hear my voice, you know, that one I use after I had already told her to hang up her backpack and put away her shoes twice. I hear it when we talk about why she doesn’t like the pledge of allegiance–I hear my own words coming out of her mouth, even though I can’t remember ever having that conversation with her. The words are just too similar–”It seems like it’s an idol Mommy. Why should I pledge allegiance to anything besides God?” (There’s some of that good old Mennonite in me coming out again.)
So much of what our kids learn is through actions. What do I want my kids to learn?
Relationships matter. Technology does not. It’s better to spend time interacting with people than playing computer games, iPad games, or watching TV. It’s better to set your phone aside in the car or at supper so we can all have conversations, rather than texting or checking e-mails. But do I really teach them that?
Treat others with gentleness. For years, my words to one child in particular has been, “Gentleness, love. Respond in gentleness.” Too often she is short with others, impatient at their shortcomings, and quick to act like she is better than them. While with others, gentleness abounds, it’s within our own family we have problems. “Gentleness, love. Respond with gentleness.” Then I take a step back and listen to myself a moment. I hear the irritation creeping into my voice and my frustration expose itself when I have asked twice for someone to set the table or get off the computer. I am quick to lose my own gentleness with my children, forgetting the lesson I tell my daughter so many times. ”Gentleness, love. Respond with gentleness.” (Don’t get my wrong, I am not saying I should let me do whatever they want. I just shouldn’t correct with *that* tone of voice which is harsh.)
You are enough. You are loved fully. Hugs, snuggles, tickles, are one of my children’s love language. Nothing fixes things for him like a long tickle. For my daughter, it’s time spent with her–not needing to do anything but talk with her like an adult. For the third it’s the same as well, time spent with a parent playing a game or building something. I know distinctly what my children need to know they are loved. I work at telling them over and over that they are enough. However, like all things, my words aren’t enough. I see the sibling rivalry sneaking in–wanting to make sure they get the same attention and praise as the others. I see the frustration with my emerging reader that things are faster for him. I see the despair when he doesn’t get a perfect score on something. My daughter tells me she didn’t laugh in a movie because the friend sitting next to her wasn’t laughing. Saying my children are enough and loved isn’t enough. I need to teach them that what others do doesn’t matter–it is what they do that matters–whether it is the amount of chores they have, the grades the get, how fast they run or swim, and how well they behave in school. I need to model it myself–any time I show shame about my parenting to them or my appearance or any time I put myself down as not being good enough, I am teaching them I don’t think I am enough.
My own actions speak so much louder than my words. My words are good, helpful reminders, but they only work as reminders if they are based off a life well-lived. They only work if I show them that the fruits of the spirit matter–love, gentleness, kindness, patience, goodness, self-control, faith, peace, and joy. If I practice (and when we practice–anything, we all know perfection doesn’t happen) those traits, my children are much more likely to learn them than if I only say the words over and over.
Most importantly, is treating myself with love, gentleness, patience, and kindness. I need to show my children how I forgive myself when I mess up, instead of letting it spiral out of control. I need to share times I failed and how I moved on. If I can demonstrate grace to myself, it will be much easier for me to extend grace to them and allow them to accept it too.
If I want my children to grow up to be people who love, and love well, I need to honor them now. I need to model those things that show them that they are loved–when Madeleine suggests I read a book she just read that SHE LOVED!!! I need to take the time to read it, instead of diving into one of my books right away. When Isaac asks to play a game when it is just he and I, I need to sit down and play the game with him. When John tells me he needs to be tickled, right now, I need to take a break and sit on the floor or the couch and tickle him until he asks me to stop. I need to show up for my children, talk to them about what is important in their lives, and treat them like they are not an interruption to my agenda, but the most important thing I’ll do today.