Summer Stack 2018

Friday, July 27, 2018

I've been plowing through books this summer and I'm so excited to tell you a little bit about each one. Settle in, I've got a whole bunch of five star reviews to hand out!

An Assembly Such As This by Pamela Aidan // It's been a summer of five star books. After having this on my to-read list for years and then ending up KNOWING the author, I finally read it in almost exactly 24 hours. I was scared to read this one because I'm not big on fan fiction and I didn't want Darcy ruined. When the author came into my life I was even more afraid to read it because I was terrified I was going to have to tell her that I didn't like it. Like most worries, I couldn't have been more foolish to entertain them.

This book was so good. Darcy was so well done, I kept forgetting that I WASN'T reading Austen's actual words. I laughed out loud. I grew to appreciate him and adore him even more than I already do (he's my favorite of Austen's heart throbs). It's a beautiful story and definitely deserves any Austen fan's attention. You won't be disappointed and you certainly won't be sorry.

The Summer of the Great-Grandmother by Madeleine L'Engle // This book started a new theme...I went to the library one day and snatched a few books off the shelf for a weekend off. Little did I know how much they had in common! I read this one alongside Orchard House because I simply couldn't decide which one to begin first.

Both books were written by women in the stage of life where their own mothers are getting older. L'Engle had had a family of her own and was working to balance that and its continual changes with remaining an individual and a daughter at the same time. Like the rest of the Crosswicks Journals, it's full of anecdotes about writing and being a creative, but it also ties in her faith and her way of looking at life while looking beyond what appears to be to what really IS.

Orchard House by Tara Austen Weaver // While L'Engle was a wife and a mother, Weaver writes about the same stage of life from the perspective of a single woman who never had a family of her own. She faces change and transition in a different way and yet brings the same level of insight to the table. This book is written through the lens of gardening and the way the literal seasons of the year rule the life of the garden and the gardener. Like L'Engle, Weaver has a way of weaving in all the facets of her life and being into her words on gardening.

Together, these books granted me space to think about life and the seasons we all go through. I couldn't help but compare their lives and then weigh my own choices against theirs. While they wrote about their mothers and remembered their childhoods and the way their mothers shaped them, I reflected on my own. And let me tell you, it was good.

Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber // I'm not sure what stirred it up now, but Abu-Jaber came to my mind and I decided I needed to read some of her fiction. This one seemed promising and it was. It's the story of a 39 year old woman who lives with her uncle and spends her time cooking in his restaurant in a part of LA I never knew existed. Abu-Jaber is a Jordanian America and she knows Middle Eastern cooking inside and out...If you're a fan of Ruth Reichl at all, you will love her and her writing style!

I fell in love with the main character and her uncle and the life they shared. I toted this book around the backyard and to the beach and it even inspired me to do some cooking of my own. There's something about reaching the end of one decade and facing another one that makes us all take stock of where we are and where it is we're going. This book is about choices and families and history and love. It's about the cultures we carry inside of us and for me, it was like going home.

Hey Ladies by Michelle Markowitz and Caroline Moss // I'll be honest and say that I skimmed this book allll the way to the end. The concept of it was made me pick it up, but as I got into it, I couldn't believe what I was reading. It's told via emails and texts and social media posts between 8 fictional women. The authors came up with a cast of characters who were all so different and yet who truly did seem like they were friends in spite of their differences. If you've heard people cringing over Eleanor Oliphant, then you will have a clue into the thoughts that were going through my mind about each of these women. I was horrified and grateful that I can truly say I didn't recognize anyone I knew in any of the women in the pages of this book.

This is the one book of the summer that I won't be recommending or raving about. Have you read it? I need to talk about these women with someone who has!

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner // I spent a little longer on this book than any of the others because I've  recently become interested in the history of post WWII Germany. Willner's own mother was born in what became East Germany and she managed to escape.  This is the story of the 40 years Willner's mother endured being separated from her family as well as what it was like for the people she left behind. It was well written and balanced historical facts with the family's story perfectly. She doesn't mince words and yet it is tastefully done. I wept my way through this one, feeling the sting of tyranny and knowing what it is not to have a say or a choice. The mental anguish and control they endured is hard to grasp, but Willner's ability to bring their struggles to life gives you little choice. Whether you know much about that time period or not, this is timely reading.

That's my summer stack so far! I'm currently working on three more books...One for my soul, one huge one to slowly plod through, and one because it's July and in July I read him. I'll come back to this post to update it as I finish each one.

Be Still My Soul by Elisabeth Elliot

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

What have you been reading lately?

No Other Way

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

June 19, 2018

"Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

For quite a while now, I've been learning something. This morning, as I sat at the kitchen counter drinking my coffee and eating a biscuit and an egg while reading another chapter in Elisabeth Elliot's little book "Be Still My Soul", it all came together. The truth God has been teaching me came by way of conversations with friends, time in His Word, snatches of song lyrics, more time in His Word, examining myself, confessing my sin, and the stack of books I've devoured over the last few months. 

The truth is this...

We Christians know about grace. We know we depend on it, we remind each other that it belongs to us, and we ask God for it regularly. We name our daughters after it. We do our best to grant it to one another. And yet, it takes a lifetime to really truly grasp exactly what it is. If we're honest, we don't really get it. 

Difficulties come our way and we want a way out. We don't want to have to face them, let alone endure them. We immediately seek deliverance and we ask other people to join us in pleading with God. We cling to grace, but we don't really want it. What we want is for things to be easy and comfortable and peaceful and our definition of good. 

I know this is true of you, because it's true of me. Even Christ Himself looked at the road His Father had for Him and asked if there was any other way. 

There isn't another way. There wasn't for Him. There won't be for us. We're meant to face things we can't face. We're meant to look to the Father and to keep looking to the Father. We're meant to depend on the grace He keeps fresh. 

This is how the power of Christ rests on us. This is how our boast becomes gladness in God rather than assurance in our abilities. 

Some people have no problem asking for help. They're not shy about saying they're in over their head. They admit their weakness and look to someone else for strength. I've never been one of those people. I'd mastered the art of looking like  I had it all together before I even started school. I was going places and the way to get there was to make sure my weaknesses appeared to be non-existent. This was partially rooted in my inability to trust people for fear that they'd let me down, but it's also tied to my pride. I don't want to have to trust people. I don't want to let them see who I really am, especially if that includes weakness. 

This kind of living is ridiculous. For one thing, everything we're capable of involved some kind of learning curve. For another thing, nothing we have or are capable of is ours to brag about. The very breath in our lungs comes from Him. 

The most basic truth about humans is that we need help. We need His help. We need each other's help. With that, we're right back where we started...Looking grace square in the face. Help is just another word for grace. 

We plead and plead and plead. We try so hard to do it all and to do it well. We don't want to need God. We don't want to need each other. We'd rather lie to ourselves, to everyone around us, and even to God than to stoop down and say we're in over our head. The situation is too much. Our flesh is pulling too hard. The hate being poured out on us runs too deep. We know it, we feel it, but we limp on. 

We choose sin over grace. Death over life. Darkness over light. A broken cistern that holds no water over fountains of living water. Stones over bread. Mud pies on the side of the road over a vacation by the sea.

He'd get us THROUGH and we'd rather beat our heads against the brick wall of our own pride. 

He knows we need help. If we're honest, we know we need help.

May we recognize our need, admit our need, and humble ourselves to ask. Receiving help and offering help is a chance for the power of Christ to rest on us. He means for us to be strong the same way He means for us to be everything that He calls us to be. 

He shows us how and then He works it out in us. 

Like Paul in 2 Corinthians pleading over his thorn, and Christ in the garden, and the man in this song announcing the fact that he's impotent against his enemies, and Elisabeth Elliot who spent decades of her life writing and teaching truths she was learning in the school of life and faith, and every single human being we're rubbing shoulders with...Our weaknesses are continually showing up thanks to God's providence. 

Where there are thorns and supreme suffering and temptations rooted in our own hearts and losses so great that we're not sure we can go on, He's there saying, "You must. You will. I'm granting you my strength. You are weak. You need help. Here I Am, I'm going to help you. There is no other way." 

The point isn't really the weakness or the strength or even the grace. They all exist to point to God and the fullness of His glory. May we be honest, plead, receive, and then boast. Not in who we are or in the work He has granted us, but in the realization that He is our God and we are His people. 

We boast in this, that we are those who receive help from God Himself.

There is no other way. 

Such Is Life

Monday, July 23, 2018

I started. And now I've got to keep going. My sister says she wants stories. She'd be most happy if they were memories that include her in some way. So...I guess we'll start with one of the best weekends I've had in a while. This last Saturday turned out so good.

I've seen very little of my family lately. With the schedules that we keep and the way things are, we just don't have a lot of time together. For months, it got under my skin and just festered. No matter what I did, I couldn't seem to not be bothered with the way things were. It was more than just people having their own schedules. It was more than just a temporary turn of events. Transitions and change are part of life and yet the changes that have taken place over the last 9 months have served no purpose other than one person's happiness and everyone else figuring out how to cope. Or so it seemed.

I was wrestling and begging God to show me what it was that He was doing and to protect everyone from the temptation to run and hide. I so wanted this time to bring us closer together and to make us stronger. I cried a lot of tears and went for a lot of walks and wrote a lot of words. And then I met up with a stranger and he looked right into my life and told me exactly what was happening.

I kicked his words around for most of a week before telling him that he was right and that I realized that I was trying to do something I was never meant to do. More on THAT later.

The point is, without me telling him much of anything at all, he somehow recognized that I was in a transition period and that I was ready to make changes. My reaction to his words helped me to see that in my mind, I've always thought of this potential transition as me giving up and giving in and running away from something that was too hard to bear. I didn't want to chicken out. I didn't want to seek change because I thought that it was just a disguise for betraying everything I supposedly stood for.

You've been there. You're up against something difficult. Everyone around you thinks you're crazy for sticking with it. They tell you over and over again that you need to get out of there, that you're being taken advantage of, that you need to change things. They offer to help. They try to woo you to seek deliverance in them and in their companionship. And they mean well.

That guy was right. It IS a transition period. Changes are going to be made and I am the one who gets or needs to make them. And it isn't weak. And it isn't giving up. And it isn't backing down.

At the same time, there's something to be said for looking trials in the face and staying in the lap of God. Over the last month, God granted me that stranger's wisdom and then He brought it full circle with a message of endurance and the purpose of trials and the call to not only face them, but to SEEK them.

So...There you have it. Days have been hard. Days will continue to be hard. I know you've got difficulties of your own. I know you know what it is to wrestle with hard times and to wonder what it is you're supposed to be doing in light of them. I know you've sought counsel only to hear words that seem so incredibly wrong. And maybe, just maybe, you've heard words on suffering that gave you a hope that you know comes from God.

And you've had good days in the midst of it all. Like my Saturday. The morning started with me coaching my sister in the art of potato salad making and joining in on an alllll day picnic less than an hour after finding out about it.We ate and walked and laid around the park and the beach. We swam and we laughed and told stories and we were together and it was so good.

The day ended with me trooping around town to meet up with another friend of mine for one last walk. Then, I drove alllll the way across town with the windows down talking life and music and books and whatever we could cover with yet another person I hardly know, but who seems like he's going to be a friend in the days ahead.

It's been a long 9 months. Summer got off to a rocky start. I looked myself in the face and told myself what to do. I've packed my swim suit and a change of clothes and sneakers and snacks and have spent time doing what I love doing even when I can't find anyone to do it with. In a way, it's great because you don't have to plan ahead and you don't have to feel bad about only doing it for a little while before you hurry off to do whatever else you need to do.

I'll always be a people person. I think I'll always prefer the company of people to the company of myself. But...I'm learning. Learning to translate trials in a way that fits with who I am in Christ. Learning to trust God with everything, including the decisions other people make. Learning to make the most of time I am granted, even if it's just HOURS with the ones I love. Learning to be firm with myself and yet gentle with myself at the same time.

It might be the perfect Saturday. It might be a walk through the rain with a stranger who won't back down. It might be a sermon that comes at just the right time. It might be months and months of God appearing to say no to every single thing I thought He was in the process of granting me.

Such is life.

And you know, it's good.

Start Somewhere

Friday, July 20, 2018

July 20, 2018

Fridays are the day I go into work late. I try to have the house cleaned and the laundry done so that Friday mornings can give me some time to slow down and take my time. I look forward to these mornings all week. I linger over coffee and usually take a book out to the backyard. Sometimes I go for a walk. Sometimes I take some time to write. This morning was all of that minus the clean house part. I toted my coffee around while my Mom and I visited. I started a new book. And then I sat down and wrote for almost an hour before heading out on a walk. 

After a heat wave that gave the Dog Days of Summer every bit of meaning associated with it, it has cooled way down. Two mornings ago, it almost felt like the first hints of fall were in the air. That whole tease shouldn't be here for another month at least, but this is the PNW, so I'm not holding my breath. This morning, everything is adding up to those final days before the first day of school. The sky is a fainter blue. The air smells like smoke from nearby wildfires. There's a crispness and a bite on the breeze that reminds you that summer won't last forever. 

Needless to say, I got back from my walk and promptly headed to the kitchen to complete the very summery act of making a batch of sweet tea. All of a sudden I started thinking about blogging and how I've been meaning to get back here for so long. While I kicked around ideas as to where to begin and what to write, I got interrupted by the stir stick I was using to fish the tea bag out of my tea. I snapped a picture, wrote a little post to share on FB, and started crying fresh tears all over again (the stir stick made me think of my Grandparents). Spending my life missing people who live far away and who have passed away has taught me a very important lesson. Namely, time doesn't heal wounds. There are some wounds and aches that never do go away. Some days are most certainly easier than others, but God doesn't mean for us not to hurt. The hurt has a purpose. It drives us to Him. It makes us understand the value of each other. Time goes by and you still miss them like crazy. So, miss them. Cry when you need to. Remember them often. Talk about them with whoever will listen. They're gone, but they're also not.

I stepped out onto the patio and took the thousandth picture of the sky and the bushes and the trees and then I did what I haven't done in month. I logged onto blogger and sat down to get some words down for YOU. 

I've got a whole stack of books to tell you about. There are more lessons from God, especially when it comes to the way He leads His people. I've got some shopping stories to share with you. There are a few recipes I could pass on to you. I should probably tell you about what I've been up to and what I've been into. I've got a trip to SC coming up along with my one year anniversary at the library and my last month of being 27. I've got some things to brag about (if you can call being proud of yourself for doing things you never thought you'd ever do and realizing how much you're enjoying them bragging) and a few words on boys men that I need to find the guts to write out and share. 

I'm finally about to make my way through the only Fitzgerald book I haven't read yet for the first time. I read Gatsby the summer I was 21. Then I read Tender is the Night the next summer. Then I read The Last Tycoon. Two summers ago I read The Beautiful and Damned. And I've been waiting to read this final one until the time was right. It's July again and it's time. I read the first few pages before bed last night and let me tell you, the time really couldn't be more right. 

When there's something you want to do, you have to start somewhere. So here I am, starting. 

What have you been up to since we talked last?