Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Happiness Project: or Why I spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean my CLosets, Fight Right and Read Aristotle, and Generally have more Fun" By Gretchen Rubin

  I recently read how when reading a book you should consider three things... what is the author saying, what does the author mean and do I agree with the author.  When I think about "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin in the context of those questions, it's clear that the author is saying that we can have a direct affect on our happiness; that there are things we can do in our everyday lives to bring about more happiness and/or put us in position to experience said happiness.  She does admit, however, that we cannot change ourselves completely; that there is a level of happiness that we are prepositioned for and while we can't move out of that level, we can move up and down throughout basically, if your at the bottom, you can do things to bring you to the top of the level and if you're at the top, your actions can affect you in a way that pushes you to the bottom.  I have to admit, that while she is definitely more scientific in her studies and writing, I think she might be onto something.    I decided to read this book, because much like the author, I felt like I wasn't as happy as I could be.  However, I can't say upon completing this book, I feel any different.  I do however feel like I have some tools to work with in increasing my standing in my happiness level and maybe that's a start.
  I truly appreciated her honesty in the beginning of the book when she penned, "As I thought about happiness, I kept running up against paradoxes.  I wanted to change myself but accept myself.  I wanted to take myself less seriously, but more seriously.  I wanted to use my time well, but I also wanted to wander, to play, to read at whim.  I wanted to think about myself so I could forget about myself." . Can you not understand that struggle as well?  For me I often feel like I need to work on myself in order to stop having to think about myself so much; like I need to focus on myself for a minute in order to not have to focus on myself forever.  And so I felt a sense of connection in her words... like in this struggle I am not alone.
  I also appreciated the way she went about trying to increase her happiness.  Maybe it's my Type A personality, but I like steps and goals and action points; I like charts and check ins and having some sort of way to track progress.  I also like books that follow  a work on one thing for a year but split it into simpler goals, one for each month of the year.  I thought because of these things that I would find an enjoyment in this book like I have in others similar to it.  Sadly I didn't enjoy the set up of it like I thouhg... not in this book.  It's not to say I didn't enjoy the book at all.  As I shared above, in many ways I did, but even though in the end I came to agree with the author, for majority of the book I felt like she wasn't really making any progress and wasn't really reaching the goal she set out to do.
  I think ultimately the biggest turn off for me what this idea that she kept going back to, that if we act a certain way, then in fact we will be that.... for example, if you act happy then eventually you will just be happy.  As someone who has spent many days and many years acting the part, I am not so sure that this is how it works.  Short term I think you can convince yourself that you feel a majority of ways... but in the long run the truth always makes it back to the surface.  I would actually like to see what she has to say about this ten years from now, when it's no longer an experiment but a lifestyle for her.
  Maybe I need to give it more time to sink in though.  Maybe the mix of good and bad I find in this book will make a bigger impact on me when I actually put into practice some of those tools I picked up from it.  Maybe I will not just agree with the idea that she might be onto something, but I actually experience what she is talking about when I do that.  I guess only time will tell...but for now I leave you with this somewhat confusing, mixed review.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"It was Me All Along; A Memoir".. by Andie Mitchell

  Summer means beaches and pools and less layers/more skin showing.  And while I love the idea of being outside and enjoying the sun, there's something about this time of year that makes me start thinking about how well (or un-well) I am doing at caring for my own body.  With that in mind, I started more intensely working out and trying to be careful about how I fuel this body of mine.  It hasn't been easy.  In fact, the very process alone has brought up all sorts of issues that I forgot I had.  So continuing on with the theme I started at the beginning of this month, I decided to read another story of someone else's weight loss journey.
  Andie Mitchell basically tells her life story throughout the pages of her book, It Was Me All Along.  Reading her account of life through the lens of her food addiction, I could connect with so much of what she wrote.  She admits things like, "I struggled between wishing away all the food that collected on my body as fat, and fiercely missing every morsel.  I hated the binge I had last weekend, and I wished I could do it again.  I wanted to eat less, and I wanted to immediately eat more.  I wanted to be angry but I felt too hurt, too ashamed to thrash about.  I wanted to fit in while also wanting so badly to say a careless "****off" to all of society.  I wanted to run each ounce off but I felt more like taking up permanent residence under the covers of my bed.  I wanted to be alone while wanting desperately to be held tightly!".  I've been there....that contradicting place of wanting one thing so badly, while also longing for the opposite just as much!  It's like being caught between a rock and a hard place!
  Andie also talks a lot about her relationship with food and the realization that this relationship wasn't normal.  She shares about how much she struggled with moderation and not over eating, and admits that  "When you've never been thin, never met normal numbers on the scale, you don't know that living in moderation is possible" and that "the problem with bingeing was that although I promised myself that I would not do it again, I silently wished I could.  One the one hand, I wanted to be right on track, doing well and paying attention to what I was eating.  On the other hand, I wanted to veer off course and stay riding in the direction that wound into oblivion.  It was this dichotomy that killed me.  The wanting to be different in order to be perceived as better, yet wishing I didn't have to try so hard".
  But then she starts to make a mental shift.  After realizing "even though I'd often felt that way myself, I resented that the size of my body was correlated to my value, my worth as a person", she also began to realize "I couldn't knowingly look at food for a way out when it had so clearly led me here.  It wasn't hunger that beckoned me to eat more. It wasn't my stomach that needed to be reconciled.  It was my shame.  It was guilt.  And food can't remedy such things".  And isn't that the truth!  Binge eating is never really about a love for's about the desire to satisfy or stuff some other feeling going on inside of us...and it's not until we really address the underlying issue, that food will stop having that addiction quality for us!
  Unlike the previous story I read though, Andie's weight loss journey had a pretty much upward swing with seemingly very little physical struggle.  She talks a lot about how much heavier she was than everyone else and what her ideal weight was, but when I think about that in terms of my own life and body I find that part of her story a bit less relatable.  I am about the same height and started off heavier than her, but I've lost weight before and I know that even at my skinniest I was no where close to her ideal weight.  While I have no doubt the story is true, I know it wouldn't be the same for me and that turned me off a bit.
  However, the mental and emotional connection she has to food, that's something I truly understand.  From a young age, food is comfort for her, a constant.  When she starts to try to get healthy, she swings to the other end of the spectrum and food seems to become more of an enemy, this thing that frustrates her and pulls her away from her goals.  Food isn't just energy for her.  That I can relate to.  When you struggle with weight, food always seems to take on a personality for you.  It's not just a way to fuel your body... it becomes much, much bigger than that.  Her story was a reminder that I am not alone in that understanding!
  Ultimately Andie's conclusion is that the same girl that was overweight and comfortable in it, the girl that worked hard to lose it all and the girl that will continually fight against her addiction to food, were all her and that person is perfect.  That's a good thing to remember, for all of us!  I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to think the person I am working to become is somehow better then the person I am, but I think her point is that embracing all the parts of myself....from the person I am in this moment, to who I end up really what makes like beautiful.
  While this might not end up being my favorite book I've read this year, or even my favorite ever on this subject.  I am glad I read it and I would say for anyone who struggles with food issues and weight, this might be a good read, for no other reason than to remind you that you are not alone.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

"The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl: The Hilarious and Heartwarming Tale of a Real-life Superhero who got Happy from the Outside In" by Shauna Ried

  It's been a while since my last post.  Sorry about that.  My reading pace has greatly decreased now that we've entered into the summer months, but that's not to say I haven't been doing some good reading! 
  Beach season always makes me start thinking about all those winter months I spent wrapped up in covers, eating chocolate, instead of prepping my body for summer by exercising.  This year in particular was a struggle to get up and do anything, so now with summer here I find myself behind the eight ball in the health department.  But it's better late than never and so I've jumped back on the healthy bandwagon and decided to start my journey off by reading about someone else's weight loss journey!
  Shauna Reid is an Aussie who started her journey around 350 pounds. In the beginning she shares how she's a homebody who doesn't seem to like herself very much and has let the stresses of a parental divorce get the best of her in terms of emotional eating.  Then one day she comes to the realization that "the only one who can rescue (her) from this big fat mess is (herself)" and thus she begins on her journey of weight loss and health.
  There are so many things I liked about her journaled story.  Not only was it funny and engaging, but it was very real.  The book takes you through all 5 years of weight loss.... from her heaviest to her final landing place.  There are years when the weight just falls off, but then also times of gain or nothing at all.  Sometimes she is a gym rat whose caught up in the battle of the bulge and other times you can sense her struggle to reign her eating habits back in!  And then there's her fist jump into romance and the effects that has on her weight.  It's all so relatable and really draws you, the reader, in!
  Shauna also makes some really poignant statements.  She says regarding weight loss, "You know what's funny about losing a stack of weight?  Nothing really changes.  All that you happens is that you lose the thing upon which you use to hang all your neuroses.  Fat has shape and substance; you can poke it with a stick.  It's a scapegoat and a handy excuse.  Once you start to lose it, you realize you're stuck with the same moronic core". How true is that!  It's kind of like the idea that no matter where you go in life, you're always there.  Basically you have to deal with the inner issues...not just what people see on the outside.
  Then regarding the weight loss industry, she shares, "I need to remember that the weight loss industry exists to make money, whether it's a diet book or weight watchers or slimming magazines of crazy bob's blunder busting pills.  They all could help me lose weight, but none of them is a substitute for thinking for myself".  For me, that was a reminder that I can have all the knowledge in the world, but unless I put it into practice, none of it really matters.  I have to make my own decisions.  I have to decide if I would rather veg out on the couch or workout, or if I would rather have a gallon of ice cream or fit into my skinny jeans! Really it comes down to us!  Great point!
  But of all the things Shauna shares in her 400 plus pages of writing, some of her final thoughts hit me the most.  They are things like..."I'd always been desperate for approval and validation from others, but now I know that the real pleasure comes from impressing yourself" and "The true reward is finding peace and acceptance and embracing my own skin, with all it's quirks and charms"!  So encouraging and such truth!
  So, like I said,  I went into this book looking for motivation from someone else to get me started on my own journey, and I have to say that I found that and more!  If you need a little boost in the right direction, I would consider picking up a copy of this book for yourself!  Thanks Shauna Reid... aka Diet Girl...for being brave enough to share your story with the world!

Monday, May 16, 2016

"Wild and Free: a Hope Filled Anthem for the Woman who Feels she is Both Too Much and Never Enough" by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan

  If there is ever such a thing as being overly excited about a book, that's exactly what I was the first time I came across this title.  It sat in my amazon cart for months as I waited for it's May 3rd Release date to finally come! I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into the story of someone who understood exactly how I often feel...too much and not enough!  I had high expectations...and maybe that's just not fair considering it's only a book, the story of someone else's life.  So, even though I might have been a little disappointed when I finally had the book in my hands and had read to the last page, it's no fault of the authors.  Jess and Hayley put so much love and thought into their book!  Yes, I wanted more, but I also got a lot out of it... maybe exactly what I needed.
  Over the past few weeks, God's been doing something in me.  I can't really explain it, but there's been a bit of a shift in our relationship.  I ended my time on the missions field feeling pretty broken.  Looking back now, it's almost as if during that time God "broke up the ground" in me so that something new could be planted.  I see twinklings of what it is in the here and now, and I am encouraged, but I'm not exactly sure what it's going to be.  I can say though that I keep finding myself contemplating this idea of God as "Father"....a good father... my father... in a whole new way
  The authors of this book talk a lot about God the Father.  They way they speak it seems as if they are curled up next to him, affectionately talking about their "daddy".  I've always struggled to see my relationship with God in the same light.  It's much easier for me to consider myself His servant or "in His army", but the way Hayley and Jess speak of God the Father and His love for us, the more I long to know Him in the same way.
  As a follower of Christ, I cling to the idea that "while we were still sinners... even though (God) could foresee the full weight of how much we'd sin... He paid the price to allow us into His family" but it is that much more powerful to think that "our standing has never wavered with our Father (God).  Though the world has twisted what it means to be a daughter, His stance and His position towards us has absolutely stayed resolute.  The world cannot dictate what it means to be treasured by our Father, but the love and relationships of our Heavenly Father can heal and transcend the damage done here on earth".
  The truth is, as Hayley admits and I know to be true for myself, "I still sin, and He's still rescuing me!".  However, there is such comfort in knowing that "your freedom was won the cross and secured by your Father in your Christian Life.  It is not something you have to try to do; it is something that is simply true of you.  You are seen, you are chosen and you are free".  We can rest in " knowing that  you can never break things beyond repair" and " we never need to be afraid of failure... not when God's  grace will always be there to break our fall".
  As the writer's share, "It is the very nature of this fallen earth to let us down and leave us fractured" and "we'd rather cut our losses and preemptitively put up barriers to make sure that we never get hurt again" but "those in chains are rarely able to free themselves" and it's "at the foot of the cross, (where) we are all found out.  We are all covered in the blood of Jesus.  We are all made whole again".  This is what this book reminded me of... this is how we can live wild and free.... it's because of THIS great love of the Father... the Gospel of Christ!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

"When God Doesn't Fix It: Lessons You Never Wanted To Learn, Truths You Can't Live Without" by Laura Story with Jennifer Schuchman

"We pray for blessings, we pray for peace, Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity, We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need, Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things
We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear, We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love, As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea, And long that we'd have faith to believe
What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life, The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise"
~Lyrics by Laura Story
  When this song first came out, I like many people, felt very connected to it.  It was encouraging and a reminder that even in the hardest points of life, we are not alone.  However, now after reading Laura's Story...the story of the life behind the song... I am overwhelmed with awe and have a whole new appreciation for every word and the truths behind it.
  I've been thinking a lot about suffering a trials and the darkest moments of life's night lately.  Thinking about where God is in the midst of those things and how I seem to take two different routes in response to tough situations (running to or running away from God!).  I've had questions for and arguments with God about the suckiness of life that I just don't understand (yes I know there is sin in the world, I get that... but sometimes you need more than a pat answer).  That's when I saw this book.  In the midst of my mess and the messiness of those around me, as I was wondering where is the hope and why God isn't doing anything about it all, I saw that title "When God doesn't fix it" and I knew I needed to read it!
  To be honest, in reading I was hoping for answers... at least the kind that would satisfy my longings.... and while I did find wisdom in these pages, the answers I got were not the kind I would have expected.  And the truth is, as Laura wrote, "God doesn't owe us an explanation this side of heaven.  There's nothing in scripture that tells us we're entitled to an answer.  It's not that God is secretive and doesn't want us to know, it's that we're incapable of seeing the big picture".  Not only that but "We ask God why, believing the answer will provide us with some kind of deep soul satisfaction.  But too often, we don't get the answers we want". And "even on those occasions when (we) do get an answer... it always leads to more questions"!  Ain't that the truth!
  As I was reading Laura's story, my heart broke with hers, and yet as I watched her life "fall apart" I began to understand something that I am so often blinded to.  That is, it's our world... not our God... that cheats us out of the joy of life.  It's the world that tells me that as a 30 something year old woman I am suppose to be married, with children, living in my own house and driving my own car... and since that's not my life, there must be something wrong with me... or God's failed me in some way.  But God never promises us any of that.  In fact the Bible says "In this word you will have trouble..."! Yet God also offers us the comfort to "take heart, for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  This world has convinced us that God owes us something cause we are here.  That we are good people and a good God would do nothing but bless us!  But that's not the truth, is it?  As the Bible says, "There is none righteous not even one" (Romans 3:10).  Laura puts it this way, "The righteousness scale in the bible says that no one but Jesus makes it to the top.  But despite our lack of Goodness, God is always God and is always good to us" and yet , "Even during our darkest trials God is waiting with outstretched arms for you to come into his presence."
  Now, if you're like me, then maybe you're thinking "but what about the time when...".  I was there too.  I still sit there sometimes, wondering why it felt like in my darkest moment, when I was crying out to God and begging Him with all that was within me to show up, He seemed nowhere to be found.  But then I was out walking the other day...the 7th or 8th day in a row of crappy rainy-ness... and it was like I had this small epiphany.  I hadn't seen the sun for at least 168 hours, yet I knew, behind those clouds it was still there, every day rising up and setting.  I may not see it.  I may not feel it's rays.  And for all intents and purposes I have no proof it's there... but I know it is.  And it's the same with God.  Sometimes the clouds of life get in the way and I can't seem Him or even feel Him and I wonder if we will ever meet again, but I can know that He is there and He always will be.
  "No matter what it is that we are praying for, a time will come when we bump up against what we think God should do and what He allows".  The thing is "God doesn't promise our stories will make sense in and of themselves, but He does promise they will find their greater purpose in light of his greater story of redemption".  He is there with us, because we are His and ultimately the story is about Him!
  So, like I said in the beginning, I might not have gotten the "answers" I wanted from this book, but I ended up with honest truth and wisdom from someone who has walked through the fire (and in many ways is still in it) and I stand here at the end believing God to etch those truths into my heart and help me to trust Him more and more. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

"Man of Vision/Woman of Prayer" by Marilee Pierce Dunker

  A few years ago I had a bit of a falling out with World Vision.  It wasn't over what you think.  What happened was I had a sudden loss of income and could no longer send my monthly support.  I tried to make it work but eventually I had to decide to give it up.  I wrote World Vision.  I called them and explained the situation.  Yet over and over again each month they would send this bright orange envelope to my house with big, bold writing on the front exclaiming how I owed them money!  I felt horrible to begin with but even worse by this embarrassment.  Eventually I was able to get the whole thing rectified, but it really hurt my opinion of the organization.
  Over the past few weeks I have been reading the book, "Man of vision/Woman of Prayer" by Marilee Pierce Dunker, one of the daughters of Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision.  As I read the story of a family torn by humanness and yet the miraculous power of God to work through such flawed people, I was awed and reminded that nothing in life is ever perfect!
  I have a tendency to get caught up in the lie of perfection.... or more accurately my own imperfection.  Every time I fail or do something wrong, I beat myself up as if there shouldn't be a struggle.  I have a tendency to view struggles and pain as God's way of showing me His disapproval; as if it's all His punishment towards me.  I know this isn't how God works.  I know, even though there are consequences to sin, God loves us and willingly died to cover those sins.  Sometimes my mind just forgets what my heart already knows. 
  Albeit a bit scary, this book was a good reminder that “A commitment to Jesus Christ is no guarantee of immunity to the disease and pain of the world.  In fact, those who are most greatly used are often most viciously attacked.” And that "the story of greatness is not the story of a man or a woman or a family who runs and never stumbles or falls; rather, it is the story of those who dare to run and stumble and fall, and who by the grace of God pick themselves up to run again and again and again". 
  The Pierce's weren't perfect.  Bob Pierce in particular was someone who struggled with a temper and avoided his family and even had an emotional breakdown, yet God used Him greatly.  Tens of thousands of people came to Christ through his ministry.  Thousands orphans received care through his creation of World Vision.  And even more needs were met all over the world through his work with Samaritan's Purse.  It just goes to show that it's God working through us  and that our imperfections don't disqualify us from being used by Him.
  The end of the book deal with the suicide of the eldest daughter in the family, with Bob's emotional breakdown and the diagnosis of leukemia and ultimate how the family was able to reconcile before his death (a reconciliation that while certainly brought some closure, wasn't  the clean cut wrap up we see in the movies).  As I read through it all, I was overwhelmed by the faith of Lorraine Pierce, even in her loneliness and inability to understand why.  I was impressed by the forgiveness of Marilee and her ability to see God's faithfulness through all the hardship.  And I felt the longing of Robin who just wanted her father's approval.
  This isn't a new book.  It doesn't look impressive by the cover.  Yet what this story has to teach us is so much greater than my words can express.  I am sure this book will continue to speak to me as I think back of the lives of this normal family that truly gave all for an extraordinary God.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Help, Thanks, Wow." by Anne Lamott

  I keep going back and forth about my thoughts on this book, Help. Thanks. Wow.  I remember reading Plan B and Traveling Mercies and being so caught up in the pages and feeling like I and the author were one.  I connected with Anne Lamott's writing style, her personality and almost everything she was saying and I wanted more.  Now, maybe it's because of my lack of reading lately or just because I've grown into different tastes, I found that her writing style didn't seem to grab me as much.  I still related to her and what she wrote in this book, but I guess I was expecting or wanting more... of course there was still a lot that grabbed my attention!
  The past several months have been such a rollercoaster for me emotionally and spiritually.  Who I want to be, who I think people expect me to be and who I actually am, just don't seem to be lining up and digging through all the rumble of the past two years of my life has only caused me to feel like I might never get back to the person I once was.  But, what I am beginning to realize is that maybe that's a good thing.
  Years ago now, when I committed my life back to God, I cultivated a relationship with Him where I didn't want to do anything, say anything, act any certain way because I thought I "had" it was the "Christian" thing to do.  I wanted authenticity and honesty and I believed as Lamott says in this book, that "when you're telling the truth, you're close to God" (I still agree with this, by the way).  But in the back of my mind, hidden away well enough that I didn't recognize it, was still this belief that I needed to be perfect for God.
  Spoiler Alert: I am NOT perfect.  I make tons of mistakes, say and do things wrong all the time and have a tendency to make things worse by not confronting issues as they come up!  Never before have I seen the very depth of my own sin has I do now, especially as I look back at my time in Ecuador.  In fact, as I began seeing just how "human" I really am, in some ways, it began to destroy me.  I felt like it was all too much and I couldn't face God anymore... so for a bit I didn't.  Over the past few months though I've begun remembering the truth of what Anne says in the beginning chapter of this book, that "prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen and do not have to get it together before we show up"!  And that has brought me some freedom!
  Lamott says, "When we think we can do it all ourselves, it's hopeless.  We're going to screw things up.  We're going to get our tentacles wrapped around things and squirt our squiddy ink all over so that there is even less visibility and then we're going to squeeze the very life out of everything".  I've been there, done that... but then I've also had to continually remind myself that it's true, "The three things I cannot change are the past, the truth and you".  When I let that sink in...when I loosen my grip of control and stop over analyzing everything, learning to deal with things not on my own but with the help of God, I can actually walk in that freedom I mentioned above.
  Truth is, I can continue to live a life where I beat myself up continually for not living up to a perfection I cannot reach (the old me) or I can do my best, turn to God and as Lamott says, "Leave the results in God's good hands".  Anne laments that "if we stay where we are, where we are stuck, where we're comfortable and safe, we die there"  but then encourages us that "having done the right thing lift us out of the glop, the dregs of our own delusional thinking, and puts us a bit closer to being on the right track".  This is the kind of life I want to live.
  So do I recommend this book.  Yeah, of course.  Like I said there is a lot of good in here (some of which I have shared).  The writing style isn't exactly where all her previous books seemed to be and sometimes I got lost in the "poetry" that she quotes throughout the pages, but her words will speak to different people in different ways and there is certainly a lot of value in reading them!

Friday, April 8, 2016

"Carry on, Warrior; The Power of Embracing your Messy, Beautiful Life" by Glennon Doyle Melton

  So one thing I enjoy doing, is listen to and/or watching TED talks online.  I've been introduced to quite a few interesting people through doing so, and Glennon Doyle Melton is one of them.  Maybe I missed out on the whole Momastery blog and community she's created over the years because I myself and not a mom, but apparently she is pretty well known and liked...and now I get why.
  Glennon talks a lot throughout her book about how in opening herself up to being brutally honest about herself to the world, she has seen other women feel like they have permission to do the same.  Lives have been touched and hearts have been open, all because she was willing to put her real self out there and help other women know they are not alone.
  In the first few pages of the book Glennon states, "I was born a little broken, with an extra dose of sensitivity.  Growing up, I felt that I was missing the layer of protections I needed to expose myself to life's risks... risks like friendship, tender love, and rejection.  I felt awkward, unworthy, and vulnerable.  And I didn't want to walk through life's battlefield feeling that way.  I didn't think I'd survive".  Reading that, I could totally relate.  As an overly sensitive person who has spent years of my life trying to protect myself from hurts that normal people seem to be able to just roll with, I felt like....yes!  Someone gets me!
  She goes on to talk about how, "maybe the battles of life are best fought without armor and without weapons.  That maybe life gets real, good, and interesting when we remove all the layers of protection we've built around our hearts and walk out onto the battlefield of life naked".  At first I was like....uh, yeah you lost me, crazy woman....why would I ever go off to war without protecting myself!  But the more I read her story, the more I began to see how she seems to really LIVE life... in all it's gloriousness and messiness... and maybe that's really what it's suppose to be like.
  Glennon doesn't skirt around the issue either and pretend like life is easy if you just learn to put a happy spin on it.  In fact she says, "Life is equal parts brutal and beautiful.  And/both.  Life is brutiful.  Like starts in a dark sky.  Sharing life's brutiful is what makes us feel less alone and afraid.  The Truth can't be stuffed down with food or booze or exercise of work or cutting or shopping, for long.  Hiding from the truth causes it's own unique pain and it's a lonely pain.  Life is hard... not because we are doing it wrong, just because it's hard".  I needed to hear that... as I've experience the lonely painful side of what she said!  But to be reminded that in those moment of brutalness, it's not that I just can't seem to get it right and figure out this thing called life... It's that this IS life...both the good and the bad put together (which I obviously knew but often forget to remember)... brings a sense of comfort.
  She also talks about love and how "it's not something for which to search or wait or hope or dream for.  It's simply something to do" and how it's not always "warm and fuzzy or sweet and sticky. (But rather) Real love is tough as nails.  It's having your heart ripped out, putting it back together and the next day offering it back to the same world that just tore it up......resisting the overwhelming desire to quit, to save yourself for yourself".  I have a tendency to run away from SCARY love like that.  I don't want to be hurt so often times I leave before I can experience true, life affirming love.  But as Glennon also says, "Brave is not something you should wait to feel.  Brave is a decision!" and her book certainly gave me a lot to think about in terms of stepping out in bravery in this way.
  So while this is certainly not a new book and I'm probably one of the last people to get around to hearing about Glennon Melton, if you haven't read it, I certainly recommend it.   I think it would probably speak a lot to you too... not because it's perfect or because the author is (she admits herself that she is anything but), but because it's real and will make you feel less alone and more open in reading it...and I think we could all use a little more of that!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom" By Henri Nouwen

  This has been a really slow reading month for me, which kind of came as a surprise considering I thought I would find plenty of time to read while recovering from surgery. But, as it turns out, major surgery takes a lot out of you and being on medication makes it hard for me personally to concentrate for long periods of time.  So it actually ended up being a pretty great thing that I picked up Henri Nouwen's book, "The Inner Voice of Love" at the beginning of the month, to carry me through the past several weeks!
  Now to be honest, when purchasing this book, I flipped through it and thought I'd finish it in a day; two days tops.  However as I began reading the introduction the author explained that this isn't that type of book.  Sure it's possible to read it in a few hours, but it's suppose to be more of a meditation type thing, a devotional, that you read little by little and soak in over an extended period of time!  That ended up fitting perfectly for me.
  Now, I originally heard of Nouwen 13 or so years ago when I was living in California doing a missions program in the inner-city.  I really hadn't thought about him much since then, until the beginning of this month when Jamie Torkowski (the founder of To Write Love On Her Arms.... whom I follow on instagram and twitter) kept posting quotes from another one of Henri's books and my pastor had mentioned him to me.  Not being one to turn down a suggestion, I checked him out again and while I must admit, sometimes I got lost in the sage of advice of it all, I could connect with a lot of what he writes and the story behind his writing (this book in particular was taken from his own journal entries that he wrote for/to himself during a really dark period of his life).
  While there were many quotes that stood out to me throughout my weeks of reading, there where two thoughts in particular that stuck out to me and that I continue to meditate on today....possibly because they fit together in many ways.  First, he writes, "When you really believe that you are loved by God, you can allow your friends the freedom to respond to your love in their way.  They have their own histories, their own characters, their own way of receiving lobe.  They may be slower, more hesitant or more cautious than you.  They may want to be with you in ways that are real and authentic for them but unusual for you.  Trust that those who love you want to show you their love in a real way, even when their choices of time, place and form are different from yours".  I needed to hear that, especially at a time when I have needed to rely on other people, ask them for help, have them come to me, and accept whatever of "themselves" they were willing to give.  To be honest, I often have a tendency to want to be more of a doer in my relationships.  I think I must do for you in order for us to be friends and that if I don't our relationship won't last.  Because of that I tend to not really focus on what others are doing for me, and sadly, in the moments I do focus on what others are giving to me, I often have trouble accepting it as is.  I, as many of us, like to be loved in certain ways and I expect people to see those ways and give me what I want/need as I want/need it.  But life's not like that...and it's helped a lot to truly meditate on this passage and allow it to teach me to begin to accept not only God's love but the love of those around me in whatever random ways they are able to show it.
  The other quote Henri shares that has definitely stuck out to me is that "No one person can fufill all your needs. But the community can truly hold you.  The community can let you experience the fact that, beyond your anguish, there are human hands that hold you and show you God's faithfulness".  I have only just begun to experience my first true sense of real community in the past few months through a life group I joined at my friends house.  It's amazing and scary, fun and embarrassing, open and vulnerable in more ways then I can even begin to explain to myself, yet it's also exactly what this quote suggests.... the human hands of God linked together to hold and to show God's faithfulness.  I am lucky to have this group. And I am also lucky to have other things in my life, like friends, my family, my church.  For me, over the last few months in particular, church has been a hard place for me.  I have been dealing with so much and in so many ways I don't want to disappoint any of the people I care so desperately about there, that it's almost been easier to stay away and not let them see my struggle.  But I guess I am realizing that this isn't what God calls us to.  The church, His body, is His hands and feet and while yes, individually we will all disappoint and hurt each other, as a whole we can and do hold each other and carry each other to Jesus.  Instead of shying away when things get hard, I need to trust the God in the people of the Church will be there even when things aren't so pretty.
  So, while I guess this isn't much of a book review as it is a personal sharing, I would recommend this book and I would also suggest that you take the author seriously in reading it little by little, letting each thought and phrase soak into you and begin to change your heart.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

"The Ragamuffin Gospel" by Brennan Manning

  "If Jesus appeared at your dining room table tonight with knowledge of everything you are and are not, total comprehension of your life story and every skeleton hidden in your closet; If He laid out the real state of your present discipleship with the hidden agendas, the mixed motives and the dark desires buried in your psyche, would you feel his acceptance and forgiveness?". Could you imagine... Jesus sitting there at the head of the table... looking straight at you.  Would you feel his love?  Would you sense His acceptance?  Or would you cower in fear?
  As Brennan Manning says in his decades old book The Ragamuffin Gospel, "sooner or later we are all confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency.  Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut.  Once the  fervor has passed, weakness and infidelity appear.  (And) we discover our inability to add even a single inch to our spiritual stature".  And it's in those moments...when we seemingly hit our spiritual rock bottom... that we hopefully encounter God and in turn can say along with Manning, "my deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it".
  Maybe it's just my misinterpretation of the world, but it seems to me in our day and age there is this sense that if I believe God exists, I'm good.  There is nothing more to it.  There's no life change... no moment of realization of the amazing grace of God.  We just have this head knowledge of some big guy in the sky whose watching over us, but it has no real meaning for our day to day lives... there's no hope, no freedom, no gratitude or sense of rejoicing.  Manning explains how "in earlier times it did not take faith to believe that God existed... almost everybody took that for granted.  Rather, faith had to do with one's relationship to God... whether one trusted in God.  The difference between faith as belief in something that may or may not exist and faith as trusting in God is enormous.  The first is a matter of the head, the second a matter of the heart.  The first can leave us unchanged, the second intrinsically brings change".
  I think it's that moment "When we accept ownership of our powerlessness and helplessness, when we acknowledge that we are paupers at the door of God's mercy, (that) God can make something beautiful out of us".  That's when God moves from something out there, to the center of our lives.  We so badly...or maybe I should just speak for myself and admit that I so badly... want to feel like I am in control and like I can do good and make myself acceptable to God.  I try to cover up and hide my faults and wrong doings and perform for God.  But even the Bible says that "We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in God's sight" (Isaiah 64:6).
  It's the moment though when you recognize the truth of that verse, but then allow "the focus of your life (to) shift from your badness to His goodness and the question to become not what have I done, but what can He do, (that) release from remorse can happen;  (and) miracle of miracles, you can forgive yourself because you are forgiven, accept yourself because you are accepted and begin to start building up the very places you once tore down".   It's the moment when true faith comes into being. As Manning says, "Christianity happens when men and women accept with unwavering trust that their sins have not only been forgiven, but forgotten".
  I am not making much sense am I? And I am in no way doing this book justice.  Brennan talks so honestly and eloquently in his book about grace and what God truly accomplished on the cross, and none of this even begins to touch the surface on that. 
  For me, I needed to read this book again to be reminded of hard truths like "if in our hearts we really don't believe that God loves us as we are, if we are still tainted by the lie that we can do something to make God love us more, we are rejecting the message of the cross". But also I needed to hear comforting knowledge that "it is this risk bring the truth of ourselves just as we are, to God just as He is, ... is the most dignified thing we can do in life" and that "we may not be the kind of people we want to be, we may be a long way from our goals, we may have more failures than achievements, we may not be wealthy or powerful or spiritual, we may not even be happy, but we are nonetheless accepted by God (and) held in His Hands".   And maybe you need to hear that too. 
  Maybe you, like me need to read and re-read this book until it makes sense an engrains itself into your heart.  Because ultimately the Ragamuffin Gospel is the Gospel of God... the story of His grace... and that's the only thing we can truly place our hope in! So, don't let my rambling and lack on congruency distract you.  Take the time, read Brennan's words for yourself and allow God to speak to you through them!