Books, a 2013 Review

Books I read in 2013 (though not in this order), rated:

  • Say Nice Things About Detroit, by Scott Lasser. Fiction. Not my usual fare, but it was intriguing and made me almost want to go to Detroit. Or at least look at my own hometown in a new way. * * *
  • Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster. Nonfiction. One of the greatest classics for Christians of the 20th century, hands down, and beyond. Original, insightful, and yet built on a few thousand years of transformative spiritual practices. Going through one chapter per month this year for some intentional spiritual growth.  * * * * *
  • When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert. Nonfiction. The subtitle is a summary: “how to help alleviate poverty without hurting the poor…or yourself.” A thorough, mind-altering primer on what poverty really does and doesn’t mean, and how to minister in holistic, sustaining ways. Changed my thinking on many, many approaches to ministry. * * * * *
  • The Meeting of the Waters, by Fritz Kling. Nonfiction. Another self-explanatory subtitle: “7 global currents that will propel the future church.” Insightful, lots of juicy anecdotes, nice extended use of the metaphor. Probably spot-on in his predictions, but only time will tell. A very good read for the mission-minded. * * * *
  • Down and Out in Bugtussle, by Stephanie McAfee. Fiction. Cute light read. Only sort of my usual fare. Good for the beach or the mountain cabin. Have to admit I enjoyed all the 80s allusions. * * *
  • The Madonna on the Moon, by Rolf Bauerdick. Fiction. Picked this novel up out of curiosity: it’s written by a preeminent German journalist. Learned a lot about Communist Romania in its birth and downfall, through the vantage point of a teenager with some eccentric relatives and Gypsy friends. A little slow at some points, but overall interesting, enjoyable. * * *
  • The Good Thief’s Guide to Berlin, by Chris Ewan. Fiction. Been a long time since I’ve read a whodunit, and one set in Berlin and told by a “good” thief – well, it was quite entertaining. Another good beach/mountain cabin read. Apparently this is a series; I’ll check out some more I’m sure. * * * *
  • The Best American Travel Writing of 2013, edited by Elizabeth Gilbert. Nonfiction (compilation). I didn’t read Gilbert’s runaway bestseller (Eat Pray Love) and don’t really want to, but she did a fine job culling these travel articles. The writing is as excellent as the topics are varied (from the running of the bulls to “the 1,900 miles I didn’t walk” to the gold mines of Peru). Very enjoyable. * * * *
  • Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown. Nonfiction. Again a helpful subtitle: “how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead.” Who knew a book about “wholehearted living” by a “shame researcher” would be so mind-altering? Scholarly, well-written, accessible, and I had to put the book down every two or three pages just to absorb the nuggets. Yet another confirmation that the way of Jesus is the best way. Outstanding read. * * * * *
  • Quiet, by Susan Cain. Nonfiction. Subtitle: “the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.” Hallelujah! The introverts get their day, and long overdue and undervalued it is. Finally, someone understands, and isn’t asking me to change, but to walk it out. The manifesto is magneted to my refrigerator right now. Excellent read. * * * * *
  • Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. Nonfiction. I know, I know, it’s a surprise – and an embarrassment – that I haven’t read this already. Read it this year as part of a small group study, and will definitely return to it in the near future for a slower, more appreciative read. The definitive classic apologetic by the Oxford don who also wrote those wondrous Chronicles of Narnia. A book that deserves a long and honest look. * * * * *
  • Love & War, by John & Stasi Eldredge. Nonfiction. Nice subtitle: “find your way to something beautiful in your marriage.” Those Eldredges have done it again – this time focusing their “ransomed heart” worldview on marriage. Marriage is hard; marriage is worth it. Very good read. * * * *
  • And you??? Please share!
Published in: on January 9, 2014 at 2:59 am  Leave a Comment  

Cozy snuggly warmy toasty Mommy eeeeee!

One of my goals for 2014 is to spend 30 minutes each weekday actually playing with my children.

I know some folks wonder why I would even make or need such a goal. To some folks that sounds like a pathetically low number because they spend tons of playtime with their kids already. To some it sounds heavenly, because it’s so far out of the realm of possibility. And to some it simply sounds like torture.

But my children are six and four. They’re still utterly adorable more often than not.

And let me just caveat here at the outset – this is my goal, and there is no judgment in it towards myself or anybody else. My goal for my life. Not in a million years would I entertain the ludicrous notion that my goal ought to be someone else’s. Get your own goals from Jesus.

That said…today I found myself actually paying attention to Hannah while we ate lunch. And when she wanted to sit in my lap and finish her apple juice I said yes. She’s still small enough to curl up in my lap and have my arms fit around her, and she’s a super snuggle-bunny who’s still young enough to squeal with unabashed delight at the joy of being held.

It goes something like this: “Cozy snuggly warmy toasty Mommy eeeeee!”

I felt like the snowman from the new Disney movie: “I’m Olaf, and I like warm hugs.” Cue charming, earnest, enormous, and thoroughly irresistible grin.

Later I tried playing a construction game with both kids, but gave up when no one could find any of the four steel balls that came with the game. You know, the game Samuel got for Christmas, a whole week ago. But we tried, and we had fun laughing at the toilet piece and the flying pig piece. And it was a little bit boring, moderately frustrating, kinda funny, thoroughly unproductive…and as just right as the little bear’s porridge.

So I don’t know if I hit my “goal” of 30 minutes today, but I know I interacted with my kids – beyond watching them on the playground while I talked on the phone…beyond inviting them to “help me” with one of my chores…beyond sitting together to watch Angelina Ballerina or “Deadliest Tornados”…beyond a side trip to Krispy Kreme that I try to pass off as “quality time.”

The day will come, and sooner than I am prepared for it, when I will hear my own words parroted from the lips of my children: “Not now. Just a minute. Can I not finish this first? Can I have just a few minutes to myself?”

But at least today I held those words back. And I’m grateful for the grace of that.

So score. For me, for them, for the bonds of mother and children, for what counts. At least today.

Meanwhile the dishes piled in the sink all day long….and still got put in the dishwasher by bedtime. By Daddy.

Published in: on January 7, 2014 at 2:29 am  Leave a Comment  

About that view from the upper falls…

We’d hiked almost six miles already, on a warm day in July, warm enough to be hot and sweaty and tired and have feet that cringed in anticipation of the return hike. As we approached the cliff of course you could tell from a little ways off you were coming to a cliff, what with the drop and the mountains on the other side of it in view. I thought it would be lovely, but knew I was too trail-tired to relish it.

But when we got there, to the edge, no guard rails to mar the view or protect the stupid, oh, when we got there….well, within 30 seconds the tears began.

View from Upper Falls

Yosemite Valley. I’d never driven through it or seen it, and here it lay before me, stunning in green and glory and peace. That lovely wide valley, the Merced River a ribbon along its waist, bejeweled with dark green pockets of spruce and pine, the arch of Half Dome, to the left of me, its trifold cap. That long perfect valley, supine, with the beauty and innocence of a woman in Eden. Green, and gold, and azure, and granite blue and silver, and a jaw-dropping 2,700 feet between my feet and the valley floor.

I stood there mesmerized, my feet suddenly as heavy as the stone on which they stood. All I could think of were the phrases from the Psalm I’d memorized the previous summer, trudging the high country of this very park:

“You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, oh God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the tumult of the nations. The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders. Where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy” (Psalm 65:5-8).

Who could make these granite giants? Who could carve out the curves of this river? Who could tell this river, “Jump. Here,” and have it obey? Who could arrange the lonely trees into forest families, give the chipmunk incisors tough as nails, imprint the dent we call Half Dome?

I sound practically plaintive, like I’m reading Yahweh’s response to Job’s piteous complaint. Who indeed? It’s okay by me if I sound like I need a crutch: who else but Almighty God would I credit for this?

I stand on this precipice and feel my heart lunging from its cavity with palpable, gasping, desperate desire. I ache to hold this beauty in my own hands, turn it over gently as if with the wonder of a family heirloom, hold it to my sweaty t-shirt and close my eyes and open my mouth as if I could infuse it into my own cellular structure. I yearn for this beauty to never leave me, to remember with my own fiber the awe that filled every crevice of my potholed soul one day in July.

It’s cliché by now but still resonates, the words of the Oxford don: “If I find in myself some longing which nothing in this world can satisfy, it can only mean I am made for another world.”

And standing there on the brink of Yosemite Valley, on a hot July afternoon, I get a glimpse – oh the briefest glimpse of that Eden. Strength and beauty consummate there, unashamed and transcendent, there at my weary feet, and my soul falls down in wordless worship. It cannot stand in that Presence.

Even as I recollect, even as I conjure that image while singing songs of praise, even as the memory makes my tummy giddy with desire and delight and healing, I feel the weight of my inadequate words. They’re so limited they’re pitiful. They fall under the burden of clichés, sink in depths of sophomoric profundities, squawk and strain at high notes like a first-year violinist.

Rich said it better; he almost always did: “Another tune forms in my head. More harmonies, more empty words. And oh I could play these songs till I was dead, and never approach the sound that I once heard.”

There are no words for a glimpse into Eden. There’s only a deep breath, closed eyes, and, if we’re alone and honest, a groan that begs for ecstasy. How we yearn for our original glory, and the fellowship of a long, unhurried hike with our Maker. How nearly worthless all our grasping, gasping endeavors to get there turn out to be.

Yet even here the Counselor sends comfort: “Now we see but a poor reflection, as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

One day I will take that long hike with Jesus, and I will know fully the strength and beauty he has been giving all along. There will be no gasping for it like a last breath; I will walk in it with the assurance and ease of a birthright.

Until then, I will keep walking, no doubt often stumbling, my eyes open for another Glimpse. And Grace will grant it.

Published in: on January 1, 2014 at 5:31 am  Comments (1)