well, hey there

I didn’t mean to take a blog break — especially such a long one, but sometimes life gets in the way. February flew by, and March is nearly gone, too. I don’t have much to show for it here, but I did get to go see my peeps in Chattanooga for a long weekend last month. Kenna (now 8 months old!) has grown so much and is learning new tricks every day. Paul and I kidnapped her and had so much fun. She’s a sweet, happy girl.

meandk

(photo credit: Will)

I have been knitting up a storm and reading some, too, but not as much as I’d hoped. I cast on a center-out baby blanket that should have been really easy, but I took it apart and started over about 10 times — once after starting the third skein of yarn! I can live with some imperfections in a project, but I decided to rip it all out when I realized I would never be happy with this one as is. So I cast on yet again — which is a real pain because it starts with a circular cast on and then double-points. If nothing else, knitting pushes me to persist and be patient.

embracing-obscurity

Last month I finished reading Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything (by Anonymous!), and y’all, it is good and challenging.

I read Rules of Civility, a fiction work I’ve heard fellow readers recommend again and again. I enjoyed it.

I found a copy of Sweater Quest on my shelves recently, and it was my bedtime reading for about a week.

I’m still slowly rereading Island of the World, and I’m juggling several other books, too.

 

If anyone is still reading this poor little blog, thanks ever so much! I’m looking to make some changes in my life — inspired by some recent things I’ve read and heard which I want to share — and hope to return to more regularly updating this little corner of my world.

Happy Saturday!

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“Nothing but art can do this.”

great-good-thingFrom The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ by Andrew Klavan:

Stories are not just entertainment, not to me. A story records and transmits the experience of being human. It teaches us what it’s like to be who we are. Nothing but art can do this. There is no science that can capture the inner life. No words can describe it directly. We can only speak of it in metaphors. We can only say: it’s like this—this story, this picture, this song.

(I highly recommend this one! So very good and thought-provoking. I love to hear conversion stories, and this one is beautifully written.)

“You want a warrior Jesus.”

[This morning I spent some time reading through the private blog I kept a few years ago while walking through a deep valley. For the moment (I’ve learned that things can change in an instant), the path is much smoother, but these words resonate nonetheless.]

place-of-healingFrom A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty by Joni Eareckson Tada:

Here at our ministry we refuse to present a picture of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” a portrait that tugs at your sentiments or pulls at your heartstrings. That’s because we deal with so many people who suffer, and when you’re hurting hard, you’re neither helped nor inspired by a syrupy picture of the Lord, like those sugary, sentimental images many of us grew up with. You know what I mean? Jesus with His hair parted down the middle, surrounded by cherubic children and bluebirds.

Come on. Admit it: When your heart is being wrung out like a sponge, when you feel like Morton’s salt is being poured into your wounded soul, you don’t want a thin, pale, emotional Jesus who relates only to lambs and birds and babies.

You want a warrior Jesus.

You want a battlefield Jesus. You want his rigorous and robust gospel to command your sensibilities to stand at attention.

To be honest, many of the sentimental hymns and gospel songs of our heritage don’t do much to hone that image. One of the favorite words of hymn writers in days gone by was sweet. It’s a term that doesn’t have the edge on it that it once did. When you’re in a dark place, when lions surround you, when you need strong help to rescue you from impossibility, you don’t want “sweet.” You don’t want faded pastels and honeyed softness.

You want mighty. You want the strong arm an unshakable grip of God who will not let you go — no matter what.

“…but the mightiest among us is granted no more than 168 hours per week…”

before-breakfastFrom Laura Vanderkam’s What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast:

As with money, we have a tendency to fritter away the time in front of us as if it were infinite. For some of us, that’s because our hours are sucked into the Reply All maw of an in-box. Others, perhaps, can see that the customer who wandered into their store left with her real need unaddressed and won’t be coming back. A dentist sees that a patient didn’t absorb her halfhearted pep talk on flossing and knows that the patient will be back soon for more fillings and another tepid pep talk. We find ourselves counting minutes and wishing ourselves elsewhere. These hours pass, inexorably, with little promise of leading to much that matters. They are spent and the transaction is done, like paying a late fee on a cell phone bill or buying a sweater that you never wind up wearing.

But as with money, people who build wealth take some chunk of what is coming in and invest it in ways that generate returns. Successful people know that hours, like capital can be consciously allocated with the goal of creating riches–in the form of a changed world, a life’s work–over time. Indeed, successful people understand that work hours must be more carefully stewarded than capital because time is absolutely limited. You can earn more money, but the mightiest among us is granted no more than 168 hours per week, and it is physically impossible to work for all of them.

2017 reading

It’s become my habit to keep a list of what I’ve read, and I’m continuing that this year. My main reading goal this year is to read 45 books, mostly from my own shelves. I’ll add to this post as I go.

January:

  1.  Cometh the Hour (Book Six of the Clifton Chronicles) – Jeffrey Archer
  2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing – Marie Kondo  (a few thoughts on this one here and here)
  3. 30 Days — Change Your Habits, Change Your Life: A Couple of Simple Steps Every Day to Create the Life You Want – Marc Reklau
  4. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – Angela Duckworth

February:

  1. What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast – Laura Vanderkam
  2. The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ – Andrew Klavan
  3. Food Freedom Forever: Letting Go of Bad Habits, Guilt, and Anxiety Around Food – Melissa Hartwig

March:

  1. Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God’s Everything – Anonymous
  2. Rules of Civility – Amor Towles
  3. Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously

** Disclaimer: Whenever you click on a link to books around here and then make a purchase at Amazon, you’re helping me — a few pennies at a time —  feed my book habit. Many thanks!

“A calling is not some fully formed thing that you find.”

gritI just finished reading  Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. It was recommended to me by a dear friend, and the subject matter is right up my alley. I’ve often wondered what makes some people able to weather adversity while others wilt and give up under it. And I’ve wondered if this mental toughness — or grit — is something you’re simply born with. Duckworth is convincing me that grit can be encouraged and developed, and that is some very good news if it’s true.

We all know that talent matters, but that’s only one ingredient of success. Even more important (we all know talented people who just can’t seem to get it going) is effort. And gritty folks make the effort — over and over again. Gritty people have passion and perseverance, and Duckworth argues that these traits aren’t fixed. We can learn them.

Which is very good news for younger folks, if they’ll just pay attention. And it’s very good news for older people who may be discouraged about their own progress or frustrated by what they see in millennials.

The instant success story is exceedingly rare, and I’ll bet that when we hear of one, we’re only hearing a tiny piece of that story. Yes, some people — very few people — seem to “luck” into something great. But that’s the exception and not the rule. The more likely scenario is putting in time, effort, figuring out how to bounce back after failure, and eventually creating a rewarding career or calling or hobby out of all of that.

Actually becoming good at something doesn’t often look like much at the beginning, and sometimes we don’t even know we’re beginning something. But if we stick with it, over time, we see nuances and get interested enough to pursue more. Here’s Duckworth’s colleague Barry Schwartz:

“There are a lot of things where the subtleties and exhilarations come with sticking with it for a while, getting elbow-deep into something. A lot of things seem uninteresting and superficial until you start doing them and, after a while, you realize that there are so many facets you didn’t know at the start, and you never can fully solve the problem, or fully understand it, or what have you. Well, that requires that you stick with it.”

Duckworth contends that “passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.” Just think how much time all of that takes! I think we all have a romantic aha! moment picture of passion, and we impatient humans don’t make the time to develop interests and cultivate passion. We think that just because we have an interest in something, we’ll naturally be good at it  and love every part  and will see instant success. That reminds me of a quote from this “literary perfectionist” (I love that description!):

“The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery it involves.”

Drudgery. Time. Effort. Perseverance. Work. Development. Learning. Failure. Pursuit. Patience. 

Dirty words. But true, time-tested ingredients of getting good at something.

Unlike Duckworth, I’m no expert here. I came to my current career only in the past few years (although it is a return to my field of study in college) through a series of events that turned my world upside down. And I feel like there’s just not enough time to learn all I want to learn about it. But I do know that the more I learn, the more I want to learn. I feel a sense of urgency. But there is no substitute for time and picking up new things every day, trying to figure out how the parts fit into the whole, asking questions, messing up and determining not to make that same mistake again, and, yes, drudgery.

More from Duckworth:

“What do you tell people,” I recently asked Amy [Wrzesniewski, a management professor], “when they ask you for advice?”

“A lot of people assume that what they need to do is find their calling,” she said. “I think a lot of anxiety comes from the assumption that your calling is like a magical entity that exists in the world, waiting to be discovered.”

That’s also how people mistakenly think about interests, I pointed out. They don’t realize they need to play an active role in developing and deepening their interests.

“A calling is not some fully formed thing that you find,” she tells advice seekers. “It’s much more dynamic. Whatever you do–whether you’re a janitor or the CEO–you can continually look at what you do and ask how it connects to other people, how it connects to the bigger picture, how it can be an expression of your deepest values.”

“A calling is not some fully formed thing that you find.” Amen.

And as a side note, I think these ideas apply to hobbies as well as vocations. My first knitting project is embarrassing to look at, but now over two years in, I’m able to make pieces worthy of wearing and giving as gifts. And I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I want to learn and make. Time, practice, watching You Tube knitting tutorials over and over again, asking questions, getting stuck, messing up, ripping out, and starting over. This is the stuff of knitting. The more I do it, the more I enjoy it.

I usually fly through a book like this one, but I’ve taken my time and thought a lot about it. And I’ll keep thinking about it after I return it to my local library. Have you read it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

re-reading

island-nightstandWhen I was younger, I read my favorite books over and over. Some of my favorite re-reads were Anne of Green Gables (and others in that series) and Stepping Heavenward. But at some point I decided that with so many books out there to read, I didn’t have the time to revisit those old favorites. I’ve changed my mind about that, and I’m returning to my favorite novel. (If you’ve never read Island of the World by Michael D. O’Brien, I urge you to put it on your TBR list this year. It’s a commitment at over 800 pages, but it is well worth the time.)

I began reading this one in 2010 while living in Rome, finishing it up early in 2011. I think of this time as my “previous” life, before my first marriage ended and before I had any clue it was heading that way. I expect I’ll read of Josip’s adventures and suffering with a different perspective this time.

I’m still early in the novel — while he is a happy naïve boy getting his first glimpse of the sea and falling in love with a sweet little girl. I’m reading this part with a sense of dread, knowing what’s ahead for him. But I’m glad for him — that he has this time before his world is shattered.

Do you re-read? What are some of your favorites to visit again and again?

Happy reading!

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on taking and leaving

As I’ve mentioned, I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I picked up a few helpful tips (folding my clothes and arranging them vertically, taking all my clothes out of the closet and only putting back in what I want to keep…). I disregarded the suggestions to talk to my clothes, to greet my home when I come in every evening, and to empty my purse every night. Neither my clothes nor my home can hear me, and unloading my purse every night would be a futile task and ridiculous burden.

And that’s okay. Except for the Bible, we’re free to pick and choose, to take what we want and leave the rest. Whenever I see someone jump on a bandwagon or fangirl (or guy) over everything someone says or does, I get a little creeped out. There are so many writers and theologians and really smart, wise people whom I admire, but I can think of no one who is infallible. I have learned so much from John Piper, for example, and his The Pleasures of God changed my thinking, and really, my life. I’ve read many, if not most, of his books. But I don’t agree with him 100%. And no one agrees with me 100%.

And, again, that’s okay.

The only book that I’m not free to feel that way about is the Bible. If there’s something there that I don’t like, or that bothers me, or that just sounds weird (I’m reading through Genesis now, and woah — Jerry Springer show!) , I have to grapple with it. I can’t shrug my shoulders or just write it off. I have to wrestle with it and ask God to change ME. I have to trust Him. 100%.

I can’t pick and choose or take and leave from Scripture. I can’t be trusted to do that. And I don’t trust anyone else who does that.

Just thinking out loud,

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of all the novels I’ve read…

[Once upon a time when I lived in Europe, I kept a blog that has since gone private. That’s where I shared my thoughts on my favorite novel. I’m re-reading it now, so I’m bringing that post over here. If you’ve never read Island of the World by Michael D. O’Brien, I urge you to put it on your TBR list. ]

…this one is my favorite.

The first day of 2011 was utterly wonderful, especially because I had the luxury of spending hours finishing and savoring Michael D. O’Brien’s Island of the World.  I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time, and I plan to read it again at some point.  I agree with J at Seasonal Soundings that this is a book that changes you.  It has changed me.

“A man is himself and no other,” Josip says.  “He is an island in the sea of being.  And each island is as no other.  The islands are connected because they have come forth from the sea, and the sea flows between them.  It separates them yet unites them,  if they learn to swim.”

As much pain and sadness and horror as Josip experiences (and he goes through a disturbing amount of it), the book joyously illustrates the beauty of the image of God in man.  Sarah’s review says it better than I can:

The gift of this story lies in its unblinking portrayal of human brutality as it is juxtaposed with the light, the poetry, the Love that still bubbles up in the heart of a wounded boy and calls him relentlessly home.

Yes, it does.

I had the bonus of being a reader who has recently been in some of the places that serve as settings in this story — Sarajevo, Rome, and New York City.  However, even with being able to picture some of the places Josip travels, I feel woefully ignorant of the history and geography of Bosnia-Herzegovina,  Croatia and Yugoslavia and the brutalities its people have experienced.  How could I not have known about the millions of people imprisoned, tortured, and slaughtered there?  How do we happily live on the same planet as such evils?

I regret not marking up my copy as I read, so I will have to do that next time.  There are so many lines and passages that are sheer beauty.  Most I don’t want to share here, though, because I don’t want to spoil the story for you.  Here are a few:

He will leave in a moment, after just one more cuplet of coffee.  Europeans know how to make it right! This is the best in the world, better than the specialty brands he experimented with in the delicatessens on Fifth Avenue.  Europeans understand that flavor is not about sensory stimulation, it is about evocation.  It is art and memory.  It is reunion with exalted moments, and such moments are never solitary ones. In short, life without coffee is not really life. The waiter brings it to him and tells him it’s on the house! A smile from the lad and a bow of his head.  What elicited this gift?  Perhaps it is house policy: three paid, get one free! Maybe it is simple human kindness.  Yes, kindness prevails in the world, gratuitous and unsolicited.  This bodes well for the future of mankind.

Josip’s observations on Roman traffic and drivers had me nodding my head:

Of that day’s context, he will remember dust and stone, blindingly-white marble, and noise such as he has never before experienced.  Streets are crammed with automobiles that speed and screech and honk and brake and lurch from stable positions at traffic lights into a blur of motion–all with the manic pace and the demonic roars of dangerous, unreliable slaves.  The drivers’ faces are the worst aspect.  They are as intense as any he has seen in his life, even the guards on the island, certain interrogators, or various prisoners who would bot from their chains in a hopeless run toward the sea.

More Josip:

Isn’t it a basic truth that we are brought to prayer only by passing through suffering?  In this respect, war was a blessing because it taught this generation how to pray, and it taught us the power of prayer.  We learned that it was prayer that preserved us against impossible odds and only prayer that brought us independence.  Dare I write these words — O God, how dare I write them? — yet I cannot be silent.  The war was a catastrophe, but in Christ the worst catastrophe can be transformed into a blessing.  The war renewed awareness of our centuries-old Christian identity and prepared us to be steadfast in these times which, with every passing day, are resembling more and more the end times.  Our horrible war taught us “in the flesh” about the Great War that will last until the end of time.

And just one more:

I am a man who possesses only fragments, a beggar who wanders into a feast of materialism, offering to the guests a basket of broken bread.

I could go on and on, but, really, please just read the book. You won’t be sorry. And I’d love to hear what you think about it after you do.