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The Bookshelf, January 2019

The holidays, my brother’s wedding, and family in town meant I did not read much in December.

But cancer and isolation in January meant I had loads of time to read. Plus, I received two gift cards for places where the only thing I could purchase was books. Awesome! I couldn’t repurpose the gifts to buy socks for my kids or groceries. I had to buy books, which I did with great delight.

A Tree Full of Angels, by Macrina Wiederkehr. Beautiful. This quote says it all, “You live in a world of theophanies. Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can happen only if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure.”

The Coddling of the American Mind. This book was fascinating. As a parent of two college students, a person involved in education, and an expatriate observing America from afar, I appreciated this balanced perspective on rage culture, “safetyism,” and changing ideas of what is violent or offensive. I admit to be slightly confused as to why a person feels unsafe because they are assigned a reading by someone they disagree with. Especially when in my world, I feel unsafe when people throw stones at me or grab my butt when I walk in the street. The dichotomy made it hard to understand aspects of American news. This book also brought about really great conversations with my college kids about campus culture, and mental health.

The Incendiaries, by R.O. Kwon. I read another novel, you guys! Must be the radioactivity going to my brain. I enjoyed it. Campus life, politics, religion…it was a quick and interesting read. According to NPR, “In The Incendiaries Kwon has created a singular version of the campus novel; it turns out to be a story about spiritual uncertainty and about the fierce and undisciplined desire of her young characters to find something luminous to light their way through their lives.”

Invitation to Retreat by Ruth Haley Barton. This was a gentle, sweet read to guide me into my days of nuclear-treatment and isolation for my cancer. If you are considering a few days of retreat, consider reading this ahead of time or bring it along.

Proud by Ibtihaj Muhammed. I love reading about women and sports, especially Muslim women and sports because there aren’t many stories in print (yet). And the story is a good one. My one complaint is that I found it a bit slow going.

Louder than Words: harness the power of your authentic voice, by Todd Henry. A lot of this book is geared toward writers, or creatives, but it is for more than just us. Its for for anyone trying to find their vocation, or passion, or obsession. The highlight for me was how Henry takes the reader through practical exercises to help develop a “manifesto” that can guide our decisions about work, creative or not.

Fear and Faith: finding the peace your heart craves, by Trillia Newbell. I read this in basically one sitting, while waiting in the waiting room and then the nuclear medicine room as I waited for my radioactive iodine treatment. They had to take a required pregnancy test, which meant I had a long time to wait. I love the title and there were plenty of wise words in this book. I appreciated her vulnerability about her own fears and losses. Sometimes, I find Christian books like this to be basically some nice stories and then some Bible verses. I wanted her to dig deeper. That could be a reaction stemming from my 16 years abroad – culture shock or culture shift or something. Like when she writes, like so many other American Christians, “For now, know what God wants to remind us that he will take care of all our needs…” and goes on to say how our basic needs like food and shelter will be met. And I want to shout, “But what about when they aren’t?!” Because that is what I see in the Horn of Africa and can’t yet find a book that is honest about how sometimes God doesn’t meet those needs we consider ‘basic human rights.’ Who is God then, and what is his plan? I believe he is still good and present, but let’s talk about that.

The Plot Whisperer: secrets of story structure any writer can master, by Martha Alderson. This book also comes with a workbook. For anyone working on a novel, screenplay, even a memoir, this book is incredibly practical and useful. Using the Universal Story as a guideline (ala Story, by Robert McKee), she breaks down what needs to happen over the course of a story, and when.

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. A memoir of near-death experiences. This book was scary and hopeful and brave and interesting. Every chapter is about one of the author’s near-death experiences. It made me think about when or if I’ve had experiences like that and how I’ve responded.

 

By |January 14th, 2019|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: |0 Comments

Blessings for Expatriates

Quick link: A Blessing On Your Life Overseas

Today I’m at A Life Overseas writing about blessings and writers block/brain fog.

I’ve walked through darkness this year. In the lowest moments, a friend sent me blessings every day. I started reading John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us. I am now sending blessings to someone I love dearly, to walk with her through her own dark days. My brother is getting married to a woman I adore, so I wrote them a marriage blessing.

I don’t believe in writer’s block (refuse the concept!) but I did struggle this month with brain fog. I have all kinds of excuses, but instead of listing them, I’ll tell you what I decided.

I decided we need blessing. We need to insist on it, to wrestle with God until he gives it to us, to turn to one another and offer it. We need to speak blessing, not rage. We need to receive blessing when it comes to us from unexpected places. We need to discover, anew, all it can mean to live as a blessing among the nations.

And so, I bless you, expatriate, and your life overseas.

I tried to write my own blessing but alas, brain fog. Or #blamethecancer? So I’m borrowing from other, wiser people…

Click here to read the blessings these other, wiser people have written and with which I bless you, expatriate.

By |December 19th, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Good Things the Seventeenth, November 2018

Hey! I missed this. I never posted it on December 1, for good things from November. I did have the list. Here it is now, one good thing for every day from November. I get to still say #blamethecancer because, well, I’ve still got it and still got foggy brain, too.

1 soup. hot soup from my dear friend. And an orange. I can’t talk to even say thank you. That’s why she brought soup. So, now, thank you.

2 sleeping with a big fluffy cat on top of my legs

3 resting with my mother-in-law while the men went hunting (I am so thankful for my in-laws, doubly so during cancer, they have been wonderful)

4 fresh venison on the grill

5 one, last long-ish run around the lake and feeling my heart race and my legs move and my breath, foggy in the cold, and feeling happy I’ve had this running joy for ten years and hopeful that I will have it again eventually

6 post-surgery nurses, especially the one with whom I had this conversation.

Nurse: “How is your pain? Honey? How is your pain?”

Me: (rolling from side to side and moaning and almost vomiting and mumbling) “Idontknow maybefour.”

Out of a ten-point scale.

Nurse: “Oh honey. Let’s say it’s a six.” And then she gave me more meds. That was awesome. And a good reminder that being tough isn’t always the right thing.

7 at least one morning post-surgery with my husband before he left for Djibouti. Not long enough and I miss him like crazy already, but it was better than no time and choosing gratitude doesn’t mean being nit-picky

8 emergency room doctors and parents who make healthcare decisions for me when I can barely finish a coherent sentence

9 something not-cancer related: going to my soon-to-be sister-in-law’s wedding dress fitting. She picked a gorgeous dress but she makes the dress move from gorgeous to stunning. So happy for my brother and for her.

10 old friend from far away, one of my first-ever friends drove through multiple states to visit me and sit with me and drive me around

11 walking in the snow on a silent Sunday morning

12 talking about Third Culture Kids with women who love them deeply

13 one week post-surgery, one week sans thyroid, feels like a milestone

14 being an extra at an extended friends Thanksgiving dinner party

15 hearing about a childhood friend’s dream for serving single mothers

16 meeting a writer friend at the Loft

17 high school friends (we haven’t changed at all)

18 Austin Channing Brown, preaching

19 Kenyan tea with an old friend who oozes gentle wisdom

20 one college student, home for the weekend

21 second college student, home for the weekend

22 American Thanksgiving

23 American Thanksgiving #2

24 young cousins attacking their oldest cousins with pillows

25 good conversations with my adult(!) children

26 post-op appointment: cancer didn’t spread

27 raspberries

28 brunch with new friends who have big hearts

29 turning in the final draft of Welcome to Djibouti, a guidebook

30 the Nutcracker Ballet with my mom and pork chops with cherry glaze for dinner

Good Things, the Sixteenth. October 2018.

Taking note of one good thing every day. This month was hard and good. From Italy to New York, the Evolving Faith conference to meeting my two new nephews, all topped off with cancer, what a ride. Still, I’m thankful and here’s my monthly review of why.

1 bad news from the doctor, so what is the good thing? He is a good doctor and understands, since he grew up in South Africa, the international complications of my situation

2 happy birthday mom, let’s fly to Italy

3 the warmest possible welcome into the town and family of the subject of my book

4 speaking about Annalena Tonelli and a love that is stronger than fear to 250 Italian high school seniors

5 I’m in Italy and I’m not thinking about Kavanaugh or Ford. I’m thinking about sacrificial love, courageous service, and hard, hard work, about community and peace and hope

6 university lectures I can sort of follow (barely) in Italian

7 one last bowl of gelato before leaving Italy

8 flying home-ish

9 good news from the doctor after a second biopsy – probably it didn’t spread

10 picking up Tom at the airport, now we are in the same country for a few weeks, like regular married people

11 night photography class and city lights reflected off water

12 collecting red, orange, and yellow leaves

13 leaf-covered bridges

14 listening to live music with my husband and taste-testing beer (I never like beer but it does look pretty)

15 trampolining fun with the newest kid in my life, fun to play little kid games again and who doesn’t love a good trampoline bounce?

16 coffee with a woman I met on the airplane, never done that before, I’m a no-talker on planes, but enjoyed how our thoughts and live have traced similar trails in recent years

17 quick pre-op physical (because darn it all, other than the alien beast in my neck, I’m perfectly healthy)

18 talking with an expatriate who had to leave her job abroad because of health issues, she gets it

19 Jones family Halloween party complete with relay games, scavenger hunt, and eyeball spaghetti

20 watching my daughter work on an experiment in her chemistry lab at University, then hiking Gooseberry Falls on a gorgeous MN fall afternoon

21 my husband cooked a feast for me while I worked

22 long run, ran the whole time, maybe the last double digit run for a while

23 deep and vulnerable conversation about the broken places in our lives

24 meeting my two new nephews for the first time since they were adopted

25 adding another sister to the mix, in North Carolina

26 Evolving Faith Conference

27 Still. Evolving Faith Conference.

28 true community living, a radically upside down way of life and love

29 talking books and publishing and dreaming

30 250 high school students with open ears and hearts to a message about moving away from comfort, toward need

31 giving directions to a Somali couple, in Somali, in my little suburb. Laughing together and welcoming them to the neighborhood where all are welcome.

What are you thankful for?

Good Things the Fifteenth. September 2018.

1 launching the second to university

2 kayaking

3 driving two freshmen back to school

4 wisdom from a sage mentor while sitting on the veranda while rain pours down around us

5 handing my mom my 280-page manuscript and saying, “Would you like to read it?”

6 my first Minnesota autumn in seven years, I can smell it coming

7 candy corn (kinda hate it, kinda love it)

8 pumpkin patches

9 Jamie the very worst missionary ever, speaking at Last City Church in St. Paul

10 cooking class with my mom

11 she’s thirteen

12 breakfast bonanza and studying with women

13 community education photography class with a dear friend

14 free neighborhood library shelves (I scored The Martian, The Liars Club, and The Banner of Heaven)

15 Prairie Burn YMCA and music festival

16 skipping church to meditate, hearing Jesus gently ask, “What do you want me to do for you?” (p.s. it was church for me)

17 leaves starting to change color and crunching on the sidewalk

18 doctors who make jokes while sticking needles into my neck and who then laugh at my own jokes, post-procedure, and say, “Well played.” Walking out with a sore neck but full of the feeling that, hey, I might be sick, but I’m funny.

19 cute boots

20 walking along the river with my nieces and nephew, sister, and brother-in-law, overwhelmed by gratitude that I get to live in the world and know these people

21 Thai lettuce wraps with a friend from Djibouti, in Seattle, going so deep in such a short time, soul-to-soul

22 XXX friend-voice, the hoarseness that comes when we finally are in the same room for hours upon hours of talking and crying

23 a maple bacon cinnamon roll literally the size of my face

24 playing Exploding Kittens with my dear friend’s kids (I won. 3/3. Go Rachel, way to crush those little children!)

25 a gracious, tender pastoral presence in pain

26 my mom’s listening and compassionate ear

27 lunch at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire with my son

28 first run while wearing mittens in six years

29 a day with the twins along the north shore, throwing rocks into Lake Superior and being WITH

30 hot cinnamon tea and chocolate covered graham crackers

By |October 2nd, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments