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The Bookshelf, March 2019

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres Gripping, horrifying, infuriating. This was a quick read that made my blood boil at the things she experienced – abuse at the hands of “Christian” parents and a “Christian” reform school. Racism that her brothers faced. The ignorance of the impact and struggles adopted kids face. Julia is a lovely writer, this is a haunting and dark book. Fitting in the #metoo era and especially with the New Tribes, Southern Baptist, and Catholic Church scandals.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung What a gift. This book is written from the perspective of an adopted child, now an adult. So many stories of adoption are written from the POV of the parents who adopted the child, and are written while that child is just coming home, or still young. But what impact does adoption have on the child? Nicole provided a nuanced, thoughtful look into her own experience and it is an important opener for a really important topic.

A Country Between: making a home where both sides of Jerusalem collide by Stephanie Saldana This book was, quite simply, gorgeous. I went to bed early every night the last week just to spend more time with the gentle prose and the imagery and the wisdom. Stephanie is an American, married to a Frenchman. They met in Syria where he chose love for a woman over love for his life as a monk. In this book, they live in Israel, between two worlds. I loved this book. See also her book Bread of Angels: a journey to faith and love, about reading the Bible and the Quran and finding Jesus and falling in love with a monk.

Walking in Wonder: eternal wisdom for the modern world by John O’Donohue Can I say this book was gorgeous, too? Well, it was. I took my time through this one and reread some chapters several times, through tears. I am a massive John O’Donohue fan, if you haven’t yet noticed. His words remind me of all that is beautiful and good, even in darkness and sorrow.

The 21: a journey into the land of coptic martyrs by Martin Mosebach (published by Plough, my publisher, yay!) Another book of trauma, except it isn’t. It could be. The 21 refers to the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were beheaded by ISIS. Martin explores each of these men’s lives and legacies and what could be a story of horror becomes in his skillful hands, one of hope and life.

 

Kindle Deals – so many great books!

South and West, by Joan Didion $2.99. Um, Joan Didion for under 3$?! Yes, please.

The Color of Water, by James McBride, $1.99. A really important read in the racial relationships conversation.

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah $2.99

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, by Arundhati Roy, $1.99

The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom, $1.99

Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans, $0.99 (this is probably my favorite of Rachel’s books, I read it while on the voting panel for Christianity Today’s book awards)

What are you reading lately?

*contains Amazon affiliate links

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

Human Dignity in a Broken World, Two Book Reviews

Shalom Sistas, by Osheta Moore

I read this book on Saturday evening (if you want to read a lot, have surgery and have friends who bring you books, that really helps). Loved it.

I don’t know that Osheta would use the words human dignity, but that’s what shalom is about – peacemaking, peace building, relationships of healing and hope. And the only way to do that is to offer one another dignity. Her book is an honest and brave siren call to live in our neighborhoods and schools and workplaces with courage. I heard Osheta speak recently and loved her combination of passion for the hard work of pursuing justice with the freedom to enjoy simplicity, like an afternoon at the dog park. She offers 12 ways for women to actively and intentionally be peacemakers in our communities.

I love this quote, especially because I have experienced the truth of it. Peace is not passive and it is not an end goal, it is a way of life. “Peace is fierce—it has to be, because violence and discord won’t go down without a fight. Those who wield peace in the face of the world’s violence do it fiercely.”

 

Perfectly Human, nine months with Cerian, by Sarah C. Williams, PhD in philosophy and a professor at Regent College.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Plough Publishing.

I read this book in one weepy afternoon post-surgery. (Books make great post-surgery gifts, in case you have someone heading in for a procedure). My publisher gave me this one while I was at their offices last week. It is heartbreaking and beautiful, a mother’s love story and ringing testimony to the value of every single human life.

After a devastating diagnosis declared her unborn baby would not survive, Sarah and her husband choose to carry the pregnancy to term anyway. This has a terrifying and painful impact on her body and their family, but it also profoundly changes them for good as they declare with her body and with their baby, the worth of a life. What makes up a human life? How is worth determined?

Not everyone will agree with their choice, but that doesn’t matter. Few of us agree with each other about almost anything (American political situation, anyway?). What matters, is this is one family’s story and testament to beauty and life, and it is stunning.

Here is another review in Christianity Today.

And Sarah also wrote in the Huffington Post about her experience.

Running Inspiration

I’m in the high miles, tired legs, growling stomach, ‘do I really need to run again today’, time of marathon training. And honestly? I’m kind of loving it. Yes, its hard to keep rolling out of bed at 5:00 a.m. But also, yes, I love hearing the call to prayer and the hundreds of voices that sound out in chorus from the three mosques that surround our house. All these men, seeking God in community, while I pull on my running clothes and get ready to pursue a crazy dream, in solitude, and essentially, alone. I will most likely not see another female running, unless she is inside the barbed wire fences of the French or American military bases. If I do see other, male, runners, they will most likely pass me, literally leaving me in their desert dust.

On the mornings when it is harder to get out of bed, when I wonder why the heck am I doing this, in this country, preparing for this race, asking people to fund this project…when my legs feel like bricks, when the miles tick by too slowly, when the funds come in at a trickle (you can help change that!!)…I need motivation.

This training is not being done with my sisters, urging my nephew along. I’m not training in shorts and a t-shirt. I’m not training in the woods or near green grass. I can’t rely on things like that to push me along.

Then I remember these kids from the blind school who came to the track to race, inspired by the Kenyan World Record holder for the visually impaired, Henry Wanyoike.

And I remember these girls, with Girls Run 2, the only all-girls running club in Djibouti, which also has the goal of keeping girls in school.

I don’t need reminders of why I’m doing this. I know why. I love running. I care about Somalis. I believe in the power of education. A Somali proverb says, “Aqoonta waa iftiin.” Knowledge is light. A Somali educator at the university where my husband first taught, told us one reason education is so powerful in Somaliland is that it keeps young people out of trouble. It keeps them motivated for their future. It gives them hope and purpose and goals. So, no I don’t need reminders for why I’m doing this.

I need motivation from books and podcasts, I need to feel like I’m not alone. I need to hear from other runners who talk about the pain in their legs but with the kind of awe and respect that sounds slightly nuts to non-runners. Reading books about runners surmounting ridiculous challenges and the love-hate that turns into joy-pride at the end of it.

Where do I turn in those moments?

Books

It Takes a School by Jonathan Starr

About a school in Somaliland. Not running, but a school. Education. What this race is all about. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far, I love it.

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami (read it twice, listened to the audio book once, its in my ‘holds’ list from the Kindle library. again.)

“Its precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive – or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is not based on standards such as time or ranking but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself.”

And: “What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.” Right on.

The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike

I loved this. I had just read Running, a Love Story, which was okay, as is Rachel Toor’s Personal Record, a love affair with running. But these left me wanting more running. More history. Running is already fairly narcissistic, writing about it even more so. The Long Run provided exactly what I was looking for – a book structured around a woman becoming a runner but loaded with fascinating historical information and stories of women running throughout history.

My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman

I enjoyed this for the unique aspect of the father-daughter relationship that Foreman focuses on. I’ve done a few runs with my kids, too, and it made me kinda teary in a few moments.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe

Fiction. Fiction! I know, I just don’t read much. But, voila. Fiction.

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

The quest to break the 4:00 mile. Amazing.

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by The Oatmeal

Light reading, silly. Helps me not take it all too seriously.

Run Fast. Eat Slow. by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky

Because, I’ll say it again, I peed in a port-a-potty next to the port-a-potty in which she peed. I peed faster. She ran faster.

The recipes in the cookbook? Awesome. The attitude behind the food? Love it.

Pre by Tom Jordan

About Steve Prefontaine, ‘America’s greatest running legend.’

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This is probably my favorite book, if forced to pick. Or at least in my top five. Running plays a minor role in the story but you can’t read it and not feel inspired to persevere.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (of course, right?!)

I tried my own barefoot experiment after reading this. Djibouti with heat so hot roads melt, streets littered with everything from condoms to syringes to shattered glass to thorns to camel poop, wasn’t such a great location for the experiment. It lasted for a few runs, then morphed into affecting my shoe choices. I now alternate between shoes with a low heel-to-toe differential and a more supportive shoe and for that, I’m grateful.

Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr.

Fiction. Again! What?! That’s right, the runner’s cult classic.

Runners World Magazine (including my own stories, pretty cool!)

And right now I’m reading The Way of the Runner by Adhanarand Finn, author of Running with the Kenyans. (another good book) Haven’t finished this new one yet.

 

Podcasts

Another Mother Runner

Ali On the Run

Personal Best

Sometimes I find it hard to relate with runners in the United States. They think women have totally overcome hecklers warning us our uterus will fall out if we keep running. They think an 80-degree days means it is too hot to run. They are terrified of coming in last (done it) or being the only person of their gender (been there). Maybe it is time to find (start?!) a global running podcast or website…what am I saying? I think I’ve fried my brain on too many long runs.

What inspires you to run? And run and run and run?

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Check out Djiboutilicious, my award-winning cookbook. If you are moving or traveling to Djibouti, you’ll love the information and tips in Welcome to Djibouti. And if you just want more Djibouti Jones, sign up for my monthly newsletter, Stories from the Horn.

(Click here to support my Somaliland Marathon and Education Fund)

The Bookshelf: All Our Waves are Water, a Review

(I received a free copy of this book)

I first read Jaimal Yogis’s work in his book The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing . . . and Love. Fear is a common theme in my own writing – feeling it, describing it, facing it, overcoming it, living with it…so I was curious about his perspective on fear, through the lens of surfing. It was a beautiful and challenging exploration of living with fear, but not bending to it. Here is just one quote, of many, that I wrote down:

“If we can understand fear rather than demonize it, reframe fear as a natural part of our biology rather than avoiding and repressing it, stretch our comfort zones just a little every day and walk peacefully and courageously into those scary memories of embarrassment and trauma, we will gradually learn to transform fear into focus and compassionate action, and our sons’ and daughters’ world can be better than the one we live in. Will we collectively freeze, fight, and stagnate? Or will we learn and act?”

When Jaimal contacted me to review his newest book, All Our Waves Are Water, I was eager for the book to get all the way to Djibouti. I’m not a surfer, but a runner, so a fellow athlete. I’m not Buddhist but I seek to uncover the holy and the Divine in daily life and the exploration of all faiths intrigues me. I am a lover of water. I grew up in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes. I’ve lived 15 years within a mile or two of the ocean. So – sport, faith, water, book. So many of the things I love, yes, this would be a great book for me to read and review.

I read it in two days, even during the holiday season.

Jaimal had a significant challenge on his hands in writing this book. Faith, especially the mystical aspects of it, is one of the hardest things to describe in words without sounding, well, not quite sane. And to get non-surfers to understand and appreciate the thrill, terror, and irresistible pull of a wave without sounding condescending, redundant, or confusing, must have felt daunting. I’ll admit I didn’t quite grasp all the surfing scenes, or quite understand some of his more deeply experienced religious moments. But that works in this book. Faith is embracing mystery. The surfer’s high, or low, like the runner’s high or low, is intangible. Writers throw words at meditation or the ocean or God and they are our attempts to name the unnamable. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t exactly picture what he described and instead, I imposed my own mystical faith experiences and sport experience over his, and felt a sort of kinship.

The book is poetic, especially when he writes about the water and describes waves. It is a story about friendship and love and faith and surfing around the world. But ultimately, it is a story about Jaimal’s search, which is the search of so many of us. Through nations, girlfriends, friends, studying, working, yoga, meditation, and surfing, Jaimal takes the reader along on his search for self and for grace.

He finds both, even while acknowledging that every day presents a fresh opportunity to search yet deeper. But grace and his sense of identity are not actually in the waves, or the water, not in his work, not in his romantic relationships, not in the experiences he had of traveling all over the world, not in the yoga meditation or retreats. At least not in any of these things exclusively or eternally. He finds himself and uncovers grace in daily life.

The holy in the ordinary, grace in the mundane, self where you are.

After a rather shocking experience, he writes, “…had given me a gift. He’d made me recall briefly that nothing beats spring pasta on a Tuesday with your girlfriend, the sensation of breath in your lungs, a walk on the dunes after dinner, the full moon sinking behind the city.”

I finished the book and wanted to do two things: run to the ocean and dip my fingers in, to taste the salty water that so perfectly accompanies the book, and to be more faithful in practicing meditation. A book that calls the reader to experience nature with joy and to sit quietly, exploring the soul, is a good book. Even if you miss some of the the surfing nuances or don’t follow the same specific faith ideas, there are depths of beauty and honesty to enjoy in All Our Waves Are Water.

And more of Jaimal Yogis’s work here