Books for April

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It’s been a super duper long time since I’ve posted on this blog page, but I thought this would be the perfect place to share what I’ve been reading in April! I’ve worked my way through quite a few books since Jan. 1 of this year, with little rhyme or reason to my selections. I love to read, I love to share books, I love to talk about books, and doggone it….I get to work among stacks of books every day at the library. I’m one lucky bookworm!

So here’s what was on my nightstand in April:

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

I know….it’s kind of an eclectic stack….but that’s how I roll with my book selections. I go from fiction to non-fiction, mystery to history. What can I say……I like to keep myself on my toes when it comes to reading. Anyhoo……

The Great Alone……loved all the description of the Alaskan wilderness. It played to my “I gotta get away from people and be out in the great wide open” stream of thought for sure. It was well written, but I think I might have liked her other book The Nightingale just a little more. I found The Great Alone to be full of very dysfunctional families/characters and overall it was kind of depressing how it all played out. I recommend it if you like Alaska, or stories about people who somehow make it out of a bad situation, albeit a little scarred by the experience.

Everything I Never Told You……I read this right on the heels of reading her other book Little Fires Everywhere. I found both of them extremely well written. I love Celeste Ng’s style of writing. It, too, is a story that contains sadness and dysfunction. I’d recommend it for sure, but be sure you are in the right frame of mind. It’s not a light and airy story full of fun and laughs. It’s about brokenness and loss. I read it in a day…..a lovely Sunday full of free time to read.

In the Garden of Beasts……I really liked this book! I tried to read Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City  and had a really hard time with it. So much so, that I just had to stop. Put the dang thing down. I didn’t like all the detail with the lead up to the World’s Fair and was REALLY creeped out by the killer guy building his hotel of torture and death. So……I wasn’t sure if I’d like In the Garden of Beasts. But it was totally different. It is a nonfiction selection that follows the US Amabassador to Germany, William Dodd and his family as they are sent to Berlin in 1933. Adolf Hitler is Chancellor and the Nazi movement is gaining ground. The Dodd family comes to Berlin as the Nazis are coming into their own and making inroads, and yet the German people and many governments, including the US, have yet to really see the ugly and evil movement for what it is and the dark clouds of war that are on the horizon. Everyone is just partying and not realizing what is happening. How could the German people not see what was happening in their own country? Larson keeps the chapters short, which I appreciated. It helped me keep all the names of people and events at a level where I could keep track of what was happening.  For me it was a fascinating read. It comes at this period of world history from a slightly different angle. The story helped me understand America’s involvement and the players in Europe as well, in the years leading up to Hitler’s takeover of Germany and his maniacal and evil vision for Germany and his power over others. I definitely recommend this book if you like history, anything about World War II or have read other books by Erik Larson.

So there’s my April in a nutshell……I just put a bunch of books on hold at the library today. It’s another random bunch of books! I’ll let you know in 4 weeks what made it to my nightstand for May!

Happy Reading!

C

 

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Rise

images  Pain is a funny thing….it plays with you and over time creates stress and debilitating physical discomfort. In the same breath it can propel you to cry out to the heavens for help, and also question your faith and belief that it will ever come to an end.

I’ve recently been brought to this place. The place of dryness, and hopeless feelings. The place of a very deep valley. I was thinking about things recently, trying to always look at the silver lining. Yes…the pain has changed my life in ways I could not foresee. It changed my job status. It changed my daily routine and human connections, and it has affected my ability to get around. But hey….there’s no alarm clock, I’ve had time to read a lot, and I can catch up on my DVR’d shows and Netflix binge watching while I recuperate and try to heal. But……it’s never on our time table. Just when I was thinking I was turning a corner, a setback.

I’ve had to dig awful deep. Deeper than I thought there was to dig. And then I struck something. A deeper and profound truth. God always buries those way down, and He makes you keep going, despite the difficulty to the place where He can reveal it to you. You see… I know that I believe in the One True God. And I know that I can have the gift of Grace through Christ. This is the Gospel. The Good News!  It sets Jesus in my heart and soul and He sends the Spirit to guide me. As important as this Gospel Good News is to the world…and it IS….ultimately I have to preach it to myself daily.

It’s been hard to cut through the darkness of physical pain to do that. But in that daily struggle of reminding myself that Jesus is with me, and God hears me, and this won’t last forever I hope and pray…..God is leading me deeply to the understanding that this relationship with Him is EXCEPTIONALLY, and PROFOUNDLY personal. It’s one on one. It’s Him and me. In my head and heart I thought I knew that. I really did. Didn’t I?

I was listening to a favorite song of mine today and something about the words made me cry. Just cry and sing. Part of the chorus has these words….

‘Cuz He who is in me, Is bigger than I will ever be and I will rise 

I think I forgot that if I am a Jesus follower….He is in me.

And He is bigger than my pain.

The last verse goes like this……

But I keep on coming to this place, That I don’t know quite how to face, So I lay down my life in hopes to die, that somehow I might rise. 

He comes for me daily….and it is personal.

God’s deepest truths and revelations to us are in and amongst the most difficult days of our lives. In the mire of daily physical pain God is etching on my heart his personal imprint. He created me I know. Every fiber of my being….it was personal that day He created me and whispered the songs of Heaven into my ear before I took my first earthly breath. And it’s personal today, 48 years later.  

This Father Creator….the relationship He wants with us is just deeply, deeply PERSONAL.

Thank you Abba Father for teaching me this today. And for giving me words to share it with others. May their hearts be reminded today that you seek them, too, in a very profound and personal way. Amen.

 

 

 

Generosity…..

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Generosity is a funny thing.

I thought it was an easy word to define and explain until God had a story for me to tell.

It all started with a homeless couple, Slim and Laurie, who got an apartment. An empty apartment.  A homeless ministry that I volunteer with, and who have ministered to this couple on the streets for a couple of years, sent out an All Points Bulletin that they needed items to put in their new place to begin life again…..off the street. I was a little hesitant to go asking people for donations for a homeless couple I didn’t know well.  Slim and Laurie needed EVERYTHING.  God doesn’t mince words sometimes….get over yourself and send the email. 

With a shotgun prayer on my lips I clicked SEND, and waited to see what God would do. He sent big items, little items and everything in between.  And He sent lessons…lessons on what it looks like to give, and to receive.

Lesson #1…….don’t be afraid to give people the opportunity to be generous. 

I was expecting leftovers.  Items that people had stored in their attics, buried in a storage unit, or left sitting in their garages.  You know….things that people are generally willing to part with.

God sent them a bed from the Pottery Barn catalog.  It was sitting in the guest room of a beautiful home that looks out on an exclusive golf course, offered by a very gracious couple.  When I saw the picture she sent to me, I thought…..”I can’t accept THAT! It’s too nice!” Ouch.

Lesson #2….don’t question the generosity of God. It sometimes looks like a Queen-sized, rod-ironed Pottery Barn bed that will be the perfect fit for the 6’7″ homeless man God intends it for. Go pick it up……and be thankful.

So we loaded up the bed, along with odds and ends of other donations we had received and headed down the highway.  When we arrived at the apartment complex, Slim came running out to help unload everything from the truck. With a giant smile on his face, and sheer joy in his heart, he nearly skipped across the parking lot to hug us. He threw the mattress on his back and took it in to his new home. He almost had the entire bed put together before we had carried in the rest of the load. The only thing they had in the apartment before we got there was a shopping cart full of all they owned. As they put the beautiful bed linens on the bed…..I thought about what it looks like to receive generosity.

Lesson #3….receive the generosity of God with JOY…skipping across the landscape of whatever desert you find yourself. With open hands and an open heart, receive. And be thankful.

We spent some time helping them unpack the donated items, took a moment to bless their new home and say a prayer of thanks for God’s provision. Before we left, Laurie offered us some water bottles they had in the refrigerator.  We declined saying we were fine, and headed out. My friend and I talked on the way home about how we felt bad….we didn’t want to take what we knew might be in short supply for them. We had declined an act of generosity. How many water bottles had Slim and Laurie been handed as they stood on the streets? She was offering us what was in her hand….double ouch.

Lesson #4…..the generosity of God can be offered to you by ANYONE. Question is….do you have eyes to see or ears to hear, when it’s offered in ways you don’t expect or from someone you wouldn’t ask it of? More importantly….do you receive it with open hands?

Generosity is a funny thing….just when I thought I understood what it meant, God was generous with me. He gave me treasures to store up….and a story to tell. And I’m thankful.

What’s Next?

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Sometimes you read something that just floors you. It hits you square between the eyes…..you couldn’t have said it any better. 

I’ve had the blessed occasion of celebrating with several teenagers the completion of their public education. This milestone in life presents an opportunity to share words of wisdom, nuggets of advice, and cheers of encouragement for them to pack in their trunks and carry with them into the wide open space that is their future.

This morning I read something in one of my devotional books, and it absolutely sums up what I would want to say to each and every one of them……

Remember the time Jesus washed the feet of His disciples…..He said this….

Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master’, and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it– and live a blessed life. ~ John 13:12-17 (The Message)

Oswald Chambers uses this illustration of Jesus teaching the disciples how to go out into the world to say…..

‘Determine to know more than others. If you do not cut the moorings, God will have to break them by a storm and send you out. Launch all on God, go out on the great swelling tide of His purpose, and you will get your eyes open. If you believe in Jesus, you are not to spend all your time in the smooth waters just inside the harbor bar, full of delight, but always moored; you have to get out through the harbor bar into the great deeps of God and begin to know for yourself, begin to have spiritual discernment. 

When you know you should do a thing, and do it, immediately you know more. Revise where you have become stodgy spiritually, and you will find it goes back to a point where there was something you know you should do, but you did not do it because there seemed no immediate call to, and now you have no perception, no discernment; at a time of crisis you are spiritually distracted instead of spiritually self-possessed. It is a dangerous thing to refuse to go on knowing. 

The counterfeit of obedience is a state of mind in which you work up occasions to sacrifice yourself; ardor is mistaken for discernment. it is easier to sacrifice yourself than to fulfill your spiritual destiny, which is stated in Romans 12:1-2. It is a great deal better to fulfill the purpose of God in your life by discerning His will than to perform great acts of self-sacrifice. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Beware of harking back to what you were once when God wants you to be something you have never been. “If any man will do…he shall know.” ~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Words of Wisdom….not only for graduates, but for every one of us. 

Launch all on God, go out on the great swelling tide of His purpose, and you will get your eyes open.

 

 

 

 

Life Lesson from Bugs Bunny…….

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When I was a kid, my favorite cartoon show was Looney Tunes. Don’t get me wrong….I loved Scooby Doo and had a total crush on Speed Racer. But there was something about Bugs and all the gang that was Saturday morning gold. Recently I vegged with a Looney Tunes DVD, because ya know….what almost 46 year old woman doesn’t need some down time?

As I watched episode after episode of Bugs Bunny outwitting whatever villain he was put up against….I realized what I love about Bugs Bunny. He owns it.

No matter what situation he finds himself in, he fully embraces it.

Gorilla Baby…….no problem.

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 Old West Gunslinger……giddyap.

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Opera Singer……..what a diva!

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Barber…..Conductor….what can’t Bugs do???

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I’m thinking there is a very good life lesson to be had from Bugs here. Who cares if you aren’t exactly sure how to do it, but you find yourself in the middle of it anyway? Be bold and own it.

The older I get, the less I care about what people think about what I’m doing. I guess that goes with the territory, and maybe it’s wisdom gained on the journey.

So from the “OVERTURE…curtains…..lights! This is it, the night of nights” today…..

to the “Bla-dee Bla-dee….That’s all folks!” of whatever day I’m leaving planet earth, I think I’ll make like Bugs Bunny….. and own it.

Alpha and Omega

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This is what the Lord says~ Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty; I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Isaiah 44:6

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8

He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.  Revelation 21:6-7

I have a necklace that I wear all the time. It started with one charm….. a simple silver cross. I got that necklace with the cross a long time ago. The cross is the traditional symbol representing the sacrifice of Christ and the salvation that comes from believing in Him. I’m a Christian. I’ll wear a cross. And it was good.

A couple of years ago, at a time in my life when God was pressing on me some things about what it looks like to follow Him in Christ, I was given a descending dove charm as a recognition for volunteer service. The descending dove represents the Holy Spirit. I saw it as perfect timing. After a serious car accident had transformed my life and God saved me……I REALLY felt like He was trying to tell me something more by sending me His Spirit. I had been brought up in the church,  but I don’t think I ever really understood what it meant to have the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. Jesus said that He would send it….and man was I feeling it. Life was not the same. So I put that charm on my necklace with the cross. One representing the Son, one the Spirit. And it was good.

This past Mother’s Day I received from my family the Alpha and Omega charm. The alpha and the omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. This symbol is a sign of totality. Christ is all inclusive in all dimensions of time and space. Christ is Lord of All–past, present, and future. It represents perfectly what God has been teaching me, what I continue to move forward in, and honestly……. what I struggle with daily.

Here’s what I mean…..

Is the beginning of my day spent in time with God? How bout the end of it?

Do my words start with something edifying or encouraging? How about the last thing out my mouth? Hurtful or helping? Praising or Condemning?

And here’s the other thing about God being the A-Z……He’s everything in between, too!

So……..can I say that the hours between my rising and going to sleep are in ANY way spent centered on loving His world? His people?

How about my problems and anxieties? Do I trust God all the way through whatever it is? No matter how it ends up. Or do I jump ship somewhere in the middle in the K-L-M area, trying to control or maneuver it myself?

See? It’s a daily struggle and challenge for this follower of Jesus.

So hey….if this is you….good news! You’re not alone!

The Alpha & Omega charm is on my necklace now, too. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All three.

In One.

And it is good.

 

 

 

Like a child…..

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On the eve of Good Friday, we gathered with a community of believers that we share life with. We read the Scriptural account of the Last Supper when Jesus and His disciples…His friends and followers who had lived life with Him for three years….remembered and celebrated the account of the Passover. Jesus spent a night with friends, reclined by a table, eating and drinking knowing His time was near. The Kingdom of Heaven that He had been proclaiming, was about to suffer pain and death for the sake of all…….that it would in the end, and for all time, be present for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

As part of our community celebration of Holy Thursday, we broke communion bread and passed the cup. In a small living room, circled around a table…..we were offered the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. This bread and this cup were offered to each of us by two children. As they went around the quiet room offering the “Body of Christ broken for you”, and the “Blood of Christ shed for you”, I remembered this about Jesus……

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.” ~ Mark 10:13-16

Receive the Kingdom like a child.

If you have ever spent ANY time around children….you will know what Jesus meant when He said this. He was teaching all those who would hear….that you have to accept it with innocence, simple trust, and dependence. It’s not about how much you know, accomplishments, or your social status. It’s about simple faith in a loving God.

As these two children came to me holding the symbolic bread and blood of Christ broken and shed for me….they offered in their beautiful, melodic child voices….the Kingdom of God. For me.

Would I accept it…without pretense? Without worry. Without all my complications and junk.

The Kingdom of Heaven offered to me by a child.

Can I accept it like one?

Can you?

Notifications Pending…..

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Over the last couple of months I took a break from my social media platform of choice. I called it a “Fast from Facebook”. 

Let me say upfront that I do not hate Facebook…in fact, I find that the ability to keep up with, and communicate with friends and family who live across this vast continent, is one of its BEST qualities. I’m not a Facebook basher.

I am, however, a person who found themselves checking it……A LOT.  In the morning before work, on my phone during the day, and several times when I got home at the end of the day. It was a habit.

A habit I needed to step away from……to really think about what drives it…..and in the vacuum of space left in its wake, fill with something else. 

At first it wasn’t too hard. And then weirdly….I had this moment of “I have no friends!” Woe and alas. Whatever. 

But the interesting thing that happened that REALLY made me think, was that every day I would get one or two emails from Facebook telling me I had “Notifications Pending”. Yikes! THAT put the pressure on! What was waiting for me? What was I missing? What in the world would I be left out of?

It’s kind of interesting….the word PENDING means that something is awaiting a decision, undecided, unsettled, or left hanging. Hmmm. So…there were conversations, requests, comments….that I had to leave HANGING??!! 

But in the wide open space that was available to me,  since I wasn’t checking Facebook, was this very resounding and deafening thought…… “What else in my life have I left hanging?” 

What “to-dos”, “things I’m going to get to when”, “people I really need to reach out to”…..have I left PENDING?

Whoa. Hold the presses. There is a whole life out there that needs engaging. While I’ve been busy feeling the need to check in on the latest post on Facebook…..my life is PENDING. 

Facebook might not be the habit that takes you away from real life. It might be television, other internet vices, video gaming, shopping, burying yourself in work….just fill in the blank. Go ahead…you know your HABIT. What takes you away from LIFE? From your relationships? From your neighborhood? From yourself? From God?

Life is short. Very. Short. 

Don’t waste it on an insidious habit. 

Celebrate LIFE. 

What’s PENDING in yours?

 

 

 

Shine a Light……

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We each have a light. I believe it to be lit by our Creator and set off into the world in His perfect timing. Sometimes this light is protected and fueled by those around us in whose care we have been nutured. Sometimes the light is dragged through the sludge and grime of the world that surely would extinguish it if not for its glorious, eternal beginnings……because there isn’t enough oxygen left to keep it aflame.

I was a witness to another’s tiny flame tonight. He doesn’t even believe he has one. But his heart and stories tell another tale. In the darkness of the evening……I tried to shine a light. So he could see his.

It’s worth it to shine your light. Don’t just shine it where the the sun already bursts with brilliance…..shine it where the darkness is so enveloping and suffocating that your light seems like a supernova…..even in its faint flickering.

God gives each of us a light. He put it there when He breathed life.

Breathe life for someone else.

Shine a light.

still standing…..

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Today I ran 3 miles. In a row. Without walking. 

I know it’s not monumental. I have a brother who runs crazy marathons in deserts. 

But while I was running…..after the burning ache in my chest subsided…..I thought about my body 3 years ago. Legs broken and hurting. And I am thankful. 

Thankful I was running with my daughter on a beautiful, warm January afternoon. Thankful my legs are healed and they still work and I can push myself and feel my blood pumping through my body.  

I am thankful I’m still standing. 

It’s life affirming.