reading things.

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I’ve recently hit a goldmine of excellent reads and the common theme in all of them is people trying to figure out life.  Day by day, the right or wrong choices and the right or left choices, it can feel so overwhelming sometimes trying to navigate life well, with love and purpose.  These women have all crafted beautiful reads that made me feel not so alone in my screw-ups and hang-ups and misadventures, they poured nourishment into my heart.

1.  Bittersweet, Shauna Niequist – please, just read it.

Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweet rots both your teeth and your soul.  Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands.  Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity.

I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts and one of his most useful tools.  I’ve learned the hard way that change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us.  It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways.  I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and I’ve learned that in many cases change is not a function of life’s cruelty but instead a function of God’s graciousness.

2. Packing Light, Allison Vesterfelt – this one resonated with me in so many ways, I wondered if I had subconsciously written a book and it got published.  Her memoir of her life change as a single 27 year old teacher to go on a crazy, life altering adventure with so many unknowns hit home, as you can imagine.  Even as she described her life in the first pages I wondered if I was instead reading descriptions of candid camera footage of my life.  More than that, her stories of abandon and stretched faith are refreshing and humorous.

Baggage is like that.  You pick it up one piece at a time, and it grows heavy over time, so you hardly even realize you’re carrying it.  And the only way we know we’re holding it is if we go somewhere. As long as we stay stationary, we’ll never realize how full our arms and our suitcases, really are.  But when we decide to go somewhere, we discover we can’t take it with us.

It was scary to want something…wanting something meant feeling the pain of not having having it, and feeling the pain of chasing it down.

The only way to make sure we’re packing light is to take inventory of what we have – over and over again – and always be willing to leave things behind.

3. Carry On, Warrior Thoughts on Life Unarmed, Glennon Doyle Melton – So good.  One woman’s story of letting down her guard and living a life unashamed of the story God has written for her life.  Such hope found in her words.

I was so focused on building my little teeny altar to God, my head down, sweating, cursing, stressing, furiously working with broken tools, that I missed the city of cathedrals he was busy building around me.

When you give it all away – the stuff – you learn that it is impossible to lose whatever it is that cannot live without.

That’s the thing about becoming a family: you gotta melt.  You have to keep melting into each other until you become something entirely new. The only constant family rule is that everyone has to keep showing up.

4. Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair, Anne Lamott – just read it.

Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice.  The equation is: life, death, resurrection, hope.  The horror is real, and so you make casseroles for your neighbor, organize an overseas clothing drive, and do your laundry.

Our lives buzzed by.  The grown-ups we trusted did not share the news that life was going to include deep isolation, or that the culture’s fixation on achievement would be spiritually crippling to those of more gentle character.  No one mentioned the peace that was possible in surrender to a power greater than oneself.  Teachers forgot to mention that we could be filled only the truth that suffuses our heart, presence, humanity.  So a lot of us raced around the rat exercise wheel, to get good grades and positions, to get into the best colleges and companies, and to keep our weight down.

Without stitches, you just have rags.  And we are not rags.

5. Anything: The Prayer that Unlocked My God and My Soul, Jennie Allen – another just read it, whoever you are.

The only exercise that works 100% of the time to draw one close to the God is risk.  To risk is to willingly place your life in the hand of an unseen God and an unknown future, then to watch him come through.  He starts to get real when you live like that.

I fall because I can’t keep pretending I am okay when I know deep down I’m not.  But I also fall because I find God in the sand.  I find God with my face in it.  And then he gets to be the lifter of my head, rather than my pride.

But God seems unconcerned with helping us maintain same, simple lives where everything fits and works.  I don;t know what God’s plans are for you, but I do know that we don;t hear from him until certain things die.  He doesn’t compete.  And when he does speak, it typically costs something.

6. Cold Tangerines: celebrating the extraordinary nature of everyday life, Shauna Niequist – wonderful vignettes.

When I pray, something freaked-out and dazed inside me finds a place to lay down and rest.  When I pray, I don;t feel so alone in the universe.  I feel like there is a web, a finely spuun net, holding it all together keeping it spinning.  I feel powerless, and prayer reminds me that I may be powerless, but there is power and the one who holds the power is good.  Prayer reminds me that the universe is not powerless against the evil and loss that seems to be swallowing up this season.

True friendship is a sacred, important thing, and it happens when we drop down into that deeper level of who we are, when we cross over into the broken, fragile parts of ourselves.  We have to give something up in order to  get friendship like that.  We have to give up our need to be perceived as perfect.  We have to give up our ability to control what people think of us.  We have to overcome the fear that when they see the depths of who we are, they’ll leave.  But what we give up is nothing in comparison to what this kind of friendship gives to us.  Friendship is about risk.  Love is about risk.  If we can control it and manage it and manufacture it, that it’s something else, but if it’s really love, really friendship, it’s a little scary around the edges.

7. Travelling Mercies, Anne Lamott – Great memoir about the search for faith and how we work it out.

Here are the two best prayers I know: “Help me, help me, help me,” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

8. Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple – The only fiction work I’ve read in a while, but so good, so funny and clever, my favorite combination.

My first trip up here, to Seattle, the Realtor picked me up at the airport to look at houses.  The morning batch were all Craftsman, which is all they have here, if you don’t count the rash of view-busting apartment buildings that appear in inexplicable clumps, as if the zoning chief was asleep at his desk during the sixties and seventies and turned architectural design over to the Soviets.  Everything else is Craftsman. It’s like a hypnotist put Seattle in a collective trance.  You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house, the year won’t matter to you, all that will matter is that the walls be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on the lot.