The January booklist

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Maybe it’s that I’ve finished uni now and haven’t been given a list of books that I have to read and then analyse and then write an essay on. Or it’s just that, sometime last year, I remembered my love of reading; it’s been my escape, my joy, my favourite hobby since I was a little girl.

So, in a post-university effort to keep learning and growing and escaping and finding joy, I’ve committed to myself to read more. Read instead of scroll, read instead of watch, read in place of procrastinate (more accurately is probably read to procrastinate).

And, to keep me a little accountable to this intention, I thought I’d share a monthly booklist.
A wrap up.
Also, you can find me on Goodreads if you want to get ideas for your own to-read list, and see what I’m currently reading.
I love reading non-fiction, but definitely need some can’t-put-down novels to break them up in between.

So, here’s the January round-up:

1. A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed- yet hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.
By Brian D. McLaren

Some Christians in my circles might see this book as a bit controversial, and the emergent church movement a bit threatening, but honestly? This book was a breath of fresh air, and just what I needed. McLaren looks at a whole host of factions of Christianity and pulls out the good, looks at what we can learn from each other, and doesn’t whitewash past ugliness.
I read this book slowly and it’s now covered in post-it notes and underlined.
It created the most in-depth discussions between Daniel and I, over long drives and at night before falling asleep. They always started with, do you think Jesus would…?
Do you think the modern church is…?
I didn’t agree with everything in this book, but I found it so freeing to allow myself to think outside of my Western Church experience, and I find it a comfort that there are people in the world who are pushing back at religiosity.

2. Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

This reminded me a lot of Eleanor Oliphant—Britt-Marie is another character who is endearing and quirky, and so is the host of other characters. She expresses her fear that no-one will notice if she dies, and some of the ways she thinks about this fear, her loneliness and ultimately her desire to be loved, were so incredibly sad and beautiful. I flew through this book in less than 24 hours.

3. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This book wasn’t quite the page-turner as Britt-Marie Was Here, but easy to read nonetheless.
I felt that some of the characters weren’t quite as developed as I wanted them to be, and it was a bit slow-moving. It raises questions of what it takes to be a mother, and how the consequences of our decisions can spark unintentional future fires. The plot was enough to keep me reading, and it definitely speeds up towards the end.

4. The Vertical Self: How Biblical faith can help us discover who we are in an age of self obsession
by Mark Sayers

I wrote in an earlier post that this book is cultural commentary and self discovery gold. And to think it was written even before Instagram!
It’s a must-read for anyone with social media (so, everyone) and is a not so gentle reminder that our worth and identity does not/should not come from the culture we’re immersed in, from movies and television, from social media, from elevating performance over character. Read my post about Instagram and you’ll get an idea of what rumblings it caused in my inner world.


What did you read in January? Have you read any of these books? I would love to hear your thoughts!

xx

10 things I’ve learned after 13 years of marriage

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We celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary on Monday with dinner out with the kids in tow, and it was actually my most favourite anniversary ever. I blearily cupped his face in my hands as I walked past him in the kitchen at 5am, as he ate his porridge. “Happy anniversary” I whispered.
When he got home from work, an hour before the kids got home from school we exchanged cards, and his contained the letter I’d requested (more on that below). We snuck out for a coffee and shared a big slice of strawberry roulade at our favourite cafe.
Then Indian for dinner and even after we ate we lingered, catching eyes across the table as the kids shared their hearts and talked about the biggest issues they’re facing right now: bullies, friends who use swear words at school, and being kind to the kid that’s annoying. If anything makes me happy its that. Quality time with my people.

And then, as on all anniversaries, I pondered the beginning, thought about the growth and marvelled at where we’d ended up.

And I’m a rookie, really, when it comes to marriage - there are many who’ve made it work for much longer - but there are a few things I think I’ve learned so far:

1. Don’t be scared to ask for what you need.
We can’t read each other’s minds. I spent too many years wishing he’d express his love in ways that were different than how he did. Now, I sneak a reminder in every now and then, “love me with your words please?”. And when he mentioned getting me flowers for our anniversary I told him: you know what I’d love even more? A letter. He’s not wired with an endless supply of words of affirmation like I am, it doesn’t come naturally but he knows that’s the way to my heart and a letter was delivered - full of words of love and gratitude. Those words don’t mean any less because I asked for them.
Sometimes, we just have to express what it is we need. Most times, our partners had no idea but are more than happy to oblige.

2. You’re not their parent.
Self explanatory. You are both grown adults. You’re both responsible for your own stuff. Just like you, they have to deal with the  consequences of their own decisions - whether they’re the consequences of a late night, or too much junk food, or lack of preparation for something that needed more, don’t own that.
Don’t nag them like their mother. It’ll stress you both out.

3. Lower your expectations.
You’re both going to let each other down. A lot. But it happens less, and it feels less painful when your expectations aren’t ridiculous.

4. You don’t have to like the same things.
We are totally opposite in so many ways. I’m bookish, he’s sports-mad. I’ve given up fighting against the time he spends playing cricket over the summer (he’s compromised so it’s not the entire summer!) and he doesn’t complain when dinner is eggs on toast because I can’t stop reading. We celebrate the things we love together - good movies, cafes, camping trips, board games - and don’t try too hard to feign interest in stuff that just doesn’t interest us!

5. Don’t rely on each other for happiness.
It’s too much pressure. Way too much. And your soul needs so much more: friendships, solitary time, exercise, prayer - whatever it is that fills you, you need that too. Making you happy is too heavy a burden to bear for your favourite person.

6. Stay in a posture of gratitude.
I find when I’m intentionally seeking out the traits and actions that I’m grateful for, it’s easier to shake off little annoyances like the socks on the floor or the times he doesn’t answer my phone calls.

7. Dream together, always.
Sometimes life kicks your butt. Finances aren’t working, or someone gets sick, you don’t get that job, or you just get lost in the mundane and loose the joy. Dreaming together is what’s kept us on the same page. We often snuggle up and whisper into the dark, before we sleep, or chat excitedly on long car rides with the music up loud. We dream about when the kids get big, we get excited about the next holiday, the plans for the next 5 years or dream and scheme ways to smash the credit card debt. Whatever it is you’re dreaming, do it together. It’s fun.

8. Prioritise sexy time.
Life gets busy and it’s easy to collapse into bed, too late, too tired.
Honestly, sometimes you just gotta schedule it in. Set a minimum for the week. Aim for more. Send eggplant emojis. Whatever makes it work, make it work. It’s important. And good for both of you.

9. Learn compromise.
It really is all about laying down your own life for someone else. Constantly.
And sometimes that’s about as fun as it sounds.

10. It’s daily.
Every day. The little things - either good or not - can make or break a marriage over a long period. Choose every day to love and keep choosing. Choose love in your speech and your actions and your thoughts. Every. damn. day.

xx

thoughts on new growth and heart-soil

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Yesterday afternoon the girls and I spent gardening in the front yard, re-potting succulent babies, and topping concrete containers with rich black soil. I had afternoon sun on my back, and dirt under my fingernails as I scooped the damp soil up with my hands, and patted it down around green and growing things. 

I have a little succulent collection that sits by my front door, reminding me to tend them, water them and sprouting wiry stalks and thick spindly leaves. One of these leaves dropped off, unnoticed, until discovered, probably a couple of months later by my eldest daughter. 
The fallen leaf had begun to sprout and create it's very own plant, and as it's roots went deeper, the leaf itself had begun to wither. 
Fascinated when I told her the clever ways of these succulents, Eden watched YouTube videos on propagation and began her own little collection. She gently pulled leaves from a variety of plants, laid them out on top of some soil, and has faithfully watered her babies every day. 
The picked-off fronds are beginning to grow new tiny leaves, and send down thread-thin roots all the while beginning to wither themselves. New life, "touched by a tiny bit of death"*

It reminds me of my own growth; that internal change. If I slow down enough, and get close enough, I can see the tiny tiny shoots of newness. But what must die alongside the growth?
What must be done under the cover of rich, dark soil in the depths of my soul?

So much in our world is focused on the outward appearances. 
Our streamlined Instagram accounts, manicured nails, clickbait titles, and marketing campaigns. Everything designed to wow us into comparison, and the facade of perfection. 
In the upside down kingdom of God, what matters is not the outward appearance. 
Jesus's focus was, and will always be, the condition of our hearts. 
He wants to know if our roots are strong, if the soil is right for the growing, and if, deep down there in the centre of it, there is a home there for Him.
None of which is visible to the human eye. 

We can chase perfection, to the detriment of our souls, or we can choose to remove ourselves from the harried and breathless pace of the world, and breathe in slow.
We can choose to stop worrying about what we look like, and start to focus on what we are like.
I can look good, or I can choose the fruit of goodness. 
I can have a 'lovely home' or I can truly spend my days loving others. 
I can fret about what other people think, or I can rest in the true peace that comes from placing far more weight on the opinion of the God who loves me unconditionally.  

When we stop and slow - thrust our hands into the dirt, our toes into beach sand, or our nose into a book - we can start to tend lovingly the new growth in hidden places, and place more emphasis on what is beneath the surface, rather than what is visible. Matthew 13 speaks to us about the soil of our hearts. 

Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.
The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.
The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.
The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.

Jesus I pray that those reading Your Word today would have tended the soil of their hearts well. That You would help us to focus more on your invisible kingdom, on goodness and faith - and let those things in us that need to die, to wither away to make more room for Your growth. Help us to embrace slow, to breathe in time with Your heartbeat, instead of rushing along in the pace set by the world around us. Give us eyes to see the invisible. Amen.
 

 

*Henri Nouwen

  

Around here + 2018 goals

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I'm a little bit quiet about my resolutions when I make them.
I do make them, but I don't share them loudly and proudly because, honestly, it means I'll be accountable. 
Maybe you, reader of this humble blog, will not check in and ask me how those goals are going (or maybe you will? Who knows?) but I'll know that you know what they are. 
I'll know that my husband will know that I want to read more books, but he sees me scrolling, and woe unto him if he reminds me of that goal I shared!
And sometimes I don't really set them for myself, except for a deep hope of just being better
Better at life, at controlling my thoughts, working hard in ministry and motherhood and study and all things in between. 
At the beginning of a new year I always envision me at the end of it - wiser, fitter and more accomplished. 
But I know that the me that's waiting for me at the end of the year will be the sum of how I spend my hours now. 
And I know that instead of writing myself unachievable goals, which leak shame when they go unfulfilled, I should hold tightly in my hand my priorities for the year.
And let the things that I say yes to be filtered through these priorities. 

It simplifies everything. 
So, although they've been unspoken until now, these are what I've been filtering some of my yesses and no's through:
 
FUN: at the end of last year I made a commitment to myself to have fun. To say yes to spontaneous camping trips, to allow myself to let go of routine and control when I need to - fun for my little family of 5, and fun in my own friendships. To say yes to the memory-making, even if it means going to bed late.  

FAMILY: I want to get to know my grandparents better. I want my kids to build relationships with all their great grandparents. And I want to spend more quality time with my immediate family. I have the cutest nieces on the planet - I want to be the aunty they remember being interested in who they are, and their everyday lives. I want to spend quality time together with the five of us - before Mr Highschooler refuses to join us. 

READING: I want to read more. I love to read. I love to read books that expand my spiritual life, and my health and my emotional life. I want to read books that are intelligent and wise and teach me things I didn't know. I want to invest in books that do that.
But I also want to make time to read fiction again for the pure and unadulterated pleasure it brings. It's my favourite thing to do.
I need to do more of what fills my soul, without feeling guilty.

RUNNING: I dislike exercise a lot. (Obviously, because, bookworm). But as hard as it is to put my running shoes on and psyche myself up to pound the pavement, once I'm out there, by the ocean, podcast in my ears (I can't run to music, I need a podcast to take my mind off the pain of exercise!) it's doing more for my mental and emotional health than my fitness. I feel better about myself, about life. I hear God more clearly. It stills a very whirring and overthinking kind of brain. 
But the fitness thing is a bonus too - defined calve muscles? Yes please. 

WRITING: I want to be here more. To share my heart, to be vulnerable and real and me. Because, regardless of whatever insecurities I have about sharing, writing is the one thing that makes me feel alive, and gives me purpose. One day: books, but for now journals and blog posts. Promising myself I'll share more in this space (Starting with a Lent series... stay tuned!)

What about you?
Have you set very defined goals for the year? I am always so impressed with those of you who do, and who manage to stick to things for an entire year! 
6 weeks in, only 46 to go. 

xx

Note to self: put phone down

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Hey you. 
Just because you didn't post it online doesn't mean it didn't happen. 
I know you are watching the sunset, but you can't see it quite as well when it's through the lens of your camera.
Just use your eyes, and your heart. 

Because there are moments when God speaks, and you won't hear Him if you're rushing, trying to capture everything, trying to post it all online, trying to shout through the white noise, trying to be heard. 
Because you're heard already, fully known, fully loved. 
And it's amazing what happens when you stop scrolling for a moment. 
You finish whole chapters of books, without distraction. 
You notice little things, like the wind blowing in the branches of the magnolia tree outside, and see the way the sunlight has illuminated it's leaves so you can see it's veins. Or you notice people. Their facial expressions, their body language - that the person opposite you on the train looks a bit sad. You begin to breathe.

When you're rushing and scrolling, you're so engrossed in the fake-lives of others, that you miss your own real, beautiful, messy, raw life. 

You miss the tiny details of his freckles and almost-12-year-old grin when he beats you at a card game, fully present, fully alive.
You miss the details of her stories, the inflection in her voice, the way she doesn't quite say the words properly yet. 
You miss sitting in comfortable silence, without the intrusion of over-stimulation.
You miss the creative ideas that form when your mind is free from constant bombardment. 

Hey you
Putting your phone down for a little while and saying no to it's endless opportunities to shop, to stalk, to scroll - means you're living.
Not sharing that photo or that moment or that date night can make it all the more sacred. Hold those daily moments tightly to yourself, savour them, and refuse to share them with a fickle audience who only seem to appreciate the extravagant, the unreal, the unattainable. Sometimes an audience of one is all that is required. 

Note to self: if you're starting to waste time scrolling, put it down. Just for an hour, or a day.
Then go and live. Pick up your camera, or put on your running shoes, bake something, invite a friend for a coffee, read a whole chapter of a book without distraction, or work hard at that thing you’ve been putting off. 

Hey you, there is so much living to be done, don't waste it. 

xx