Thursday, October 13, 2011

the white city

It’s high time for an update!
I recently read the book Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, a book deep with history and detail, but also rich with imagination and incredibly compelling. The author tells the story of the World’s Fair of 1893, which the City of Chicago hosted in celebration of the bicentennial of the Columbian exploration of the New World. But right alongside this story, Larson tells the fascinating tale of H.H. Holmes, a mass-murderer who ran a hotel during the time of the Fair and committed innumerable crimes during the span of two years. Sometimes the book really creeped me out, and I even had a dream about a murder while I was reading it (!), but mainly I was sucked into the story and the way the author intertwined the two tales. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d recommend it!
I’ve wanted to read this book for years now - ever since it topped the bestseller list - but somehow reading it happened to coincide perfectly with my time in Chicago. It was amazing to read all about the city’s great architects as I rode and walked past buildings they built, places they visited, or scenery that inspired them. What’s more, during the time I spent reading this book, I also signed a lease on an apartment in Chicago! Yay :) I moved over the past weekend, and am so thrilled to be here and really look forward to spending more time exploring Chicago and all it has to offer. But right now, work has got me pretty occupied, as our annual meeting is in a week or so and I’m preparing for my first business trip! 
In other reading news, I also read this little book by Mitch Albom called Have a Little Faith. I’ve never read anything by him, never got pulled into the whole Tuesdays with Morrie thing, but now I’m rethinking it, because I really enjoyed this book. Just like Devil in the White City, this book is one great story made of two intertwining tales, one of a aging rabbi, one an inner-city Detroit pastor and missions director. This story reminded me yet again that we’re more similar than different, in the end, and that no matter what faith we have or what religion we stand behind that when we have a little faith the world is a better place. And as with most books I’ve read, I recommend this one, especially since it’s a quick yet powerful read. Now I’ve got to add some more Mitch Albom to my list..... But right now I’m reading The Widow Cliquot, the story of the woman behind Veuve Clicquot champagne. Earlier this year I read about Clicquot Inc.’s most recent female entrepreneur, so I’ve been enjoying reading about it’s first. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

what we've been given

I’ve got two great books to report on! Here goes:
In my last post, I wrote a bit about the book I was reading, Peony in Love by Lisa See. I finished it a few days later and really enjoyed it! I had been reading quite a bit of heavy memoirs, and so the clearly fictional story was a welcome change of pace. The story was compelling and told a lot about China and the lives of young Chinese women, and I found out while reading the epilogue that the story was based on historical events and people. The story revolves around a famous play, The Peony Pavilion, originally performed in 1598, and you can read the wiki about the play here. The play inspired the main character in the book, and real women in China in the 17th century, to write poetry of their own, and some of them became quite popular and were published. I was amazed to find out that such women existed, especially in a time and place where women didn’t have anywhere near the same liberties and opportunities as we women do today. This book, though fictional, taught me a lot about another culture in another time, and showed me the power and intellect women held centuries ago. 
I also just finished a fabulous memoir, Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robinson, which tells the story of the author’s life with Asperger’s, a syndrome on the autistic spectrum. This is one of the best books I've read so far, and I'd encourage you to check it out. I really loved this book because of how straightforward the author was in telling his story. He doesn’t ask for pity and doesn’t become too self-centered, but tells the story of his life as he sees it. I’ve known a few people with Asperger’s, and this gave me some great insight into how those people think and act, which is often noticeably different than how ‘normal’, non-Aspergian people act. Robinson’s story is fascinating because of how well he has done both in spite of and because of his Asperger’s. While the syndrome does affect social interaction in significant ways, people with Asperger’s also have an intense focus that often translates to great intelligence, sometimes categorized as savant. As a result of his laser-like focus, Robinson’s fascination with trains, motors, and mechanics led him to amazing opportunities like designing rocket guitars for KISS or building the first electronic games for Milton Bradley. 

What I loved most about this story is that the author recognizes that he could never have lived the wonderful life or achieved the success that he has without his Asperger’s. I appreciated that the author’s honesty and introspection resulted in an affirmation of his gifts, not in a ‘what if’ or ‘woe is me’ sort of ending. We all have things in our lives that make things difficult, but we wouldn’t be who we are without them. Those same things that we may view as burdens are often the same things that make life beautiful. We're much better off embracing what we've been given and making the most of it, instead of wishing away those challenges. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


When I started reading and blogging, I thought it would be a way to keep my life consistent, even when things all around me were changing. I thought that having some regular activity / task / goal would mean that things weren’t really so different, after all. But what I’m discovering is that things really do change, and that life calls for a lot more adaptation and compromise than we originally planned. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s been hard for me to blog because my life is so different from when I began this challenge. When I started back in January, life was filled to the brim with assignments and classes, activities and friends. Life was busy and scheduled in fifty or eighty-minute increments, and dictated by what was due or what was planned. Today, the rhythm of my life feels nothing like that. My days have their busyness, to be sure (especially for someone with such chronic lateness as me), but they are far less defined by a running, mental to do list than when I was in school. In school, reading and blogging was another thing I could add to my weekly list of tasks, and was certainly one of the more enjoyable and fulfilling ones. But today, while I love reading on the train or elsewhere, sitting in front of my computer at 9:30pm to write after a long day at work and commuting sounds far from relaxing. 
While the act of writing and reflecting on reading has become more burdensome than I had imagined, reading has become much more of a pleasure than it was while I was in school. I’m never without a book, simply out of necessity: I spend two hours a day on the train, and so all of this great reading time is built right in. Because of this, I’ve kept up with my reading fairly easily, and my book-a-week goal hasn’t been hanging over my head. I’ve gotten to visit the library more frequently and choose books that I may never have heard of or aren’t genres I’d typically choose. Since I last posted, I’ve read two very different books and am nearly finished with a third. 
The first, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, was a fabulously written fictional account of Dinah, Jacob’s daughter in the Bible. It’s not a new book, and even though it had been on my shelf for a while, I’d always put off reading it because it looked far to big to read in a week. Instead, I was sucked in by the story and the culture and the scriptural connections of this book that I ate it up: it was the first book in a while I hadn’t wanted to put down and that kept me on the edge of my seat the whole while. I was reminded yet again while reading this story of the power of fiction, because I can now see the stories and the lives of Jacob, his family, and their relationship to their God more clearly than I ever could imagine from reading Bible stories. Instead of hearing simply a genealogy of names or a set of stories I’ve heard since I was a little kid, I felt like I could hear the voices of these characters and share in their story. Highly recommend it!
The second book I read was a pick from the new books section of the library and is a collection of personal essays by Emily Fox Gordon entitled Book of Days. I’ve not spent much time reading essays, so it was a new experience to read a whole book of them. I’m so used to stories that have a clear beginning, middle, and end, but this book didn’t have that at all. Instead, the essays jumped around to specific points in Gordon’s life, picking specific moments or encounters and focusing in on their intricacies, bringing out the kernel of truth that lay there. After reading the book, I have a great amount of respect for the author, because it takes a great writer to fully develop so many different ideas. However, I don’t know if it’s a genre I would pick again right away. I guess I like to draw conclusions or connections, to end with a moral or point or take-away, and this book didn’t do that at all. But then again, I’m a story person, even if its a true story, and it’s hard for me to hear a number of discrete scenarios without stringing them all together and tying up the loose ends. And even though it wasn’t my favorite, I’m still glad I stretched myself and tried something new.
Right now I’m reading this awesome fiction book called Peony in Love by Lisa See, and it’s not at all what I expected. It’s like a history lesson and a ghost story and a fairy tale, all rolled into one. I’ll be sure to report back with a final verdict :)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

making connections

So I’m coming to the conclusion that the more we read, the more we can connect to what we read, and the more we get out of it. 
Have you ever felt like the moment you learn about something, the moment you engage with some new information, you start to see it, hear it, and sense it all around you? Both of the books I read these past two weeks have stayed so close to my mind, to other things I’ve read, and to other conversations I’ve had, and as a result I always feel as though their subject matter is at the tip of my tongue. This is exactly why I love reading. It keeps me intellectually engaged with something that is paradoxically apart from me, because it’s someone else’s story and someone else’s words, and yet always with me, in that I can always draw personal connections with the material, the characters and  the emotions conveyed within the writing. The books I’ve read these past two weeks have reminded me why I’m doing all this reading, and how beneficial it is to engage great ideas and great stories via the written word. 
The first book I read, The M-Factor, is all about how my generation, the millennials, are changing the workplace. Clearly, this is a timely topic and especially relevant for my life as a millennial new to the workforce and still navigating the terrain of a new job and life. I could go into hours of detail about this book. The authors, Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman, are generational theorists who’ve spent their lives researching and writing about the different generations at play in the workplace. I found their analysis of the millenials to be spot-on, not that everything they said I already knew, but that they were able to shine a light on qualities or tendencies I knowingly possess, displaying not only similarities between millennials’ experiences, but also explaining why we act the way we do. Without going into the minute detail of the book, here are the seven main trends/traits/what have you that we millenials display. We’re close to our parents, closer than most generations. We act entitled. We are very concerned with finding meaning in our lives and work. We have high expectations. We need everything fast. We’re obsessed with social networking. We love to collaborate. Sound like you? Well, it hit the nail on the head for me, and I was able to see the ways that I tend to act and deal with situations that were extremely positive and those that weren’t. It doesn’t mean that I won’t ever get frustrated when someone is working slower than I’d like, or that I won’t occasionally overuse my social network and connections or forget the importance of hierarchy in my organization, but at least I’ll be aware of where I stand in relation to the other generations seated in the cubicles and offices around me. Since I started reading this book, I have had countless discussions with my family, friends, and coworkers about generational differences, and it’s been both enlightening and humorous. I can simultaneously respect older generations  when they tell about the past and laugh when they talk about how the last movie theatre in their town went out of business not that long ago, when VCRs became popular and people started watching movies at home!
The second book,You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers, is an amazing book by none other than a Hope professor! I’ve wanted to read this book for a while now, and I happened to see it in the new books section of the Wheaton Public Library, and I was thrilled! It is a truly compelling story of her family and her discovery her own prosopagnosia, a condition in which one cannot reliable recognize faces of people they know and love. Her story is riddled through with mental illness, with family and marital instability, as well as the slow recognition of a condition that has plagued her her whole life. The way she tells about her life fascinates me, because she doesn’t try to make everything into one fluid, seamless story of self discovery. Things take time. We can feel entirely opposing emotions at the same time. We often can’t put a name on things we know or feel for certain, and often this doesn’t happen until much after the fact. Everything is complex, from the family to the mind to simple daily interactions. I found the way that she told her story to be particularly compelling and undeniably true - it didn’t hold back or shy away from the hard stuff. And just as with other books I’ve read these past weeks and months, it’s been on my mind every day, and I’ve gotten the chance to tell Heather’s story to a number of people. I strongly encourage you to check it out!
So, to summarize a long-winded post, I’m just as glad as ever I’m reading regularly, even if I don’t always have the time or energy to blog about it. I realized the other day that I’m over half way done with my challenge, and I’m both amazed at how quickly the time has gone and how eager I am to see what books I’ll read in this second half of the year and what they’ll mean to me. Any suggestions??

Sunday, July 17, 2011

the known world

A big pro of spending 2+ hours commuting to and from work is that I have a very scheduled time for reading each day, something that up until this point I’ve wanted but haven’t made happen. On my morning Metra ride, I have about an hour built in to wake up slowly: listening to music, drinking my morning coffee and reading a book. And on the way home, I get the same amount of time to regroup and re-energize. What I have much less time to do is blog :) But on the whole, I’m really happy for the structure. Because my days are full, I need to be much more intentional about how I spend my time, making the most of my non-work hours to refresh, spending quality time with people and with myself. Here’s what I’ve been reading and thinking about in those downtimes:
In the past two weeks I read two great books, The Known World by Edward P. Jones and Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio. Both of these books are set in a very different time period; The Known World is set in the early 1800s and Icy Sparks is set in the 1950s, and both books, although they were fictional, taught me a lot about people’s experiences in that day and age. In The Known World, the author tells the story of a Virginia plantation community during the time when both blacks and whites owned slaves. The story is told in bits and pieces, often skipping from generation to generation and telling little snippets of life for these plantation owners and slaves. These stories, however seemingly disjointed, eventually portray what was ‘the known world’ in that day. Although it was sometimes hard to follow and I got easily distracted, the writing was beautiful and in the end I was happy I'd followed the flashbacks and flashforwards of the story through to the end.

In Icy Sparks, Hyman Rubio tells the story of the title character, Icy, who grows up in rural Kentucky with a mental condition, eventually diagnosed as Tourrette’s later in life. This character didn’t grow up in a place or a time when therapy was easily accessible, and instead of being properly diagnosed, treated, and understood, she was deemed ‘crazy’ by her closest friends and her teachers, kicked out of school, and sent to a mental hospital. Her story, though fictional, is I’m sure true of a lot of people who grew up with challenges like hers in settings were they were misunderstood and unwelcome. It’s beautiful, poignant and compelling not in spite of her situation, but because of it.
What I’ve taken from reading both of these stories, and from certain conversations I’ve had in the past few weeks with my family, friends, and coworkers, is that where we come from has a whole lot to do with who we become. Reading these two stories gave me such a better picture of life in each respective situation, and I can better understand the complexities of someone’s life who might come from that generation. I’ve had some great conversations living with my aunts about growing up, and how our heritage, how our hometown, and how our generation plays a big role in who we are and what we believe today. I’m starting to realize as I’m getting settled in my job and with my coworkers how differently I see things and act based on my generation, and sometimes these are really great differences, and sometime they are harder to reconcile. What makes up my 'known world', so to speak, is entirely different that that of other people around me, and I'm reminded each day how important and beautiful those differences are. I just need to be conscious of the fact that each experiences is equally valid, and take the time and energy to understand that person in light of their life experiences, experiences I'll never have the opportunity to live out.

I’ve been really fascinated by generational studies for a while now, and I found a book yesterday in the new books section of the Wheaton Public Library on the Millennial Generation, mine, and how we are “rocking” the workplace, so naturally I checked it out to learn more. While I’m not so sure about the “rocking the workplace” part, I’m really interested to see what people who study generations see as general trends for us Millennials, what we do right, and what we need to work on. So that’s my new read for this week, I’ll keep you posted on what I discover about myself and my work style along the way!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

a much needed life/reading update!

Well folks, I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog, and I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to see what I’ve read...not! But still, I feel I owe you all a bit of an explanation for my temporary hiatus. As you know, I’ve been living at home and job searching for the past month or so, using the reading just as I had intended it to be: something consistent and constant that I knew to do, even when everything around me was changing. It was actually working out just as I had hoped back in January, giving me some sort of goal and task that had existed while I was in school and still existed elsewhere. However, things really started to pick up in my job search, and within a matter of days I had three serious contenders for my immediate future! I ended up getting two fabulous offers and ended up choosing a job downtown Chicago working with the American College of Surgeons. I moved to Illinois last Monday, moved in with my generous aunts Joni and Jan in Wheaton, and started my new job on Tuesday! Needless to say, things in life have been an unpredictable whirlwind, full of new and exciting opportunities. However, as you can imagine, my weekly reading got put on the back burner for a while. 
But now that I’m getting a little more settled in my new routine, I’ve been able to read quite a bit! My commute from Wheaton to work takes about an hour and ten minutes, and since I take the train and bus I have a bunch of extra time built into my day to read. I’ve already started and finished Blue Water by A. Manette Ansay, and read this little essay put into book form entitled What now? By Ann Patchett. Now normally, I wouldn’t call this a book, but as I’ve been a bit behind, I’m willing to let my standards slide :) Anyways, the essay is actually a graduation address the author (see: Patron Saint of Liars, Bel Canto, Truth and Beauty) gave at her alma mater, Sarah Lawrence. Her address talks about her experience with the question every graduate hears time and again: what now? Here’s a little excerpt from the end of her speech, as she talks about being a waitress with a master’s degree:

“Just because things hadn’t gone the way I had planned didn’t necessarily mean they had gone wrong. It took me a long time of pulling racks of scorching hot glasses out of the dishwasher, the clouds of steam smoothing everything around me into a perfect field  of gray, to understand that writing a novel and living a life are very much the same thing. The secret is finding the balance between going out to get what you want and being open to the thing that actually winds up coming your way. What now is not just a panic-stricken question tossed out into a dark unknown. What now can also be our joy. It is a declaration of possibility, of promise, of chance. It acknowledges that our future is open, that we may well do more than anyone expected of us, that at every point in our development we are still striving to grow. There’s a time in our lives when we all crave the answers. It seems terrifying not to know what’s coming next. But there is another time, a better time, when we see our lives as a series of choices, and What now represents our excitement and our future, the very vitality of live. It’s up to you to choose a life that will keep expanding.”

I definitely resonate with her about the terrifying nature of that what now question. And even though today I have an answer to the What now? question and have in fact started along that path, it doesn’t mean that I’m done figuring life out. I love the idea of “a life that will keep expanding,” because life is something we can never predict, never plan, never believe we’ve got handled. And that’s why it’s beautiful! My life these past few weeks is Exhibit A for an expanding life: three weeks ago if you’d told me I had a job downtown Chicago and I’d be sitting right now at my aunt’s kitchen table, I wouldn’t have believed you. But that is, in fact, where I am, and it’s the beauty of an expanding life. 
Much love, everyone, have a beautiful Sunday!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


“Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy.” -Ann Voskamp
When I visited Greece last year over spring break, my friends and I arrived with little to no knowledge of the greek language. We’d looked up a few choice phrases to study on the plane, but we were essentially going in blind. Now, we didn’t leave the country feeling like we’d mastered the language, because we were still trying to figure out the latin equivalent to all the greek letters on our last days in Athens and Santorini. But we did leave with a few words and phrases in our back pockets, words and phrases that had helped us form relationships with people we encountered, even if neither of us spoke the same language, and one of the most important phrases was ‘thank you’, in Greek ‘Efharistó’ (Ευχαριστώ). 
Why am I telling you all of this? Because the book I read this week, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, put a totally new spin on that word for me. This mother, farmer, and poet from Ontario begins a journey of giving thanks, the biblical Greek word for which is ‘eucharisteo’ (εὐχαριστέω), of the same root as the modern ‘efcharisto’ my friends and I learned during our trip. She discovers that at the root of this word are two other important words: ‘charis’, grace, and ‘chara’, joy. 
Dared by a friend to make a list of a thousand gifts from God, Voskamp begins to unpack what it means to live a life of eucharisteo. She starts numbering the gifts she sees around her: jam piled high on the toast, suds...all color in sun, boys humming hymns, laundry flapping, laughter. As she does this, even in the hard times, she comes to discover that giving thanks precedes the miracle, that giving thanks creates joy and creates grace, and that in order to live fully, we must see fully all those little things of our lives that are in fact gifts. I’ve always been a person who strives to be joyful, and so I enjoyed wrestling with the whole concept as I read along with Ann. She doesn’t have this blind, Pollyanna-ish joy that can’t see the hard, difficult, or bad things in life, yet she realizes that because of all of those things, she can still be joyful. Hear what she has to say:
“Holding my head in my hands, I ask it honest before God and children and my daily mess: ‘Can we really expect joy all the time?’
I know it well after a day smattered with rowdiness and worn a bit ragged with bickering, that I may feel disappointment and the despair may flood high, but to give thanks is an action and rejoice is a verb and these are not mere pulsing emotions. While I may not always feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things, because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving. 
True saints know that the place where all the joy comes from is far deeper than that of feelings; joy comes from the place of the very presence of God. Joy is God and God is joy and joy doesn’t negate all other emotions -- joy transcends all other emotions.”

This week, I had many things to give thanks for and be joyful about: sunlight streaming through bright green leaves, wind whipping hair on the boat, sending friends off on fabulous adventures, a job offer and the promise of one or two more, the chance to decide, hosting parties to celebrate, and the marriage of two best friends. It’s easy to be joyful this week, easy to give thanks. But on those weeks where it’s harder, those weeks where I can’t seem to see the good in things, I’d do well to remember what Ann discovered, that joy is God and God is joy, and that joy comes from the very presence of God. So because I believe that God is always right where I am, and right where you are, so I believe that we can be joyful in all things, and at all times, and in all places. It is in seeing clearly the gifts given us and practicing the discipline of thanksgiving that we begin to live lives of true joy and celebration.
Sorry if this got a bit preachy, but those of you who know me well know that I’m all about the joy, so this book just gave me more things to think (and write!) about. If this idea is at all interesting to you, I’d encourage you to pick up the book and even to visit Ann Voskamp’s blog ( She is a poet and a wonderful photographer, and it’s great to see the world through her eyes.
Much love to you all, and may you be full of joy today! Julia

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

it's summer reading time!

This week I got the chance to read a summer novel under the sun! I forgot how fabulous Michigan summers can be, as I’ve spent my last three summers away from home. My family just loves being near the water, so we spent the better part of Memorial Day weekend up in Ludington at my parents’ condo and then at my grandparents’ cottage on Big Whitefish Lake with my whole extended family. This week finally felt like it was summer -- full of evening kayak rides, tubing and skiing on the lake, and reading under a sunbeam.
My book for this past week was called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (quite the mouthful), and is a pretty quick read about the habitants of Guernsey Island in the English Channel during and after WWII. The book is comprised entirely of letters, and these letters tell the story of the Guernsey Literary Society and their experiences in the war. I won’t go on too long about the book, but I enjoyed reading it and felt myself getting sucked into these people’s lives. That’s the beauty of fiction -- that you can escape your own world, not in some desperate attempt to be free of your own troubles, but in the desire to know more about the world  around you. So even though this book was fictional, it was still based on a real place and a real historical period, and so by reading this I learned a lot about the Occupation and how everyday people must have felt about it and dealt with it. This book reminded me, yet again, how important people’s stories are, and how worthy they are of being told. 
I wanted to leave you with a lovely little poem I encountered while reading this book. One of the characters used to quote this poem at the meetings of the literary society, and I just fell in love with it: 
Is it so small a thing, To have enjoyed the sun,
To have lived light in the Spring,
To have thought, to have done;
To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes –
That we must feign a bliss Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this, Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds . . .  yet distant our repose?
Matthew Arnold (1852)
This next week, I’ll be reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, a book about daring to live fully, right where you are. That is, in essence, what I’m all about these days and why I love this poem by Matthew Arnold. Life isn’t about waiting around, “that we must feign a bliss of doubtful future date,” but that we can celebrate and enjoy today. So that’s what I’m doing, and so far I’m loving spending time with my family and finally living in the same city as my very best friends. What a blessing it is, to just be for a moment, instead of rushing off to the next thing. I’m excited to read Ann Voskamp’s book, because I’ve heard wonderful things about it, and because I think her words will show me more ways to live fully today.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

traveling mercies

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott is another one of those stories that I love to hear. Lamott tells the story of her life in bits and pieces, and tells how she came in and out of faith. She talks about her bouts with alcoholism and drug abuse, about the moments she felt closest to God and the moments she felt farthest away. She tells of the people who became her family, and the ways that their unwavering love changed her. She tells stories as I believe we should all tell stories, with a brutal honesty that comes from years of challenge and introspection. Lamott is a woman who knows herself and is so at peace with that identity that she can share it freely with her readers without any fear of what they might think or say. Most of all, I appreciate how she acknowledges that she is still learning and growing, even as a middle-aged mother.
It seems to me that we are always striving for that moment when we’ve got everything figured out. We tend to go through life waiting to arrive, feeling that someday, soon we hope, we’ll have figured out how to live life, and we’ll be done learning. Our parents will have imparted all of their wisdom, our teachers have taught us their lesson, and we will finally be ready to live life with ease. But that sort of arrival only happens in Disney fairytales - and the rest of us normal folk are left with the realization that we will continue to learn, grow, and change all throughout our lifetime. Part of the way through her story, Anne Lamott says something I really resonated with, and it’s this: 
“It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools--friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty--and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. An mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”
I totally get what she’s saying. As kids, we see the adults in our lives: our parents, teachers, and grandparents, and we can’t possibly imagine being so old or so wise. We liken those adults to superheroes, what with all of their wisdom, strength, and authority. Yet we realize, as we get older, that those superhero-adults are nothing more than other people like us, using what they’ve been given and moving accordingly. I’m at this weird crossroads right now between youth and adulthood, and sometimes it’s hard to navigate. But it helps to hear a story like Lamott’s, full of promise that, as we travel along, we will receive mercy upon mercy, grace upon grace. These traveling mercies come in all sorts of forms, and sometimes we may not even see those mercies as mercy until much farther down the road. But I believe that it is in small and seemingly insignificant moments that we come to understand who we are and how to best live life in this world. So what I’m asking God for in these next weeks as I figure out my next step is not the perfect job or connection, but for traveling mercies that will guide me along the way. And traveling mercies to you, friends, for wherever life finds you today and in the days to come.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

the search

The critically acclaimed book The Moviegoer by Walker Percy is a novel about a man named Binx who, about to turn 30, is fascinated with the idea of the search.
“What is the nature of the search? you ask.

Really, it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me, so simple that it is easily overlooked.

The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a castaway do? Why, he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn’t miss a trick.

To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

Essentially, Binx’s idea of the search makes a lot of sense to me. I think we get so wrapped up in the minutiae of our lives that we miss the bigger picture, we miss what is authentic or worthwhile. However, I’m not entirely sold on the part of the search that says that the everydayness is despair, or as Binx calls it, the malaise. I believe, instead, that the everyday is evidence of something bigger going on, and that in their own way all of the little everyday encounters of our lives work to teach us who we are and why we’re here. 
Even though The Moviegoer is clearly fictional, reading about Binx’s search has helped to remind me this week that it’s okay not to have everything figured out. Binx is 30 years old and still has no idea what life means or what he wants to be, so I guess it’s okay that at 21 years old, a week out of college, I don’t have a perfect, foolproof plan for my life. Sure, it’s hard, and sometimes I doubt what I’m doing or should be doing, but I keep reminding myself, and friends and family help to remind me, that no one really has it all figured out. All we can do is continue the search, and rely on what the world, what people, and, at least for me, what God are telling us and keep living and keep searching.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

telling good stories

This week I read one of David Sedaris’ books of short stories, When You are Engulfed in Flames. I’ve read and listened to some of his stuff before, but I just loved taking the time at the end of this week (and the beginning of the next, if I’m being honest) to read some hilariously well-written stories. For those of you who know me well, you know I love telling stories, and have a couple great ones I’ve perfected and like to keep in my back pocket for the perfect occasion (i.e. Seventh grade basketball or the chipmunk incident of Summer 2008, and if you haven’t heard these, ask me sometime!). But David Sedaris, well, he’s got quite a few back pocket stories. The things that happen to him are absolutely ridiculous, but he also tells them in such a way that makes you feel like you were there, or that you’ve met a person just exactly like that someone he’s describing. I love reading his stories because they remind me why we tell stories in the first place. Stories are a way of sharing our view of the world with the people we care about. The way we see the world shows through in how we tell the stories of our lives, in what we decide to observe, in the stories we choose to tell and those we keep to ourselves or even forget about all together. 

When it was my turn to present my life view for my senior seminar class, I decided to sit around and tell stories for my classmates. I told funny stories and more serious ones, all the sorts of stories that have shaped my life and my view of the world. It’s the little stories, the seemingly insignificant experiences of life that end up making up who a person is, I think. We’ve all got those little moments that have become pivotal ones, and I think that those stories are worth telling. In short, that’s what I love about what David Sedaris does - that he can take a bunch of funny little stories and string them together to tell a bigger story about his life and who he is as an individual. And on top of that, to make you bust out laughing over and over again!

I think it’s about time this week to dig into a good novel, as I’m taking a few days of much-needed relaxation post-graduation (yeah. craziness.) My friend Anne gifted me her copy of Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, so I think I’m gonna give that a go for the rest of this week! Looking forward to coffee and an American classic on the deck these next few mornings!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

reading and re-reading: cold tangerines

So when I set out on this challenge, the one rule I made for myself was that I wasn’t going to read anything I’d already read. The reason was simple: keep myself reading as many new books as possible, while avoiding the temptation of reading all of the Harry Potter books yet again.
Well, I didn’t quite keep up with that rule, but I’m actually more than okay with it. These past few weeks, I’ve turned to one of my most beloved books, Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist, as a sort of devotional and a way to wake up to God each day. The first time I read this book, it was summertime and Shauna’s words were as new and as beautiful as spending a morning sunning in front of Fried Cottage, but re-reading it these past weeks has meant something even more. Chapters that were so very important to me last year mean something different looking back, while new chapters, stories, and phrases stick out to me today in ways they never did last time I read the book. Today, I particularly love the chapter Writing in Pencil, because it’s all about planning lightly, or writing our plans in pencil instead of ink. This means so much more to me today, four days from college graduation, than it did last summer when I didn’t have much of a care in the world. I’m encouraged, reading this chapter, that if God’s got control, it’s okay that I don’t, and that I don’t know what’s next. Here’s a little excerpt that keeps sticking with me:
This is my new thing: I’m going to write in pencil.
Life with God at its core is about giving your life up to something bigger and more powerful. It’s about saying at every turn that God knows better than we know, and that his Spirit will lead us in ways that we couldn’t have predicted. I have known that, but I haven’t really lived that.
There is a loosey-goosey feeling to the future now, both a slight edge of anxiety, like anything can happen, and a slight bubble of hope and freedom that, well, anything can happen.
I feel loosey-goosey today, in a really good way. Writing my life view paper these past weeks helped me realize how much I’ve grown and learned through these past four years, both at Hope and beyond in places like Colorado and Paris, and how blessed I’ve been to have the college experience I’ve had. I feel that I did college well, that I didn’t leave any cards on the table, so to speak, or things I wish I’d done but never did. So, because of all this, I feel at peace about the future, and I’ve got that slight bubble of hope and freedom bubbling up inside of me because I know that, since God is with me, anything can happen.

One other thing Cold Tangerines keeps reminding me to do is celebrate. It's a time of big celebration in my life, what with graduation and moving on to the next stage of life, but for some of you out there, it may not really feel like celebrating-time. But I believe that life is a cause for celebration, and I encourage you to take a second look at each day and see the beauty in it, because life is so very extraordinary! 

When what you see in front of you is so far outside of what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that's celebration.