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.