Wednesday, November 20, 2013

New Website, New Blog Location

I have a new website (still a work in progress, butmostly done) and a new blog contained therein. 

You can find my posts, rants, thoughts, and stories at trishryanauthor.com/blog.

I hope you'll come check it out, add it to your RSS feed, and jump in with comments.

See you there :)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book Review: Jesus, My Father, The CIA & Me

This is the second book from Ian Morgan Cron I've reviewed. I enjoyed Chasing Francis so much that I requested this book from the publisher, looking for more from this author.

This memoir was a mixed experience. I was never sure what this book was about, exactly. He writes vividly of his mentally ill, alcoholic father, the devoted Nanny who cared for him, and the ins and outs of a very Catholic childhood. But through it, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to make of this narrative, or where it was leading.

The brighter spots came, as they did in his previous work, from unexpected nuggets of wisdom that of pop out of the story and grab you. Those make this book a worthwhile read. (Also, I think male readers might be more the target audience.)

*I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Beach Reads: Fiction Edition

I love reading all the time, but the idea of the perfect book for summer days is one I cherish. I pour over the lists that pop up on Twitter like a kid dreaming of Christmas, each shiny cover holding a story that can take me away...

Here are three I've loved so far:

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
Loved this book. I Read it on the beach, in the car, on my couch late one night when I couldn't sleep...it's that book. I didn't think I was interested in the history of diamond advertising, and yet, there I was, captivated. I'm enthralled by the way the book weaves together stories that cross decades. I'll be re-reading in dissection mode, trying to figure out, "How'd she do that?" But it's a testament to the entertainment value of this story that I didn't even try to figure it out the first time through; I just enjoyed.  (Bonus: Courtney Sullivan is on her tour right now.  Here's a list of where she'll be.)

Why Can't I Be You? by Allie Larkin
Jenny Shaw hears someone call to her across a hotel lobby and realizes that they think she is someone else. She goes with it, learning about this other person and becoming her, sort of, and realizing the kind of close friendships she'd never had on her own.  I adored this story because it does such a great job of describing the longing we all have to connect and to develop these kind of relationships--where we really know people and they know us. Also, Allie Larkin is so funny. She creates a fun world to jump into, whether you're lounging in a beach chair or huddled indoors during a thunderstorm.  (And when you're done loving Why Can't I Be You, check out her first book, Stay, about a woman who gets drunk one night and orders a German Shepherd online!)

East Hope by Katherine Davis
My Mom gave me this book when I said I was looking for something light, with a happy ending.  This delivered.  (And yes, I'm kind of a sucker for any book with "hope" in the title.)


Book Review - Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale

This book snuck up on me. I was surprised to discover it was a novel rather than a memoir, and the first few chapters were a little clunky. But I'm so glad I kept reading, because the story that unfolded was a real gem.

Chasing Francis is about a pastor who has lost his faith. He travels to Italy to visit his uncle, a Franciscan priest, who suggests he study the teachings and life of Francis of Assisi.

The best part of this reading experience were the many lines that made me stop and underline them, put down the book, and think.  Like this:  "Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you're doing the impossible" (a quote from St. Francis).  Or this: "The Bible isn't simply a book that tells us what to do; it's also a story that tells us who we are." And this series of thoughts as the pastor is trying to imagine what a church inspired by Francis might look like today:

"Beauty can break a heart and make it think about something more spiritual than the mindless routine we go through day after day to get by....In a fallen world, beauty is a form of protest, a way to push back against the darkness.... We're all broken people who've lost our dignity, in one way or another....What if we all, as a church, decided to make one of our distinctives being restorers of people's dignity?"

Kind of a beautiful idea, right?

I learned so much about Saint Francis in this book, but it was woven into the narrative with skill.  An entertaining, inspiring, edifying read.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Book Review: The Bible (!)

I'm a bit of a Bible junkie.  Having Bibles around makes me happy--I like having wisdom within arm's reach at all times. And yet, it's a strange thing to do a book review on the Bible. I mean, it's not like I'm in a position to opine on the author's use of symbolism or plot development.  But when Thomas Nelson offered me the chance to check out the latest edition of the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, I was excited, even though I knew right from the start I'd be ignoring their requirement that I read the ENTIRE book before posting my review :)

My friend Elizabeth recommended an earlier edition of this Bible to me a couple of years ago--it's her favorite.  And as I look at it now, I can see why. It's set up to direct you toward God's encouragement. It has lots of extra material to help you find and focus on the places where God is saying, "I have a plan. I'll tell you what you need to do. It's okay not to worry. It's safe to trust me."

It's the New Living Translation, which means that the original Hebrew and Greek are translated in more of a "what is the meaning and intention of the sentence?" fashion, instead of word-for-word.  While people go round and round about how reliable this is, I usually step outside of that argument and ask this question instead:  Can reading these words in a slightly different arrangement show me something I missed because I'm so used to the phrasing of my everyday bible?  (I've been a fan of the NIV Study Bible, a slightly more literal translation, since I tiptoed in to Christian faith.)

Here's how I reviewed this Bible:

Right now, my Bible time is pretty stripped down: each morning I read the Psalm and Proverb for the date.  Today is June 21, so I'm reading Psalm 21, and Proverb 21.  In a season like this when I don't have much extra bandwidth, this gives me a prayer and a nugget of wisdom to keep me from screwing up during the day. It's not very sophisticated, but it keeps me on the beam.

(I was going to post a picture of a securely balanced gymnast here, but let's be honest: these are way more fun):



Still, technically, on the beam...

Thankfully, unlike gymnastics judges, God doubles our bonus points for every bit of extra effort we put into clinging to the beam. Hanging underneath is totally counts!

Okay, back the review:
This morning, instead of reaching for my usual bible, I grabbed the NSFLB instead.  As expected, I enjoyed the NLT translation of the Psalm & Proverb, but those readings didn't feature many of the "special bonus" stuff this Bible offers, so I flipped around a bit.

My favorite part was the sections called "Truth in Action" that offer practical suggestions for applying the Bible to everyday life today. I'm a practical girl, so I like clear suggestions.

My least favorite part was that this Bible is complicated! There are all sorts of symbols and footnote systems employed on almost every line--it's distracting. And even though I searched for twenty minutes, I couldn't figure out what the tiny crosses at the end of some passages were trying to direct me to.

My take on this is that it's a good supplemental Bible, if you're looking for a change of pace or some extra inspiration...or a STELLAR everyday Bible if you enjoy puzzles :)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Telling Right From Wrong

I think this is true:


When we say that a situation is "complex" or "complicated," often what that means is that when we apply the test Gretchen mentions for what the right thing is to do, we don't like the results...or what the results require.

Seems like one of the more important lessons in life.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Book Review: NEARING HOME

I jumped at the chance to review Billy Graham's new book, Nearing Home: Life, Faith & Finishing Well.  It took forever to arrive, and when it did, I was up to my ears in another big title, Lean In.  I laughed, quite sure publishers never imagined these two works being read (then underlined, considered, and swirled around in the same brain) simultaneously.  And yet that's what happened. I think there's something to be said for the contrast that comes from holding the thoughts of a female executive in mid-life up next to those of a male champion of faith who is nearing the end of his time here on earth.  The wildly different perspectives fill in the others' gaps, somehow.  I'm still trying to figure out what that means. (Hoping to have a post about that down the road!)

For now, here are a few things I appreciated about Nearing Home that make it worth considering for your TBR pile:

Graham wrote this book after an interview in 2006 where he was asked to give a statement about death.  He commented that he had been taught all of his life how to die, but no one had ever taught him how to grow old.  I like his point that these two things are different, if we let them be.  Of course, we can be focused obsessively on death from the moment we find our first grey hair, or forget what we were looking for when we open the refrigerator, or hit any one of the 1,001 milestones that signal we've passed life's mid-point and are headed back down to the end of the ride.  But Graham's book suggests the possibility that we can grow old well--with grace and dignity, learning and contributing right up until our time is up.

The subtitle of his book caught my attention, particularly the point on "finishing well."  A few years back I heard a long series of sermons on this topic, and wondered at the time if the preacher was working through his own panic around middle age (a phenomena called "working your stuff out from the front" that gets a bad rap in church circles but I suspect might not be such a horrible thing if done with a bit of honesty and humor).  Anyway, that sermon series raised great questions, but didn't come up with much in the way of answers.  "Keep leading!" the preacher exhorted, "don't stop!"  It made aging sound a bit exhausting.  Not long after, he announced his retirement.

Billy Graham offers a lot more candor.  He shares how surprised he's been by the effects of old age, and that he hasn't liked them much.  But he doesn't deny or resist them. Instead, he shares things he's done to thrive in each new season of life: what God suggests to him, how his friendships have changed, the ongoing state of missing his wife Ruth, now that he's a widower.  And as sad as this might sound, he writes in a way that is filled with hope.

He says:

"At times I can sympathize with most seniors.  The good old days call me back at times, especially when I am with friends who have shared so much. While I choose not to dwell on the past or relive my youth, there are times i long to hike up into the hills with my children or stand in the pulpit to deliver a Gospel message. But the walker, wheelchair, and cane near my bed remind me that chapter in life is past. So I thank God for the memories that have enriched my life but look forward to new opportunities, to experiences that can add some dimension to the present. Our attitudes play a major role in the closing scene on life's stage."

This hit home for me. This past weekend Steve & I grabbed a bite at a restaurant near the water where I waitressed one summer. It reminded me of that year: how excited I was to have left law and be heading off to graduate school, the fun of laughing with friends and having a job that wasn't easy, exactly, but where the stakes were low and the rewards were high, and I knew precisely what was expected of me there, even as I looked ahead to all the unknowns of my next stage of life.

For a moment, I envied our waiter. Did he know what a great position he was in, how good life could be exactly where he is?  And yet what I was really yearning for was that feeling that something new and good is coming now, and the luxury of a few weeks of predictability and fun (not to mention piles of tips!) in the meantime.

But rather than wallow, I took Billy Graham's advice: I thanked God for this memory, and then looked up at the blue sky, letting God know I was in for whatever the next opportunity might be.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Test Driving New Ideas

Here are two blog posts I read this morning that I'll be thinking about over the weekend:

This, from Shauna Neiquist, about learning to make small corrections.

And this from Donald Miller on the four words that he says got him unstuck in his writing (and life):  "You're being too careful."

I'm intrigued enough to write these phrases on a post it to stick to the back of my phone, a reminder to look for where they might make life more interesting.

Do you ever try this type of experiment?

Monday, May 06, 2013

Books!

The Muse and the Marketplace literary conference was this past weekend, and it left me feeling excited about all things writing and bookish.  One of the keynote speakers said, "If you use words to connect the dots in life, you're a writer." I love that idea, and plan to repeat it often (along with it's obvious corollary, "If you use numbers to connect the dots in life, you're an alien." :) )

The Muse left me inspired to write...and to read. In this season of feeling so ready for summer vacation, I love the way books take me somewhere else and expand my horizons in the fifteen minute increments I find to fly through a few pages. So today I'll share some of the great books I've read over the past couple of months, in case you're looking for a fun little get-away, too.

I just finished Life After Life, a novel by Jill McCorkle. It follows a group of people who live in and
around a retirement home. I expected it to be a bit sad, but it surprised me. I was drawn right into these characters and the things they share and remember about their lives: what they miss, mistakes they made, how they work to create a new life now that the old one exists only in their memories. The philosophical questions in this book about living and aging and seasons of life intrigue me.  My favorite character in the book is a former school teacher who posits that deep inside, we're all still eight years old. It's funny to see how she applies that theory and how apt it can be. And my second favorite character is part of a plot twist that caught by totally by surprise. I won't give it away, but it's worth the read just to hear him describe his life strategies. 

Before that, I sped through The Invisible Girls, a memoir by Sarah Thebarge.  This one's a heartbreaker, but in the best way. She shares her story of being diagnosed with breast cancer in her twenties (very unusual), weathering the harsh treatment along with the disappointing ways her friends react to her illness, and then moving Portland, Oregon to get a fresh start. In Portland, she meets a woman from Somalia on a bus, along with the woman's five daughters.  The author's descriptions of witnessing the struggles of this family to survive are the best part of this book. I'd never before considered how hard it is to keep milk from spoiling if you don't know that the refrigerator only works if you keep the door closed. Or how you handle bodily functions if no one shows you how a bathroom works and you now live in a crowded city instead of a rural area.  This book was tough to put down, and I was sad when it was over.

Working backwards through the list, I LOVED the new book from Chip & Dan Heath, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.  I'm a fan of the Heath brothers: I love how they help me broaden my thinking, and this book does a really good job at pointing out how severely most of us narrow our focus when making decisions, ignoring how most things in life aren't nearly as either/or as we make them out to be.  They talk about how we tend to use a spotlight to look at a decision...which does a great job of lighting up a particular area, but leaves everything else in the dark.  They offer strategies to swing that spotlight around a bit and see what other possibilities it reveals.

And finally, I read Rob Bell's latest, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I'm not a Rob Bell devotee: we come from very different places, and some of the rocks he's flipping over in search of spiritual answers are the same ones I was exploring awhile back and decided weren't all that helpful. But I have friends who know him personally and love him, so I try to withhold any strong opinions. (And it wasn't until I read a profile of him in The New Yorker describing him as providing a release valve or sorts in the intense conservative culture of Grand Rapids, Michigan where he founded a church that I understood why he's such a big deal in certain Christian circles.) I liked this book more than expected, but with one caveat: as a writer, I think he needs to step up to the plate and reveal what these ideas mean to him. His writing is quite cerebral, but all the artful phrases don't land anywhere because he doesn't share about himself. He hints at an intense spiritual crisis but never tells us what that looked or felt like, or how he's working through it, or even what it looks like for him to look to his faith in mundane circumstances wondering what to do next and whether life has meaning.  It would be interesting to read an "applied faith" book from him.

Monday, April 29, 2013

On Being (Less Than) Unique

It seems like everywhere I look these days, there's another book or article or inspirational picture on FB encouraging us to "be ourselves." It's meant as an alternative to following the crowd (or feeling like a loser because you can't keep up).  That sounds so good, right? And yet when I read these calls to endless uniqueness, I get this twitchy feeling and feel like there's a gnat that won't stop buzzing in my ear.

Here's why: I think these articles are trying to shove us into a false dichotomy. They suggest that in life, we're either stomping around demanding to be recognized and appreciated for who we are, or wallowing in tearful pity as we lament over all that we're not. We're either the bold yellow M&M in this picture, letting our true colors show & smiling for the world to see, or we're flat and green and boring, just like everybody else.

But my life has more of a both/and quality.

For example:

This past weekend, we spent Saturday at the Newburyport Literary Festival. At one level, I was feeling great about myself as we rolled into the Newburyport Starbucks for a cup of coffee before the first event. Getting up and motivated on weekend mornings is not our strong suit, and I was thrilled that we were there with time to spare & a gift card to spend on lattes.  I was feeling like a yellow M&M. I'd even tried to dress a little bit cute that day because this was as close to a date as Steve and I have had in awhile (even though Princess Peach was with us and all the events we went to involved answering questions like, "What rhymes with rhinoceros?" & dancing to silly songs.)  But for all my trying, I failed to look cute. I grabbed the wrong pair of jeans and they were frumpy and so I felt frumpy which is a skid it's almost impossible to steer yourself out of.

Then, when we got to Starbucks, there was a Glamour Mom. She looked like Connie Britton: Her hair was
fully blown out at 10:00 in the morning, she was wearing an adorable, fitted top & a perfect little assortment of bracelets that made this pretty clinking noise as she drank her beverage. And of course, she had perfect jeans. Sigh.

It was a both/and moment: I felt great about myself for being out and about on a Saturday, taking advantage of this cool event so close to the city (because I love that that is who I am!), and horrible for not taking the nano-second to recognize the problem of the "these aren't date-night jeans...these are clean the bathroom jeans!" and change. (Because that's me, too.)

But there is another piece to this moment that I think is important: As I watched Newburyport Starbucks Connie, I took mental notes on why I liked her outfit so much. I sipped my latte, fished the straw out of Princess Peach's chocolate milk for the 19th time, and thought of items in my own closet that were similar, that might work for next Saturday. Of course, I can't magically grow five inches (did I mention that Newburyport Starbucks Connie was also statuesque?) But she's good at this looking-good-on-Saturday-morning thing, and I'm not. So why not learn from her?

I guess those "be yourself!" articles bug me so much because there are certain things I don't have strong opinions about, and I'd just as soon take a cue from someone else as I navigate life.  You can bet that next Saturday I'll be remembering both "pick the right jeans" and "it's been SO LONG since you wore bracelets, Trish...why not put some on?" thanks to Newburyport Starbucks Connie. And yes, if I take the time to blow out my hair, I'll look more like her than me (God willing). Is that such a bad thing? Underneath that fluffy hair will still be my brain, seeing the world and connecting dots my weird way, getting excited about things that seem mundane and scanning the world for the perfect orange purse.  Who knows what cool things are inside all those green M&Ms?

Today, if you have a free minute, consider: What things are unique & important to you, about you? And in what areas might you be perfectly happy to be a bit of a copy cat?


Friday, April 26, 2013

Escapism: My Quest for an Orange Purse

The past couple of weeks have been surreal, and here's what I've learned: When all hell is breaking loose around me, I escape by pondering things that don't matter.  I think them through deeply and thoroughly, considering every possibility, searching far and wide for answers.

The past few days have taken this to a new level, as I returned to a quest (read: obsession) from last

spring: my longing for an orange purse.  This began (read: can be blamed on) my friend Kristen, who had a gorgeous orange bag when we met for lunch. It was a bit of a rainy day, and her bag just looked so bright and happy and chic against the light blue cardigan she was wearing. Had I been a bit more forward-thinking, I'd have offered to buy it from her then, as I've been hunting for something similar ever since.

After the stress of last week's bombing and lock down (I still can't believe that's a viable sentence), I re-engaged my mission to find an orange purse. Not just ANY orange purse, mind you, but the rarest of all orange purse species: the one that looks good with an Irish complexion. (In other words, I'm looking for the unicorn of orange purses.)  I went to store after store, ignoring aisles stuffed with fabulous sales on things we actually need, in single-minded pursuit of this orange purse.  I held dozens of them up to my side, considering whether each one would hold my laptop, what outfits they might work with. I realized that I like structured bags better than floppy ones, and that even though I'd love to return to my days of tossing a lip gloss and keys into a cute little bag, I need something big enough to hold a book.  It was hours of searching and self-discovery.

In other words, it was a way to escape from real life.

Here's the thing: If this were an orange purse emergency, I have people who know orange purses. I'm friends with an entire family where every member went to either Princeton or UVA. They live in orange, whereas I barely considered orange a color prior to knowing them.

But this isn't an emergency, it's an escape mechanism. It's a way to channel my thoughts in a harmless direction for long enough to let my pulse stop racing and let the vitamin D from the sunshine (thank you, God, for this week's sunshine!) soak in.  I don't have an orange purse yet. I might not ever find one. But in some strange way, the hunt is good.

Do you have an escape mechanism?

(More importantly: Do you have a line on an orange purse that compliments a purplish-pale complexion and a nose that's slightly pink from allergy season? I'm asking for a friend...)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Frustration

I've been awake for two hours and forty-five minutes and already I've left behind half my keys (the half that lets me back into the house), spent an hour in traffic to get other keys from Steve, and spilled coffee in three different rooms thus redecorating a table, two rugs and a comforter.

As I was sitting in that traffic at the world's longest red light, trying to make lemons from my lemonade, I decided to listen to a talk. You know, to capture the moment for self-improvement! (Exclamation point mandatory for such attempts, yes?)

The talk was on frustration. Which you'd think would be helpful. As it turns out, not so much. Because as the speaker described how frustrated God gets sometimes with us as we thwart His plans and veer off on our own adventures, I sat there, squashed between a Sprinter van and a older model BMW (both gunning for my spot to dart through an impossibly fast stoplight) I thought, God you can't be frustrated with me right now, because I'm frustrated with YOU!"

Whoever calls it first, wins.

I don't have any deep conclusions to share with you about this frustration. I can't wrap this one up with a big "But isn't God awesome!" bow quite yet, at least not with any integrity.

But here's the thing: deep inside, under all the frustration, I believe a bow is coming. I have logged enough days with God that I know not to write one off based on the mid-morning report.  I don't know how things will get better--or that they won't get worse first. After all, there's still coffee in my mug and several rooms I haven't yet spilled in.

I know this isn't profound, but I think sometimes it's good to admit when we're trudging through the day thinking not, "Woo hoo, life is so awesome!!!" but rather, "Well, let's wait and see."

Because at some level, isn't wait and see the whole message of the Bible?

Wait, that's kind of a bow! Look at that!



I'm signing off now before I spill coffee on it :)


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On trying to be Boston Strong


Hello Blog friends. I'm feeling better today. Yesterday was rough. It was my first chance to process all that happened last week--Monday's bombing. The mourning, the investigation. Having dinner with my friend Super-G Thursday night, listening to her story of being at the marathon during the bombing, hugging her as we headed home... and then learning that the suspects had killed an MIT police officer three blocks away shortly after we left.  Staying up most of that night watching the news, scanning Twitter, hearing the replay of the shootout, waiting and wondering and praying. And then Friday (when I was sure this would be over) waking up to a text from my brother about how I shouldn't take THAT DOG outside, turning on the news to learn that we were under lock-down. Listening to birds chirping outside--they city is so eerie when it's quiet. Our friends Emily and Gavin called: they knew the Tsarnaev brothers when they lived next door to them on Norfolk Street. The boys used to help them with their groceries and hang out with them in their courtyard. (You can hear Emily interviewed here.) Hours later, when the lockdown was called off, three Cambridge Police vehicles appeared on our street to search a three-story house that was boarded up after a fire last year. And then the air filled with echoes of gunfire and sirens and helicopters. We heard flash-bangs through our living room window as they found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hiding, bleeding, in that boat one town away.

To sum it up bluntly: It really sucks to hear something Anderson Cooper is covering on the news live through your window.


It is surreal to discover that the suspects in this awful event were from here.  That all the Cantabridgian insistence on acceptance and diversity and political correctness hasn't created some magical atmosphere where everyone is free from evil. Good intentions just can't accomplish that.  I knew that, of course. I kind of loathe all the political correctness. But I guess at some level I'd bought into the lie that if you cover your world with enough nice, nothing really bad can grow there.  I was wrong.


But it wasn't all bad. Most of my tears were prompted by stunned relief: as I saw law enforcement officials streaming in from EVERYWHERE: A friend's husband is a State Trooper in CT; he was here. The SWAT team came from Quantico, VA. I lost track of all the different groups after awhile, and was just a soggy mess of gratitude that so many would do so much to help.


And there was much-needed help & hilarity online: Adam Sandler's Happy Gilmore tweet. And Glenn Fleishman, who pointed out to everyone who seemed baffled that the suspect was hiding in a boat...on land...in a place called Watertown
: "People not from New England: Every house, even 500 miles from ocean, has tarped-over rotting boat in backyard in New England." (He's totally right.) And Seth Mnookin, a science writer from MIT who couldn't get to his car Thursday night because it was parked in the perimeter and so live-tweeted search updates for about 40 consecutive hours. Not to mention the texts, calls, tweets, FB posts & emails from friends (some of whom I've never met in person) who took a minute to check in to see if we were okay. Those meant more than I can say.

But here's a confession: I couldn't post about any of this yesterday because I was too angry. Not big-picture angry; I'm not there yet. Rather, at random things that don't usually get to me. 


I was mad at Christians who used these events as an opportunity to jump on their chosen soap-box, posting things that didn't make much sense, like this: "Blaming Muslims for terrorism is like blaming Catholics for the Latin drug cartels" (Um, hello? I've never heard a cartel leader claim that they pursued drug distribution out of passion for their Catholic faith or to please the Pope). Or this: "To say all Muslims are represented by these terrorists is like saying all Christians are represented by the members of Westboro Baptist Church" (Again...not really. As reprehensible as Westboro Baptist is, I don't think they've ever killed anyone to get their point across).  


I wasn't angry about any of this because I'm anti-Muslim. I'm all for NOT blaming entire swaths of humanity for the actions of extremists. I was angry because these were ridiculous attempts to jump on the bandwagon of this tragedy with an agenda, and I didn't have the bandwidth to filter out ridiculousness without getting angry. (In Star Wars terms, my deflector shields were low.)


But maybe I needed a day to be mad. Maybe I should give thanks for these silly statements because they helped me focus the anger. I'm not much for punching pillows, but a couple of walks (okay, stomps) around the block muttering about these things, along with a long vent with Steve when he got home from work, helped: as I said, I feel much better today.


Today, I'm able to celebrate with the law enforcement officials, and weep with the families whose lives will never be the same. I'm able to pray for the hundreds of unnamed victims of the bombings who are expected to live and ask God to help them move beyond mere survival...for the miracle that each of them thrive. And at the same time, to pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who really does seem like a kid who got caught up in something faster, stronger, and bigger than he could manage.


Today, as I walked THAT DOG around the block, I'm thinking about the lyrics to this song by our friend Andy Young:


God of all comfort

God of all peace
God of all hope and joy
Come rest on your people
Come move in our hearts
Give peace to the anxious ones
That we might see you
That we might hold your hand
That we might know you are God

May it be so.




Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Two days later

I'm struggling to write about the bombings here in Boston. That sentence sounds so bizarre that I want to backspace over it and write something different because this can't have happened. But of course it did, and life here is strange and sad in ways I'm not sure how to describe.

Yesterday I panicked every time I heard a siren. There were a lot of sirens. It seemed like they were everywhere and that each one of them represented some new tragedy changing someone's life forever. There are lots of sirens most days, I guess (I've heard three or four just while writing this post), but I don't hear them the same way.  Now I'm jumpy and there's a big lump in my throat and I don't exactly know how to be in the midst of this.  And yet life goes on, shooting right through my lumpy throat and tears.  Like this: We're having a new couch delivered today. That just seems absurd.

And so I, along with the rest of the city, cast about for ways to cope.

One of my life strategies this spring has been to focus on bright spots: places where, in the midst of a whole lot going really wrong, something goes right.  It's an idea I picked up from the book Switch, by Chip & Dan Heath. The gist is that when you're faced with an intractable problem or tough situation, there will always be a few things going right in the middle of all the wrong. So when you're tempted to feel overwhelmed by the hopelessness, focusing on the bright spots gives you something tangible to work with: you can look for what allowed the light in, so to speak, and work to replicate that.

The bright spots for me yesterday were ways in which this tragedy is bringing us together. This "United We Stand" banner over Yankee Stadium just blew me away. And when I think of them singing "Sweet Caroline" between innings (a longtime Red Sox tradition that is one of the sweet spots of games at Fenway) it makes me want to hug everyone in New York and say thank you. These gestures fill me with certainty that we're bigger, somehow, than the evil that attacks us. The Yankees didn't have to sing Sweet Caroline, or stand with us. But they did.

And this much needed humor from Stephen Colbert, about the toughness of people here. If we're going to cry this much, we need to laugh some, too.

Boston College students have organized a walk for Friday night called The Last Five Miles. It's such a tangible way to satisfy the need we have to do something, to respond to this horror with an outpouring of positive action.  Another bright spot.

Last week, a friend told me that when her boyfriend visited Boston for the first time, he said, "This might be the friendliest city I've ever been to!"  We laughed so hard we choked on our beverages. This is not Boston's reputation at all.  Friendly is not our thing. But taking care of each other in emergencies? We're all over that. And as we figure out what life looks like in the midst of FBI investigations and having Anderson Cooper reporting live from Copley Square, I'm grateful for the ways in which all those cliches about reaching out to help one another are true.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist

I have been waiting for WEEKS to tell you about this book! It is beyond lovely, and you should go to your favorite bookstore and buy/order a copy right now. Trust me, you'll be glad you did.

I am not the target market for this book. It's giggle worthy that I felt so blessed by a collection of essays centered on cooking.  If you've read my second book (chapter three) you know that meal production is not my strong suit, and that Steve and I launched our marriage with a 40 pound weight gain, a borderline case of salt-poisoning, and this persistent a-hem sound we'd make from the backs of our throats due to my belief that "saute in butter" was the best way to prepare all food.  Things have improved since then, but I still don't collect recipes or wake up dreaming of dinner, and neither of us is what you'd call a foodie.

But here's the thing: Shauna Niequist writes in a way that suggests that even though she & I don't share this passion, we could still be friends. We might laugh about my lack of culinary curiosity, and perhaps we'd find something I love that she thinks is equally baffling (I'll just bet she can't twirl a baton! Oh wait, she's from the Midwest. I bet she can...)  She's a fun person to spend a few hundred pages with.

A favorite moment came on page 37, where she says:

"I believe every person should be able to make the simple foods that nourish them, that feel familiar and comforting, that tell the story of who they are."

I laughed out loud, imagining inviting her to my house for a baloney sandwich with mayonnaise, mustard, American cheese & four slices of cucumber.... my favorite food since I was nine years old. I'd pair it with a chocolate martini :) I don't think this is what she had in mind, and yet the idea of a baloney sandwich party sounds like so much fun, I'm inspired to give it a try. Thank you, Shauna.

The book is about more than food. It's also about friendship and marriage and parenting, and the hard times we all go through wondering if/how life will work out. She's candid about her struggles with shame and body image, and the temptation to believe that everyone's online persona is the truth about them and that you're the only one who hasn't yet mastered life.  So even though she talks about "dressing greens" like something everybody does, she makes me feel safe admitting that my greens tend to run naked across my plate.

And if you ARE a foodie? You will love this book even more. She includes recipes for everything you can imagine, and even has a chapter toward the end where she admits that not every night in her house is a gourmet extravaganza--that the weeknight stress of getting dinner on the table requires a plan and some easy go-to options.

For all my reluctant protests, I might try the risotto recipe (pray for me!) It involves the top of the stove (my comfort zone), a process that is sort of sauté-like, and wine.  If I pull it off and everyone survives the experience, I'll let you know.  In the meantime, I'll be giving this book to my foodie friends, with the chapter on Bacon-Wrapped Dates strategically highlighted.

Monday, April 01, 2013

No mo FOMO

I gave up social media for Holy Week. I got the idea from a book I was reading, although it's a fair depiction of how busy and distracted my head was that I can't remember which book, even after looking at my reading log. (I'm pretty sure it didn't come from here, or here.)

Anyway...the break was fabulous. I hadn't realized the extent to which I was escaping into my phone whenever life got dull or stressful. Or how hooked I'd gotten on having that little escape. Which is weird, because I don't think of my life as something I want to escape. I know this is a cliche, but now it's my cliche, so I'll share it: it felt good to focus on what was happening right here in front of me, rather than all of the articles and memes and political angst swirling around the World Wide Web.

Yesterday, celebrating Easter, our pastor talked about FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. It made me think about how that plays out in my life. I get a little panicky when I realize that I'm not on the schedule I set for myself four years ago for book writing (although I have three books that are about 2/3 done, so 2015 could be a banner year! Or so I tell myself...)  I looked down this morning and realized that my favorite jeans have been through the laundry so many times that "acid washed" is the most apt description, so clearly I'm missing out on some key fashion cues. But overall, life is good. Simple in some ways,  complex in others, not at all what we expected. But full and good.

Then comes Facebook. That is the center of my FOMO.  I don't struggle with envy (except for those of you who live in climates where you're already wearing flip flops...I envy you a little). But I fear missing out on ideas and cool conversations: updates from people I love, new book recommendations, articles that make me think or laugh. I love the connections and sharing.  But I wish I could get all of that without scrolling through three dozen faux-post ads about eyelash growth or those motivational pictures that don't motivate me.

I'm not sure what to do with Facebook now that Holy Week is over. Any suggestions? How do you handle social media and still stay focused on the part of the world where you live your actual life?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Stuff & Things to Keep Me Happy 'Til Spring

It's snowing. Again. My flip-flops are lying in the corner in despair. Or they would be, if flip flops had the capacity for angst and sorrow.

In the midst of ice falling from the sky, let me share a couple of things that are keeping me sunny:

-We had a date night on Saturday!!!  It was our first evening out alone in six months. We went to Fugi at Kendall, and OMIGOSH, the happy sushi deliciousness! (In the front of the picture is Steve's pineapple fried rice--he barely eats sushi, but took me here because he knows how much I love it.) It was so good to talk and laugh together. I realized that I've been like a half-flat tire lately, leaking air, not sure how to pump back up again. This helped!  We shared our wonder at all God has done...and debated whether we should smile or duck as we anticipate what might be next.  It felt like we hit "reset" on life. I'm grateful to not feel flat and draggy anymore.

-This morning I read this interview with Alaskan author/salmon fisherman Leslie Leyland Fields. I was inspired by the idea of running interviews with people I admire on my blog.  And as I read the interview, so much of what Lesley said about calling and not getting trapped in the idea that any one season of life is your "forever" resonated with me. I slowed down, re-read the interview, and breathed in her reassurance:

"When I first landed [in Alaska] and immersed in the 14-hour work days [of my husband's commercial fishing business], poetry and literature fled entirely. I lost my voice and my self, consumed by fish, ocean, wilderness. Slowly it came back, though, as the years went by, as I found ways to speak and write and ways to live as a full human being rather than as just a worker". 

I could write these same sentences about this past year: how when I first landed in the world of foster parenting, writing and peace fled entirely. I lost my voice and myself.  Slowly it's coming back, though, as the months go by, as I find ways to speak and write and ways to live as a full human being.

I was so relieved to be told that it's okay to want to live as a full human being, rather than just in the log jam of whatever part of your life is most complicated or demanding.

I hope that wherever you are is sunny, warm & filled with flowers. If you can wear flip-flops today, please do. But if you're snowed in, I hope you see some sunshine, even if it pops through in unexpected places.


Friday, March 15, 2013

The Book I Didn't Write

About three years ago, I wrote a proposal for a book that was "gimmick-lit": one of those project where the author does something outside of his or her comfort zone for a year and writes about the experience.  The masters of this genre are A.J. Jacobs & Gretchen Rubin. Done right, these books are so much fun: informative, entertaining, and even a bit inspirational.

My proposed book was, to be honest, an attempt to inform/entertain/inspire myself. It was a "Plan B" type of book, where I'd attempt twelve different adventures over the course of the year to help Steve and I re-envision our lives.

In the opening scene (one that I suspect will end up in a different book someday because it's as grim and true and poignant and real as anything I've written) I describe walking through Target on a Tuesday morning and catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror. I fit right in with the Tuesday morning crowd: I looked frumpy, pudgy, exhausted and overwhelmed. I was drowning in a tsunami of crisis: miscarriages, the death of a friend, two major job transitions, and a family health scare.  So when I saw the other ladies there at Target, my first thought was, Oh thank God...it's not just me!  But then I realized that all those other beleaguered women had babies. There was a reason for their chubby fatigue.  I had no such excuse.

That day (which really happened; it was not part of a project) was a turning point, making me realize that Steve and I had to "Return to Go" (as a board game might instruct) and figure out what we, and God, wanted our lives to look like.  I wanted us to build something with the pieces we had--a strong marriage, faith, education, access to an incredible city and network of friends--rather than lamenting over the pieces we were missing. And I suspected I wasn't alone in facing some version of this challenge.

I charted a year-long program.  I thought it might make a good book if I could balance out the sadness with some humor and discovery.  I planned a month of fitness (admitting that while I never want to run a marathon, I'd trudge through a 5k if the finish line was somewhere near an Ann Talyor); a month of spiritual growth (where I'd spend two weeks emulating Anne Lamott, and two weeks trying to be like Joel Osteen); a month of spontaneous travel (because one of the benefits of a double-income/no-kids lifestyle is supposed to be the freedom to jet off to cool places, and we have thus far failed to jet); a month of housewifery (I don't even see the dust in our house until things are furry & grey, and I've never learned the finer points of getting the grime out of the corners); and a month of beauty (where I'd make the effort to look the best I could, every day: more showers, fewer sweats & ponytails, more lip gloss, an attempt to put fancy shoes into the rotation.)  There were a few other items, but those were the ones I was most excited about.

That was three years ago. I've never run a 5k, and the dusty corners of our rooms are still an embarrassment.  Here's why: When I sent the proposal to my agent, she said something to the effect of: "This is funny, but it isn't you." She reminded me that I write about surprise and encouragement, and how those things emerge from my faith; that my books are real-happy, not manufactured cheer.  I can't remember her exact words, but the through-line of her comments was, "This isn't you."

I am so grateful that she saw this truth.  I needed to be reminded, even if it meant walking away from a book project that would keep me busy & distracted for a few months (and give me a better answer when people asked, "Are you working on a new book?") To put it in construction terms, I built the walls of that house...and then walked away because I didn't want to live there.  It wasn't me.

In the years since, I've picked away at other projects--a collection of thoughts on praying for a husband, some essays on waiting for God, a novel. A lot of life has happened. It didn't unfold along neat monthly lines, but wow, has it unfolded. Now I'm surveying this new landscape, asking God, Where is the surprise? Where are have you planted happy endings? How should I think about this or that? What do you want to me to write? It's a different perspective, and the walls are going up slow. But it's me, and I'm more confident that what I build will be something that I'm proud of.

If there's something you're working on just because it's in front of you, or because it's the hot thing, or it's what you think you can pull off with the limited resources you have right now even though you suspect it might embarrass you later, know this: it's okay to walk away. The walls (and the poignant scene at Target) will still be there, should you decide to return.  We have more time than we think we do--exactly enough, in fact, to do whatever we're supposed to do.  It helps me to remember that :)


And I prefer happily-ever-after stories that don't require me to run a 5K while smiling like Joel Osteen!


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dreaming of Fail Fest 2014

Thanks for your wisdom in response to yesterday's question. Because of your bon mots, I will post my thoughts on the book I mentioned once I've finished, wrestling with the words to move beyond "Wow, I wish this had been different..." to "Here's where I think we can go as writers who hope to entertain & inspire."  Pray for me :)

On a different (but related) note, a Facebook friend linked to the Epic Fail Pastors Roundtable this morning. I'm laughing at the awesomeness of it...and plotting how to sneak away to Chicago to attend.  No snark intended: it sounds awesome. And funny. Failure demands some funny.

Reading about this makes me see that I'm a little bit in love with failure these days. (Even more so now that I know it has a Wikipedia page!) There is just so much of it! It's the stuff memoirs are made of, so it's great for me, career-wise. And as it turns out, it's part of my God-given skill set.

(And if you're wondering if I'm having a particularly bad week and if you should check on my well-being: don't worry. I'm fine.  Here's what I'm trying to say...)

I think that being good at failure is being willing to try things, and if they don't work out, having the ability to keep chugging along in a positive way (by which I mean: without wrecking everything and everyone in your path.)  Of course, the return to positive takes time--we can't just hit "reset" after a dream gets punctured. And there's much to be said to a season of neutral/just hanging on/survival mode.  Because once you've survived...you've survived. The failure doesn't define you, it becomes part of your story. And that makes us interesting people.

This has me dreaming of lots of Epic Fail Roundtables (Failure Fest? Failapalooza?)--for writers, scientists, accountants, meditation specialists, yoga instructors, librarians. Anyone, really. Imagine the hilarity?! Now imagine the encouragement. I think failure is a subject we can rally around :)

Fail on!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Question!

This morning's dilemma:

I'm reading a book that I have mixed feelings about...by an author with a public platform I don't care for at all.  And I'm trying to figure out if I want to review the book publicly, and if so, how.

So I'm requesting your wisdom/opinions/thoughtful comments.

The author is not someone I know or have any connection to. We don't share a publisher, publicist, agent, or even (so far as I know) friends in common. I'm not under any obligation to review this book. My issue is not with the writing--the writing is great. It's more questions along the line of "what does this add to the conversation?" and "why are you building your career out of making fun of/criticizing how other people live their faith?"

Actually, that's the crux of it, right there: I'm bugged by Christians who develop a public platform out of making fun of and/or criticizing other believers. Partly because making fun of Christians is like shooting fish in a barrel--it's a a bit lazy. And I'm a little tired of Christians railing at their pasts without offering some insight of the future God is drawing them toward. (Which is part of why I love authors like Shauna Neiquist and Enuma Okoro, because their books are both/and, rather than, Hey, I'm mad!)

But do I have any business voicing this opinion, or should I just keep it to myself?

Here are the options I see:

1. Shush, Trish. I should shut up, stay in my lane, write about the issues I care about in the hopes that those words will encourage others...and if someday I've reached enough people that others make fun of and/or criticize me, I'll have this awesome practice in graciousness & keeping my mouth shut!

2. WWMDD? (What Would Michelle Duggar Do?) I should post a very nice review about something in the book I enjoyed. Michelle Duggar is unfailingly lovely in every situation (honestly--she kept a positive attitude through a gall bladder attack),  and finds good in everything she sees. I admire this. I suspect that there's a fair amount of self-training/self-control that goes into happiness, and being determined to see the pony--rather than the pony poop--is a smart life choice.  In this case, I think Michelle would find some things to praise in the book (and there are some nice moments) and blog about those, keeping negative thoughts to herself.

3. Have at it.  I should review the book with candor and honesty, acknowledging the good points and the larger problems I think this project represents about Christian publishing. I review all kinds of books on my blog, particularly ones that contain elements of faith.  I work hard to write books myself, and earn part of my living helping other writers navigate when & how they publish their stories.  So it's not out of line to offer my opinion on the choices made in this book and by this author.

Perhaps what this comes down to is: Can speaking up make a difference? I don't want to use this blog to vent. But I want to change the way books about faith are generated--to suggest that when God gives me or you a book to write, we should put in the time and and effort to shoot for excellence.

What do you think?

Friday, March 01, 2013

Bubbles of Hope

I'm thinking about hope these days, how it bubbles up out of nowhere and catches me off guard...and then disappears again.  I'm reading Paul's letter to the Romans, which has crazy promises scrawled all through its pages about how God cultivates and works with hope.  So now I'm imagining it like water: up in the clouds, sometimes raining down, soaked up by thirsty ground, stored down deep for us to draw on later when we need it.

And we need it.

I look for hope in books. My friend Kelly sent me a great one yesterday. (Seriously, Kelly has been the source of so many of my favorite books lately. If you're looking for recommendations, follow Kelly Hughes on Twitter. You'll be glad you did.) It's called Love & Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters. I opened the package, scanned the back cover, then pushed a bunch of stuff from Target off to the corner of the table so I could sit down to read.  What a gift to see the friendship of the authors, two women who met in a creative writing program, develop through letters they wrote to one another about their questions--life, relationships, failures, spirituality, how to be the people they want to be, what to do with disappointments--all the big stuff.  They don't give one another advice, exactly, but wisdom seeps out from these letters, and hope...it's as if each is of them spurs the other to think and write about things they might not have the chance to sort out otherwise. I'm excited to read more later today.

I also look for hope in Spring. I'm sooooo happy it's March. This is the toughest month here in New England. March is like detention, or being grounded (I was going to say it's like a prison sentence, but that would be a bit much): It's inevitable, so we might as well get started so we can get it over with.  March is the price we pay for April and May, and when I think about it that way, it's worth it.  So today, let the March begin.  Eventually, it will take us somewhere warm and filled with flowers :)


And finally, I find hope in small, silly things.  Princess Peach had a playdate last weekend, and in the ensuing joy & wonder, her little toy Belle lost her head.  No one is sure how it happened, but Beast was seen fleeing the scene so we all agreed to blame him, and put Belle in the ICU (read: up on the high shelf, away from THAT DOG) until some surgical superglue could be procured.  Last night Steve reattached Belle's head. I'm happy to report that Belle is recovering nicely, and will be ready to return to play at the end of the day when we pick up the Peach.

May your weekend have hope raining down and bubbling up all over. And even if it seems like everything is dry, don't believe it.  The hope is down there underneath, and it will find it's way up to you, to each of us.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

How Do Pastors Leave?

Today is Pope Benedict's last day as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.  Reading the news about his departure sobered me. Even though I'm no longer a practicing Catholic, I have roots in that faith and understand a bit of what this resignation means.  Of course, none of us really know what it means, because all we have to go on are official statements, and most of us suspect there's more to it than that. And yet for all my suspicions, I'm not that interested in knowing. I'm glad that if the Pope needs to leave, there's a way for him to go.

As someone who now worships on the Protestant side of the Christian family tree, I wish evangelical pastors had a way to step down when they recognize that they're not up to the job anymore.  In the absence of a protocol, most burnt-out pastors either dream up some grand new call of God that will take them across the country or around the world (Rob Bell, Francis ChanJay Bakker)...or they have a big-time moral scandal that pretty much guarantees they won't be asked to do this pastor gig again for quite some time (Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, et al).

Doesn't grace demand more options than this?

I think it does.

I've always loved how the Bible talks about our relationship to Jesus in wedding terms. And like the vows Steve & I took at our wedding, I believe that my decision to follow Jesus is constructed of similar stuff: it's a forever thing, not an opt-out when life gets rocky thing.

But I don't think the call to pastor a church is of the same order.  I think it's okay to have an exit strategy in place, and to talk about it long beforehand, when everyone is still thinking, This is all so awesome, we'll never need this silly plan...  For all the questions and speculation and "Wow this hasn't happened in 600 years!"that accompanied the Pope's announcement, the church has a plan for where he'll go, and a plan to choose his successor.  They're not scrambling (other than a bit of media management) because the process was determined long ago. The Pope was the leader of the Catholic church, but he was not the Church.  They knew all along that eventually, someone else would be waving from the Popemobile (although as it turns out, no one else will be tweeting from his Twitter.)

I think we Protestants can learn a thing or two from this.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Truth About Today

I was going to write a cheery post about how the sun is shining off of the snow in our yard, there are men outside shooting nice warm insulation into our walls, and THAT DOG is dozing on the couch next to me.  You know, an "All is right with the world, at least in this moment" post.  Because that's what I want it to be.

But the rest of the picture is that as I sit here next to THAT DOG, I'm writing.  Working on what I hope will be a new book about all of the things that have happened over the past couple of years.  Life has changed in ways we never saw coming (as Steve said to me one night, "Thank God you don't write fiction...if this stuff wasn't true, it would be unbelievable.")  I'm taking the advice I give writing students, wrestling the important scenes onto the page without worrying about how they'll all fit together later. And in this, I'm forced to face how much is at risk in our lives right now, and how much has been lost already.

I forget that in order to tell stories of how miraculously God came through, I have to start with stories of being face down in the mud, wondering what the hell happened, in desperate need of a miracle.  Those scenes aren't fun to write.  Nor are the ones about not knowing what will come next, or admitting how afraid we are sometimes, and how angry. These tough scenes aren't the whole story, of course. But there is no story without them.

It's worth it, I've learned: both the real-life cleaning off the mud with God, and the stress of reliving it all as I write.  But wow, does it make it difficult to notice the sun shining off the snow in our yard, or how THAT DOG is still sleeping next to me, happy as she can be.

I guess this is the both/and of life right now, this place where the story isn't finished, where there are still so many scenes to be lived before they can be written.  It reminds me to pray for those future scenes, to believe God's promise that as many twists and turns as there are in this road, in some mysterious way it will lead us to a good ending.

And even as I write this blog, it makes me think of the anguished words of a struggling father in the Gospel of Mark who came to Jesus needing help for his son. He said, "If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."  Which is how I feel so much of the time, praying like I'm begging, unsure if it will make a difference.

Jesus' response to the man is interesting.  ""If you can?"" he asks. I can't decide if Jesus' tone is sarcastic or merely incredulous here, but whatever, he's making it clear that the dad is missing something important.   "Everything is possible," Jesus says, "for one who believes."

To which the father exclaims, "I do believe! Help my unbelief!"

That's me today.  That's what I'm writing, trusting that the today's scene is not the end of the story, that everything is possible for one who believes. Even if that one is me.

Friday, February 22, 2013

What's Your Escape?

Thank you everyone who texted, emailed & commented with your support & prayers for Princess Peach. It means so much to me, and reminds me why we all hang out together here online.  So much of what we share is mundane, vaguely amusing, not at all important.  But in the midst of all that fluff, when something big appears, we're there to see it and join together to help one another through.  Thank you for being there for me, Steve & the Precious Princess!

Okay, on a lighter note...it's Friday! I've been thinking a lot (as happens almost every February) about spring, because if you live in New England this is about when you give up hope that trees will ever bloom again.  So I look for other means to escape.

We're not really poised to jet off on a tropical vacation this year, so mostly my escape is into books.  And wow, has this year brought a treasure trove of stories to keep my mind alive to the world outside my own four walls.  I thought I'd make a few recommendations in case you're looking for a getaway in the $25 and under category!

All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani.  I raved about his launch party here, but hadn't finished the book yet.  Suffice to say that the day I finished, I went back to the bookstore for additional signed copies to give out for upcoming birthdays.  It's spectacular, with vivid characters, a suck-you-right-in plot, and gorgeous writing.

Reluctant Pilgrim by Enuma Okoro.  A nonfiction favorite of mine this year.  Again, gorgeous writing. And I appreciate the lens through which she looks at the world around her.  This book is like a cathartic coffee meeting with a friend who knows you really well. (I kept it on my nightstand for two weeks after reading the last page, just because looking at it made me happy).

Bittersweet by Shauna Neiquist.  I'm reading an advanced copy of Shauna's new book, Bread & Wine, right now (It's fantastic--I'll post a review as it's pub date gets closer) and it's reminding me of how much I appreciated Bittersweet when I read it a year or so ago. It's about a season in her life where things didn't work out all that well, when she struggled.  As you can probably understand, I have a new appreciation for authors who are willing to describe their efforts to hang in there in life and faith when they're standing in wreckage and trying to figure out what comes next.

How do you escape? What books are you reading that the rest of us might love?

Here's to a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Corrosive Temptation of Being "A Creative"

I've been thinking about this article, "The Corrosive Temptation of Being a Creative," since it popped up in my Twitter feed last night.  In it, Gary Thomas (author of Sacred Marriage) makes wise points about how our longing to fulfill creative urges--to write, sing, paint, dance for an appreciative audience; to be recognized for our gifts and contributions--often create the ground for narcissism to take root.  And narcissism, he points out, ruins everything.  "If you're not careful," he warns, "you might succeed at your art at the cost of your soul."

I see enough of this in the writing world to be afraid. It's less common among my mainstream author friends--I guess in traditional publishing it's always so clear how many more books you could be writing (none of us can keep up with Joyce Carol Oates!) that it's tough to stay full of yourself for more than a week and a half before your balloon deflates and you come back down to earth in front of a half-finished draft of your next project.

But in Christian writing circles, this is epidemic.  I'm discouraged by the number of authors who started out writing deep thoughts about living in this impossible gap between heaven and earth and had some success...and are now doing some version of "life coaching,"or helping others self-actualize/discover meaning, or teaching classes about taking control of our own stories, writing our own endings, or things like that, just to keep having something to say, to keep producing new books and talks.

I know where this urge come from.  I wrestle with it all the time.  I'm part of the huge potential audience who longs to believe that I have the power in me to fix the frustrating parts of my life--that it's not up to God, it's up to me. This urge feeds on almost any hint of hope.  So if you have some writing skill and an idea, it's not too hard to find yourself caught feeding this cycle.

I keep the manuscript from my first book--200+ pages of beautifully worded drivel called Feminine Magnetic Power--in my office as a warning of this temptation. Thankfully, it was never published. Because as lovely as it was, it had no substance beyond my own conviction that I had something to write and therefore someone ought to read it.

The Bible brings me back to reality.  I have no idea what I was created for. I have a few guesses (and a lots of evidence that it does not involve math or preparing gourmet cuisine). God keeps surprising me, and when I try to steer the ship, it stalls. Feminine Magnetic Power was a stall. It was the best of my efforts, forced out because I believed that if God gave me writing talent He had to back up what I wrote--especially if I put a spiritual spin on it.  That's not true.

As a writer, there have been two seasons where God has told me specifically, "You don't have your ending yet. The time isn't right to tell this story."  Both times, I've kicked against that, flailing about because I felt like I was on a deadline and if I wasn't writing now I'd never write again and I'd fail to make my contribution to the planet.  That, my friends, is narcissism.  But the good news is, those roots get pulled up & out each time I look around and notice: the planet is still spinning without my pithy words to guide it...and God has some other things for me to do while He directs my stories to their good  endings. Then, I suspect, He'll set me free to write. When I wait, it's worth it. But it requires me to believe that God's plan is better than mine, and that's difficult, especially on days when my life isn't shaped by fun and self-actualization, but errands and minutia.

Today, if you have a chance, check your inner landscape for seeds of narcissism. Rip 'em out when you find them, and ask God to help you guard against future infestations. Give your talents, and all the dreams that go with them, to God, trusting that He will show us when & how to invest them for the greatest return--for treasure that has His value, not just ours.

(As I type that, a passage from the Gospel of Matthew comes to mind, where Jesus talks about how our heart dwells where our treasure is, and then tells us not to worry. I'll try to keep all this in mind today :))