I am only I. 

“If everything is lost, thanks be to God

If I must see it go, watch it go

Watch it fade away, die

Thanks be to God that He is all I have

And if I have Him not, I have nothing at all

Nothing at all, only a farewell to the wind

Farewell to the grey sky

Goodbye, God be with you evening October sky. 

If all is lost, thanks be to God,

For He is He, and I, I am only I. 

– Julian, A Severe Mercy by S. Vanauken

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Best Books from 2016

(a month late)

Here’s what I read and loved in 2016:

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  1. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante – Just so so so addicting. This book has been met with varied opinions – many saying that the story is slow, that it is difficult to read, or that it is frustrating to read. But, I loved them all. I read them while Bryan and I were traveling a lot in Europe (so the confined quarters of the airplane may have had a good deal to do with my “spellbound” demeanor while reading). Still I love any story about friendship, and this is one of them.
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  2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck – I cannot believe I waited until I was 26 to read this book. It was so good, full of so much symbolism, I loved talking about the characters and plot turns with Bryan (who also read it this year).
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  3. The Mothers by Brit Bennett – So surprising and so good. Mostly the beautiful writing. The subject matter is difficult (deals with abortion), but it is redemptive, and your heart will hurt for these characters. Surprise, it is also about friendship.
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  4. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri – Read this while in India and the clash of Indian and American culture resonated with what I experienced (in reverse). I also just loved her writing. It was a delight to get lost in. Highly recommend if you’ve not read already!
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  5. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren – One of Bryan’s favorites that I finally got around to reading, and I’d have to agree. It is compelling, and the characters are so lifelike. Most of it deals with southern politics and all the craziness involved in that (though it was not unrelated to the craziness of our politics this year!).

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Honorable Mention:
 Love Warrior (a Memoir) by Glennon Doyle Melton – this I actually listened to on Audible. It was narrated by Melton herself, which made it all the more powerful. Melton writes simply and honestly – so much so that I often found myself cringing alongside of her drug abuse, bulima, and marital arguments.

And, the best non-fiction:

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  1. The Listening Life by Adam McHugh – How to listen more – to others, to God, and to yourself. This book changed my perspective in so many ways. Oh, but how hard all these things are in practice. I imagine I will have to re-read again soon.
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  2. Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance – The runaway memoir of the year. I’d have to agree. I took what Vance said to heart, with compassion for “his people.” I even organized a semi-book club meeting / discussion group to process. Highly recommend!
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  3. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande – Gawande writes about everything with thoughtfulness and compassion. The way he writes about death is no different. I was captivated – and convinced that the medical profession needs to do better.

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Honorable Mention: 
Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham – also listened to on Audible (also narrated by Graham). It was laugh-out-loud hilarious to hear her voice in my car. And, Bryan will attest to this – he actually did laugh out loud at a number of parts. Also, I was delighted to find out how much Graham seems to really truly love Gilmore Girls and Parenthood because I adore both.

PS: My Goodreads list for 2016.

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Reading Chair, an ode.

I have spent countless hours (no, really. I refuse to count the amount of wasted time) searching for that “just right” reading chair. The beauty (read: agonizing torture) of the internet has been that I have endless options. Which means I could (and did…) scroll through thousands of photos and picked the perfect piece of furniture – only to find myself dissatisfied with it the following day.

This process means that of course the first chair(s) I fell in love with were made in England and New Zealand (respectively, see below).

Needless to say, shipping a reading chair from overseas to our home seemed a little excessive (or so Bryan reminded me a dozen times while I was surreptitiously researching “cheapest, fastest shipping methods” because I am heedless in this search).

I told Bryan that the useless knowledge I have since accumulated (read: dredged) from hundreds of fruitless Google searches must be shared with the wider world. My knowledge will be of use to someone – or at least it will quit taking up space in my short-term memory. So, here are my essential truths about reading chairs (henceforth known as “RCs”):

  1. RCs must be quite wide and deep – big enough to curl up between the two armrests. I’m talking, knees bent, feet on the cushion / arms, extra space on either side for tucking extra books or chocolates. These are necessities.
  2. RCs must have backs that support your shoulders. The modern trend of cutting off half the backs of chairs makes no sense to me.
  3. RCs must contain down. The most comfortable chairs I’ve sat in contain down. Down sinks around your body, it is soft, full of give, and it sighs audibly as you sit down. Is it still alive? I’m not sure I care; It is luxurious.
  4. RC reviews must be free from hints of “this chair was kinda stiff at first, hopefully it softens up soon!” I don’t care who you are, but any sorta-kinda-stiff chair is not coming into my home.
  5. “The 20 best reading chains EVERRRR” lists are written by people who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about – or just by people who have a completely different idea about what a RC entails. Related, do these writers read for hours in chairs, because included on their lists are chairs with no backs, no arms, no room for knees and feet, and are often more of a fashion statement about how much you “look like you read” than about getting actual reading done. However, this piece by The Washington Post was surprisingly thorough.
  6. RCs must be adapted to fit the size of their surrounds. Unfortunately, this means that the popular “chair and a half” (which is really a loveseat disguised as a chair), and the gigantic plushy armchairs of pottery barn will never never never fit in our one bedroom apartment. However, while you consider size, you should never compromise comfort.
  7. RCs must be placed in your most-used living space. Photos of the coziest RCs are always in bedrooms or pristine living rooms. Why? The bedroom part baffles me. Who spends hours reading in their bedroom? I’m a living room person all the way. If I’m in my bedroom, I’ll read on my already-existing gigantic reading chair and accent pillows (i.e., my bed).

Finally, a Pinterest Board of curated RCs in traditional styles and a few more photos of cozy chairs and books:

And that’s about all I know. For now.

Don’t worry, I plan to post pictures of my new chair when it comes. Or, who knows, maybe I’ll be too busy reading.

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Words Like Bludgeons and Clubs.

I am torn. Sickened. Tired. This past week, I watched and listened in open-mouthed (albeit, silent) horror as humans on either side of the political spectrum flung their insults like twelfth-century bludgeons at other humans, heedless of the harm their words caused. Nay, blood-thirsty and curious of the harm their words caused.

The election has been hard to watch this year, and harder still to discuss with a dispassionate mind. The sharp words, fashioned to kill, and quoted like statements of deeply held belief, have been thrown at living targets, with the intention being, seemingly, to relish the possibility of bloodshed.

The underlying belief of Christianity that we are all fallen, that we are all sinful, that we are all in need of grace and mercy, tells me I must extend forgiveness to those who hurl these statements of hate. And yet, oh, how it is so very hard to impart forgiveness to the unrepentant (Lord, is this how you feel?). I know that we are asked to turn the other cheek to any mortal enemy. We are asked to be tender, to love. We are asked to unburden ourselves of resentment, and to find refuge in the higher power who protects and preserves.

But what I seek I do not find. It does not sit well with my conscience.

Surely, forgiveness does not mean always turning the other cheek. Surely we are not meant to meekly look away as we watch two trains on course to collide. Jesus was radical; he would not have flung words like a pointed club, he would have acted in love. In this culture, where there is already so much prexisting hurt, and hate (from which our virtual world never allows us reprieve) I tend feel that all I can do is hide behind Biblical words of love. I return to the Bible, I read of love, but I also read of God’s indignation, his powerful anger. And I know a cheek offered in submission here is not what obedience to God looks like. I must speak. Though, must I speak in 40 characters or less?

This perspective feels revolutionary. And yet, not at all. To speak of gentler views is to find oneself unwelcome on either side in a steadily escalating battle.

So, I feel both radical and not radical enough. A misfit lost amid the flying arrows.

I know our President (for yes, that is his title) is rife with character flaws for which he is unrepentant. Rather, character flaws of which he is proud. And I want to cry at the injustice when he speaks so irreverently against the diversity, the inclusiveness, the free speech, and the media that our country has fought for. But, am I meant to hurl my own bludgeon back? Am I meant to scream in my shrill small voice, louder and louder, like a goldfinch until I am hoarse with the effort?

Sometimes I imagine that Bonhoeffer (the outspoken Christian opponent of formerly Nazi-run Germany) is standing beside me reading the news. “What do you think?” I whisper, “What would you do?”

Nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent from ourselves. We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in light of what they suffer.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I know it to be true, but I can’t help but wonder with what does our new President truly suffer? And if I acknowledge that he may suffer, it is then okay to speak up against him? To shoot off my own cannon of indignation? To tweet until I can no longer speak?

“Words and thoughts are not enough. Doing good involves all the things of daily life.

‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink’ (Romans 12:20).

“In the same ways that brothers and sisters stand by each other in times of need, bind up each other’s wounds, ease each other’s pain, love of the enemy should do good to the enemy. Where in the world is there greater need, where are deeper wounds and pain than those of our enemies? Where is doing good more necessary and more blessed than for our enemies?”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

And yet, and yet, if I do not speak up, will I be responsible for letting this madness continue? Can I so carelessly love someone who hurts with cruel words, with unabashedly harsh intentions?
“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I feel weary with the awareness of pain.
I feel my heart bleed for both sides, for the humanity of the world, for the sin I see in myself – and for the same faults I see reflected in every human. Yes, even in our President.
It is my conviction that we must work to take the wheel out of his hands, but let us do so in a way that does not cause more harm, more hate, more bleeding. Let us not forget that the great humanity of the world means that words can be used in a way that is hurtful. Words can break the bones of humanity and cause suffering in our most vulnerable parts (though, we may have covered them with decades-old callouses born of self defense).
And, in light of this great humanity of our world, I vow to take small steps to love those within my reach, to be gentle, to be aware, and to be tender. I work up my courage to speak with the means I have been given, in the circles to which I have access, and to work toward redirecting the steering wheel of this out of control car – be it ever so minutely. And that sits well with my heart and my conscience.

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Articulate Faith, of the Lively Mind. 


“We longed for a lively life in Christ but we did not fully see that we were equally longing for the lively life of the mind – the delights of conversation at once serious and gay, which is, whatever its subject, … the ultimately civilized thing. 

“When we spoke of the lively life in Christ, we meant keenness, but we also meant the subtle discourse on the meanings of Christ’s way that is, in fact, only possible among highly articulate and civilized Christians.”

A Severe Mercy, by S. Vanauken.

 

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Recent Happy Diversions.1.16.17.

Happiest New Year …annnnnd just like that January is halfway over! I’ve not felt up to posting long anthems on here, though, that’s not to say I don’t have many many ideas. To tide me over, here’s a list of things keeping me happy!

  1. Meal Planning. But, no, seriously. Since the beginning of the year, Bryan and I have been on a meal-planning kick. We plan everything we want on Sunday, pick up all the items at Trader Joe’s, and then sticking to the plan. Most successful recipes thus far have come from The Yellow Table Cookbook
  2. Liane Moriarity’s Big Little Lies on Audible. Fast-paced, intriguing, and read in an Australian accent. Makes commutes to work that much better.
  3. Catching up with Friends. This weekend we were lucky enough to see three different friends from undergrad in DC. One from out of town, and two from nearby. Though, getting together with those who are local is always a feat in itself. It’s unfortunate, but I’m always struck by how “busy” I can tell myself that we are and forget to reach out!
  4. Daydreaming about the English Lake District … thanks to this book about a shepherd’s life. Highly recommend if you too love animals and wish you lived in a farmhouse in another life. But, I mean, look at this view.
  5. The way Franklin looks at us when we talk to him. Head tilt, serious eyes, open-mouth smile, full attention. We are totally biased, but he might be 50% human… Oh! And he’s recently started lifting his leg to pee on things. A milestone event!
  6. Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning. Because when I read it, I cry … on occasion … okay, I mean every single morning.
  7. One-Person Couches. And (finally) convincing Bryan that we need one of these for reading. Mainly this has been accomplished by regularly stealing the best reading spot in our apartment and refusing to abdicate until I have a cozy chair to curl up in.

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Relationships with Animals.

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“Each relationship between an animal and a human is a bridge uniquely shaped to carry only those two, and so must be crafted by them …

“And it is thirsty work, as work of the heart always is, for the heart thirsts after the things that are invisible to the eye, things you cannot grasp with your hand.”

– Suzanne Clothier, Bones Would Rain from the Sky

So much love in this little snap of Franklin and Bryan together.

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