{unconditional} Love Begats {unconditional} Love.

“The spiritual man can love only when he knows himself already loved IN his self-preoccupation.

“Only if man finds that he is already accepted in his sin and sickness, can he accept his own self-preoccupation as it is; and only THEN can his psychic economy be opened toward others, to accept them as they are – not in order to save himself, but because he doesn’t need to save himself.

“We love only because we are first loved.”

– John Cobb, The Structure of Christian Existence (as quoted in Abba’s Child)

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The POWER of Redemption. 

“No,” they said. “We’re not here for redemption. We’re not here for revenge of last year. We are a different team.”

And yet, the reporters kept asking the Tar Heels if their efforts were founded on a desire to reclaim last year’s loss. To redeem a tragedy. Because that’s the story their audience wanted to hear. That’s the story that resonates with every human; a tale as old as time.

I rolled my eyes at the questions. Focus on this year! I wanted to shout. The players have nothing to say. I even doubted this year’s basketball team was focused on last year until I that heard one player kept a photo of the loss as his phone screen saver, and a group text message between the players was titled “Redemption.” And even then, I thought those were just like motivational quotes to keep them going. The way they talked, they were focused on just this year. But that’s the thing about redemption. You can’t can’t really talk about it until it happens. And for the Tar Heels this year, it did. And then, I saw the video (above) of the team’s celebration after winning the championship in Phoenix. I saw Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson, and Justin Jackson, and on their faces, written in Arial Bold was: disbelief, and raw, joyous relief, their minds focused internally, their eyes unable to take in the crowd or the stadium, or the confetti, and it struck me: This team wanted this year’s win because they knew last year’s loss. They wanted redemption. And this, trying again and doing things differently, is what it means to be human.

Redemption is a deeply felt experience, because it is a victory that carries, alongside the shine of triumph, the not-yet-completely-healed scars of failure. The redeemed know what it means to come so very close to victory and yet miss the mark, and they carry this with them in their journey.

The journey of the Carolina basketball team through the NCAA tournament this season was a raw emotional experience for me in many ways. I became so invested in the games, I felt my heart palpitating at times. At the risk of idealizing this team of young players (for certainly that is the risk of loving college basketball), I want to hypothesize that 2017 is the year of the sweetest Carolina victory. Every time I watch the video above I tear up. The hurt of last year is written across their joy. It is more real because they know what it feels like to lose. Unlike the child who gets everything she wants, this grand gift is not taken for granted. It is a product of hard work that could have failed once more.

Redemption is hardly a new narrative for anything, but it is the greatest story there is.

I’ve felt my own share of redemption moments in my life. My first year of undergrad, I couldn’t run a 5k without stopping. I ended my college career by running a half-marathon. And, perhaps what I struggle with the most now, is my self esteem, not valuing myself the way God sees me. I believe my friends see me in the way I see myself (read: not good enough), and I’m working to change that. I may not be putting in days in the weight room, but prayer, The Bible, books, and encouraging words from strong friends are strengthening me for sanctification. I know I’ve already been redeemed.

The Tar Heels’ failure last year was broadcast across the country – they hardly had the choice to keep it a secret. But that publicity could only call attention to the passion and drive behind this entire season. And now it feels worthwhile. Hiding mistakes behind perfection means the world misses out on the sweetest victory. Pain, hurts, scratches, injuries make victory that much more powerful and well-earned. We are beautiful when we overcome. Perfection is boring, unrelatable, and syrupy sweet like raw sugar. Redemptive victory is the complex, multilayered sweetness of honey, composed of its surrounds. It lasts longer, it tastes of its history.

It is what dredges up deeply relatable emotion in me.

It is what makes me want to throw up a Joel Berry-bicep reading, “Believe.” We should all believe that we are strong enough, good enough, and capable of experiencing redemption. We are never too far, too beaten, too hopeless. Christ debased himself in human form to redeem what he saw worthy: us. And we are stronger and our love for Him and for each other should be that much sweeter because we know what we had been and what we could now be, but are most assuredly not. He lives in us and we are no longer our failures.

Redemption. It is so sweet.

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PS: And, if I may posit, there is something to be said about sharing these emotions collectively; though our redemption stories are individual, catharsis comes when we’re heard and loved.

An Assortment of Thoughts.

Franklin Hiking

This song by Joshua Radin to set the tone.

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There is nothing more comforting than the unfailing love of a dog. Franklin sits on my chest, nuzzles his head in my neck and fluffs out a sigh as contented as mine, oxytocin released around us. Who, if not dogs, better epitomizes relentless love? Surely, God created them with that purpose.

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The Supper of the Lamb by Capon is amazing. It is shaming me for saying that I enjoy food. He respects food; He takes an hour to peel an onion. Reading his hour-long peeling of an onion inspired my meat-heavy recipe by Smitten Kitchen from last week: Braised Beef Short Ribs with mashed parsnips.

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The year we got married, I wrote about relationships every week, because it was different. And each argument, and every delight, was novel and worth discussing. Now, I feel the monotony (both good and bad) of a stable relationship. Heated discussions do not kindle the fear of dissolution. Joyful quotidian moments are no longer striking. No doubt, Marriage is a roller coaster of emotion, but when your pulse quickens, or when you see blood, these then are marks of the living, common as a skinned knee or paper cut.

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“Uncritical acceptance of any party line is an idolatrous abdication of one’s core identity as Abba’s child. Neither liberal fairy dust nor conservative hardball addresses human dignity, which is often dressed in rags.”

– [Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning]

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A friend brought a puppy to work yesterday. Now I want a baby Franklin all over again.

It Pleased God to Use Folly.

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

“For Jews demand signs, and Greeks seek wisdom,
but we preach Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,
but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks: Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise

“Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

– 1 Corinthians 1:20-27, 31

I’ve been meditating on this passage. I know I’ve read it before, but for some reason this week it has been striking me. It is counterintuitive and yet perfectly divine. God receives glory when those who have no earthly recognition, are raised up.

It is a good reminder to humble yourself. What you achieve through worldly wisdom does not last.

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

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.

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).

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Bagsie Loveseat by Loaf – link here
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Brosa – link here.
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Ethan by Brosa – link here

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.