My May Books for You

"Last night I dreamt of singing book titles;
good ones on my tongue,
lyrical, funny, and one really long one.
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious long.
Magical."

Terri Conlin

This was a journal entry from March 23, 2017. I really cannot explain it, but I woke up with those words rattling around in my head. It seemed an apt quote for this month's booklist that I have collected for you.

This list is a little bit longer than most months. Like most of you, usually my reading time is very interrupted by life and people I love. (Happy sigh.) A better way to say this is I want my life to be interruptible, at least by people and their hearts. (I heard this idea from an interview with Elisa Morgan on the Open Door Sisterhood podcast.)

This month, I flew to Texas and back, so there was lots of uninterrupted reading time on the plane. I read my little heart out, but I also made a new friend who I am praying for as she and her husband and two adorables decide whether to move from Spokane, WA to Forth Worth, TX.

The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith by AJ Swoboda

Often, once I find an author I enjoy, I go on to read everything they write. Last month I told you about The Glorious Dark, a book we read as a church family for Lent. This month, I tell you about "The Dusty Ones".

This is a book about our journey on the Christian walk of faith and those whose feet are dusty from the road. I hope my feet are dusty.

A.J says there is an art to wandering that needs to be cultivated. Wandering with God is a holy discipline.

He writes,

"Salvation isn't God tinkering with our old life: rather it is God giving us a completely new one - one we never thought imaginable during our years in the old one. And such new life invites us into new spaces and places. Nor does God save his people directly or immediately into the promised land. God takes them along the twisting path.

And . . .

"A wanderer has to learn how to rest."

I think my favorite chapter is one called "Walking" about how much Jesus taught while walking and how, even resurrected, he walked. He walked right on through walls.

This book was generously given to me by the author at a gathering of writers, but I would have bought it anyway. Living a restful and resurrected life is an art that needs attention and practice, at least in my life.

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

For my birthday this year, Mike gave me a gift card to a small local bookstore in the mountains near our home. As I always visit the writing section of any bookstore, new or used, I happened upon this one there. I had never read any of the author's other work, but I was intrigued.

Mary Karr is a writer, reader, poet and writing teacher who calls herself a "black belt sinner". I guess I had to read what she had to say just from those qualities.

Karr has a lot to say about geography and voice and good writers. The book ends with a list: Required Reading - mostly memoirs, but some hybrids, which I am just beginning to dig into. Watch for some of these to show up later in the year.

She writes,
"The writer's best voice will grow from embracing her own "you-ness"."

I've heard that said other ways and it always rings true to me. I have found that the more brave I am in looking for how God made me and offering that craftsmanship back to Him, back to my family, my friends and my work, the more me-ness I bring to the world and interestingly, the more Savior-ness as well. Honestly, me-made-in-the-image-of-Christ (both my before and after resurrection) is the only part I can bring and ring true myself.

But these are not stagnant waters. If I tap the living waters then that stream is always bubbling up from another source. That process of becoming is taking my whole life.

I closed this book with a few practical tips on how to keep finding my own voice to tell my story in a way that enriches others and tells the bigger story. The world needs our gifts. Please bring yours to the picnic table.

Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud

I read this book on the recommendation of a friend and for a particular project I was working on at the time. It hit me right where I was wrestling out a difficult leadership role, one that takes both heart and hand to the work.

But this is Dr. Henry Cloud of Boundaries fame and so there was deep insight for my personal life as well as leadership. Of course the two are intertwined and that is what I was going for.

I cannot recommend it enough. Here is a short list of a few things I learned.

  • the difference between harm and hurt
  • sometimes things end
  • endings bring hope
  • be friends with reality
  • the pruning moment is clarity
  • prune towards growth
  • pruning is part of being whole

If you ever struggle with endings of any kind: gradual or sudden, natural or unnatural, ones you choose and ones that choose you, this is a book you will mark up and keep handy for both life and leadership. Life is full of endings. I get unstuck when I face reality. I am still absorbing how to do endings well.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

I stumbled across this at my local library when I went look for her memoir, Wild: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of writings from an online advice column called "Dear Sugar". No one knew it at the time, for it was written anonymously, but Sugar happened to be author Cheryl Strayed.

If you know Cheryl as the author of her memoir "Wild", (or the movie with Reese Witherspoon) you know she is a raw and honest writer about both the beauty and the beast in her life, sometimes shockingly so. This is not Ann Landers or Dear Abby.

This is a collection of letters from readers and Sugar's answers about relationships, grief and becoming a whole human being. I warn you, Cheryl's language is gritty, but will she will call you darling, honeybun and sweet pea and that will help you settle in for her answers. Besides, she really listens to her reader's pain first, before crafting an insightful answer. And then, breaking from advice column rules, shares from her own life. She has wrestled, really wrestled, with profound loss and grief, some at her own hands and some beyond, and come out the other side with love, hope and some hard-won wisdom.

I didn't always agree with her view on life, but I do love her heart and rugged honesty with hurting people. I have never thought we have to self-destruct to find ourselves, but there seems to be a universal process of pulling apart before being put back together again. The writing is good which is what I had gone in search of, and she taught me a few things that I can use in my own life and work.

She writes backward to her twenty-something self,

(A little girl) will offer you one of her (purple) balloons, but you won't take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny, beautiful things. You're wrong. You do.

It is an enchanting moment when a human being realizes their intrinsic worth. If you get to witness that moment even on the page, especially after witnessing the spiral downward, you realize it is sacred ground.

In your reading, don't forget to read outside of your usual circles to challenge yourself. You don't have to agree with everything the author writes, but you just might have more to bring to the world for the rub. Just make sure it is good writing with heart. Cheryl's is.

Patched Together: The Story of My Story by Brennan Manning

My brother-in-law first introduced me to the writing of Brennan Manning almost 20 years ago. I feel the need to thank him again every time I see him. Because The Ragamuffin Gospel, Ruthless Trust and The Furious Longing of God

This little book is a sweet and sad parable of Brennan's own storied life told through the character of Willie Juan, an outcast boy in a poor Mexico village who meets the Man of Sorrows several times throughout his life. Each time Willie Juan feels he belongs to love a little more, yet he easily forgets that belonging love in the give and take of life.

It is a beautiful hardback book with a crazy quilt cover outside and a thread of hope inside, the grace and love of the Man of Sorrows in all seasons of a Ragamuffin's life. I cannot read Brennan Manning without being reminded that I am that Ragamuffin and God fiercely loves me.

He loves you too, sweet pea.