I know. You see it there with its soft layer of dust and you want to gently wipe it down, pick it up. But it’s hard isn’t it? There’s always something else vying for your attention. There’s always another book to read, instead. Maybe you manage to pick it up and open it, and then you glance beside it to your phone, and your world is there instead, so you open that, scroll through and are left… well, empty. Maybe you’re like me, and you want to read, and you want to understand but gosh, so much just does not. make. sense. Why does Jesus want to keep His miracles a secret? (Mark 5) Why did Jesus always talk in parables? They’re riddle-like, and what if they don’t mean what you you think they do? (Mark 6) What does it mean when it says the disciples hearts were hardened? (Mark 6) Why does Jesus refer to the Gentile woman as a dog?! (Mark 7)
And not understanding frustrates you, and makes you feel foolish, I know. Me too. We frown at these ancient texts and we try to squeeze them to fit into our modern culture and when they don’t fit, we throw up our hands and leave the whole book to amass a fresh layer of dust.
But you, like me, need to know this:
You don’t need to have all the answers.
There’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of faith. The Bible isn’t written in stories and parables to keep us out, but to draw us in. It’s written to lead us to the good questions, the big questions, the hard questions. It pulls us to conversation, to going around and around and asking each other, what if? What if it means this?Today, it spoke to my heart this way. It asks us to imagine; imagine walking dusty roads to Jerusalem. Imagine walking up stone steps to the temple, or piling stones along the way to remember what was behind you, and hope for what lies ahead. The Bible calls us to imagine what mercy and justice would look like in our time, in our day, and to walk that out humbly with our words, our actions, our service.
Ancient poetry moves us towards the bigness of God—the one who keeps the sea in its boundaries, the moon in its place, the sun rising another day. It grounds us into self-reflection, the reality of our own human failings, our messes and mistakes; and then shows us a God who is kind, in a Son who walked the earth teaching us to love our neighbours.
Dear You, why don’t you find a quiet place today. Retreat. Open the book, flick through it’s fine pages. Rest in the Psalms, or land in the gospels and follow Jesus through Israel as He sought to show us how to lift our eyes to an invisible kingdom. One where friends lay their lives down for one another, one where the stranger crosses the street to help another who looks and speaks differently to himself. A kingdom where hustling puts you in last place, but allowing others to go first is what wins the prize.
I found Him this week in the Gospel of Mark, calling a woman who’d been bleeding for a decade, Daughter. I found him, asking the blind man, What would you like me to do for you? and then restoring his sight to him. I found him getting hungry, tired, grieving, compassionate. Human.
Along with the questions and the lack of our understanding, I’ve had glimpses of this Jesus and the band of imperfect, often faithless men who followed him, hungry for all he had to teach them. And I saw myself in those disciples too; often getting it wrong, often full of fear not faith, yet still hungry for all He has to teach me.
Dear You, don’t worry if you don’t have the answers. None of us do, but it won’t stop us from looking.
PS reading through the gospels this September with Hannah Brencher and a whole bunch of girls all around the world and it is good.
It’s the second day of spring today. I love nothing more than watching the seasons change, and the light in my house change, too. The sunshine through the blinds paints stripes across my bedroom wall. If I leave the blinds open in our back room, the sunrise makes it glow. There are kookaburras—I don’t remember hearing them this often, and I wonder if they’re nesting. I haven’t been reading much lately. For one, uni is back for the semester. Secondly, we are on season seven of an eight-season tv series (that shall remain nameless to protect my reputation as an upstanding Christian girl) and knitting and watching has taken priority over reading. So it’s small potatoes for August. Just three reads. However one of them is a must, must, must read. Please do, so we can talk about it’s loveliness:
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams This was last month’s book club read, and the first one that I didn’t read in time for book club discussions and now I’ve read it and I’m so sad, and I’ll 100% be hijacking this coming month’s book club meeting with my thoughts about this one. I listened to the Bolinda audio version of this one (ahem, Bolinda is also now following me on Instagram, just a sidenote) and it was wonderful. Set in early 1900’s Oxford, in the shadow of a coming war, a dictionary is being created. Esme, our protagonist, grows up in the shadow of both. It’s a fictional tale that encompasses the suffragette movement, and draws on real people and events and it is lovely. Historical fiction is my favourite: books where I am simultaneously immersed in a story, (strong heroines are a bonus) and am learning about places and people and events that did actually happen. Love, love, loved this one.
Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard Imagine this; you go to work and are accosted by your librarian-boss, who introduces you to Western Australian Premier’s Book Award winning author as, “Emma-Lee, she’s a great writer… [insert something something something about your blog which is fuzzy because you are playing it cool and also blushing and also thinking crap one of my bosses reads my blog, how?! Hi Kate, if you happen to be reading this too]” Author proceeds to very warmly greet you and chat to you about what you’re working on. Internal dialogue: Um, shit, what am I working on? Blogging? Journaling in the mornings? I’m a terrible writer, I’m going nowhere fast! Anyway, lovely author walks away and you are left for the rest of the day thinking about what you’re even doing with your writer-life, and also placing a reservation on one of the copies of his books at the library. All that to say, last week I met Holden Sheppard, he was lovely, and then I read his book in less than 24 hours. It’s set in Geraldton (Gero, for all you West Aussie folk) and about three high school guys struggling with their sexuality. Each of them have very likable qualities, occasionally I admit to forgetting which one was which. This one isn’t for the faint hearted. There are some explicit scenes. It is heartbreaking. It also tries to end triumphantly, but I didn’t feel triumphant. It took me a bit to shake. It is brave though, and needed. So is compassion. So is friendship that crosses the boundaries of belief and sexuality and difference. Holden Sheppard also now follows me on Instagram. Am I an influencer yet?
Suffering is Not For Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot This is a book put together of some of Elliot’s preaching messages (which is a disclaimer to anyone with love for grammar and the well-written word. This is literally transcribed from her speaking so it’s not always correct). I don’t know what I was searching for when I picked this one up. I guess in a world of uncertainty—my work life is uncertain, our financial world always has an element of uncertainty, where we’ll be living next year is uncertain, where our kids will go to school is uncertain—I’m feeling, as we all are in Covid-season, the weight of this uncertainty and trying to find answers. I think all the answers I could find in this book are summed up in this quote: ‘Just start thanking God in advance because no matter what is about to happen, you already know that God is in charge. You are not adrift in a sea of chaos.’ I’ve reminded myself of that a lot lately and it’s somewhat comforting. Faith is my whole world, and despite this fact it’s fairly easy to lose my grip on it, and instead start wobbling along with the rest of the world. But I am not adrift in a sea of chaos. Say it out loud, it helps.
So, I hope your month has been full of lovely reading moments, curled up in blankets or in sunshine, and watching the light change with the season. I don’t even know what book I’m picking up next – any recommendations? Also, are you doing the Goodreads challenge this year? I’ve read 41 of my 40 book goal, so anything now is a bonus!
It’s been six months now since Instagram and I became friends again. It was ‘the great Instagram break-up’: you can read about it here, and my thoughts after a little while away from the grid here.
Our relationship has always been complicated—love/hate, I suppose they’d say. Really I didn’t love it’s hold on me. I didn’t love feeling like it’s slave, drawn to my phone in all of those unconscious, mindless ways. I didn’t love not being present for others. I hated not being present to myself.
And I did not love the way I felt after I scrolled. Feeling small. It know that my shrinking wasn’t the fault of the highlight reels, of the shiny families I’d see, of the exotic holidays, successful businesses, and beautiful influencers. I can’t blame any of them for my shrinking. The smallness I felt came from inside of me; they weren’t hemming me in (my favourite verses, 2 Corinthians 6:11 in The Message). But the comparison was making me small and I couldn’t hear myself amongst all the noise. So I deleted my entire account. Thousands of followers, a beautiful community that had been built – gone. I needed to quiet the noise, I needed to stop seeking created things and find space to hear my Creator.
At first it felt the way it does after you leave a concert: after the assault on ears and eyes, the hot mass of bodies, the sudden cold night air prickles your skin and the ringing, pulsing in your ears is disconcerting. Too quiet. It was just me. An ocean of me. Then I was echoing Nemo’s dad, “A fish can really breathe out here.” Smile.
In the early days I reached for my phone more times than I could count. But when I did there wasn’t another world to get drawn into anymore. No more interesting lives, or profoundly shared quips and ruminations. There were no more exquisitely dressed children, or expensively decorated living rooms, or stories to drown myself in. Now, there was just me. Me and the people in front of me daily, and weekly. Then, I knew what it felt to be a slave to my phone. Now, I know what it feels like to breathe free—to stare out of train windows, to study my daughter’s freckles, to chew on Words that bring life; He has a thousand ways to set you free, you are truly the poetry of God—his very handiwork, They will fight you but they will fail. I know what it feels like to fold bread dough and to watch it rise, smell it bake and hear the crackles of the crust as it cools on the bench. I know what it is to look at each other over a giant slice, leaving butter at the corners of our grins.
I know how to witness beauty and really see it, instead of the rectangular version through the lense of a camera. Then, after 10 months, I re-entered the ‘gram. Tentatively, intentionally. And now, I’ve been there six months. The world is much bigger than my grid of squares; 94 photos cannot possibly sum up the richness, the suffering, the beauty, the laughter, the tears, or the growth of six months of life. I know what it is to seek that beauty. To forget the world of squares, to be here in this one wild and precious life, to seek after what is True and Eternal. But, it’s nice to try to capture and share some of that sometimes too. To share the beauty, and reveal our truths, and find those who say, ‘What, you too? I thought I was the only one’ (Thanks CS Lewis). To see and feel connected to other worlds, and lives and stories. To wear our hearts on our sleeves, in the hope it helps someone to no longer hide. To give our book recommendations, record the quirky things our kids say, to breathe deep at the ocean while saying, ‘look at this! Is it not magnificent?!’ while trying to pan the glory in front of us.
It’s okay to be there, but be right where you are too. It’s okay to scroll and smile and watch, but clink glasses on a Friday with your besties while your phone sits at the bottom of your bag.
We can learn how swing our legs deliciously through linen sheets, taking note of our bodies, reclaiming our thoughts as we wake slowly to our day. We can learn how to leave our phones in other rooms, forget their existence. We can discover what it feels like to read after the house has long gone to sleep, immersed in story until our eyes hurt, just one more chapter until we flick off the lamp, letting the story continue in our dreams. We can experience the frustration of learning new things, like knitting, and the elation of completion. We can sit on the porch without a to-do list, and crunch celery sticks slathered in peanut butter, listening to recounts of the world of our kids, remembering what it was like to be allowed to sit next to your best friend in class, get your pen license, run in a race.
We can be here and there. We can both/and. Successfully.
So Instagram and I are friends again, and I’m going back to who I was, who I am. Just Em. Inside and outside the squares, but mostly just not worrying too much about inside the squares, just inside me. A whole ocean of me.
One of the things I’ve always loved about reading, is that particular books take me back to specific places and times over the course of my life. My bright pink copy of Sophie’s World which I read in Year 11 takes me back to that searching, trying-to-understand-all-the-things period of my younger life and my super smart friend Amy, walking together from my house to hers. My battered copy of Blue Like Jazz was my first glimpse into real, non-religious, authentic relationship with Jesus, and reminds me of Year 12, drinking coffee for the first time, and drinking vodka for the first time too. The Hobbit reminds me of a camping trip when I was 11, curled up in the back seat of our old Holden, and Karri trees. I read Redeeming Love when I worked my first job at a law firm on Barrack Street in the city. I was 17. It reminds me of my chocolate brown pencil skirt and square-toed heels, woollen scarves and the firm’s lunchroom where I read while waiting for my sandwich to toast.
Every time I read a book that I know will stay with me, I also know that this moment in time will stay with me too. Some of the books I read in June will forever remind me of stacking shelves at the State Library, of commutes to the city with rain chasing itself down the train windows, and leaves glued to wet pavement.
Here’s what I’ve read since the beginning of June:
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown Yes, the world’s climate and a desire to learn and to embrace the stories of black people informed some of my reading choices. Looking back through my booklists I realised that although I was reading somewhat diversely, I could be more intentional and thoughtful in my reading. This one is a memoir of a black Christian woman who shares her experiences as such, in ministry, life and the world. It was beautifully written but at the same time I felt like it lacked a handle—she spoke openly and honestly about the ways in which white people had gotten it so wrong, but I wasn’t given any tools as to how to make it right. What is the right thing to say? How should I speak to you about those issues? It left me hanging, and nervous to say anything.
Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe Firstly I’ll say that this book is so necessary. I grew up in the 90’s and the Australian history we were taught at school was not only lacking, but misinformed and whitewashed. This book challenges the notion that First Nations people in Australia were hunter-gatherers and attributes them with incredible intelligence, innovation, agriculture, engineering and kindness. It draws on historical facts, artefacts, diaries of colonists, the experiences of First Nations people from other colonised countries, and other evidence. It’s fact-driven, yes, but needed. I’m so glad that our kids are being taught a more accurate history in schools, that we are slowly changing the narrative, and that Indigenous people themselves are rising up and challenging the white story. Read this. And while you’re at it, track down the kids version too.
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton To be honest, I started this one because I had a big, monotonous job at the library, shuffling a section of biographies and 900’s from one section to another. I needed an audiobook, and this one happened to be available instantly on BorrowBox. So, over two solid days I listened to this book and it. was. incredible. It absolutely came alive thanks to Stig Wemyss and his absolutely incredible voice acting skills and Eli’s poetic, melancholy, thoughtful narration was so beautifully written. I went in with zero expectations, and came out awed at Dalton’s writing, laughing at some of the very Australian one liners and in shock at where the book took it’s readers. Set in 1980’s Brisbane, it’s a very Australian bildungsroman, with some profound observations about life and family, humour and a plot you could never predict—it was brilliant. (Warning, lots of explicit language!)
The Guest List by Lucy Foley Mystery/thriller novels have never been my thing, except for a brief phase when I was fifteen and read a whole bunch of Agatha Christie that I found in the depths of my Nanna’s cupboard. Foley had been recommended to me at the library multiple times, and then I saw that The Guest List was one of Reese’s Book Club picks and I happened to come across a copy that I snatched up. I read it in less than 24 hours. It was psychological, intriguing and set in the peat bogs of Ireland (I had to look them up!). You guys, this was like a modern day Agatha Christie! Switching between points of view sometimes irritates me, but I liked getting a glimpse into the minds of some of the characters. It was a fun and easy foray into a genre I don’t usually read!
The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall I am drawn always to anything set in New York City—it’s my wanderlust muse, my dream. This one is set in Greenwich Village in the 60’s, sold. The story tackles friendships, marriage and faith, but there’s something more than that… this insight into life, humanity that was beautiful and thought provoking. Sometimes I felt the characters were being used only to portray specific viewpoints, and there were some changes towards the end that felt out of character for them. It was character driven, explorative, and full of beautiful impressions of growing up in life and faith. It wrapped up a little too quickly towards the end though, felt a bit forced. But a delightful story.
Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey This book deserves it’s own blog post; maybe one day. For now though all I can say that Sarah Bessey is one of my favourite authors. I love that she is explorative in her faith, suspicious of organised religion, and has clearly experienced the hurtful side of ‘Christianity’, yet she examines God and faith and Christianity in a way that is not condemning or blame casting, or finger pointing. I love that she is an unashamedly Jesus-loving, tongues-speaking, halleluja-ing woman, who also unashamedly calls out our (my!) religious, proud and pious mindsets. I simultaneously love her writing and am jealous of the way she articulates the nitty-gritty heart stuff. I’d like to write like her when I grow up, thank you please.
The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) by Robert Galbraith The first of this series was our Bookclub’s choice for May (see The May Booklist Here). I was told they got even better than the first, so I ventured to begin the second. Strike is faced with a gorier and more dangerous crime to solve this time, and Robin continues on as his trusty sidekick, despite the obvious annoyance by her fiance. I must admit one of my favourite aspects of these books so far (definitely intend on reading the rest) is the traipsing over London, and lots of eating of English food and drinking beer. I love the imagery of the old pubs, with their dark bars and cosy booths, as Strike and Robin discuss various aspects and suspicions of the crime as it snows outside.
Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode–and into a Life of Connection and Joy by Aundi Kolber Okay so I listened to the audio version of this and when I finished, promptly ordered a paperback. It’s the kind of book that can become a rich resource for doing the deep work of mental health. White knuckling: it’s when we hustle through pain, painful experiences, hurt. It’s when we tell ourselves (or listen to others who tell us) to try harder, knuckle down, push through. And it’s not good for us. Kolber’s approach, as a clinical psychologist and a Christian is to try softer. And she gives us very practical, doable ways to help us identify our white-knuckling, and gently slow down, observe, and be kinder to ourselves. The book is a counselling session that is illuminating and full of care. I can’t wait to get my hard copy to underline and dog-ear, to refer to the tips and tools that are laid out throughout it’s pages. It’s a must read/do/apply.
So. I’m at 36 books this year. Reading for intentionally learning, soul-caring, slowing. My to-be-read pile really isn’t getting any smaller though! This month I’ve got The Alice Network, Love Her or Lose Her, My Brilliant Career and a biography about Miles Franklin. What are you reading/hoping to read? Also, I start Semester Two of uni today, wish me luck!
I know. You’re sitting right in the middle. That place where the hoped-for, longed-for, prayed-for things, haven’t happened just yet. You’ve been waiting a really long time. You’ve marched around the mountain, around Jericho, around in the wilderness for what feels like forty years, and there’s still no end in sight—the walls of the impenetrable city stand high and firm, the mountain is solid and immovable, the wilderness is vast and there’s no end in sight. I see you trudging through, putting one foot in front of the other. Some days your legs are weary and your feet drag a little, and you wonder why you’re not singing along with the rest of them, who seem to be making their way up mountains, who’ve found oasis in their own places of wilderness. Some days you feel like the end is near. The Word speaks, and you remember that God is on your side, surely He has seen you, and not forgotten you. Surely He’s not tarrying with the promises. After all, you’ve prayed in faith, and you’ve peppered Him with all of the right scriptures, and you’ve torn down every stronghold in the name of Jesus. You used the three-step formula to victory the pastor preached on Sunday, and don’t forget that miracle offering.
Deep down though, you know that God is wild and untamed. You know the formulas don’t work, because there is none that fit the Divine who shaped the cosmos, who commands the ocean to hug the beach, who steers the moon to tug the tides. So you sit in the middle in wonder, and wonder when? When will I be whole? When will the missing be found? When will the broken be mended? When will the lack be filled with abundance? And then the Word says choose life. Choose life in the messy middle, choose life as your feet drag one foot in front of the other through the dust of just-holding-on faith, of not-yet-answered prayers and the dust of doubt. I see you stumble and rise, stumble and rise. Still He’s with you. In all of the stumbling and all of the rising, he walks ahead, behind, alongside. Choose life. Choose to see the abundance instead of the lack—a meal stretched for two days, the gift of fresh bread, additional work hours. Choose to see the fullness, through the gaps—deep, delightful friendships, the warm faces of small humans risen from piles of blankets, winter sunshine on coastal walks. Choose to see the healed and the whole, in the midst of the not-yet-fixed—look! Look how far you have come! Look how much wholeness has come from you doing the work alongside Him. Look how He is putting you back together, after all … all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross. (Colossians 1:20 MSG)
I see you. I see you choosing life, among the dreams that barely hold on. I see you choose to see the good, believe the best, and refuse to let go of hope. Even here, now, in the shadow of the mountain, in the messy middle, the in-between, the liminal, you can smile. And that, my friend, is a gift.
I’ve almost finished Aundi Kolber’s Try Softer and, it’s been both unravelling and solidifying. You see, I’m the epitome of someone who does what she refers to as ‘white-knuckling’. Gritting my teeth and bearing it. Trying harder. Pleasing more. Sacrificing and laying down. Being ‘good’. Reading Try Softer has made me realise how unkind I’ve been to myself all these years. Like a stern schoolmaster, I’ve frowned at her, quietly tsk tsked and shaken my head. Expected too much. Pushed down and aside the hard stuff and quickly moved on, instead of gently and curiously letting it out, laying it down.
I sit here now feeling tender, with a mouth full of stitches. I had my second (and final) oral surgery of the year, to fix my receding bottom gum. The first was a graft of skin from the roof of my mouth, stitched to the bottom of my gum. It turned healthy and pink, and then came the surgery to lift that healthy gum over the exposed roots of my teeth. I white-knuckled the first surgery months ago. Quietly freaking out, but silent, refusing to ask for help. I should have asked for help.
Maybe you’ve been like that too? Smiling on the outside while ignoring, and white-knuckling through the deeper stuff. It’s been a hard year. And my enneagram-four-self wants to talk about it. Ask you if you’re okay. Tell you to be gentle and kind with yourself, too.
Each day I’ve been journaling and realising that my internal dialogue has been getting kinder. And it’s changing the way that I talk to myself daily, and it’s helping me to hear the Holy Spirit’s quiet whispers, which are, as it happens, just as gentle and kind.
And I’ve been drawn here to this blank page to write to myself. And to you. Dear you.
Dear, n. regarded with deep affection. similar: beloved, loved, darling, adored, cherished.
Because I think we could all learn to be kinder to ourselves. So maybe I’ll write us a letter once a week. Maybe it will be once a month (I’m being kind to myself, released from expectations or pressures that no-one but me will judge me for failing at. See? Kinder already) or maybe it will be twice ever. Or maybe it’ll be tiny letters in the form of an Instagram caption. Whichever way it comes, I’m going to be writing to myself, and maybe you can read and breathe and slow for a second and say, Dear you.
I’m proud of the way you’ve faced the hard stuff. Today you failed to parallel park, and then tried again and nailed it. For the lovers of God may suffer adversity and stumble seven times, but they will continue to rise over and over again (Proverbs 24:16). Rising doesn’t seem to get any easier does it? Each knock back, set back, step back, wobble and stumble feels like you’ll be off-balance for ever. The room spins, your hands grasp for something, anything to hold on to, just to feel steadier for a moment, just to recover your breath, just to wonder what the hell just happened? Some of those moments feel like you’ll never recover from them. The feeling of loss is palpable this year, across the globe. From the loss of small freedoms, like sipping a coffee at your favourite cafes, to the loss of the people you loved. You’ve lost friends, lost control, lost your keys, your phone, your hope. And in that spin, as you try to steady your feet, and find ground that isn’t shifting beneath you, you’ve been stilled by the strength of God. You’ve let Him do the reaching out, the holding on. You have stopped trying to make Him work the way you want, like a magic genie, like a buddah’s belly. You just let Him work in the spinning and still the dizziness. And then you realise it’s a dance, and if you keep your eyes on Him, the room might still be spinning but there’s wind in your hair and strength holding you above the shifting ground and freedom in letting go instead of holding on, white-knuckled and exhausted.
Dear you. Even when the tears pool in your ears, and the kind dental assistant wipes them way, He’s steading you, and you will rise, over and over again.
May was autumn leaves glued to pavement by puddles. It was city commutes, train rides, vegetable soups and yarn up to my elbows. It was contentment and faith and prayer in bucketloads. It was sunset runs by the beach, and stormy nights. We’re both working hard, the husband and I. There’s a teamwork that flows out of what we do, as we move in and out of the house. He does some school runs and grocery shopping, I stay present and remind the kids about sports uniforms and netball training and homework.
It works. And in the midst of it all these books:
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury This has been on my radar for years. It’s classic literature. In my Instagram post about reading this one I ponder the question of classic lit, and whether we like it because we think we should, or if it actually has merit. This one was a bit of both for me. It was a slow burn (pun totally intended). I didn’t really know the context of the story, and honestly it was not plot driven enough for me to really immerse into—but the nuance and the prophetic nature of this book were incredible. It’s set in an unidentified time (presumably the future, it was written in the 1960’s) where entire walls in people’s living rooms are televisions, and ears are constantly plugged with devices that tell stories. Basically humanity is living in an entertained stupor… sound vaguely familiar? Books are illegal, because books make people think, and firemen are employed to burn houses that have been discovered to have been hiding them. It’s a profound novel, with literary references scattered throughout. I’m glad I read it.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle I have to admit I went into this one with a little bit of prejudice but I was internally apologising to Glennon for it after a couple of chapters. I love her writing style. She’s a lover and user of metaphors, just like me—I see metaphors in the simplest things, and the way she expresses them is beautiful. I loved the insight into her family, to the things she’s done well, to the undoing of belief systems and the questioning and doubting. As a Christian some of it did make me feel uncomfortable. Not the gay thing, not the refering to using she and her as pronouns for God (which I actually love) but more the universality of the faith that Glennon now has. It’s a faith without a Saviour. It’s her Knowing the presence without knowing the Person. But that’s my own personal bias. There is so much I could say about this book. These are some quotes I scribbled down as I read:
“This way of life requires living in integrity. Ensuring that my inner self and outer self are integrated. Integrity means only having one self…
Diving into two selfs, the hidden self and the shown self, that is brokenness.
I do not adjust myself to please the world.
Judgement is just another cage we live in so we don’t have to feel, know and imagine. You are not here to waste your time to decide whether my life is true and beautiful enough for you, you are here to decide whether your life is true and beautiful enough for you.”
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott Lamott is one of my favourite authors. She brings a realness and authenticity to talking and writing about faith that is hard to find within a church context. There are f-bombs. There is death, doubt, sex, alcohol and all of it comes back around to a God that loves us regardless, to a Saviour that died for us so that we didn’t have to pretend to be perfect. They are beautiful memoirs. And God as a cat at the door is one of the best descriptions of heard about God, probably ever. It’s irreverent and spiritual all at once. It’s raw and real and full of beauty and challenges our religiosity. I don’t hold all of Lamott’s views, or share all of her beliefs, but she brings something to the table that Christianity needs, and a voice that we should listen to, if only to keep our own faith fresh and alive.
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith This was book club’s pick this month, and our discussions ranged from whether we think Cormoran Strike is attractive (the general consensus was yes, in a very rugged, largely muscular kind of way, and duh because a supermodel wanted to sleep with him) to whether Robin is smart (again, yes, but she comes across like a ditzy blonde and shouldn’t have to the extent she did) and whether we could see similarities in writing style to Harry Potter (definitely, especially in descriptions of the city itself, it reminded me of descriptions of Diagon Alley) and why we think Rowling used a male pseudonym (thus eliciting discussions about feminism). I really enjoyed this one. It was easy to read and fun.
What are you reading these days??
I’m intentionally diversifying my book choices and I’ve got a couple I’m looking forward to sharing already, in my June book list!
It was socks that did it. Thick, wooly socks, on knitting needles, that I knew needed to be on my feet. I fell down an Instagram rabbit hole, admiring and envying anyone who’d cast on a pair of socks, any socks. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I dare you to type in the hashtag #knitsocks into your Instagram. Are your toes feeling cold? I thought so. So then I rediscovered Ravelry (remember when I used to crochet all the time, and I even made little crochet apple warmers) and looking at all of the knitty, wooly goodness, I desperately wanted to be able to knit.
I mean. I know how to knit. As in, a knit stitch. But I’d learned when I was 9, and mum would cast on the stitches and knit a few rows to get me going first, so I could see what I was doing. And she’d be next to me on the couch watching telly, and if I dropped a stitch or didn’t know what to do next, she’d be right there. Thanks mum. But knitting a scarf when you’re 9 with your mum hovering over you is much different to knitting socks, flying solo.
A couple of knitty friends were very encouraging, and so I borrowed some needles, and used some yarn I’d had laying around and knitted the wonkiest, holiest little dishcloth. It’s actually terrible, you can check it out my Insta-story highlights. But I was determined. I tried again, and the dishcloth was better. I watched a million YouTube videos on how to cast on, how to increase and decrease, and how to undo rows and try again, and how to cast off. I was actually getting it. Understanding what each stitch looked like. Then I made a beanie. Then I made another one because I realised I’d done the ribbing inside out, and still had enough yarn. Each day when I get home from work I pull that soft, thick beanie over my head and I grin. Because I made something. Because I learned something hard. Because I can do hard things.
It reminded me of what we’re capable of doing if only we want it enough. 10 minutes ago I submitted my last assignment of my very first semester of my post grad in library studies. It was probably the hardest semester of my life. I learned new things. I continued, even when I wanted to give up. I finished the assessments. I finished the beanie. I did hard things, and I didn’t give up.
And I’m telling you this because this is the story you need to tell yourself too. Too often I listen to the voice that says I’m not good enough, or I know nothing, or I’m not worthy. But I am. You are. You’re worthy. You’re enough. You can do hard things. What is it that you really want? What’s stopping you from going after it?
My top tips for finishing a knitty thing, which I think also works for finishing anything important:
1. Cover it with prayer. Sometimes this is just, oh God oh God when the stitches unravel, or when you drop one, or when you don’t know how to fix it. Other times it’s long prayers in the car, breathing gratitude and laying it all down; the day, the future, the knitting—when you don’t know how to fix the big things.
2. Find friends. Five minute friends who help with frogging your knitting. Friends who live on the other side of the country and hold space for you. Friends who don’t see you as competition, who sit and listen and encourage and champion—your knitting, and your dreams.
3. Talk to yourself kindly. Be kind. The way we speak changes the way we feel. Honestly this works. Instead of saying, “I’m going to go and study and do this assignment and I can’t do it and it’s so hard” I’ve been speaking differently. I’m going to go smash out a giant chunk of this assignment like a freaking boss. Girl, you’re so smart, you’re acing this. You can do hard things AND give your kids long cuddly tuck-ins at bedtime. Oh hey there knitter, look at you go, knitting like a pro.Dropped stitches beware, I am the boss of you. It honestly changes the way we feel. About ourselves, and about the hard things we face.
We can learn hard things. We can finish hard things. We are the boss of the hard things.
This rather late booklist is brought to you by a freezing autumn morning, wrapped in a scarf, cosied up on the train on my way to the city. Last month was just the beginning of the ways in which Covid-19 would affect us here in Perth. Libraries closed, I lost all of my work (being a casual) and the kids started online learning. This month our restrictions have started lifting, following other places across the globe. I’m looking forward to finally eating and reading and having a coffee at a cafe sometime soon, some are re-opening cautiously this week.
This month I was lucky enough to score a short term contract with our State Library. So, this month, I’ve become a daily commuter to the city, and I’ve eaten bagels with crunchy autumn leaves at my feet, surrounded by architecture. This month, I was prescribed reading glasses—I’m uni for all the time I’ve had to spend in front of a computer screen. But also, the glasses make reading books a bit easier, fancy that. Still not sure about the look of them, but at 35, I’ve found myself a little bit past caring too much about how I look.
Anyway, train rides are short, so here’s my list of April reads and some short reviews:
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes Sometimes I feel a bit rebellious, and refuse to read popular fiction. If I see it too much across our library shelves, if there are too many reserves placed on our copies, I turn my nose up a little. And the hype surrounding Me Before You (I didn’t read the book, gasp, I watched the movie, and didn’t love it) turned me off Jojo Moyes. But for some reason or another, maybe it was the cover or the title, this one made it’s way onto my Kindle. I’d never even read the blurb. YOU GUYS IT’S ABOUT A TRAVELLING LIBRARY IN THE 1930’S. Yes I’m shouting! Why hadn’t I read this sooner?! I loved it. I loved the concept, I loved that it was based on a real band of women who took books to families in rural areas on horseback—horseback librarians! Yes! I love the camaraderie, and the little library, and the system devised to record who had which book, and the era… Apologies to Jojo Moyes for my hasty judgements. Your books are popular for a reason!
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith This is one that has been on my radar for years. I love love love books set in New York. Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the early 1900’s comes alive in this novel. It’s sweet and observant and harsh and confronting. I loved seeing Francie grow up. I loved the book’s insight. I love that classics such as this one capture life in that time period yes, but also capture the universal truths of love and family and parenting and getting by and living. It’s a beautiful book. Slow at times, painfully detailed at others, but poetic and descriptive and profound. I’m so glad I finally read it!
The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healy I reserve books from the library a lot. When I come across one on Instagram, or someone recommends a title, I quickly jump on my phone and go to the library catalogue, and place a reserve. Then, a notification: the book you’ve reserved is ready for collection. This one was the first of mine to collect from our library’s click-and-collect service during lockdown. I picked it up and looked at it quizzically, and for the life of me couldn’t remember why I’d reserved it. Oh well, I shrugged, you’re coming home with me. (Oh, you don’t talk to your books?) I read this after I’d finished a huge assignment and needed a breather. It reminds me of afternoon sunlight, a bed with extra blankets strewn across it, sourdough toast and almond milk coffees. I read it in two days. I loved the concept of a story set amidst the moving museum artefacts to safety from London in the Second World War. It’s gothic and almost creepy (kind of fails on the gothic front, if I’m honest). I wasn’t a fan of the love story, I feel like the women’s friendship would have been stronger and their story more powerful had they not moved to being lovers. But Lockwood Manor itself was the star. Who doesn’t want to imagine a large gothic manor full of museum taxidermy?!
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo This was the joint Man Booker prize winner last year. It’s 12 different stories, really. Each told by a different woman, somewhat interwoven from the previous. It’s contemporary, yet follows some of the woman back into their memories of the past. These women are British, and (mostly) black. And I felt like I was better for having read it. Which is why I love reading so much. Because our ability to empathise with others can only happen when we connect with their stories. And these stories are powerful, and we can identify with facets of each of the women. Evaristo doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff, she’s relentless, and the book sings from front to back, we are here, this is us, our collective experience and our individual stories, our mess and our hurt and our triumph, this is all of us. Some of it is painful to read. Some of it is political. All of it is a feminist fist punch—some of it was too overtly political, and feminist-fist-punchy for my liking, I would have rather had the stories speak for themselves. That being said though… the last lines of this novel sum up its entirety: this is about being together
Quite a motley bunch, my April reads, but I was delighted to have gotten through that many. I didn’t realise how much I’d read last month until I looked back. This month has been a bit of a dry reading month. I’m glaring at YOU, dumb assignments.
Have you been able to read lately? I ebb and flow, but I’m starting to flow again after the crazy Corona stuff kept me distracted and not super productive.
My face is still red, hot from my run. I’m buzzing with endorphins—the ones that come naturally from moving my body, from pushing through despite the stitch, and from my feet pounding (shuffling, maybe) the paths that wind around our seaside peninsula. Then there’s the happy knowing that I achieved a small goal, a determination to reach 5km again in my running. So my face is red hot, but I’m smiling and kissing my kids like a loon when I get home sweating. I find myself singing aloud while I’m making my breakfast, and the smell of the sourdough baking has made me euphoric. It’s a good morning.
It’s good because I chose it that way. It’s good because it’s a contrast to others that haven’t been. The ones where I couldn’t wake up, where the covers were a weight and I cursed the sun for rising too soon. It’s good because I know that wherever I am, and whatever is swirling around me, God promises to keep leading us forward. It was this morning’s Psalm. Psalm 28, and the very last verse. “Keep protecting and cherishing your chosen ones; in you they will never fall. Like a shepherd going before us, keep leading us forward, forever carrying us in your arms.”
Keep leading us forward. I think God is concerned with our stuckness. That if he can’t lead us forward, if we’re stuck, He’ll just carry us. My prayer lately is that I am not stuck. It’s easy to to fall into the trap of replay, of going over and over something in your mind, of being stuck in the refreshing of the same hurts or emotions or thought patterns. Oh God don’t let me be stuck here. He promises to lead us forward. I think one of the keys to moving forward is to acknowledge where we’ve been stuck, what it is we’ve been stuck in—give it a name, give ourselves permission to feel it and then we can be lead forward. Isaiah 48:18 says this: Stop dwelling on the past. Don’t even remember these former things. I am doing something brand new, something unheard of. Even now it sprouts and grows and matures. Don’t you perceive it?
In Philippians 3:13 Paul writes about the importance of letting go: “I don’t depend on my own strength to accomplish this; however I do have one compelling focus: I forget all of the past as I fasten my heart to the future instead.“
It’s easy these days to dwell. Isolation has forced is to slow down, and we can’t avoid ourselves. Even in our social connecting across platforms like Zoom or House Party or FaceTime, we’re faced with an image of ourselves right there in front of us too.
But this time of quieting our souls and really living with ourselves can be just what we need to acknowledge what it is we might need to let go of. And it might be painful. I may have run 5 kilometers, but during the last two I had a sharp stitch in my ribs. I wanted to give up and walk but I didn’t. I stuck my chest out, I breathed more deeply through the pain, I grimaced and tried to stretch out my ribs, my lungs but the pain continued. So I kept my eyes ahead. I pressed forward, fastening my heart to the finish line. Because even through the pain He promises to carry us. Forward.