Bookshelves

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As a child, if I stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house for more than a few hours, I would inevitably wind up in my cousin’s room.  Once there, I’d go straight to her bookshelf and begin reading the bindings of her collection, pulling the titles that intrigued me, and running my fingers along the covers of some of her best-loved volumes. 

“You can borrow that, if you’d like.” she’d say.  Usually, I would shake my head, but I always looked at the shelf, just in case I’d missed something the last time.  Thus, I discovered the wonder of scanning other people’s bookshelves.

I read somewhere that you can learn a lot about a person’s character by the books they choose to keep.  I don’t believe horoscopes, and I’m more skeptical than the average Christian female about the accuracy of the enneagram, but bookshelves?  That’s a snap judgement personality test that I can get behind.

I see the proof everywhere.  One friend’s shelves practically explode with colorful bindings and quirky titles, the perfect expression of her bright and inquisitive mind.  When another friend gushes over finding copies of books she’s read before, I smile because it reminds me of her loyalty, kindness, and the impressive fact that she’s memorized a movie quote for practically every situation.  As I look at my sister’s shelf, I’m inspired by and jealous of her collection of beloved classics, exotic cookbooks, and the box of scarves she uses as a bookend.  My list of favorites is not nearly as classy, my cookbooks are more practical than daring, and goodness, I wish I could wear scarves with half the elegance she lends them.

Yes, the books we own tell our stories.  I’ve recently begun wondering what my bookshelf says about me.  It’s a tangle of notebooks and magazines and bright red cookbooks, devotional titles and knitting patterns and the phrase “Ice Cream.”  No cohesive narrative reveals itself to me.  I imagine a stranger looking at my shelf, and can almost hear them saying, “Well, it looks like she’s obsessed with food, not great at putting books back where they belong, has far too many notebooks, and rarely reads fiction.  BOR-ING.”

Something in me protests this description.  What about the books I carry inside me, the stories that continue to shape me in countless ways, or the books I hope to someday read?  Why is my shelf devoid of clues about the person I’m becoming, or the person I hope to be?

But who do I hope to be? I’m snot entirely sure, and it’s unreasonable to expect a bookshelf to be more complete than the person compiling it. So, after all, my little collection of reference materials and scribbles is a pretty accurate description of who I am:

A work in progress.

And I’m okay with that.


 

*For your information, the judgmental stranger in this scenario would be wrong on one count. I read lots of fiction, but it’s usually from the library.

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Midwinter

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Dear Middle of Winter, I love you because you make me my best self.  You make me get up early so I can leave plenty of time for windshields that need to be scraped and the slow traffic that accompanies them.  You force me to make sure my hair is dry before I go anywhere because I don’t want my ears to freeze in your crazy wind chills.  I look stylish wearing my scarf and sweater- but it’s a fluke.  My sudden interest in dressing cute is all your fault, an attempt to keep myself warm.  Some of this put-togetherness is negated by the fact that you also encourage me to wear fleece pants at every opportunity, but quite honestly, if you didn’t do that, we probably couldn’t be friends.

Dear Middle of Winter, I love you because you force me to slow down and focus on where I’m going, not where I went once fifteen days ago or would like to go if I could just squeeze in fifteen more things, but where I’m going, right now.  You force me to drive with purpose.

Dear Middle of Winter, I love you because at the same time that you are forcing me to slow down, you remind me that the moments of my life are continually slipping by, showing frieze after frieze in the impressionistic style as the rivulets of melting ice blur the picture in my rear-view mirror.  It’s beautiful, but please remind me to remove the snow from the wiper blade next time.

Dear Middle of Winter, I love you because you make me feel bold and brave and resourceful when all I did was go to work and return home without landing in a ditch.

Dear Middle of Winter, I love you because you continually cancel plans at the last minute, plans I thought were important, and you show me that I can live without them.  You give me an excuse to stay home, wrapped in a blanket, sipping tea and reading a novel.   You are the best.

Dear Middle of Winter, I love you because you cover the world in a thick layer of pure white, making the beautiful, the ugly, and the unfinished into a breathtaking work of art.  I do not love that you make it out of a material that biodegrades into mud, but I’m guessing you already knew that.

Dear Middle of Winter, thank you for teaching me to love sweaters and hot cocoa and flannel.  Actually, I probably would have learned to love hot cocoa without you, but thank you for always giving me an excuse to enjoy it.  Thank you for forcing me to see things differently, and for how each day with you is a beautiful adventure.  Thank you for the ways you enrich my life, even when you frustrate me.  I love you, after all.

Good

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Confession:  I struggle with prayer.  I’m constantly wondering if what I’m praying is something God wants.  News flash!  Sometimes I want things that are not part of God’s will.

I’m not talking about sinful desires, since I know God doesn’t honor those.  I second-guess my requests for good things.  Things like the salvation of souls, physical healing, my hope of someday being a wife and mother…  The list goes on, and when He withholds these types of requests, I often find myself wondering why.

Earlier this week, I was once again struggling with prayer.  There are too many details for me to explain without getting completely distracted, but here are the basic facts about my prayer:

  1. It was for someone else.
  2. I was asking for something that I believe would strengthen their faith and bring them joy.

In other words, I was asking God for something I perceive to be good.  As I (once again) found myself performing mental gymnastics, trying to determine if what I’d asked of God was likely to please Him, I found myself praying, “Lord, I don’t know if this is part of Your will.  It just seems like this would be a wonderful gift.”

I was reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:7-11:

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives.  Everyone who seeks, finds.  And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

You parents- if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead?  Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not!  So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him.  (NLT)

This passage has always made me feel uneasy and slightly guilty.  Is Jesus saying that I don’t get what I ask for because I’m not faithful enough?  Or is it because I somehow don’t believe He will do what I ask?  But in that moment, I recognized something else.  I was praying for something I believed would be a good gift.  The fact is, there are many things in this life that are, generally speaking, good.  However, God alone is wise enough to discern whether a gift we’re asking for is actually good for us.

If God chooses not to answer my request, maybe it’s not because I’m a terrible Christian.  Maybe it’s because I’m a human being with limited understanding, and am therefore not capable of discerning on my own what is “good” in any given situation.  So maybe I should stop stressing over specific outcomes and start thanking my Heavenly Father that I can trust Him to give only good gifts, even if I can’t always tell the difference.

Bloody Death

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Once I read 1 Kings 2:9, I knew that I had to turn it into Scripture art.  Why?  Well, first of all, the idea of doing so amused me, and I liked how it’s the exact type of verse that usually isn’t copied into fancy lettering.  More importantly, however, it’s a visual reminder of a lesson I’ve had to learn and re-learn:

The Bible isn’t always pretty.

As an artist and a happy person by nature, it’s easy for me to get caught up in what I privately call “Christian Instagram Culture” (a name inspired by this lovely video), focusing on all the positive, encouraging verses you often see and forgetting that the Bible has sadness and poverty, blood and gore, curses and injustice alongside those miracles and glimmering promises.  I forget that the biblical characters whom I admire had their own sorrows and uncertainties, and that they usually didn’t know how or if God was going to work through their lives.  Instead, I imagine their lives as perfect unfoldings of God’s will.  When the Bible mentions sad or unjust circumstances, I skim over them because I assume the people involved were completely ignoring their difficulties.  After all,  God was with them and they knew exactly what He wanted from them, right?

Then, bam!  I’ll come across a verse like this, where I am confronted with the undeniable sorrow and sheer humanity of these spiritual giants.

The words pictured above are an excerpt from the instructions King David issued to Solomon as his successor.  I’ll admit, my first reaction upon reading them was to think “Wow, David, I thought you were so humble and forgiving back when this man insulted you in 2 Samuel!  What happened?”, but after a second of looking into my own heart, I knew what had happened.  Despite the fact that his wisdom and love for God far exceed my own, King David and I have this in common: we are humans.   As a human, there were details in his story that He desperately wanted God to work out somehow (he didn’t know how) and sometime (he didn’t know when).  There were things that bothered him so much that his last dying wish was to make sure his son remembered to exact revenge for them.  It’s not a very pretty story, but it’s very human, and it resonates with me as a human who has details in her own story that she desperately wants God to work out.

Here’s what verses like this have made me realize: I don’t need God to bombard me with motivational quotes whenever I read His Words.  I need to know that He understands the realities of life and will walk with me through them.  I don’t need the Bible to be pretty, I need it to be real.  And, as usual, God has anticipated this need and met it, before I realized my need and without my asking.  Every Word of God is truly flawless- even the ones about bloody death.

 

Homes

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Most people don’t notice the smell of their own home- and if they do, it’s usually because something has gone wrong.  You know: the dog had and accident, there’s a leak in the basement making everything musty, or there’s an odor in the kitchen is screaming that those luscious raspberries someone was saving as a treat have turned into tiny blankets of green fuzz.

Don’t believe me?  Just think about the advertising campaigns of air freshener companies and candle makers, who sell products for the chief purpose of helping people ensure that the smells issuing forth from their rooms in their houses are enjoyable.  They capitalize on the fears of hosts, forcing them to think of the horrors their guests might have to endure without a product to cover up the stenches lurking around every corner!

I believe these campaigns are onto something,  because it seems like smells are one of the first things people notice when they first walk into someone else’s home.  It’s as if the scent of that particular person or family rushes forward to greet you as soon as the door starts to swing open.  It’s never one smell, it’s always a mixture of spices and new clothes and forgotten perfume bottles and life, in all its messes and glory.  And, unlike in your own home, you know that the fact that you’re noticing scents doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong.  Your senses are simply reminding you that you’re not at home.  Perhaps you like the combination of smells, perhaps you don’t.  It’s hard to predict what you’ll think until the moment the door opens and you find yourself walking inside.

What’s not hard to predict is what will happen if you stay.   Eventually, you’ll find you don’t have time for smells. Your mind will be focused on other things: the rumble of the kettle, the pursing of lips and crinkle of eyebrows while a search is made for the right word, the way people laugh with abandon when they are deeply comfortable.  Without your realizing it, the smell will vanish from your thoughts, just like the smell of your own living space.

Stay long enough, and the scent of that person or family will cling to your sweater as you leave, wedging itself close to your skin, unnoticed, until you lift it over your head in the safety of your own room.  If you’re lucky, that subtle reminder will make you smile.  If you’re even luckier, you’ll be able to hang it up in your closet, unwashed and ready to wear another day, just so you can carry the scent of those you love around for a little longer.  And every once in a while, when you’re at your luckiest, you’ll bury your nose in the sleeve of your own sweater, breathing in the scent of  your other home, the one you’re missing even as you drop your bags and wander around a house that smells of nothing because it smells like you.

 

Seven Lessons I Learned from “Need To Know” by Karen Cleveland

I finished Need To Know by Karen Cleveland last night, and in true fangirl style I immediately posted a review gushing over the many twists, turns, and overall amazingness of this book.  After a good night of sleep, I remembered I’d planned to include a list of lessons I’ve learned from reading this book.  However, instead of editing my review and making it appear once again in my Goodreads friends’ feeds, I decided to post it here, just in case any of you haven’t read Need to Know yet, or didn’t watch Veggietales in your formative years in order to learn that many stories “apply to our lives today.”

So, without further ado, I bring you the seven things I’ve learned from reading Need to Know:

  1. If you have a meet-cute with the guy of your dreams,/ Things are probably not as they seem./ Don’t be enamored, don’t lose your head,/ Just run! run! run! for your life, instead.  (Lesson #1 is conveniently written in verse in case the people at Veggietales ever decide to start telling spy thrillers with fun little songs.)
  2. Don’t lie.  Once again, a Veggietales-worthy lesson.
  3. If you’re tempted to lie in order to protect someone, don’t wait, don’t hesitate, just spit out the truth as fast as you can.  You’re probably going to be miserable either way, so choose to be miserable outside of jail.  #inspirationalquotes
  4. _SPOILER_  If you’re a spy, don’t tell your wife when she asks.  I realize that this violates lesson #2, but goodness gracious, use common sense.
  5. Just spend time with your kids, okay?
  6. Don’t trust anyone.
  7. Karen Cleveland is an excellent author and should write a sequel to this book.  Also, she is definitely included in the “anyone” referenced in lesson #6.

And there you have it.  If you’ve read Need to Know, I’d love to hear what your takeaways were.  Please let me know in the comments!

Returning

shockedandamazed001“I’m so excited to be done!” I say to my grandma.

“Yes.” she says, “That is exciting.  But there’s anxiety, too, because the future is uncertain.”

She is not asking if I’m anxious.  She already knows that the yawning gap of possibilities for “what’s next” is as terrifying as it is invigorating.  She gets me, and I love that.

I love that some things never change, even when circumstances do.  That some people always have you in their heart, and that they can understand YOU even if they don’t understand the exact details of your life.

During the six months in which I completed the classes for my senior year of college, I was basically in a self-imposed exile, and coming back to normal life has been strange.  Applying for jobs has made me feel very vulnerable and insecure.  But people who love me- people like my grandma- have made returning a happy, happy process.

 

January Third

You said, “See you next year.”

“Not until next year?”  I asked.

“Well, probably.” you said.  “But next January third.  It’s a new tradition.”

I laughed and said, “Okay, January third it is.” and I thought to myself, “Better make sure I’m working in a year.”

But it isn’t.  You won’t be there.

And I know there isn’t internet where you are, and that even if there were you probably don’t care what I have to say, and even if you care there isn’t anything you can do about it.  I can’t help it, though- I’m thinking of you and of our random conversations.  I wonder if you realized how they brightened my day.  I wonder if you realized that you mattered, not only to your friends and family but also to people like me.  People you spoke to for no more than 10 minutes each week.

I hope you did.

BOOM

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That’s how 2018 announced itself to me- the boom bam bam of fireworks somewhere within my range of hearing.  I opened my blind but could not see them out my window.  Wrong direction, perhaps, or too many trees.

So I stood there, staring into the gray night, at the starry sky and the trunks of nearby trees.  The air was frigid, even inside, and the air was still.  I saw no swaying of branches, no movement of deer or owl.  Just the dark, pearly stillness of a frigid January night, and the BOOM bang BAM! of unseen fireworks.

I look down, expecting my screen to light up at any minute.  “Happy New Year!” my friends say.  They send cartoon facsimiles of themselves standing in showers of confetti under the words “WELCOME 2018!”

“Happy New Year!”  I type back, and I think of them texting from their various parties, while I sit alone, cold, and yet extremely happy to be welcoming the new year in the dark and perfect silence.

BAM!  BOOM!  BANG!

Well, almost perfect.

Beginnings

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I unwrap my new pajamas, put them on, and proceed to live in them for as many hours as is socially acceptable.  And when I finally have to put on real clothes, I tuck them lovingly under my pillow, saving them for the next night.  They are so incredibly soft!  I dread the day when I will have to wash them, because once they’re washed and dried a few times, they become normal, unremarkable pajamas.  In other words, if Cinderella were a clothing item, she would be Christmas pajamas.

I’ve made my mom some dishcloths, because the ones she has are faded and falling apart.  This is not the first time she’s received such a gift from me, and in all likelihood it will not be the last.  Even something as mundane as a dishcloth loses something with use.

I give my dad a gift certificate to the same store for which I gave him a gift certificate on his birthday, so that he can go back and buy the same thing that he bought then.  Despite my lack of creativity, he seems delighted.  Things break, after all.  And if they don’t break, they get bent or lost.

Then: Yes!  All my hopes and dreams are realized!  New fleece leggings and a shirt with thumbholes in the sleeves.  If I must change out of my pjs, I prefer to slip into something with equally cloud-like softness.  When no one’s looking, I pet my own arm.  I am embarrassingly obsessed with how soft all my new clothes are, but I feel compelled to savor it while it lasts.

So it goes: soft to threadbare, new to old, life to death.

Yet in the midst of a fallen, decaying world, a baby was born.  He was placed in a manger as a newborn- truly new.  God, in the form of an infant, was something this world had never seen and would never see again.  He had come to reverse the order of things, to bring holiness where there was sin and light where there was darkness.

And now, over 2,000 years later, we celebrate!  And we wait for the day when His work will be complete.

So it will be:  confusion to clarity, old to new, death to life.

And so it is, wherever Jesus is king.