Books Worth Re-reading: 2013

Mindset by Carol Dweck
As a recovering perfectionist, this book stacks up evidence of the harm caused by perfectionism borne of a fixed mindset (the idea that you have certain set strengths and should therefore act within them). I read it initially with my teacher hat on, but by the time I finished chapter 1, the personal impact was clear. Even if you’re not a perfectionist (recovering or proud!) or a teacher, I’d highly recommend it. I plan to come back to it regularly.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl DeWunn
Reality is rough. This book is filled with research and sadly true stories of women around the world who live with unbelievable oppression. It is also filled with the hopeful and true stories of amazingly strong women and thoughtful interventions. This is why we are charged to care for the widows and orphans and to look out for the oppressed.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
What does that care look like? What does it not look like? This thought-provoking book has changed my thoughts and questions about the best ways to respond to the brokenness around the world and close to home- no matter where home is. While you could probably learn much more about these concepts in university classes, I found this a good primer for helping me to think through alternatives to pity and throwing money at problems (not that money is always bad…read the book.:)

Loving the Way Jesus Loves by Philip Ryken
Given to me by my hostess during a stay in Colorado Springs, I find myself coming back to the challenge offered by Ryken often. I am quickly convicted and simultaneously encouraged that I can only love because I was- am- first loved so well. When my temptation is to work harder to love better, the glory of the good news of Jesus shines brightly.

Getting Love Right by Dallas Willard
This short text is basically a paper presented at a conference for Christian counselors. Its brevity makes the point well:

“Our aim under love is not to be loving to this or that person, or in this or that situation, but to be a person possessed by love as an overall character of life, whatever is or is not going on.”

Again, this must be the outworking of internal grace and love within. That’s supernatural.

Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard
What makes up “me?” And what does it take for me to become more of who God has made me to be? This book is not light reading, but it’s worth a slow, steady, prayerful read. I found this book to be especially practical, and the tone is intent and direct. “Work out your salvation…for it is God Who works in you” might look like this!

What will you re-read from this year?

Count Your Blessings Two by Two

Mentors near and far:
Having been down this road,
They share and listen and
laugh and love in
purposeful and practical ways.

Peers near and far:
Walking this road together,
Thankful lists around the table
Littles pop into the FaceTime screen
It’s so good to be together.

Emails short and sweet:
“I’m missing you. Love, Dad”
“Your box is coming! Love, Mom”

Ipad everyday, making my life so much easier!
Clipboard too- sometimes low-tech is best.

Pumpkin chocolate chip bread
Mango Coconut Ice Cream
Pinterest wins, thank-you-very-much!

Teaching a unit for the second time in a year
Learning how to mummify a chicken…I’m gonna call that a blessing in faith that I’ll survive the actual project…

So much grace,
so much peace,
so nice to settle in.
Ahhh…

Failure

You know it’s a good book when you have to stop in the middle and journal before you can go on.* It’s a good meal, and time for digestion is necessary.

Culture Making, by Andy Crouch, is one of those books.

Because this is neither my journal* (nor the rambling email I proceeded to write) I’ll focus on one quote that captures my attention.

Grace is not an exemption from failure. It is, however, what makes it possible to sustain hope in the midst of failure.

I want an exemption from failure, please. Can I order one of those up?

There’s a part of me (a rather good-sized part, if I’m honest), that doesn’t really care how much grace is involved in the failure. I’d like to avoid it.

But the fact is that I am sitting on my couch at 8:35pm on a Friday night having said fewer than 50 words today. The fact is that I was not in grade three today with my kiddos. The fact is that today was a day of failure, if failure is defined by what I do. (That’s another conversation entirely!)

And grace? Grace is here. Grace is the cool fan, the warm tea, the kind emails from work, the fresh papaya, the peace. Grace is the realization that I have already failed as much as possible and been loved more than I know. Grace is a fresh understanding of truth. Grace is knowing that even when I know failure, failure does not define me. Grace is hope in this moment.

The good news is that this, too, will pass. A few days of silence does not mean the end of the world. Bigger failure will come, has come. Instead of fearing failure, I will endeavor to live each day in the grace that is big enough to sustain hope no matter what. That takes grace. And that’s okay.

*Yes, the teacher-geek in me is thinking of how I just must share this experience with the readers and writers in my care on Monday. What a great job I have! ūüôā

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The Pain of a Growing Heart

They say that parents of two don’t love the first kid any less.

I’ve never parented one, let alone two, but I’ve never seen the first receive less love because a sibling came along. The love looked different, to be sure. But less love? Nope. Or was there less love for the second because of birth order?

Attention- that’s another matter altogether. There are still 24 hours in a day, and although it seems parents sleep less with two (again, don’t ask me!), the awake hours must be split.

I feel like the parent of two kids, and I’m pretty sure I’m adjusting to the new baby right now. Ha!

My heart hurts tonight, but it’s not the pain of straight-up sadness. It’s more a bittersweetness settling in, I suppose. It’s a fresh realization of missing some things at the same time I am so enjoying the deepening joy in other things.

It’s the first day of school pictures and posts (thank you, Facebook) and a student leaning in to whisper with a smile, “I have a good teacher!” on the same day. It’s missing a special little one’s birthday and baking/chatting/staying with some special big ones in the same week. It’s wishing for more FaceTime (thank you, time difference!) and delighting in dinner with roommates-turned-friends.

I could go on and on. For every piece of life I miss, there’s a new piece to love. But the stretching of my heart can be a little painful at times.

Gospel Culture

Last week at church, one of the topics of discussion was keeping friends. The conversation rolled around to gossip and the many warnings about the dangers of gossip. As the newbie, I had an opportunity to ask a nagging cultural question.

*Disclaimer: I’m speaking in generalizations and from personal experience. I realize that those are two things one should rarely do, but this is my blog and I’m warning you up front!*

First, you should know that Filipinos are ever gracious (except on the road, but that’s another story). They will bend over backward to make sure you are comfortable. This may be part of the reason that Filipinos work quite literally all over the world. Part of this graciousness looks like preventing the other person from looking bad- saving face. If I have an issue with you, I should talk with a mutual friend, who will go to you about it. This keeps me from having to confront you and potentially embarrass you.

Also, my favorite definition for culture is “the personality of a group.” (Thanks, Jerry from PFO!)

Given all that, my nagging question was about the intersection of wisdom and culture. Is it gossiping if I use a third party for your own good?

I find these questions fascinating. (I was told, by the way, that it would be best for a Christ-follower to go directly to the person, per Matthew 18.) While I believe that culture is a gift of God, it seems that most cultures have practices that don’t align with His wisdom. I so appreciated the ability of my Filipino friends to evaluate their own cultural practices in the light of His word, and I wondered how often I do the same. It’s easy to see my own cultural practices as normal and unavailable for evaluation. I have a lot to learn!

‘Twas the Night Before School Started

and all through the house
the teachers were typing…
and planning… and sleeping.

The first day clothes were set out with care
knowing five o’clock soon would be there.

The classrooms were ready (or at least close enough!)
for the students and teachers to fill them love.

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Yet again, I am so grateful for a job I love. Even still, the butterflies have started. It’s always hard to fall asleep on the night before school starts, even as a teacher!

The A-B-Cs of Strep Throat

When I said that I needed more time to write here, I wasn’t exactly hoping for a few days in bed, 102.7 degrees, or strep throat.

And yet, here I am with approximately 22 hours of antibiotic treatment before my¬†contagion¬†ends…just enough time to write.

As I laid on the couch yesterday, I considered how to use my forced down-time. ¬†Using the computer required too much energy; calling a friend to catch up required use of my throat. ¬†My vocal cords only rebelled on occasion, but talking meant swallowing which meant pain. ¬†I’m a wimp.

So I laid on the couch looking for a silent, still activity…and came upon an idea I used when I would swim laps in college: A-B-C prayer.

A- adored

B- beautiful

C- Christ, etc.

I started with¬†attributes¬†of God and finished up with things I’m grateful for. ¬†I don’t think I made it past C on the second one before I was again asleep under the mountain of blankets.

You know what?  God showed up.  In my mushy-brain, shivering-with-fever state, He reminded me that I am His.  That was enough.

More to the story…

There’s almost always more to the story…

As friends and I drove to a women’s retreat on Friday evening, I made a quick comment about the forest- it looked like it had been clear-cut, and I said so. Today as we drove home, we read signs that told the story.

120 mile-per-hour winds blew through the area a few years ago, apparently damaging the trees to the point that they needed to be removed. The forest was replanted the next year, and with closer inspection (through the car window on winding roads- you do what you can!) I noticed saplings.

It reminded me of conversations about people- students and friends- who have mostly-unknown stories. The stories explain why we are what we are and refute the easily-made assumptions about each other.

Stories can’t, and aren’t, always known, though. Between miscommunications, professionalism, and a desire to keep private the stories that are not ours to share, and plain old insecurity, errant assumptions abound.

In the meantime, I sense my own opportunity to shift the angle of my assumptions. What if, instead of assuming I knew, I remembered the incomplete nature of my awareness? What if I assumed that there’s more to the story?

Maybe love would blossom and healing would be fostered. Maybe I could extend grace more automatically and judgement less often.

Maybe the greater Story would be better known.

Mercy for the Independent

Independence…it’s a good thing, right?

I’d like to think so. ¬†My natural tendency is some odd combination of fiercely independent and people-pleasing rolled into one. ¬†Neither option is healthy or God-glorifying, unfortunately. ¬†(Oh, how I wish they were sometimes!)

Isaiah 30:18 has been one of my favorite verses for a long time.  As is normal for me, I returned to this chapter to let it sink in more; as is normal for God, He encouraged me through His Word.

The rest of the chapter is not exactly birthday songs and party hats. ¬†God’s people had forgotten/ignored Him, tried to solve their own problems, and experienced trouble because of their choices. ¬†Their biggest problem may have been their ardent desire to be independent. ¬†He is still God, though.

“Therefore the LORD¬†longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who¬†long for Him.”

In the midst of their independence and consequential trouble, God’s people heard truth based entirely on God’s character in the face of their abundant issues.

Maybe the reason this verse gets to me is the overwhelming kindness of God expressed here. In the face of my issues, His character remains.  He is gracious, compassionate, just, and patient, and He is the One I need!  Where I desire to be independent, He longs to be gracious. Where I want to have it all together and not need help, He is compassionate.  When I want things done yesterday, He blesses those who wait for Him.

Maybe dependence is a good thing…

Overwhelmed

I need discipline, especially in my Bible reading. Some people may be able to read here, there, and everywhere willy nilly and stay focused. I cannot.

So I came to Titus 3 last week and got stuck, in the best way possible. That sense of “this seems brand new even though I know I’ve read it many times before” hit me clearly, and I keep going back to re-read it and meditate on it, finding it richer every time I return.

“Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”
(Titus 3:1-2).

I stopped, overwhelmed by the last phrase. It’s a great idea- every consideration for everyone- and a seemingly impossible one. I have a tendency, wrong though it is, to read things like this and think, “time to take a vow of poverty” (which may be God’s plan for some but which He has not revealed for me yet), and “kill myself trying to serve other people” (also not revealed to me).

But…neither my story nor the chapter was over. So I kept reading.

“For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.”
(Titus 3:3).

Seven words in, I was done. As if I was a child, sitting on the neighbor’s grass at Five-Day Club hearing the gospel again in its simplicity, the truth of my sinful start was clear. The sword of the Spirit cut cleanly, and my own inability to be anything less than lost was deeply apparent. The compassion in “we also” put me in my place- the place of needing consideration!

And now I was propelled into the next verse, already knowing the truth of grace but needing to read it alive again.

“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
(Titus 3:4-7).

Ahh! But when…kindness and love through the Father and Son and Spirit…I could breathe again, filling my heart and lungs with the breath of life. The weight of self-imposed expectations and overwhelming pressure had to flee, because the Spirit has been poured out richly in Christ, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. This story’s not about me, and it never has been. What sweet relief!

Jesus mercifully regenerated me when I prayed for salvation as a seven-year-old, but He continues to renew me, even on a random summer morning on a disciplined Bible reading plan. The truth of the good news should never be stale, but sometimes, I take the miracle for granted.

Thank you, Jesus, for reminding me again of how I desperately need You and how present you are.