Sand and Stories

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I bought ten tulips, pink and yellow, at the market. The lady who sold them to me wrapped them expertly in rustly cellophane, gathered everything together at the bottom with a rubber band, and I carried them home proudly. I love carrying flowers!

At home, I unwrapped them and trimmed several inches off the stems in order to arrange them in a glass jar. My work space got gritty. Sand. Ah! The tulips came from Holland. Reclaimed sea. Hence the sand. I’ve been there. The tulip boxes at the market were marked “Alsmeer.” I know where that is in Holland, have walked through the tulip fields, got the sand on my shoes. The sand on the kitchen counter was Dutch sand. How exotic is that?

I’m reading Michael O”Brien’s A Father’s Tale. I’m hardly past the first sixth of the tome, but already it is delicious and deep and aching though not nearly as hard a read as his Island of the World. Today I read of Alex’s journey to Oxford in search of his son who was studying there. It takes me back several years when I was visiting a friend and she took me around Oxford for a day, and I fell in love with the place. I had fish and chips in the Rabbit Room at the Eagle and Child. Even while I ate, I couldn’t believe I was there.

There are probably a million things that that play into what shapes a person. I believe that part of this shaping is a combination of all the books we’ve read and the places we’ve been to. Having been at Alsmeer and the Bodleian Library shaped my perception and understanding of the things I encountered this week.

In addition to books and travels, we are also a product of our own choices. I had opportunities to travel, and I chose to take them. I have other opportunities every day. Choosing to say ‘yes’ to something means saying ‘no’ to something else, and each decision affects the shape of my life.

Choices this week:

  • unsubscribed to good newsletters that talk about good things, but don’t address matters that I really need to focus on.
  • walked past used clothing stores even when I have time to shop, because I’m not buying clothes for myself for a year.
  • journaled extensively.
  • lowered my lecturing teacher voice, sat down, and laughed with my students.
  • read in the morning sun.
  • dreamed about travelling to see China’s stone mountains and India’s bougainvillea, saris, and elephants.

Because dreams shape us too, don’t you doubt it for a second.

Travelling, books, choices, dreams–some of the infinite amount of things that make me who I am. Which means that I’ll probably always have itchy feet but also that I’m always changing.

Which is a good thing.

 

Related posts: Oxford of the Dreaming Spires

 

On Eating Books

A couple days ago,  a friend emailed to ask my opinion about several Christian books and their critiques. She heard they had questionable messages, and didn’t want her  family or her concept of Jesus to be destroyed by the books’ messages.

The question touched a nerve for me, and I fired back a reply. This is the edited form of what I answered, without names or titles, because those aren’t the point of this post:

I think it’s fair to say that some book isn’t my style, or that it doesn’t speak into this season of  my life. But being a writer who has been treated respectfully but also criticized, I am reeeeeeally slow to say that someone shouldn’t read another Christian’s book. My premise is Jesus’ words: “He that is not with me is against me.” Anything can be taken out of context, misunderstood, applied in wrong ways. There ARE wolves in sheep’s clothing. The enemy IS out to seek, kill, and destroy. But  books that focus on Jesus and how to get to know Him better have to be a good thing.

I don’t think we have to be scared of these books. The Spirit is a communicator. He will tell us if the fruit of the books are wrong or bad. Has the fruit/result of the book benefited you and your family? Then thank God for sharing His truth and light. No one produces light/truth on their own–it all comes from God and the praise should go back to Him and be spread to our world.
         There’s going to be error in any book we read. That’s a given. Parents should protect their children; families definitely need to be a safe place to shelter children because there is evil out there. But somewhere, somehow (don’t ask me how parents should do this–it’s not my job!) children should grow to be adults who can DISCERN–key word here–what’s good and what’s not. Reading should be like eating fish–get the goodness out of it and spit out the bones.
        I believe in universal truth and beauty, which means that non-believers can say and do things that are true and beautiful, mirroring God’s image in them, and testifying to the fact that satan cannot bring anything original, or create anything. Everything that comes from him is deception in some way, a twisting/perverting/distorting of the original stamp of beauty and truth that God gives to every person.
         Christians have a higher call than only to mirror universal truth, because we are to be light in darkness and salt for insipidness. We are to teach and disciple and equip. Writing books is one way of doing that. It is ill-fitting for Christians to throw rocks or try to debunk other Christians who are sincerely trying to be voices that teach and equip and encourage. It is really dangerous to judge someone else’s motivation or level of sincerity.
       Where there is obvious sinful teaching that is not repented of, there is cause for caution and concern. (And ironically, the internet is not a reliable source of truth.) Where there is blatant falsehood or open defiance of God’s word or where good is called evil and evil is called good–these are reasons for not buying a book or not encouraging others to read it. There are spiritual powers and battles around us that we easily forget, and we should know that what we read and say has direct influence on the spirit world, for good or evil. BUT we should not be paranoid or flailing at bookshelves to make sure that no evil thing is in any book.
        Is our faith in our expertise/wisdom/discernment, or is our faith in the Lord and His spirit and His endless faithfulness? Will He or won’t He let us stray? Are we or aren’t we safe in His hand? Does a Christian author really have the power to take our faith away and turn us and our family off the narrow path of life?
       If we ask God to guide us, and if our hearts are clear before Him, He will not accuse us. Satan is the accuser. The Spirit is faithful to convict. The peace of God is our umpire and can call the shots and tell us if something is wrong or dangerous. If our hearts are soft and sensitive to His gentle, loving voice, we don’t have to be scared that He will let us slip and swallow poison. His heart toward us is to keep us faultless, not to catch us making a mistake and jump on us!
       I think _________’s book is a powerful message to this generation. I believe strongly that her wisdom is from God and echoes His heart. I think she is an anointed woman for this time in history, and I think she and her family have special temptations and attacks that no one else knows about because satan hates her kind of message, and her kind of family and marriage.
        It is really wrong for Christians to attack each other.  Even when there is obvious error, we should be the ones who can speak honestly about it while handing out equal amounts of grace and forbearance.   Christians fail each other, and some Christian writers fail terribly. They carry a great responsibility (to whom much is given, much is required) but it is not a fellow Christian’s place to judge and debunk. We should be known for our love and wisdom and grace, not our rigidity and harshness.
       People liked spending time with Jesus, and I’m sure it was because of how much He lived in grace and truth. He is my hero and I want to live and read like that too.

Related post: Comments on The Jesus I Never Knew

Interview

Now it’s public:

I’m a blog junkie.

I have my reasons and justifications.

Do I sound defensive? Do you want to pay for therapy for me?

You can see some of  my reasons in the interview my friend Shari did over on her blog.

For the record, today Feedly says I have 107 sources. And I unsubscribed from a few during the week. As with other parts of my life, I do try to keep an open hand about writing and reading blogs.

Enjoy the interviews!

Rattly People

In a class this week about femininity and how we are composed of many layers (the object lesson was my matriska doll named Natalie) we talked about how our layers sort of blur into each other, and it’s hard or impossible to separate them.

I suspect that we have at least 100 layers, which explains why we’re so complex. But to be efficient, and to avoid 100 unwieldy terms, we usually use “spirit, soul, and body” to talk about the layers that we’re made of. What we do physically affects us spiritually and emotionally. Our emotions play out physically, viscerally, tangibly. The physical shell of the person is the first thing we notice, but it isn’t who they really are, and yet the way they carry themselves, the things they laugh at, the way they cast their glances around–all of this reveals the intangible parts of them.

So the Samaritan woman came to the well in the middle of the day, not in the morning or evening when the other women did, because of the shame she lived with. Lilly wanted to keep living with August because she needed a mom. Sarah moved across the US, as far away as possible, to remove herself from her cancer treatment and broken engagement. It’s easy to connect the dots with people in a book.

It’s a little more mysterious or insidious to see the pattern in ourselves or the people who we only see as bodies and not having 100 layers, but it’s still true. The loud laughter is an unspoken fear that he doesn’t matter. The trendy clothes reveal internal priorities.  The insistence for control or comfort shows itself in the second helping of Oreo ice cream–or refusal of any of it.

Natalie (she is rattly) demonstrates that each layer is important and valuable. But maybe the most valuable part is the inside that’s most hidden and takes the most time to discover. When I take the doll apart in class, there’s always a collective gasp when they see the smallest doll appear because she is so cute and sweet and unexpected. Sort of like what happens when we see what’s inside the person who we only saw before as a body.

This is a most fascinating life, teaching. I am opening to my brain to the realization that teachers must work harder than their students in the constant process of receiving, processing, and transmitting information, and then re-thinking and re-assessing what was transmitted.

The downside to that is that I end up over-thinking things and living inside my head. Which is why it’s really necessary to spend some time plunking stones into a creek with a child, or laughing at a lame pun. Or kayaking on a slow river with friends, racing for the darkest tan. All of which I did this week, and–at every level of myself– am better for it.

My Diet

I came to the US with plenty of extra space in my suitcase. On my return flight, that space will be taken up completely with books. This is the promised land of books, and they’re arriving by post these days, which is so, so exciting. The stacks are growing! Between classes and chapel and walks and socializing I’m gorging on books.

I overheard a conversation lately where one person was saying they don’t read, and if they do, it’s a discipline as in, “This month I will read one book.”

That’s ok for them, and they are very useful in God’s Kingdom, but not reading is the discipline for me.

I’m reading Oceans Bright With Stars, the second in a series by Rachel Devenish Ford, which is a compilation of her blogging while her family moved from California to Goa in West India. My life is nothing like hers, because she writes of she and her husband travelling with three children while she’s pregnant with her fourth, and she talks about how exhausting and bewildering and exhilarating her family and surroundings are.

The book keeps me up reading way too late because she’s so honest and refreshing like cool breezes. In a most inexplicable  way, even if our lives have little in common, I feel like she understands me. Her writing isn’t comedy, but it makes me laugh aloud because I get her humor and crazy metaphors and because I see so much of myself in her, especially in the way she mixes up her words like I do.

Then I just finished The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo, a beautiful little gem that made me smile and cry. It’s reminiscent of Bridge to Terebithia.  I love the writing that sparkles off the page and the way the story blends Blake’s Tiger poem in with it.

If you never read it, just try to be the kind of person that when someone tells you they saw a tiger in the woods, you don’t say they’re crazy, but ask “Where?”

It’s All Good News

The lecture comes first and then the fun part:

I was with my family visiting another family whom we didn’t know well. When us girls were getting acquainted, one young lady’s first question to me was “So, do you have a boyfriend?”

I said no. I was so stunned by her question that I still, eighteen years later, remember reeling from the realization that having a boyfriend was the way she valued/ranked her life and her friends’ lives.  While I wanted a boyfriend, I still felt deeply that not having one wouldn’t keep me from living well. Some years later, this girl was so crushed when her sisters married, that she couldn’t function well, and was so desperate that she made tragically unwise, harmful decisions to take whatever man would take her.

In our sub-culture that is pro-family–and rightly so–the girl who has no boyfriend or husband feels a lot of pressure and silent questions. She might be 20 or 29, and very satisfied and fulfilled.  OR she might be 19 or 23 and feel cheated and left behind and missing out. People wonder if she chose to be single. She wonders if she’ll ever get to choose a baby name. People unhelpfully recommend a good man to her, but what can she do about him?

I wrote a book called Life is For Living–Not for Waiting Around for the girl who is forlorn and desperate, because I know that God had infinitely more in mind for her when He first dreamed her up. The book doesn’t answer the unanswerable questions, nor resolve all the hang-ups we get stuck on. One of my friends said that when she reads it, she feels like I understand her and am walking with her in this solo walk. It was high praise, and fulfilled part of what I dreamed the book would be.

Because a big fear of women is that we’re on our own. I think we can do anything if we know we’re not alone. My book is a kind of companion that says “I get it. I know, me too.”

Wives and mothers tell  me they like the book as well, because everyone needs a voice beside them that urges them to search out abundance and fullness in Jesus. Romance and children are beautiful and rich  gifts, and not everyone is given them. Is that fair? Hardly. But the good news is that life and fulfillment for every lady is found in one person, and his name is Jesus.

The fun part is this: we’re doing a close-out special, a 60% discount, on my book until March 31.  Which means it’s $4.40 now instead of 10.99.  Order here from Christian Learning Resource. Wholesalers, contact the office and  get 75% off. 

This would be a good chance to buy copies for a study group. Contact me and I’ll be glad to send you a study guide–free!–for your group.

Spread the word–let your friends know, forward this post, share it on your networking places–and I would be so grateful!

The Work of His Fingers

This week one day our ladies’ class had a lesson on beauty and how we become beautiful. Doesn’t every girl want to know the answer to that? One pointer was “do something with your hands” and I heard myself talking about it with a passion that surprised even me. It seemed to stun my students a little bit.

I think that when we do something with our hands, we enter a little bit into God’s character as a creator. It’s almost sacramental. It IS sacramental if we’re being mindful of what we’re doing and bringing into our world something that has never existed before. Even dicing an onion for soup.

I’m serious.

I used to think that artists were from another planet and breathed different air from me. But in my baby steps toward wholeness, I’m discovering that working with my hands is part of being a whole person. Creativity doesn’t only mean canvases and paints and clay. It isn’t only galleries and exhibitions and coffee table books. It means things as diverse as every person who breathes and connects their brains to their hands.

That diversity is what excites me, and makes me want to grab everyone in sight and start making and doing stuff. Then I watched this TED talk and I cried when I saw the beautiful child-friendly MRI machine because I’ve been in them, and know how terrifying it must be for a child.

One man took what he knew just a step further to better the world. Seems like that’s what artists should do, and aren’t we all artists?