Unseen but Seen

You know the riddle about the tree falling in the forest with no one around, but my riddle is:

If you didn’t see it on Facebook, did it happen?

When I’m enthused about something, I want the whole world to know. I think if it makes me happy or answers my question or tastes delicious, everyone else surely wants to hear about it and experience it too. I experienced big highs this week, witnessed magnanimous provision, life-giving words spoken, stunning red maples, busy beavers gnawing bark and poking sticks into their lodge. They were things that made me want to weep with joy and raise my hands in worship, but none of it went on Facebook.

So did it happen?

Silly question.

I live in a pretty tightly-knit community and I sometimes joke that there are no secrets because we pretty much live and work in each other’s pockets, but it’s not true, because the most precious, beautiful things are too sacred to talk about freely, much less put on the interwebs.

I suspect that some of my reticence to quickly tell the world about my latest enthusiasm and joy is a trickle-down effect from reading this book:


 

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed

Sara Hagerty’s first book came out three years ago: Every Bitter Thing is Sweet. It tells her story of her evangelistic fervor, marital conflict, financial difficulty, and infertility, and how those bitter things became the impetus to find the sweetness of Jesus’ love. The book met me in an especially needy, opportune time and I count it one of the best I’ve read.

This summer, Sara’s second book came out, and I was a little skeptical because I know that publishers pressure successful authors to keep pushing out books, and sometimes an author has only one good book in her. But I wouldn’t have needed to skeptical. Sara really does have a rich, deep message in her second book that all of us need.

Here are some of the many excerpts I underlined and starred:

God used this desperation to intensify a thirst in my soul. God calls us to resist succumbing to readily available distractions and instead to press into these thirsty moments, or weakest seasons. Thirst is our ally. If we can tolerate the thirst long enough, staying in our weakness and our need, we will find more of God.

The path to greatness lies in hiddenness. And it’s a state of mind and a way of being, not a series of tasks to perform.

Those who turn to God and hide their otherwise-shamed faces in His chest? Those are the ones who hear His heartbeat. We haven’t been hidden by God to suffer or to be punished; we’ve been wooed into hiding to meet with the God who turns vulnerability into communion.

In every chapter, Sara refers to an aspect of the story of Mary who washed Jesus’ feet, the waste of it, and how Jesus responded to her scandalous act. While I read, I kept thinking

And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you openly.

and

I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places.

and

Not one sparrow is forgotten.

and

The darkness and the light are both the same to You.

I will probably never stop gushing loudly over things I love and remember and thrill about, but Sara’s book has soaked into me, in that I know it’s ok to be quiet, unheard, unseen, leaning hard on the source of strength, the true pillar of significance. Maybe the whole world doesn’t have to know about the stunning sky I saw between the color-washed leaves. Maybe I can just savor it and sit with the wonder of it.

But oh, you really should have seen those two beavers with their delicate little hands, nibbling bark as if it was corn on a cob. I happened to walk over their bridge, watched them beavering away, and didn’t document it with a photo. But it still happened, and I am still awed at the astonishing encounter.

I like social media. I work in Communications, after all. It is a happening place, and it needs to be. I believe that if you see something beautiful, you should tell it. I care deeply about expressing truth and light in winsome, attractive ways. But I don’t have much worthwhile to say before I have sat long, rested, lingered with Truth in quietness and hiddenness.

Out of that communion, everything else flows.

Things I’m Noisy About

“Anita, are you hungry?” My friend asked me in the lunch line. “You’re exclaiming at everything you’re seeing, and I’m just enjoying hearing your delight!”

Well, I was hungry, but the real truth was that I’m always noisy about the things I love, so when there’s wonderful colors and flavors around me, I start crowing and cheering and talking in superlatives. Plus, I haven’t lost the wonder of working in an institution where lunch–colorful, fresh, creative food– is waiting when I walk to the food bar every day. And today’s fish tacos with cilantro lime slaw really and truly was the best lunch all year.

Since bloggers are allowed to rant and rave about whatever they want, and this blogger tries hard not to complain or rant, (but sometimes she fails, judging by the looks of another post that’s simmering) I’m going to be noisy about two things I’m excited about at the moment.

  1. People frequently ask me for book recommendations, and I’m thrilled to give them ideas and push books into their hands, but it always mystifies me because I don’t know why they come to me with their questions about books. There are other people who read far more than I, but I wonder if I get asked about books because I’m just noisier than others about the books I read.

I’m part of a book club, where we read a book a month and the person who chose the book leads the discussion afterwards. (We take a break in the summer, in which our sole group activity is a grilled steak dinner. The men grill, and the women bring salads and desserts. “This is such a perfect evening” we kept saying to each other as we cuddled babies around the fire and drank coffee and looked at the stars. I’m the newest member, and don’t know all the traditions or rhythms yet, but it has been most enjoyable.) Our current read is River Town, two years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler, who relates his experience as an English lit teacher in China with the Peace Corps.

 It takes me to my own experiences of teaching English as a second language, the child-like identity you have to take on as a foreigner, the way life narrows down to finding the right word to buy supper, the simpler lifestyle that comes with living in a small apartment in town far away from family, the freedom of stepping on a train to explore an even newer place, the love/hate relationship locals have with foreigners, the stereotypes that every nationality presupposes on other nationalities. Peter tells his story with great heart without being sentimental, and I frequently giggle at the stories. The folk lore, the quirks such as the “Happiest Man in All of Fuling as well as the Luckiest,” the teaching bloopers, and can you imagine–pet birds in cages that you bring with you and hang in the rafters when you hang out in the teahouse with your cronies. Can you imagine!

Everyone should experience being foreign at least once. It is terrifying and embarrassing, but wonderfully clarifying and exhilarating and deeply enriching.

19 Travel Quotes to Inspire Your Wanderlust

2. For many years, I dreamed of taking voice lessons. Then for a couple months in Poland, I was at the right place at the right time and exchanged voice lessons for English lessons, which was a singular experience.  I think the Slavic way of singing is different from what I was wanting, plus, my teacher wanted to make me a soprano and insulted me when he said “Most altos are lazy sopranos.” I have no hard feelings. It makes a good joke, and now I think I understand the point he was trying to make. I will always treasure the English lessons where we watched musicians’ speeches and songs. His English was advanced enough to understand the poetry, and I always think of him when I sing “Heal their hearts, heal their souls, their lives can be golden if your love enfolds.”

Last summer, I started going to a voice teacher at the local college. My friends had told me I’ll like her, and they were right. Claire is an incredibly gifted soprano, deeply sensitive to her students. I often wished for 30 minutes to catch up and then 30 to sing, because it was like meeting a friend every week. She hears what isn’t said or sung, and knows what I need to hear or do to improve. In the lessons, I learned that when you hand your soul to a stranger you don’t die, which helped me feel less fear in other settings like public speaking. I learned that driving onto a campus and finding my way into the right building isn’t impossible. I learned that I can sing higher  and sustain lower than I thought I could. I learned that I can bomb a recital, forget everything I knew to do, and still not die. Unfortunately, I’ll never be a credit to Claire, and this week I had my last lesson with her. New responsibilities and other things to learn have crowded out this privilege, but I will always value those lessons. I experienced the law of the echo and the enriching power of a focused discipline.

Of course, the best voices train for years, but I think everyone should take voice lessons for at least one year.

Newest News

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In the spirit of things today, Cyber Monday, my book is available in e-format!

While I will always love the tactile experience of paper and ink, there is much to love about this e-book.

  • It’s cheaper than the printed version. (1/3 of the price)
  • You get it instantly.
  • You get a preview of it while you decide you want it.
  • It adds no bulk or weight to your purse or book bag.
  • You can buy a copy for your friend and have it emailed to her. (Think easy, thoughtful, inexpensive Christmas gift.)

I wrote the book for single women, but am often surprised and overwhelmed at how warmly other women–mothers and pastor’s wives– speak of it. The book focuses on living well in Plan B. That’s not only for singles. Turns out most of us everyone is in some form of Plan B and we all need input, encouragement, companionship in that situation.

Today, that voice just got more accessible!

The Soloist, a review

I just finished reading The Soloist for the umpteenth time. In a friend’s house on spring break, the book called my name again. I drank iced tea on her balcony and soaked in the beauty of the story and the breeze and sun on my face and smiled and teared up and felt whimpery by turns.

It’s the true story of how Steve Lopez, journalist for the “Los Angeles Times” was looking for a story for his column and came across a homeless man, Nathaniel Ayres, playing his violin with 2 strings under Beethoven’s statue in Pershing Square.

He plays as if he’s a student, oblivious to everyone around him and this is a practice session.

How can I tell you the story without telling the story and spoiling it for you? It’s about music, creative genius, and friendship, and schizophrenia, and homelessness. About two lost men who inadvertently help save each other. Some name dropping here: Ayres and Yo-Yo Ma played in same concert orchestra at Julliard.

In a crazy, surprising way, I found myself identifying with Ayres and his ramblings. The way he would burst out passionately and eloquently about Beethoven and LA and “people who destroy themselves with the drug known as tobacco.” And interspersed were phrases that broke my heart: “I can’t believe how beautiful that sky is—can you believe it?” The only difference between us is that I don’t (usually) say my lines out loud because, well, I don’t like the blank looks I get when my spaghetti brain becomes verbal. I have this fear that my friends get tired of me exclaiming childishly about the beauty that’s stunning me, but Ayers just let it all out. “I cannot believe how gorgeous that concert was tonight. Did you see how perfect Mr. Hong was? It was absolutely flawless. How could he do that? I don’t want the concert to ever end.”

Lopez, a genius in his own right, tells the story with utmost sensitivity. Maybe the story moves me so much because of how fragile I feel even on the best of days. Like Nathaniel Ayres with his colorful, clumsy grocery cart of belongings that he couldn’t possibly let out of his sight even when he went to a concert hall, I have my own issues of letting go and trusting. His story reminds me of how crumbly the edge of mental health is, and how unpredictably the slide down can happen.

One of my favorite parts of the story is a conversation between the journalist and a doctor who’s seen it all at the homeless shelter. I think I like it because it’s an accessible, simple approach to the complex issues they’re discussing:

Let him find his way. Be patient. Be his friend. Relationship is primary. It is possible to cause seemingly biochemical changes through human emotional involvement. You literally have changed his chemistry by being his friend.

Disclaimer: In case you’re sensitive to it, there is rough language in some of the dialogue.

When Breath Becomes Air review

About once or twice a year, I see a book that I have to get. There is no waiting, no deliberating–I need this book now.

When Breath Becomes Air was one of those this week. Never mind that I had a small pile of assigned reading. This was imperative too.

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I’d watched an interview with him probably about a year ago, and it deeply impacted me, so I was already tuned to hearing about this book. When it came, I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up til the wee hours last night because I couldn’t bring myself to close the book. I rarely let myself do that, so this was particularly indulgent but necessary.

When I finished, my pillow was wet and my throat was tight.

Kalanithi first got his degrees in English literature, because he though literature might hold the vocabulary that gives life meaning. Then he studied biology and the brain because maybe there he could find out what gives humans meaning. After all that searching and studying and excelling in each field, he concluded that God gives meaning to life. Humans find meaning through revelation, not science. He was 36, in his last year of training as a neurosurgeon, when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. The morning he was dressing for his graduation, his body betrayed him completely, and he ended up in ICU for a week. Twenty-two months after his diagnosis, he died.  His daughter was 8 months old.

Kalanithi’s writing is absolutely pristine and totally engaging. It has awakened me so that today color is more vivid, the rain is wetter, and my friends’ eyes are more vibrant and beautiful than they were yesterday. I don’t feel morbid. But I’m thinking in new ways about what is valuable and real. The book was his project in his last year, and in it he explores what it means to be fully alive, nurture life (his daughter), love well (his wife and family) and face death simultaneously, which is where we all are except most of us don’t have a diagnosis and a medical chart.

I loved the medical jargon and needing to pick up a dictionary now and then. The book is the perfect blend of writing and technical terms–art and science. I feel inspired and weepy and resolved.

Resolved to live better than I have.

And to work on that stack of reading.

But first, to play with some chalk pastels.

Tasty Words

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We were a group of friends around a campfire with a silver moon and glorious crisp air around us. It was “literary night” and some of us read wild and wonderful bits and pieces–excerpts and short stories–to the others. I cheered and laughed and ate up all the deliciousness. Among others, there was Dickens and A. A. Milne and then O. Henry.

“Goody, goody, I love O. Henry,” I said under my breath.

“How do you know all those books?” my friend next to me asked.

I shrugged and said I grew up with them. But now that I think about it, except for Milne, that’s not really true. I always read voraciously, but in very protected parameters, without access to a public library. Sometimes I feel like a hoax when I talk about my favorite writers and books because somehow people think I read a lot, but in comparison to other friends, I don’t. I think I give the impression of being well-read because I’m vocal about whatever book and author I’m enthused about, while my friends read much more high-brow content much more quietly and know far more than I.

But I follow some writers I like, here and there on their blogs or talks on YouTube, and then I recognize their names when their books get on best-seller lists.  And I watch some literary reviews in some papers, which alerts me to the up-and-coming new books, and then years later I unearth them in a 2nd-hand shop. Or a friend loans me one like this recently: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I can’t repeat that title very fast, but it was absolutely delightful, and I was none the worse for having waited for it several years after all the book clubs in Ireland were reading it.

And now I’m in an academic setting where most of my assignments center around reading, reading, reading, and for the first time in my life, it’s something I MUST do many hours a day, and while I love it, it’s not easy. I thought it would be like eating chocolate cake. But the Chesterton book right now is such that I can. not. understand any two consecutive sentences. And it’s the book that has a section in which I’ll be responsible to guide a discussion, so I HAVE to get it. The experience is sort of like chewing steak. Tasty, but tough. Nourishing, but work.

This is not going to put me off books. It will probably make me more excited and vocal about words and ideas. And definitely more enthused than ever about wrapping up the day with Milne or O. Henry.

The Hardest Peace, book recommendation

 

Hardest Peace  I first heard about Kara Tippets when I read a letter she wrote to a young lady who was suffering from cancer and planning a physician-assisted suicide because she didn’t want to fight it and suffer the ravages that were sure to come. Kara has cancer too, and could identify completely with the lady’s pain and fears, and Kara plead for her to look for beauty and hope, because it’s there.

The letter was so beautiful and compelling that I went to Kara’s blog to read more of what she wrote. She was an English major, so it figures that she has a way with words. I loved what she wrote, but I left the blog and didn’t go back to it for awhile because it felt voyeuristic to read about the body blows the cancer was wrecking on her.

But I went back when I realized the wonder of how Kara writes with beauty and grace about their immeasurable pain and sorrow, and it showed me how grace and light is always bigger than whatever darkness is around. I started following her on Facebook because I wanted to bear witness to that light and strength and joy.

Kara is 38, a wife of a church planter, and mother of four children. They never expected their story to look like this–beautiful, but not pretty, as she says.

I was restless this week for a good book, found Kara’s book, The Hardest Peace, on my house-sister’s bookshelf, and finished it today. It undid me in many ways. I cried through most of it. It is poetic and heartbreaking and honest and brave and anointed. Everyone should read it, but you should probably have someone to debrief with.

Kara is home from hospice now, her hair is growing back, but she’s writing less and less. Most mornings, I wake up and wonder if she’s still with us. There is a network of believers laced all over the globe, praying for her, supporting the beautiful family, waiting with them in wings before she enters the throne room. This waiting is sacred, crushing, unbelievably cruel, and beautiful.