What I’ve read. The January edition.

There are upsides to being ill for the last three or so weeks. I’ve read. Lots.

Here’s the list:

Milkman – Anna Burns

This is well worth the time and energy it will take to read it. It’s dense, fast and slow all at the same time. It’s the story of a young woman in the midst of a community split into tribes, a claustrophobic place where every movement you make is talked about and twisted according to who is speaking. It’s set in a nameless place but as the writer is Northern Irish it’s a fair assumption that she’s writing about Belfast in the troubles. There were many things I recognised from husbandface’s stories of growing up there and the sad continuing realities of communities divided, which carry on in part today.

The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing – J.T.Pennington

Ok, so I only read about 2 thirds of this in preparation for a sermon on the Beatitudes but it was a good read. Mostly I enjoyed my brain being awake enough to read and understand it. Flourishing is my word of the year and I loved the perspective given that the Sermon on the Mount is less a series of do’s and don’t’s and more the way to live a flourishing life as part of the Kingdom of God.

84K- Claire North

A good dystopian read. Slightly scary as the dystopian realities in the book come from the horrendous things humans can do to each other rather than a natural disaster. It’s a really disturbing read, but I kind of like to disturbed every now and again.

How to be Famous – Catlin Moran

I love anything this brilliant lady writes. This follows the life of a young music journalist in the 90s dealing with men, working out how to live and what matters in life. Loads of fun to read especially if you love music.

Rewild Yourself – Simon Barnes

A simple list of things that help in getting outside and becoming more aware of the natural world all around us. A fairly swift easy read which is inspiring me to buy decent waterproofs so I can get out more in an enjoyable way. It has also stirred a desire to actually find out more about birds and butterflies. Worth dipping into to get some good practical tips to reawaken love of our beautiful world.

Mystics and Misfits- Christiana Peterson

A part memoir, part reflection on some mystics and their lives. I really enjoyed reading about the authors life trying to make intentional community work and the inspiration she gained from some saints along the way. It also made me want to find out more about people of deep faith from across the centuries.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing – Hank Green.

If you’ve never checked out vlogbrothers on YouTube then you should. Brothers Hank and John Green have been making videos for each other every week for about 10 years now. They have influenced a community of people to decrease world suck and remember to be awesome. They are intelligent, well thought through people who have an incredibly positive outlook and influence on the world. We love them. Hank wrote a book this year and it’s a great read, clearly inspired by his shooting to a certain level of fame. It tells the story of April who is the first to film a video of a statue, copies of which have randomly appeared in every city on earth. She turns into a modern day celebrity and deals with that in various unhelpful and helpful ways. It’s a brilliant reflection on social media, the desire to be famous and the affects that can have on our soul.

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told- Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally

A fairly sweet memoir of their relationship. I found it a bit weird having read a few books on fame recently. The life of famous people is very odd and if I had more energy I’d probably have more interesting reflections on it. Anyway. A fairly fun read and also brilliant to read a story of people who love each other and are in a lifelong committed relationship. Good to have some insights into what that looks like for them and how they maintain that commitment.

Hello World- Hannah Fry.

Husbandface was delighted that I read a book about algorithms and the affect they have on our lives. It’s actually a brilliant read, well written, easy to understand and slightly disturbing to see the amount of faith we place in algorithms. She covers a wide range of places we use them from data, medicine, justice, transport and the arts. Her basic conclusion was that they make great servants but rubbish masters so let’s be careful and wise in how we use them. I loved this quote:

“But for me, true art can’t be created by accident. There are boundaries to the reach of algorithms. Limits to what can be quantified. Among all of the staggeringly impressive, mind-boggling things the data and statistics can tell me, how it feels to be human isn’t one of them.”

Dogs of War – Adrian Tchaikovsky

Another dystopian future book. A world in the near future where Bioforms are used in warfare. These Bioforms are mixes of animals, human and robot. We follow Rex, a dog Bioform as he grows in understanding of who he is, as the Bioforms get more rights within society and his conflict in wanting just to be a ‘good dog’ for his warmongering master whilst realising his master wants him to do bad things. It’s so well written and Rex is a brilliant character that even if you shy away from sci fi it’s still worth a read. Also- for the small demographic of people out there who have read the book and have small children, it totally explains the Paw Patrol.

Very Married – Katherine Willis Pershey

A lovely book reflecting on the value of marriage. It’s a series of essays on different aspects of marriage, personal experience, stories and a sense of the overarching goodness that God is involved in marriage. It’s full of grace, inclusion and an awareness of the privilege the author holds. A fascinating book on many levels it’s probably the first book I’ve read on marriage in a long time and from a fairly different theological tradition from the ones I read years ago. She manages to tread an interesting middle ground between tribes that I found very refreshing. I loved her chapter on grace, of the reality of the pain we can cause each other but that God’s grace and love always hold us through our marriage journeys, she’s realistic about divorce and manages to hold the tension between acknowledging the seriousness of the ways we mess each other up and the constant consistent love of God poured out whatever we have done.  She also has a brilliant chapter on the realism of temptation to infidelity, how she chose to resist temptation through honest chats with her husband and recognising what was going on, She then touched on the call to not judge others but to, in community, facilitate honest challenging chats about these issues with each other.  Well worth a read and really refreshing.

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The details.

It’s the details.
The small ones.
The slow ones.
The gentle walking on ones.

It’s the details.
The text.
That message.
The family taking our boys for breakfast.

It’s the details.
The poem sent
The reminders.
The knowing that others hold us in this.

It’s the details.
The songs swirling.
Second cup of coffee.
Orange juice, pastries, book finished husband hugged.

It’s the details.
Those friends with food
Who keep turning up and
Asking the right questions again and again.

It’s the details
The messages
The love
The hug on the school run.

It’s the details.
Like he sang.
“The sum of all these parts is we”

It’s going to be alright.
It’s all going to be alright.
Somehow. Somewhere.
It’s alright.

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The one with the January round up.

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January is famous for it’s weary undertone. A month of slogging through with the promise of the early first weeks enthusiasm wearing thin as we realise we are still a Long Way from Spring. It’s a month for hibernation, naming goals and then planting them in the ground and waiting for growth. Some manage to push through the gloom to achieve resolutions whilst the rest of us hunker down under duvets surrounded by piles of tissues.

January has been a tale of two halves for me this year.

I was so eager to start the year. The first couple of weeks were full of shiny new starts, great ideas and the prospect of a well husbandface, as well as the tension of wondering if this period of well would last. I thought I’d had my collapse just before Christmas, but, as it turns out, that was just the precursor, the warning bell before I hit the wall. Husbandface carried on getting better and better and I pushed on through like I have always done. But then I got sick, a head cold, a virus, something was exhausting me. I pushed on. Husbandface talked about this period of counselling coming to an end point, he managed to process several things that before would have sent him spinning out, it seemed like this being better thing might be around to stay. He led church last Sunday morning. He wasn’t completely drained afterwards. I pushed on.

I went to lead our contemplative service on Sunday night. All I have been able to think about in these last three weeks are winter trees. I’ve stared and stared at them, desperate to learn their secrets of waiting, of resting. We reflected silently and then talked about the ways winter trees rest, of how we fear rest, of how unproductive rest looks, of how long resting looks. We talked about the winter trees living off stored food for the winter. I asked the questions of where do we need to embrace rest? What stops us from resting? What is hard about it? I didn’t realise I was actually asking myself.

I went home and cried on the lovely husbandface. I cried tired exhausted tears, tears of longing for rest. Tears coming from believing in this new world and tears of being unable to push through anymore. I felt overwhelmed. Unsure of what to do now. Knowing that I needed to somehow stop. I asked for prayer, I asked for help. (I’m not very good at this asking for help thing but I knew I needed connection and permission to stop, friends very kindly told me to rest). The next day I pondered the wisdom of getting signed off work for a bit. I only work 16 hours a week but it pretty much fills all time away from the boys in the week. Stopping officially for a bit would provide space for real rest. My pride baulked at such a choice. I wanted to be ok, to be fine, to be coping. The sane voice in my head, which I usually reserve for others spoke back, asked the question of what I would say to someone in my situation. I grabbed for courage and went to the doctors.

After briefly explaining our story of the last three years and crying when the doctor acknowledged the reality of how exhausted I must be I am now signed off work for a couple of weeks to rest and recover. I am glad I have listened to the warning signs, to the illness that wouldn’t shift, the despair in my head over small things, the fears of what others were thinking about me all the time, the lack of sleep, the tears. I am glad I have the chance to speak to my soul through the stuff I’ve been having to say out loud in this last month.  Recently I preached about the first of the beatitudes. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. I said over and over again: ‘flourishing are those who know they are in need’. My words come back to remind me of this truth. I’ve been having conversations with my boss for the last couple of weeks about the slow work of God, the need to rest and start from a place of rest. I have been banging on about winter trees to anyone who will listen. I am finally listening. I have a couple of weeks to fully embrace this winter tree resting is what flourishing looks like right now thing.

Why am I writing this here? I reckon I’ve always posted thoughts in this small dusty corner of the internet on the off chance that others walking by will know that they aren’t the only ones. I’ve encouraged enough friends to take time off, to rest, to seek help and it is good to acknowledge that I need it too. It’s hard to ask, it’s hard to put my pride on the floor and say I can’t do it. I want to be a hero. I’m not.

I have two weeks off in front of me, I want to rest well (the perfectionist part of me wants to win at rest but we’ll acknowledge that she’s a bit daft and give her up a cup of tea to calm her down). I know there are components that will help me rest well. Walking, reading, writing, talking to my Maker, watching familiar tv shows guaranteed to make me cry to let the tears out,  some people contact, eating well and generally going slow. I want to remember that rest is a fundamentally important part of life, that accepting it in a world that doesn’t value it much isn’t a bad thing. I want to be restored, to put good practices back in my life that will help rest get into the everyday and I want to mark this time with joy because we have come to a place where I am able to stop and lie down in a green pasture.

These verses from Isaiah and Jeremiah are ones that I’ve journeyed with throughout my life and I come back to them again.

Isaiah 30:15 This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

Jeremiah 6: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.

I want to heed the warnings at the end of these verses, I don’t want to reject these good ways to life. I want to walk in the good ways, I want to rest, repent, be quiet and trust. I want to do these countercultural things. I want to know the rest that comes from stilling my soul in the presence of it’s Maker, and then I want to learn how God works so that I will be able to keep going long term, full of joy because I am known, loved and enough as I am.

Colossians 1:9-12

As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.

I expect I’ll be blogging a bit more in these next couple of weeks, it’s good for me to process these tumbling thoughts in my mind, and if it reassures anyone else to know they aren’t the only one then I am glad. 

Here’s some more of those winter trees resting so so well.

It is midwinter. All around trees lie dormant, waiting, resting, conserving energy for growth. They are not dead, merely resting, living in the dual dynamism of activism and rest throughout the cycle of the year.

When winter comes, the woody parts of trees and shrubs can survive the cold. The above ground parts of herbaceous plants (leaves, stalks) will die off, but underground parts (roots, bulbs) will remain alive. In the winter, plants rest and live off stored food until spring.

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Winter trees

It’s January.

I have thoughts and they blow off into the bitter cold wind.

I have ideas to post here in my pensive, a space for the swirling processing to be formed and shaped. They float away into the winter sun.

I have a cold. A virus exhausts my body. I sink deep into the negative thought spirals which illness all too easily brings. I’m not enough. I have no connection. I hide under the duvet waiting out the storm in my brain.

I wake up. I interact. The thought spiral has slowed and stopped. January carries on in all its slow stillness. Next year I promise my brain freedom from those new year thoughts, I promise to remember the rhythm of the seasons, that all around nature is having one epic duvet day. I promise to remember that slow hibernation is the mark of this month, not leaping into action. The fresh ideas of the first week will bear fruition one day when spring comes but for now. It is January and the world sleeps slow.

I read book after book. I hunker down in the cold and let the boys watch too much tv. I start to plan and scheme and hold them lightly as I realise spring growth will bear them into the light soon. For now I lay my requests and wait in expectation.

I am not the one who turns the dial to growth. I water and watch and wait and long for the deep work of our Maker in our hearts.

I forget to pray. I forget the bigger picture. I forget that we are held in love. And yet. I am. We are. Not forgotten.

Just winter trees.

Resting in the dark. Standing in the cold. Wrapped up in the long wait. Flourishing as we wake up each day for another day of rest. Stirring hope with each night closing the blinds slightly later than the night before. Breathing hope as shoots poke their heads out of the ground.

I long to lean into the rest. Embrace the wait of the trees.

I stare and stare at the stark branches splayed out against a cold blue sky and try to learn their patient rhythm.

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Books of 2018

Here’s the final list from 2018. I’m fairly sad that I managed less than last year but I did start a new job this year which took away some of my free time and brain energy. Onwards into the new year. I would like to manage at least 50 this year. We shall see. The ones in bold are my must read recommends.

Liturgy of the Ordinary- Tish Harrison Warren
Turtles all the way Down- John Green
A Song for Issy Bradley- Carys Bray
Braving the Wilderness- Brene Brown
I thought there would be cake- Katherine Welby-Roberts
How to be Champion- Sarah Millican
My Animals and other Family- Clare Balding
The Road Back to You- Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile
Cartes Postales- Victoria Hislop
The Music Shop- Rachel Joyce
Calling Major Tom- David M Barnett
Bit Rot – Douglas Coupland
Bonkers- Jennifer Saunders
Unapologetic- Francis Spufford.
Swallows and Amazons- Arthur Ransome
Silence- Erling Kagge
The heart goes last- Margaret Attwood..
Heroes of the Frontier- Dave Eggers.
The love song of Miss Queenie Henssey.- Rachel Joyce
Artemis- Andy Weir.
How to Stop Time- Matt Haig.
Notes on a Nervous Planet- Matt Haig.
My Name is Leon- Kit de Waal.
The End We Start From- Megan Hunter.
Everything I Never Told You- Celeste Ng
The Lido- Libby Page.
Lucy Mangan – Bookworm
Educated- Tara Westover.
Dear Mrs Bird- AJ Pearce
Nobody Told Me- Hollie McNish.
Quiet- Susan Cain.
The Moth Snowstorm – Michael McCarthy
Rosie Loves Jack- Mel Darbon
Whistle in the Dark- Emma Healey
In the Days of Rain- Rebecca Stott
How to Train your Dragon- Cressida Cowell
The Magician’s Nephew- CS Lewis
Cutting for Stone- Abraham Verghese
The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway- Rhys Thomas
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe- CS Lewis
Conversations with Friends- Sally Rooney

Here’s my Christmas stash. Loving the thought of digging into these.

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What I read, October-December 2018

The list of the year is coming soon. But for now, here’s the list of books I read over the last few months, not as many as I hoped or as varied as I wished for but a few good ones nonetheless.

Rosie Loves Jack- Mel Darbon

A fairly heartbreaking tale of a teenager with Downs and her boyfriend who has some of his own anger issues he’s working through. She fights crazy odds and some ultra disturbing times in London to get to Brighton to be with him. It’s a good read in altering perceptions and stepping into someone else’s world. Worth it for that.

Whistle in the Dark- Emma Healey

I read this in a day, it was that compelling and interesting. But strangely disappointing all at the same time. Dealing with the fairly hard issues of a teenage daughter who doesn’t want to live and how family life plays out against the backdrop of her going missing for a few days and then coming home but unable to talk about what happened. Beautifully written but maybe I was too anxious to get to the end.

In the Days of Rain- Rebecca Stott

Fascinating and disturbing insight into the life of the Strict Brethrens over the last century of their existence. Worth a read.

How to Train your Dragon- Cressida Cowell 

Son1 is devouring these with the beloved Daddy at the moment. I got drawn into the first book which is a great read and, from the sound of it, the 7 others that they have read in the last couple of months are equally capturing his imagination. He has to read the first page of each chapter out loud and Daddy reads the rest. As a result of these books he’s certainly become a more confident reader and understands the excellent nature of all the best stories having bits where you wonder how it could ever be ok again and then it all works out in the end.

The Magician’s Nephew- CS Lewis

I wanted to get into Narnia again this Christmas. As always I was in floods of tears at the way Aslan and Diggory talk about his Mum’s illness.

Cutting for Stone- Abraham Verghese

A fascinating book covering a man’s life from birth to later years growing up in Ethiopia, growing into a surgeon and dealing with his upbringing whilst encountering his absent father. It’s hard to sum up as it’s a story that covers in intimate detail his early years, the relationships around him and how they change and grow as time moves on. Well worth a read, such beauty in the pages and I was in tears many times throughout the story.

The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway- Rhys Thomas

A novel exploring the affect of great tragedy on Sam Holloway and what happens when he encounters a woman who turns his neatly ordered coping world upside down. OK in an odd sort of way…

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe- CS Lewis

I had been waiting for ages to introduce Narnia to the boys, son1 is super sensitive to anything scary and I wondered how he’d cope with the White Witch and the tension of what happens to Aslan. In a funny way I think the how to train your dragon series has helped him. Hiccup Haddock the Third has escaped death so many times that I think son1 is used to realising things generally work out in the end… We devoured this in the Christmas week and it was lovely watching them playing Narnia with some of their cousins, a shared story is always a good basis for friendship.

Conversations with Friends- Sally Rooney

I thought I was meant to like this, but I just found it a bit hollow and depressing. Some hard to like characters do some stuff and it’s all a bit meaningless. Maybe I’m missing something. But it just left me feeling a bit cold. I’d read a book by her again though because it was well written.

And there you are. The book shelves are bulging with Christmas presents and purchases at the moment and I’m looking forward to reading more over the coming year.

 

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We walk on.

And so, here we are, the open path of a new year, a winding road in front of us, a whole load of mountains already climbed behind us.

A new year.

Sometimes I think the new year should come complete with fresh vision, fresh energy, fresh endurance ability. Newness should feel more new. And yet we walk on the same paths, the same daily realities face us, which are no respecters of what time is doing, or what particular season we are in.

We walk on.

Markers in the sand are good though and so we stop and gaze and look at the view around us. We’ve come so far, there is so much further to go. We pause and are thankful for the arms which have carried us this far and we hold our arms up for carry cuddles again because we are tired and weary and stopping has made us aware of that aching in our bones.

We walk on.

I keep thinking about the word flourish, a word that seems to fit with all I dare to hope for in this new year ahead of us. I long for flourishing in the working for our lovely church I find myself doing. I also long for me and the boys to flourish as we hang out together. I long for husbandface’s period of well to last and be a foundation from which to grow on. I want to see God’s touch throughout the year, bringing fruit when I can see nothing but empty branches and bringing life whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in.

We walk on.

Last night we had ‘admin’ night, a chance to talk through new rhythms for our family beyond survival. Tired from new year celebrations it felt hard to push through, but a good discipline. Beyond survival might be a place for us this year. I’m hoping that looks like flourishing in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. That we grow in love for each other and the world around us.

We walk on.

As we start the new year I can’t escape the reality of our Maker, who has plans and schemes for us. Whose work I want to get involved in rather than figuring this thing out on my own. Whose work in others lives I want to notice and become aware of rather than trying to force. I am aware my job is weird. No other job is it so crucial to its existence to know that there is a God who lives and moves amongst us. I cannot do this job, or frankly life, without awareness of the One who dwells with us. It is the work of God that I get involved with rather than figuring things out on my own.

We walk on.

And so in my weakness and fear I offer up my life again this year to be directed by the One who knows us and loves us so well. I want to be of use in the good ways prepared in advance for me to walk in and I want to remember that it is through my weak foolish offering that God works. I am not alone.

And so we walk on.

Into routines, walks to school, meal planning, hanging out with friends, attempting to pour out grace on each other, sleeping, guiding small people through the world and more. We walk on into another year of life.

Hope to see you in it.

 

 

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