Book Recommendations and a Thank You

Before I begin, in the past few months I haven’t been writing on Sayable much and I’ve gotten so many sweet messages from so many of you saying you’ve missed my words here. Thank you. Truly. Thank you. I am hard at work on the book and it’s due at the end of January. My aim is to be giving my best writing toward that project, to write a book that’s faithful to the craft and to the message, but most of all to God. Writing can be a lonely occupation sometimes and writing a book is much lonelier than writing a blog where there’s lots of feedback, comments, and interaction. Your emails have meant the world to me when they’ve come and they’ve always come at just the right moment for me, just when my energy is waning or I’m thinking, “I’m the LAST person who should be writing this book!” Thank you. You guys make the work worth it. Hopefully I won’t have used up all my words by the end of January. Your prayers are appreciated.

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I am a very bad, no good, horrible secret keeper when it comes to Christmas gifts. If a secret has nothing to do with gifts, I’m champion at keeping it quiet, but if I’ve bought a gift I’m excited about giving (which, what other kind is there?), it’s tough to keep a lid on it. A few weeks ago I put one of Nate’s gifts on my desk to hide later, intent on him being surprised by it and hopefully forgetting its existence myself until Christmas. But time got away from me that day and he came into the kitchen that evening saying, “That book on your desk looks really good!”

Fail.

I’m still not giving it to him until December 25th though. He can wait.

The first few years of our marriage felt more like survival than thriving—because of the moves and all the other things—so we’d curve, most nights, to one another in bed with our laptop open and watch a few episodes of West Wing or some Masterpiece Mystery show. But since this summer we recommitted to not making a practice of show-watching in our bed anymore. I wish we were disciplined enough to make statements like, “We never…” but either we lack the discipline or we lack the hyperbole. Generally, though, we reserve our bed for reading, sleeping, and other bed activities. What that means is we’ve become voracious readers again and it’s been good for our minds and souls.

I wanted to recommend a few books for you to put on your Christmas list or to fulfill the list of someone you love. I hope you’re better at secret keeping than I am.

Non-fiction

Sarah Arthur released A Light So Lovely, a beautiful book about the life and tension of Madeleine L’Engle. It was one of my favorite reads this year.

Amiee Byrd’s Why Can’t We Be Friends is a book I want to give to everyone this year and I hope many will take me up on this recommendation. I think the Church needs this book.

After receiving (and loving) Ruth Haley Barton’s Invitation to Retreat from IVP, I purchased her Sacred Rhythms and I had no idea how this book would feed and nourish me. If you struggle (like I do) with habit making and need a more compelling reason than the glory of being disciplined (like I do), I recommend this book.

I first heard of Ragan Sutterfield on a podcast interview he did with Renovare on Wendell Berry. I immediately bought his memoir This is My Body and read it in one sitting. I loved his perspective on so many aspects of the body, the church, farming, exercise, and eating.

Hannah Anderson released her newest recently and it might be my favorite of her three. All That’s Good extols the lost art of discernment and does so beautiful.

We walked one of our favorite couples through pre-marital counseling this fall and used the book our church generally uses, Catching Foxes by John Henderson. I was reminded of what an excellent resource this book is, not only for new marriages but for old ones too.

Fiction, with this caveat: I love good literature, but as I lay me down to sleep is not the best time for me to read great literature. These are good stories and most are well-written, winners of Pulitzers or other book awards.

I’m on a perpetual mystery novel kick, but I took a detour this fall into the German invasion of France during WWII. I read The Nightingale, The Alice Network, Lilac Girls, and Charlotte Gray. (I listened to Code Name Verity last fall and loved it, and also recommend All The Light We Cannot See.)

I reread Lila by Marilynne Robinson this year and it remains my favorite of her Gilead townspeople novels.

Leif Enger recently released his newest, Virgil Wander. We are big fans of Enger’s work in our house. Peace Like a River is on both our top-ten lists.

While I tend to the lighter sides of fiction, Nate tends toward the more difficult. He read Go Tell it on the Mountain, the semi-autobiographical work from James Baldwin (as well as a number of other works by Baldwin this year) and recently bought The Gates of November from Chiam Potok. (He will want me to mention that he doesn’t only read great literature, he’s been reading his fair share of Brad Thor spy novels recently.)

Poetry

We always have Mary Oliver laying around the house, but in 2018 Nate took up writing poems and her Poetry Handbook is a staple next to his journal and Bible these days.

My friend, Rachel Welcher, is releasing her newest book of poems into the world and I wept reading them. Keep an eye out for details on getting it when it releases.

We keep Billy Collins in the bathroom and I’m not even embarrassed to tell you that.

I’ve been refreshed by Rilke again this year. (Fun fact: did you know Sayable is named after a Rilke poem?)

~

This is just a smattering of the books that have been laying around our home this year. I enjoyed them all and hope there’s something in here you’ll enjoy too.

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Seeds Become Fruit and Fruit Becomes Seeds

Writing is like speaking a language and writer’s block happens when you’ve gone a while without speaking it. It’s like any other exercise, to be strong, one must practice. I’ve been flexing my writing muscles over in another place on my laptop the past few months, watching chapters take shape, quotes find place, and points be made. I share an illustration in one chapter that a friend told me a few months ago, a story about his grandfather. His grandfather was whittling wood from the pile. “How do you know what it’s going to be,” my friend asked him. “Well, son, this block of wood you see is an eagle. My job is just to take away all the parts that aren’t eagle.”

Writing is a bit like that, taking a big block of wood (or cheese, for you West Wingers among us), kind of knowing what you want it to be and then stripping away the words that don’t belong until you’re left with a halfway presentable piece.

Sanctification is also like this and sometimes we get out of practice there too. I forget who I’m supposed to look like (Christ) and stop submitting myself to the whittling away process of sanctification. I react rather than respond. I succumb rather than submit. I falter rather than have faith. And then one day I wake up and realize my muscles have atrophied and responding in right action feels more difficult than before. The old “two steps back” adage applies here.

I tell a friend last night (incidentally the same friend who told me the story about his grandfather months ago) that most of us are just walking in the faith we have for the day, but sometimes the Spirit makes a thing clear to us, we ignore it, and our path begins diverging from God’s best. We’re not hopelessly lost, of course, grace, grace, upon grace. But we begin to carry that seed of rebellion or disappointment in our pocket, caressing it, secreting it away, and sometimes it becomes so hidden we even forget it’s there. But it’s still clinging to our every day just the same. Bitterness. Resentment. Fear. Doubt. It begins to inform every relationship, decision, and season of our lives. It still seems like a tiny seed hidden away, but it’s actually become a monstrosity in our hearts.

I’ve had some realization about one of these seeds in my life the past few weeks. It startled me with its presence and the clarity with which I first saw it. I felt shocked that such a thing existed and was informing nearly every relationship in my life. Every friendship—even with my husband—was teetering on a question of trust. My trust had been tried in a friendship and I carried that distrust with me everywhere, trying to sense if a person was trustworthy, could handle my true self, and would respond kindly. I’ve had to stop, reflect on what God’s word says about trusting flesh (my own and others), and reorient my heart toward the people I love and the God who will never harm me.

All of life for the Christian is spent hearing, listening, reading, and knowing God’s word and then also doing it. But our culture, even our Christian, culture, doesn’t really make a lot of space for that. We appropriate our culture’s verbiage for everything and then wonder why simple obedience in the face of hard things is so hard. Simple obedience is hard. It causes us to flinch from its pain. “Anyone who says differently,” as Wesley, dear sweet Wesley said, “is selling something.”

Our culture is selling us something, ease, success, cheeriness, perfect abs, airbrushed images. But most of us, if we’re honest, are just a block of wood getting chiseled away at by the Master Maker. There’s an eagle in there somewhere, but not yet, not today. Not until we see Him face to face in glory.

If you have the time today, I encourage you to get a moment of quiet and ask the Lord if there’s a seed you’ve been carrying in your pocked. Maybe it’s from the fruit of a disappointing relationship, maybe it’s what you dream about planting to make a name for yourself, maybe it’s a bitter root forming, or maybe you don’t even know it’s there. Ask him how it’s been informing your day, your actions, your view of him, your view of others. And ask him if he’ll remove it and plant in its place a seed of faith for a different outcome. That’s what I’m praying for in place of the seed of fear I’ve had: Would you plant in me faith for a different outcome? I know he can and so I’m asking him to.

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