On Sherlock Obsessions and Quiet Time

As I admitted to my class on Wednesday, I have recently developed a consuming obsession with the BBC show, Sherlock.  A friend introduced my to it a little over a week ago, and since then, I have passionately ingested every show in the first two “series.”  Thankfully, there are only six of them.  However, they are also each ninety minutes long, so watching them all has certainly taken some commitment on my part.  My newfound love was well-timed, since the third series started this past Sunday, and as an added bonus, I got THIS in the mail on Saturday:

I may or may not have screamed, immediately taken a picture, and then texted it to multiple people.  Feel free to judge...

I may or may not have screamed, immediately taken a picture, and then texted it to multiple people. Feel free to judge…

Now, I might be a little more embarrassed to admit this obsession to you, were it not for the fact that so many of my friends on Facebook have shared this meme, so I feel like they know what I’m talking about:

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Exactly!  So yeah…you get it.

Here’s the thing about my quirky Sherlock obsession, though.  You see, I have this other thing called My Real Life.  And shockingly, Sherlock has served to distract me from my real life.  When I’m taking care of the important business of getting all caught up on Sherlock, it seems somehow much less important to…oh, I don’t know…do the dishes, or plan for Wednesday night class, or educate my children.  You know, little things like that.  At times this past week, Sherlock has obscured those priorities.  I mean, it’s just so much more fun to solve thrilling mysteries like how Moriarty accessed the British crown jewels in the Tower of London than to solve the mystery of how my family can have thirteen unmatched white socks in the laundry (<—not making that up).  

Of course, it’s easy enough to come out of my Sherlock obsession because I simply have to remind myself of this one little detail:  the show is not real.  My life, on the other hand, is real.  And that makes it more important than Sherlock.

Along those same lines though, I often get “trapped” in my own mind, just like I get trapped in a Sherlock episode.  In this case, however, my view of reality is not obscured by intriguing mysteries, delightful British accents, and fast-paced humor; instead, my view of reality is obscured by my own feelings and perceptions.  Let me give you an example of a time I got trapped in my own mind last week.  Now, read carefully, because I’m going to ask you a question at the end:

On Wednesday afternoon, I felt like exploding because my house was messy, and I hate mess and clutter.  I need things to be straight for my sanity, and when things aren’t straight, it drives me crazy.  I hate it when my house is so cluttered!

Okay, here is your question:  what pronoun is most prominently featured in that little rant?

Yes, the first person singular:  I, me, my.  Never mind that one half of  the “mess” was caused by a wonderful art project in which my kids were trying to paint their own version of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the other half was caused by all the supplies and prep I needed to host a party for the little girls at church on Saturday–two worthy endeavors.  No, all that mattered in that moment was my own, personal dislike of clutter.  I was trapped in my own mind.  And when you get trapped in your own mind, your perceptions and feelings become very, very important.  When you’re trapped in your own mind, YOU are all that matters.  And therefore, if something bothers youthen of course you should react.  Of course it makes sense to explode over something like clutter.  Because clutter bothers YOU.

Or me.  Whatever.

This week in class, I shared my #1, best strategy for getting out of the trap of my own mind.  For me, the key to that prison has always been found in some form of quiet time with God.  It can take many different forms:  maybe it’s reading something from the Bible, maybe it’s a silent prayer, or writing a prayer down, or meditating on a verse, or even just sitting in silence for a few minutes and quieting my thoughts.  Regardless of the form, just taking that time to step out of my own concerns and focus on something so much bigger than my own little life circumstances really helps me to realign with reality.  It puts my life into perspective for me, much the same way as, say, going out and looking at all the stars at night reminds me of how small I am.  Taking a few minutes to ponder God and eternity makes me realize that my petty preferences, such as a dislike of clutter, are just that:  petty.  They are certainly not worth exploding over, and they’re certainly not an excuse to be unloving to other people.

resources-bookIt turns out that I am not alone in this.  In class, several other women shared how time with God helped them to focus on what mattered in their day and to keep proper priorities.  For those who did not spend daily time with God, we talked some about what that looked like.  It can truly be done any time and anywhere where you have a few moments of quiet.  And it can take many forms, such as the ones I’ve listed above.  But the bottom line is that taking that few minutes to spend with God can help remind you that your feelings, your concerns, and your preferences are not the most important things in life.

That may be an elementary concept (couldn’t resist; just call me Sherlock), but it’s one that can keep us from exploding throughout the day.

This Wednesday, we are going to continue on to “stuffing,” but before we move on, Do you have any other tricks to keep from exploding?  

Four Battle Strategies for Exploders

This is our fourth class recap for the Wednesday night lesson series I’m teaching on the book, Unglued, by Lysa Terkeurst.

Since we discovered that many people in our class were “exploders,” we spent last Wednesday discussing ways to fight our tendency to “blow up” on others–especially the people we love the most.

The first strategy was one that I mentioned in the last recap:  Remember your goals.  As Christians, our goals should not be to make ourselves feel better or to cause others hurt for the way they hurt us.  Rather, our goals should be to glorify God and to strengthen our relationships with others.  Thus, any interactions we have with others, whether we’re angry or not, should aim to meet those goals.

resources-bookSecondly, we talked about how we can plan our response ahead of time.  Terkeurst calls this, “crafting our response template.”  In her book, she talked about a template for written communication, like email or Facebook messages.  However, the ideas of her response template can work face-to-face, as well.  Her suggestions were to start off positively (“honor the other person”), keep your words “short and full of grace,” and to “end by extending compassion.”  One of our classmates suggested the technique of the “compliment sandwich,” which she uses at school to correct children.  She always starts with something positive (and relevant) about their behavior, adds in the instructive part, and then closes with something else that is affirming to the child.  I definitely think that technique is good for both adults and children.  When we focus on the positive, we not only soothe the other person’s feelings, but we remember why we love that person–and that helps us to remember our goals!

Another suggestion Terkeurst gives is to practice self-control.  That kind of seems easy to say and hard to do, but I love the reasoning that she gives for controlling ourselves in stressful situations:  “My choice is whether or not to give the other person the power to control my emotions.  The one who holds their tongue is the one who holds the power.  When I react by yelling, flying off the handle, or making a snappy comment, I basically transfer my power to the other person.  In the case of my children, that means I am giving my power to one of my five teenagers.  Yikes” (72).  These words remind me that to lose control is to give up power over my emotions to another person.  That surrender is never in anyone’s best interest, least of all mine!

Lastly, Terkeurst reminds us of the importance of remembering Scripture in stressful situations.  This technique has definitely helped me in life when I’m tempted to explode on someone.  I remember, for example, being on a youth trip and getting frustrated with Greg.  It was years ago, and I honestly can’t remember why I was frustrated, but I do remember what helped me.  I had recently memorized Colossians 3:12-17, and in my frustration, I paused and recited those verses to myself:  “Therefore, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be grateful…”

After saying those verses in my head, I simply couldn’t stay mad about something so small (whatever it was!).  My anger evaporated without me ever having to even talk to Greg!

Colossians 3 is a great place to start if you are looking for verses to think about when you are angry.  Here are some other good ones:

  • “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  Proverbs. 15:4
  • “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” James 1:19-20
  • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Romans 12:18
  • “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  Ephesians 4:2
  • “Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” 1 Peter 5:8-9
  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things, there is no law.”  Galatians 5:22

One thing I did for class was to make us each a little visual reminder of these verses, in case we weren’t familiar with them.  To do so, I simply did a Google image search of each verse, then copied the images onto a blank page on Microsoft Publisher.  I put nine images on a page, and made sure they were all the same size.  Then, I printed copies of the page, laminated them, and cut the verses apart.  I poked a hole in one corner of each verse and put them on a key ring.  Ta-da!  A quick, easy way to keep verses with us at all times.

Those were our four battle strategies we discussed last Wednesday.  Tonight, we’re going to talk about what I call, Battle Strategy #5.  This strategy, perhaps more than any of the others, helps me the most when I’m tempted to explode…or for that matter, to “stuff” my emotions in unhealthy ways.  I can’t wait to share it with you, and I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me!

Are Your Feelings Worth Sharing?

resources-bookIn our last Wednesday night women’s class, we talked about how we each tended to handle strong emotions.  We are working our way through Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Unglued, and Terkeurst describes two unhealthy ways of dealing with emotions:  exploding and stuffing.  When we explode, we spew our emotions onto others.  The “explosion” doesn’t have to be loud or violent; it just has to get the emotion out.  In contrast, stuffers bottle their emotions in unhealthy ways.  They trap them inside where the emotions harden into either barriers or what Terkeurst calls “retaliation rocks.”  The author makes sure to point out that people tend to use different styles in different situations, but in our class, we found that most of us were exploders.  And unfortunately, we realized that the people we “explode on” the most are our own families.  The reasons for the explosions were numerous:  stress from work, a messy house, resentment toward having to do too much in a relationship…the list went on, but the outcome,  in each situation was the same.  When our emotions got to a certain point, we tended to verbally unload on the people we care the most about.

In class we all realized, of course, that this was wrong and generally unhelpful.  At the same time, some honest comments were shared and questions were raised:

But this is how I feel.

Shouldn’t we be honest about how we feel?

I’m not a fake person; when I feel something, I share it.

Several times, this idea came up that it is best to be honest and that bottling up our feelings would be bad.  And really, I’m not surprised that these concerns came up.  We live in a culture that values honesty and authenticity.  No one wants to be thought of as fake or hypocritical, and this seems to be just as true in “Christian circles” as in the larger society.  It makes sense to value honesty, but Terkeurst points out that sometimes our “honest feelings may not be truthful representations of the situation.  I can be honest with how I feel and still exaggerate or misinterpret what is factually true” (52).  She calls this, “emotional spewing,” and asserts that even “in the Christian world we often use this kind of unbalanced honesty with little justifications such as, ‘I’m just keeping it real,’ ‘I’m just being honest,’ ‘Sometimes the truth hurts.’ (53). Such “honesty” can be really ungodly and hurtful toward others.

Okay, but then what do we do with these negative feelings?  Especially when they stem from issues that sincerely need to be addressed?  We can’t just sweep them under the rug, and we aren’t good at hiding them.  So then what?

My suggestion is that when we approach another person, we should always keep our bigger goals in mind.  When we go off on another person, we usually have goals, but they are not what you would call “big picture” goals.  Instead our goals are usually:

1.  To make myself feel better.

2.  To make the other person feel the hurt/frustration that I feel.

“Venting” our unfiltered feelings does usually make us feel better…at first.  But as Terkeurst points out, there is often a deep shame that comes from venting our emotions on someone else.  And even if we don’t feel the shame, we usually rupture that relationship to the point where it becomes very unpleasant.  And it’s hard to feel good when your relationships are unpleasant or dramatic.

And it’s true that exploding on others does help to “even the score” in some ways.  Someone upsets you; you upset them right back.  It’s like instant karma.  Only…then they feel like they need to even the score back…and ’round and ’round it goes.  Also, when you really “put someone in their place,” do they ever truly come around and see things your way?  Do they ever say, “You know, you’re right–I see how you feel now?”  I know I don’t react that way when someone yells at me.  It certainly doesn’t make me see things from their perspective.  It just makes me angry at them.

So those two goals aren’t really that great of goals to start with, and we don’t actually meet those goals when we explode on someone.  So instead of those goals, we need to step back and look at some bigger goals whenever we feel like we are going to explode on someone who we feel deserves it:

1.  Bring glory to God.

If we are Christians, this should always be our number 1 goal.  It is never met by exploding on someone else.  God is a God of peace, and he tells us that as far as it depends on us, we are supposed to live at peace with others.  Peace is not accomplished by emotional spewing.

2.  Strengthen the relationship.

In class, we mostly addressed family drama and conflicts between friends.  In these cases, the goal of our words should always be to strengthen the relationship.  That means that we don’t just avoid talking about the things that bother us–avoiding the issue will not strengthen the relationship.  But we talk about it in such a way that it makes us closer, instead of driving a wedge between us.  A closer relationship makes everyone happier…and it brings glory to the God who created us.

This week in class, we are going to look more at how to handle our exploding tendencies.  We are going to discuss ways to be prepared for the times when we want to lose control and look at some practical ways to respond when someone pushes all our buttons at once.  I think Terkeurst gives us some really great ideas, and I can’t wait to share them with you!

The Lamest New Year

It’s no secret that I love the coming of the new year. A natural navel-gazer, I relish this time where the general population actually engages with me in self-reflection, evaluation, and the forming of resolutions. And even though January 1 is just one day like any other, I like the idea of starting the new year off right, by engaging in the practices and habits that I hope to continue throughout the year. For whatever reason, January 1 has become deeply symbolic to me.

That’s part of why I was so disappointed that my whole family was sick this year.

Our New Year’s Eve celebrations are usually fairly lame, but this year was especially so. Greg, though ailing, was at a party for the teens at church while the rest of us sickies ordered pizza, watched Netflix, and went to bed at 8:00. We were all snoring by 9:00. A few hours later I woke up with a fever and chills. It was 12:35.

Happy New Year.

This morning saw a continuation of the “yuck.” Anna seems relatively unscathed, but the rest of us are battling this viral ickiness. After breakfast (take-out from McDonald’s because that’s the precedent I want to set for this year…), I crawled back in bed and stared at the new prayer journal Greg had given me for Christmas. The one I had saved until January 1 to start using:

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Ugh. How do I “carpe” this day, I wondered. After all, Greg and I had already ruefully laughed at his comment that, “It looks like January 1 is going to be the first wasted day of 2014.” But I opened my prayer journal, thanked God for bringing us through to another year, and asked Him to show me what it meant to live fully even in the midst of sickness and less than ideal circumstances.

Throughout the rest of my day, I feel like I got my answer to that question. A few days ago, my mom and I were talking about how to figure out what God wants from us in this life. For me, I feel like the answer to that question comes from looking at the resources He’s given you. And today, my resources were different than normal. I didn’t have a healthy body to serve Him with–none of us did. And our bodies all needed rest. So rather than feel frustrated by this lamest of New Year’s Days, I decided to embrace reality. We all rested, and I did so not resentfully, but gratefully. I was grateful for the chance to rest, to nap, to have ample time to read the new history book Greg got me for Christmas. I was grateful for a husband, who, though sick himself, made heroic forays to the outside world to bring us sustenance and medicine. I was grateful for Netflix and Chromecast, for one child who is a great “sick kid,” and another who is excellent at entertaining herself while the rest of us are down for the count. Sickness aside, there was really so much for which to be grateful.

So really, it wasn’t that bad of a January 1, all things considered. After all, I want the first day to set the tone for the whole year, and today, I was reminded of the importance of rolling with the punches. I don’t want to spend 2014 fighting reality or getting upset when my plans don’t work out the way I want them to. I want to accept the life that God gives me, and to use all my available resources to live a life worthy of Him. And sometimes I just have to understand that my resources will be less than normal.

Hopefully, we will all feel better tomorrow. But even if we don’t, I hope that I can react to whatever life throws at me with grace and pluck and not fall apart when my well-laid plans dissolve.

I hope that for you, too.

Happy New Year.

2014: The Year of the Relationship

2013 Christmas card

There’s no question about it:  2013 was a great year for us.  How great was it?  I chose a Christmas card that prominently featured the phrase, “Joyful and Triumphant” because that was how we felt as the year wound down.  At the end of 2012, when I wrote about my hopes for 2013, my heart was kind of heavy.  I longed for stronger social connections in Tennessee, and I desperately wanted to sell our house in South Carolina.  This year, both of those things happened, and in addition to that, my husband won a full scholarship to get his Master’s degree in non-profit business administration!  My semester of teaching college went well, homeschooling has been fabulous, our church had a great year in terms of baptisms and growth, and in general, life is good.  So now here I am, writing my annual “New Year” post.

As usual, I am coming off a Christmas season full of decadence:  over the last three weeks, the wheels have slowly come off of my disciplined life as I’ve neglected my habits and routines in favor of celebration.  It’s been wonderful, but by this point in the month I am always aching to get back to a disciplined schedule.  Thus, I have many mental “resolutions” about renewing my quiet time with God, continuing my exercise routines, eating better, being more purposeful with my kids, and so forth.  But really, I’ve come to realize that those determinations are just part of my normal life, and don’t have much to do with the new year.

Instead, I want to use the new year to adjust my overall focus.  Two years ago, I resolved to “live a life of love,” and I liked how that phrase guided me through the year.  This year, I want my focus to be just one word:  Relationship.  I am naturally a goal-oriented person, and most of the time, I really like that characteristic.  In my opinion, the easiest way to waste your life is to get lost in the minutiae of day-to-day existence and take your eyes off your “big picture” goals.  That’s why I rarely question my compulsive need to step back and examine my life in the light of my overall aspirations.  At the same time, I’ve noticed lately how my goal-oriented nature sometimes gets in the way of personal relationships.

The thing is, sometimes I put ideas before people.  I see this clearly in a larger sense when our society experiences a culture war kerfuffle like we have experienced recently.  When that happens, it seems like most people take a look at the two “sides,” see which one they have the most in common with, and then back the people on that side.  It makes sense, I guess, in a “team sport” kind of way, but that’s just not the way I work.  I don’t have “sides”; I have “causes.”  Most notably, my “cause” is the kingdom of God, and my goal is the spreading of that kingdom.  Anything that supports that cause gets my support.  Anything that detracts from that cause does not get my support.  It’s as simple as that.  It’s not about people; it’s about ideas.

And in the big picture, maybe that’s okay:  it seems somewhat petty to me to blindly back people just because they are more like you than the other guy.  But I’ve also seen in the small picture how that orientation compromises relationships that I care about.  For example, if I feel that someone doesn’t support my (in my mind, well-considered and sound) philosophy of parenting my children, I allow their lack of support to strain our relationship.  Heck–sometimes my philosophy of child-raising even gets in the way of actual relationships with my children, since sometimes I allow my overall goals for them to rupture our relationship in the moment!

Faced with this shortcoming, I’m going to do what I do best:  I’m going to set a goal to prioritize relationships!

As I’ve mulled over all this the last week or so, I’ve pictured my relationships in three concentric circles.  From innermost to outermost, the circles are:

Family, Church, World.

This year I want to purposefully nurture and develop relationships in each of those circles.  I’ve been brainstorming what that looks like, and I have so many different ideas, both large and small.  There’s no point in trying to make an exhaustive list on this blog, but I do need something tangible and measurable in order for this to be a true, achievable resolution.  So my goal is this:  each Sunday, during my planning session for the week to come (which I routinely have, because that’s the way I roll), I’m going to spend time thinking about people and not just goals.  I’m going to think of the people in my life in those categories and how I can strengthen relationships with them this year.  And then over the week, I plan to carry out those goals, just like I carry out my educational goals, homemaking goals, fitness goals, etc.  It might sound sterile, but I believe that this type of thinking and planning will help shift my mindset to be more “people-oriented.”

Ideas are important, but they are not more important than people.  Goals are vital, but they aren’t helpful if you have to trample relationships to achieve them.  And all of those lofty thoughts and hopes and ideals are nothing if their ultimate result is not more love for God and love for neighbor.  Or rather, love for God through love for neighbor.  This year, I want to love my neighbor in whatever form they come to me.  And I want to put them before my ideas.

Reading Makes Me Feel Rich (A Top 10 List for 2013)

I don’t know why, but there is just something luxurious about reading books.  I think it has to with time.  I mean, if I have time to read, I must live a privileged life, right?  Seriously, who has time these days to do anything?  Especially something as leisurely as reading an actual, bound book!  And not just any book, but a book chosen based on one’s own interest and desires?  That’s crazy!  And the fact that I’ve had enough time to read at least ten such books…I mean really, what am I doing with my life??

Here’s the thing, though:  I think we all really do have time.  Some of us have more than others, granted.  I’m guessing all you who work a full-time job, at, you know, an actual place of employment that pays you in money might have a little less time than I do, although I feel like I have a fair enough workload in life.  Even so, I do think that people generally have more time than they think they do.  For instance, it seems like we all have time to get on Facebook.  Or surf the web.  Or watch tv.  So if we have time to do those things, then we have time to read, right?

This year, I decided that I would try to keep up with the books I read, so I made a little note of them as I read them.  And I wanted to put that list somewhere where I could keep up with it.  It occurred to me that the best place to keep up with anything these days is my blog, and to me, such a list fits into the theme of Kingdom Civics because I really do think that reading edifying books is a good, God-honoring use of time.  Just to make it interesting, I decided to put my list into a “top 10″ format.  That helped me narrow my books down into the ones most worth mentioning.  So without further ado, here are

My Top 10 Reads of 2013

gracebasedparenting__87626.1295409983.1280.128010.  Grace-Based Parentingby Tim Kimmel

I read this book at the beginning of the year, so I don’t remember a lot of the details.  I do know that it inspired me to be more graceful and loving with my kids, and provided me with a lot of comfort and affirmation.  So often I worry that I need to be more disciplined with my kids–always teaching and training.  That’s definitely a big part of parenting, but in this book, Kimmel helped me to see how gentleness and love are also essential ingredients for successful child-rearing.  Kimmel gives the reader a sense of freedom in parenting; his book is the opposite of a manual.  I came away feeling very inspired and empowered.

language-of-flowers9.  The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

This is a fiction book, and I tend to favor non-fiction.  In fact, I really don’t read much fiction at all.  I chose this book, though, because it had garnered rave reviews, including a shout-out from Momastery.  Plus, it was written by a long-time foster mom, and it’s main character grew up in the foster care system.  Because of that, the novel served as an eye-opening look at the lives of neglected children and their tumultuous journey into adulthood.  I read it more for social research than anything else, and was pleasantly surprised by the compelling narrative that accompanied the social message.  The novel had it’s share of heartbreak and pain, but it ultimately ended on a hopeful note.

Johnstown-Flood8.  The Johnstown Flood, by David McCullough

First, let it be said:  hands down, David McCullough is my absolute favorite historian.  Seriously, at this point, he has reached the level of personal hero for me; he’s one of the few “famous” people that I would love to meet in real life.  In my opinion, his best work is in biographies, but this (relatively) short look at the most famous flood in America is riveting.  The Johnstown flood itself is fascinating history; it’s one of those things that you can’t really believe happened, even as you read about it in all it’s awful detail.  And McCullough writes about it in such a way that key moments in the flood are seared into my mind.  It feels like I’ve seen film footage of the event, even though none exists.  His words just paint amazing pictures.  Even with the grim subject matter, this was just a fun historical read.

quiet-by-susan-cain7.  Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talkingby Susan Cain

I tend to divide my reading interests into three genres:  historical, spiritual, and parenting.  However, this year, I found a new favorite niche:  books about psychology and/or sociology.  After I’d heard raves about Cain’s exploration of introversion, I had to check it out–especially since I myself am a definite introvert!  Cain’s findings regarding introversion and American society were fascinating.  They helped me understand both myself and my children better.  In addition, Cain specifically discusses introversion in the areas of school and church, and her insights were insightful to me, since I am deeply interested in both of those areas.

half the sky real6.  Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Cheryl Wu Dunn

This is yet another book that had been on my “must read” list for awhile.  It’s a secular book about women’s issues worldwide, which interestingly, made it even more interesting for me as a Christian.  I’m used to hearing about social issues from a Christian perspective, and this more clinical (yet extremely interesting) analysis of global ills was kind of refreshing.  The authors care passionately about women’s rights, and they definitely have opinions on what the best solutions are, but they take pains to stay somewhat detached in their examination of women’s issues.  I will warn you that some of the realities they share are incredibly disturbing.  This book is not for the faint of heart, but it balances out the grimness with some thoroughly researched suggestions of ways the reader can make a tangible difference in the lives of oppressed women.  The call to action is what made the book worth it to me.

97803103329545.  Real Simplicityby Randy and Rhonda Frazee

The Frazees’ book makes ranks high on my list because it was so practical to my life.  They look at the “typical” American life of busyness and chaos and make a good case for how this frantic rushing causes isolation and the breakdown of true community.  They also offer a specific solution in the form of a return to the Israelite concept of a day.  While I found the “Israelite calendar” idea to be somewhat impractical in our family’s life, Greg and I have nevertheless implemented many of the book’s principles as we have determined our family’s direction.  We spent a lot of time this fall cutting unnecessary busyness out of our schedule, and this book was our chief inspiration.  And honestly, my satisfaction with my life has been a lot higher since we’ve made those changes!

redwall_brian_jacques14.  Redwallby Brian Jacques

Remember how I said that I’m more of a non-fiction gal?  Well, even when I do read fiction, I do not read fantasy.  It just holds no appeal to me.  And I will most certainly NOT read a book that stars talking animals; that’s a deal-breaker.  So when people kept recommending the Redwall series as potential readers for Luke, I usually listened to them until they got to “talking mice” and then just shook my head.  However, I could only ignore so many recommendations, and so I eventually gave in and checked it out from the library.  And, oh my.  It was a hit.  The language is rich and descriptive, the characters are exquisitely drawn, and the book is epic in scope.  We’ve been studying the Middle Ages, and this book almost read like a historical novel:  it features a monastery, a siege, and lots of medieval fighting tactics.  Now, keep in mind that the Middle Ages could be pretty gruesome, but in this case, the horrors are mitigated by the all-animal cast.  Things just don’t seem as serious when it’s mice and rats and badgers and sparrows, instead of people.  Regardless, Luke and I were riveted by this book; we would read it for hours.  Upon the death of one character, I found myself choking back tears as I struggled to keep my reading voice steady.  I read lots of books with the kids in “school,” many of them good or great; however, this is the only one that merits a spot on the top ten list.  Luke summed it up best the afternoon we’d finished the book.  I think there were 17 chapters in the third and final  “book” of the novel.  Luke wandered in a few hours after we finished and said wistfully, “I wish we could read chapter 18 of book 3.”  Me, too, Luke.  Me, too.

9780061732324_p0_v1_s260x4203.  Mind in the Making:  The Seven Essential Life Skills that Every Child Needsby Ellen Galinsky

Alright, time to get back to the psychological genre.  This book on child development relies heavily on research from psychological studies, and it was fascinating.  Both philosophical and practical, it was full of the type of information that physically made my heart beat faster, just because it was so mind-blowing and cool!  Galinsky relies on rigorous analysis and decades of experience to narrow down the key elements of a successfully-developing child.  A chapter is devoted to each of these seven “life skills,” and at the end of each chapter, there are LOTS of practical suggestions for how to teach these skills to children.  I loved this book so much I taught a class on it.

j-k-rowling-harry-potter-the-complete-series-4990-68033-1-zoom2.  Harry Potter, Books 1-7by J.K. Rowling

What can I even say that would do justice to the Harry Potter series?  That my six-turning-seven year old devoured the entire series over the space of a few months?  That I myself inhaled them in less than two weeks?  That the series was gorgeous and epic and moving and inspiring and all the things that literature is supposed to be?  I don’t know…I can’t…I don’t have the words to sum up their greatness.  So I’ll just say this:  I skimmed another book this summer called Cultural Literacy, which talked about the “canon” of knowledge that is shared by the members of a given culture.  These books rightly have a place in the our cultural canon, along with Shakespeare and Dickens and Hawthorne and Tolkien and all those guys.  Don’t bother disagreeing with me on this one; you’ll just lose:).

truman1.  Trumanby David McCullough

Given my raptures for the Harry Potter series–and I’m certainly not alone in that–it’s shocking that they don’t have the number 1 spot in my top 10 list for the year.  In fact, I myself am shocked by their relegation to #2.  Here’s the thing, though:  I measure greatness in terms of life impact.  And honestly, Truman changed my life more than Harry Potter.  Of all the genres that I read, my favorite is the historical biography.  A well-written biography (which would include anything  by McCullough) leaves you feeling like you personally know the subject–and Harry Truman is a great guy to know.  His ascendance to the highest office in the land is about as likely as Harry Potter’s ascendance to greatness, and yet Truman’s is real.  Here was a perfectly ordinary guy, seemingly unexceptional in every way.  He had no riches, no family connections, no particular brilliance…and yet through an unlikely series of events, he found himself negotiating the end of World War 2, making fateful decisions about the atomic bombs, and guiding not only our nation, but the world, in the aftermath of a truly devastating war.  At one point, he thought (and not without reason) that he was staring down World War 3, and that the fate of the entire world was in his hands.  And really–it was shocking that it didn’t turn out to be World War 3, that it just turned out to be the Korean War.  But this ordinary guy made it through all that and a lot more through sheer grit and determination to do right.  He had this idea of standing firm and facing whatever comes your way that has really stuck with me.  I honestly think about his outlook about once a week whenever I feel overwhelmed with life.  It’s a little pathetic, because my issues are slightly less cataclysmic than a World War, but the difference actually gives me hope.  Because if Harry Truman could go through everything he went through and come out strong and honorably (which he did), then surely I can handle the curve balls that my little life throws at me.  Because of Truman’s example, McCullough’s biography had more of an impact on me than Harry Potter did–and that’s saying something!

Well, that’s my top ten list for the year.  Honorable Mention goes to Nurtureshock, Persepolis, In the Country of MenPaul Among the Peopleand The Happiness Project.  There were several other books I read or skimmed this year, but these are the ones that were the best use of my time.

What about you?  Did you read anything good this year?

 

The Saddest Phrase in the English Language

I was talking to a woman once about a recent conflict she had had with another person.  During this conflict, some hurtful words were said, including many by the woman herself.  This woman understood that she had said many things that wounded the other person in the conflict.  However, she excused herself from the hurt that she caused, saying something to the effect of, “I can’t help it.  When I’m angry, you will know.  I share what I feel.  That’s just who I am.

That’s just who I am.

Do you hear it?  At the time, I thought of it as an excuse, and I think that’s how it was meant.  “That’s just who I am.”  In other words, “I can’t help that I hurt someone.  I can’t help that I caused damage.  It’s not my fault; that’s just how I am.”  It sounded like a way to get around one’s negative behavior without facing the consequences.

Now, though, when I hear that phrase, it doesn’t sound like an excuse.  It sounds like prison bars closing.

That’s just who I am.

I will never be different.

I will never grow.

I’m incapable of change.

I am a prisoner, a slave to my natural tendencies.

resources-bookIn our women’s class tonight at church, we talked about labels.  Our class was roughly based on chapter 3 of the book, Unglued, by Lysa TerKeurst, and in that chapter, she discusses how labels imprison us.  Often, these labels are put on us by other people:  “You’re a wreck.”  “You’re stupid.”  “You’ll never get it together.”  I could go on and on with examples of the ways we limit each other with our words, the ways we reduce each other to a dismissive phrase.  In fact, as we discussed in class, even “good” labels, like “Smart,” or “Strong,” or “Mature” can imprison us because we then feel pressure to live up to that label, to the point when we doubt our identity when we fall short.  So labels are bad, and it’s really sad when we feel labeled by others.  But what’s even sadder is when we label ourselves.

Because when we say, “That’s just who I am,” that’s what we are doing:  we are labeling ourselves as hurtful people, or brash people, or people with no self-control.  And that is so sad to me.  “That’s just who I am” has got to be one of the saddest phrases in the English language.  It’s sad because it’s dehumanizing.   Isn’t one of the beautiful things about being human our capacity to grow and adapt, to mature and evolve?  And yet, when we say, “That’s just who I am,” we effectively deny our capability to grow and learn and change.  Furthermore, for the Christian, it’s ultimately a faithless phrase.  Because didn’t Paul proclaim that “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation:  the old has gone; the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17)?  When we become Christians, God doesn’t leave us “just how we are.”  He transforms us into a new creation!

He also tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that, as Christians, “we all are being transformed into [God's] image with ever increasing glory.”  I like that verse because it draws a picture of continual growth.  As we live and pursue Christ, be are being transformed into His image.

And that transformation will continue throughout our lives:  in Galatians 1:6, Paul tells us that he is confident “that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

You see it all throughout Scripture:  the promise that we can be more than a collection of our natural tendencies.  The idea that we are no longer slaves to sin and selfishness.  The hope that we are continually being transformed into the likeness of the living God.  There is no, “that’s just who I am” in the Bible.  Instead, you find another idea:

will smith

Do you remember the movie, Hitch?  It starred Will Smith as some sort of top secret dating guru (I have forgotten the finer details), and for most of the movie, he is trying to help a clueless Kevin James land a beautiful woman.  At one point, he takes James’ character shoe shopping, and they buy some shoes he recommends.  Upon trying on the shoes, James’ character says something like, “They’re just not me.”  And Smith’s character responds with my favorite line from the movie:  “‘You‘ is a very fluid concept right now.  You bought the shoes.  You look great in the shoes…”

I love that idea:  “‘You’ is a very fluid concept.”  That’s biblical, I think.  The Bible tells me that I am God’s handiwork, created in Christ to do good works (Eph. 2:10).  It tells me that I am continually being transformed by God’s Spirit at work within me.  And it tells me that God Himself has begun a good work in me that will continue until it is complete.  He certainly doesn’t leave me, “just who I am.”  Thank heavens!

For the purposes of our class, we needed to identify the way that labels limit us and to talk about ways to overcome the labels that are put on us, both by others and ourselves.  The point of Unglued is, as the subtitle states, to learn how to make “wise choices in the midst of raw emotions.”  And so often, we hide behind labels to justify succumbing to those emotions.  Thus, the first step in learning to deal with our strong emotions–our strong natural tendencies, in other words–is to embrace the idea that labels are a lie.  We are more than the sum of our natural tendencies, and just because we feel something doesn’t mean that we must act on it.  

Next week, we will take a closer look at some of those natural tendencies.  But until then, the challenge is to consider–and reject–the labels that have been put on us.

Do you have any labels that you need to reject?  Feel free to share them in the comments!

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