The Readers I Have Been (and a nod to Anne Bogel’s new book)

Have you ever thought about the types of reader you’ve been throughout your life?

If you don’t enjoy reading, probably not. (And if that’s you, well, thanks for being here and reading my blog. Your efforts are greatly appreciated!)

Losing myself in a book has always been a favorite pastime of mine. If nothing else proves true about me, I am a reader. Though I’m fairly positive I didn’t emerge from the womb reading, I can’t remember not having my nose stuck in a book. There’s even a picture of three-year-old me “reading” to my younger sister.

In her newly-birthed book, I’d Rather Be Reading, Anne Bogel (aka Modern Mrs. Darcy) references Madeline L’Engle’s belief that a person is a compilation of all the ages he or she has been. Bogel goes on to add an addendum:

 

 

“Just as I am all the ages I have been, I’m all the readers I have been. […] I’ve been many kinds of readers over the years, and I remember them fondly. […] I’m the sum of all these bookish memories.”

I, too, am a sum of all the readers I have been.

The Readers I Have Been

As a kid, I loved the library (still do, actually). My mom, sister, and I visited every week or so; I got lost in the children’s section, thumbing through thousands of titles looking for the next adventure I would embark on.  I always walked out with my arms full of a stack that nearly reached my eyebrows. The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, The Saddle Club, and Mandie are among many of the series I devoured. (Don’t get me started on the ones I wasn’t allowed to read. *ahem* The Babysitters Club *ahem.* I’m still a little bitter about that. Clearly.)

In high school, I was the nerdy kid who lugged her biology textbook to youth group—not because I had a huge assignment to finish before boarding the bus the next morning (I was homeschooled) but because I wanted to finish the work before the prescribed deadline. I waded through the more grown up—but still tame—shelves of Christian fiction at the library: Francine Rivers, Janette Oke, Beverly Lewis (I was obsessed with her many Amish series) were among my favorites.

In college, after a brief stint as an education major, I switched to English. I started to rebel against my evangelical upbringing which frowned upon the likes of Harry Potter and the Twilight series and read them with a close circle of English major and professor friends.  I fell in love with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Frost’s poetry, The Transcendentalists’ essays, Alcott’s Little Women, and so many more. And then there were those I barely tolerated yet was grateful for the expansion they brought to my worldview: Toni Morrison’s Beloved (gave me nightmares for weeks), Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables (I adore ol’ Nathaniel, but this one was a slog to get through), The Red Badge of Courage (I’m not ashamed to say I never finished), Moby Dick, and almost all the British texts I was required to read. And a huge research project gave me reason to pour over all sorts of texts about American Sign Language and Deaf culture.

It was the most saturated reading period of my life. And it was glorious.

Shortly after college, two of my friends and I went on literary tour on the northeastern United States. Haley, Harvin, and I spent nine days soaking up the old hunts of our favorite 19th Century writers: Hawthorne, Alcott, Thoreau, Longfellow, Frost, Emerson, Dickinson, and Twain, and Poe. We traipsed through cemeteries, in and out of author homes, and around Walden Pond. The site of Thoreau’s cabin, Hawthorne’s sky parlor (which brought tears to all of our eyes), and Alcott’s bedroom left us wide-eyed with wonder. We were in our element.

During my late twenties, I fell into a deep depression. I lost my passion and zeal for just about everything, including reading. Survival was my objective. When you’re in survival mode, it’s difficult to find enjoyment in the escape that fiction brings. It’s equally difficult to find the mental stamina to concentrate on nonfiction offering. So I stopped reading. Losing my reading self was one of the hardest aspect of that three-year period. The written word (which Thoreau calls “the choicest of relics”) was like air to me and without it and other things I enjoyed, I withered.

Until someone in a Facebook group introduced me to Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. I picked the book up and suddenly found myself reflected in the mirror of each page. For the first time in years, I began to feel a spark of life reignite in my mind, body, and soul.

I was a reader once again.

The Reader I Am Now

Since that day three years ago, I’ve read nonfiction almost exclusively. My job gives me the opportunity to read, write, and hang out with authors. My inner reader—the child combing the library shelves, the teenager lugging textbooks to youth group, the college student reading hundreds of thousands of words each semester, the depressed young adult who lost her words, and the mid-thirties woman who has finally found her sweet spot—is absolutely giddy.

And when I came upon this little gem of a book by Anne Bogel, it was a no-brainer. A book about readers written by a reader? Sign. me. up. This book showed me the absolute beauty and delight of the reader’s life. Bogel knows readers. She made me realize I have #readinggoals I didn’t even know I had. (Living next door to a library?! Obtaining my lifelong reading records?! YES, please!)

 

I’d Rather Be Reading

Anne knows what makes readers tick (flashlights under covers, TBR stacks, library fees, bookstore visits that last hours, literary road trips…) and she paints our picture just the way we would want: in written words.

If you’re a reader, give yourself the gift of this book.

If you know a reader, hand them this mirror in which they can see the magic and mystery of the readers they have been, are, and will be revealed.

Win a copy of I’d Rather Be Reading!

Guess what, readers? I’m giving away ONE copy of I’d Rather Be Reading

To enter:
-LIKE my public Facebook page if you haven’t already.

-COMMENT on my Facebook post about I’d Rather Be Reading. Tell me about one of your reading phases.

-SHARE my Facebook post about I’d Rather Be Reading

-Follow me on Instagram.

-COMMENT on this blog post and tell me you’ve done all the things above!

I’ll randomly draw a winner on Friday, September 14, 2018 and send the lucky reader this lovely little gift book.

2015: A Restored Appetite for Reading

“For the past two years, my reading accomplishments have been dismal. I didn’t have the energy or the desire to read (for the first time in my life!)”

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For the past two years, my reading accomplishments have been dismal. I didn’t have the energy or the desire to read (for the first time in my life!). Depression takes over everything when it has you in its clutches.

I started out this year strong in the fiction world—I needed an escape, more than anything. But then came #the4500 and the numerous titles recommended within the group. Here’s what I’ve been reading, listed by month (as best I can remember):

January

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain—a novel loosely based on the time Ernest Hemingway and his wife spent in Paris while he wrote what would eventually become The Sun Also Rises. A good read for what it is, but not great by any means. It’s definitely not a title I’d put into my repertoire of books I multiple times.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan—a haunting story based on a group of survivors of the Titanic tragedy. It was a little slow-going at times, but based on actual events from the shipwreck, and I’m a sucker for historical fiction, so there’s that. Overall, a good read.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline— This one was a hard read; it’s a very haunting period piece about an older girl who desperately seeks a family to settle with. She faces a lot of tragic circumstances as she is passed from family to family. The setting shifts from mid 20th century to present day as the girl tells her story as a grown woman. I’d recommend this one.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling—The first memoir I’d read in quite awhile. Kaling is witty. And real. I enjoyed this one and want to read her recently released second book.

February

The Young Merlin Trilogy by Jane Yolen—I picked this YA trilogy up five years ago at a literary festival where I met Yolen. (She signed this book for me!) Yolen is a master at weaving an artfully intriguing story—and this one doesn’t disappoint. Great for young readers who like fantasy!

Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor—A raw, interesting look at O’Connor’s life from her perspective as she struggled with her faith. The literary nerd in me ate this one up! If you’re a fan of O’Connor’s work, this is an enlightening insight into her psyche.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin—I don’t remember a lot of details about this one, but I do know I liked it. Again, it’s a historical fiction novel, this time taking place in the south.

March

The Help by Kathryn Stockett—This was a re-read. I read it when it first came out several years ago and picked it up again this year. Loved it even more the second time around!

For the Love (chapter samples) by Jen Hatmaker—Here’s where I applied to be on the FTL launch team and got rejected and then stumbled in to the crazy-awesome group that is #the4500. Jen sent all us rogue, unofficial launch team members four sample chapters to tide us over until we could actually get our hands on the book. (I’ll get to the whole book later—hang on!)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple—One of my favorite fiction reads of the year! Funny, heartbreaking, mysterious, suspenseful—all rolled into these pages. Well-written and engaging—definitely recommended.

April

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd—For all her overly feminist themes (I’m all for feminism, but SMK goes a little overboard sometimes—hello, The Mermaid Chair), Kidd delivers a riveting tale of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, two early feminists and abolitionists in the Charleston, SC area. I’ll probably read it again.

May

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart—A delightful story of spies, a mysterious island-bound school, and a conspiracy to end the world geared toward older elementary readers. I have no idea where I picked this book up, but it was a nice, light read as I eased from the school year into summer.

June

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee—A re-read in preparation for the release of Go Set A Watchman.

July

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee—Honestly, I was very wary of this one. Like many, I was excited to read more of Lee’s words, but apprehensive of the way it came to be published. Did she really want it published? We’ll probably never know for sure. From all the media that preceded the release, I was worried that GSAW would tarnish my respect and view of Atticus as the beloved character he’s been for so many decades. In reality, I’m glad for this new perspective of Atticus—it made him more human and approachable, I think. If you’ve read TKAM, I definitely recommend GSAW. If you haven’t read TKAM, don’t read GSAW until you have!

For The Love (additional e-book chapters) by Jen Hatmaker—Jen’s publisher gifted those of us who pre-ordered FTL with the entire e-book. (I only read a few chapters, because I just need to have an actual book in my hands!)

In The Company of Others by Jan Karon—No year is complete without revisiting Mitford! I started with this one in preparation for her new book’s September release, because I didn’t have time to go all the way back to the first Mitford book. Karon is my favorite contemporary fiction writer, hands down.

August

For the Love (the actual hardcover, finally!) by Jen Hatmaker— After reading the teaser chapters, I was so happy to have this book in my hands. Jen (yeah, we’re on a first name basis now!) is hilarious, literally laugh-out-loud funny. She’ll have you giggling hysterically one moment and bawling your eyes out the next. In essay-format chapters, she covers everything from the problems with short-term missions trips, how our American Christianity callings shouldn’t differ from those of the single mom in Haiti, and living out our faith in our own communities to shouting out the loveliness of turning 40, disdaining the leggings-as-pants (LAP) trend, and tossing out witty Jimmy-Kimmel-esque thank you notes for everything under the sun. READ THIS BOOK—no regrets!

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon

September

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown—This is where we veer quickly to mostly nonfiction. Anna pushed this book “like crack” in #the4500. I avoided it for months, but finally decided it was time in late July. I didn’t actually start reading it until the end of August. And it took most of September to work my way through its pages. I have so many words about this book—many of the m can be found in earlier posts here on my blog. This book literally changed the course of my year and my mindset; it’s the reason I finally connected with Anna via phone and it was the catalyst for reclaiming my mental and spiritual health. Super powerful words in this book—I cannot recommend it enough!

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon—the latest Mitford-based novel, with Dooley and Lace’s wedding as the main event. This one was tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that the focus of the storyline  has shifted away from Father Tim and Cynthia and is nearing the end. Let’s just not think about that, shall we—these characters are among those that become real to you over the course of the series.

 

 

October

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown—Tiny book, but meaty material, indeed. I’m still working my way through this one. For anyone new to Brown’s research and work, I’d recommend starting with this book as it provides a lot of helpful background for her other books.

Audacious by Beth Moore—I adore Beth Moore. I could listen to her speak for hours on end. And yet, this is the first book of hers that I’ve actually read in its entirety. I highlighted almost every word on almost every page. It was that good. Read it!

November

The Sound of Gravel (Advanced Reader Copy) by Ruth Wariner— What an absolute privilege it was to be part of the launch team that received ARCs of Ruth’s debut memoir to read and review. The story behind this one is INCREDIBLE. (And a long story [involving cousins from the same polygamist cult meeting on Twitter and bridging a family rift 40+ years in the making]—so if you really want to know, ask, and I’ll tell you all about it, well, what I know anyway!) My official review of this book will be up on the blog later this week, so you’ll find all my thoughts there!

Rising Strong by Brené Brown—A follow up to Daring Greatly, this book is weighty as well. I’ve slowly waded through the first half of it since Thanksgiving week, but am still working at it. There’s practical, worthy advice on how to apply the principles of Daring Greatly, the Gifts of Imperfection, and the Rising Strong principles introduced in the book. One of my favorites of the year.

December

Think Differently, Lead Differently by Bob Hamp—Listen, this book is literally causing me to think differently about my identity as a daughter of God, to approach my view of the intersection of the natural world vs. the spiritual world differently, and to tap into the Kingdom authority we have as believers in Christ. I’ve been listening to Bob Hamp’s Foundations of Freedom podcasts for a couple of months, and they have broken open the most walled-in places of my heart and soul. The growth I’ve experienced as a direct result of this book and the podcasts are absolutely invaluable. I’m still working through this one, too.

The Storied Life of A.J. Firky by Gabrielle Zevin—This was my attempt at an easy, light fiction selection during Christmas break. Ha. Rising Strong and TDLeadD have taken over. This one is slow-going and I haven’t really gotten into it, but I’ll soldier on ‘til I reach the end!

 

What’s your favorite book you read in 2015?

What are you most looking forward to reading in 2016?

Immanuel, God With Us (Even in the Mess)

The clock ticks down the minutes. Christmas will be here in less than sixty seconds.
I’m sitting at my mom’s kitchen table, talking myself down from the swirl of trying to get everything “just right.” Perfect.
And then I wandered to my blog and the last post I wrote slapped me in the face. The Poison of Perfection.
So, the stockings are not hanging from the mantle, but lost in a box somewhere.
So, the Christmas dishes that I set out every for the breakfast I make every Christmas cannot be found.
So, the presents aren’t all wrapped yet.
It’s okay.
Want to know why?
Christmas is about the mess.
Brené Brown talks about the “magic in the middle” in her book Rising Strong—the magic that happens in the messy, imperfect middle of whatever situation we’re in. She says, “The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens” (12). Slowing down and acknowledging that we’re in the middle where the magic happens in crucial. Otherwise, we will run ourselves ragged trying to live up to our expectations of the perfect holiday environment.
The very essence of Christmas is wrapped up in the mess of a stable, the mess of an unexpected trip to a far-away city, the mess of an engagement-turned-journey-of-inexplicable-faith, the mess of a divine conception, the mess of human depravity that required the Savior to dwell among us as a lowly babe. When you really pause to consider the Nativity of Jesus, it’s an all-around mess by human standards.
Have you ever really pondered how brave Mary had to be to say “yes” when the angel of the Lord appeared before her with the news that she had been chosen to carry the Son of God? She could have said no. But she didn’t. And we know she was afraid:

“The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’
Mary was greatly troubled at his words…” (Luke 1:28-29)

Yet, even through her fear, her uncertainty that she was worthy of such a calling, she chose to step into it—regardless of the mess—declaring, “‘I am the Lord’s servant […] May your word to me be fulfilled.’” She accepted the mess, preparing the way for the magic in the middle.
And then there’s Joseph—just an ordinary guy going about his life, preparing to marry Mary and this angel comes along and drops the news that Mary’s going to be the mother of Jesus, the Messiah. There’s a mess all right. We know Joseph was reluctant to take on this situation:

“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose [Mary] to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Luke 1:19).

Yet, after the angel appeared in his dreams, he “did what the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Luke 1:24).
Eventually, Mary and Joseph found themselves in the middle of a literal mess—a dirty stable in the midst of Bethlehem, with a baby well on His way into the world. But it had to be so, as a way for Jesus to fulfill the prophecy of His position as the Messiah. Bob Hamp puts it like this in his book Think Differently, Lead Differently:

Ever since the first Christ-mas, God has dwelt on Earth with men. For a season, He did so in the physical body of Jesus. Then when Jesus ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to operate as the designated representative of the Godhead on Earth. This restoration of God’s presence with us is one of the most significant parts of Jesus’ mission, because every other part of the restoration process flows out of His presence among His people. (38)

Immanuel. God with us.
He is here.
Here when the stockings are all hung with care.
Here when they’re not.
Here when the dishes are coordinated and Christmasy.
Here when they’re not.
Here when we’re in the Christmas spirit.
Here when we’re not.
Here when all the packages are prettily tied up with string.
Here when they’re not.

He’s always here.
With us in the middle.
With us in the mess.
With us in the magic.

 

Balance

Balance.

Such a loaded word for only two syllables worth of vocal real estate.

We all want it. We all strive for it. We all wish we were better at it.

And we all beat ourselves up over the fact that, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t attain it.There’s always something that gets left undone, forgotten, or given less than our best efforts.

In  For the Love,  Jen Hatmaker speaks to the theory that our society is hinged on comparison culture:

“we have up-close access to women who excel in each individual sphere. With social media and its carefully selected messaging, we see career women killing it, craft moms slaying it, chef moms nailing it, Christian leaders working it […] Then we combine the best of everything we see, every woman we admire in every genre, and conclude: I should be all of that.”

That is so absurd. Yet, we’re ALL guilty of it.

We waste SO much energy trying to be good at everything, when we aren’t necessarily called to be.We live in a constant state of judging ourselves against the polished lives of those around us.We fill our plates with far more activities, responsibilities, and “shoulds” than we can realistically balance.

Jen H. likens this phenomenon to a balance beam. Of the impulse to weigh our lives down with as many hobbies, jobs, activities, projects, etc as we possibly can, she says:

 “meanwhile we have beautiful lives begging to be really lived, really enjoyed, really applauded—and it is simpler than we dare hope: we gotta unload that beam […] Decide which parts are draining you dry. What do you dread? What are you including for all the wrong reasons? Which parts are for approval? […] Throw out every should or should not and make ruthless cuts. Go ahead. Your beam is much too crowded.”

And while Jen (we’re [practically] BFF’s and she’s also part of #the4500, so I can call her that) speaks to the mostly physical aspects of a loaded beam, I wager that it can apply to our mental well-being just as much.

Because our minds get just as mired in the debate of who we are vs. who we “should” be. I know I spend a lot of time listening to the thoughts that constantly play in my mind. (Maybe it’s an introvert thing, but I’m always talking down the “gremlins” that Brenè Brown refers to in Daring Greatly.) In Brown’s research she uses the term “gremlin” as a synonym for “shame tapes.” She found that:

“shame derives its power from being unspeakable […] it loves perfectionists [hello, introvert!]—it’s so easy to keep us quiet […] Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for [Spielberg’s] gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.”

I have struggled with this for decades. I don’t remember having a mind clear of the shame tapes rolling. All the fears, anxiety, approval-seeking thoughts that have occupied my brain for so long are exhausting. And YOU cannot balance them. There is no balance when it comes to these thoughts. They become too powerful, drowning out the positive attributes we have, the messages of hope, and courage and “you are enough” that we all need to hear ourselves say to our actual selves.

And over the last two years, they roared in my ears, every minute of every day.

“You’ve made a huge mistake.”

“You weren’t brave enough.”

“You’re invisible; no one sees you.”

“What if…?”

“You don’t have what it takes to make a difference.”

“Wasted—that’s all that opportunity was.”

“You missed your chance. You blew it.”

Those words in your head every day for two years will drive you insane. You can hide it well behind the mask of “I’ve got it together,” you can numb it, you can push it down deep and build a wall around it—but it will not go away.

I’d settled into this way of living. Ignoring all the feelings, the emotions, the reality of my pain and became a shell of myself. Presenting my happy self to the world around me, but inside I was miserable.

I could not see my way out.

I’m so thrilled to say it’s not like that today.

Over the past month, a series of events, connections, and words have been set into motion that have broken through that wall that held all those thoughts captive. My heart is free again. The Light has come and destroyed those thoughts, leaving them shriveled and whimpering.

As I was pondering the change in my mind and heart over this time, I realized that I had forgotten a key point.

In early September, I attended a gathering of my church and our sister church in Indiana. On the last evening of services, the pastors called for prayer for healing.

I’ll be honest—I was in a funk that night. I was 900 miles from home, I’d spent nearly three straight days in a car with an extrovert; I wanted quiet, I wanted to be by myself. And the “gremlins” were roaring in my head. But I stood up; I tried to pray, but all I could say was, “Jesus.”

After a few minutes, someone approached and prayed over me—for balance: “Jesus, bring balance to the mind, body, and spirit. Bring them into alignment with you.”

The person who prayed those words was a stranger. Someone who had no idea of the struggle I was facing. But God knew and He has made sure I know that He knows in a hundred ways over the past three weeks. And He has brought balance.  I FEEL ALIVE again. Fear and anxiety aren’t ruling me anymore. There’s so much joy in my heart, I feel like I could jump out of my skin.

By the grace of God, I have regained my balance after years of teetering on the edge.

Those “gremlins” we carry around? OFF THE BEAM

Those things we fill our lives with to keep up with all the “perfect people”? OFF THE BEAM

It has to stop.

It has to stop because it isn’t the way God created us to live.

We aren’t called to live under that kind of pressure.

But if we’re so caught up in trying to attain goals that aren’t meant for us to attain or listening to the gremlins that drown out our thoughts, we waste the beautiful, extraordinarily ordinary lives we were given.