Here ya go, my monthly “what’s up with me” and “what I’ve read” update. ~Elizabeth
Our whole family participated in a youth retreat for international teens. We traveled down to Kep, Cambodia, a place we all love. (I described how much I love Kep here on Facebook.) It was refreshing to be in nature and to be with young people earnestly seeking God. I still love teenagers! Jonathan led the teaching times, and I was a small group leader. I also presented a session on eating disorders, which opened up a lot of deep and important conversations. The weekend in Kep rekindled my relationships with some of the youth and began relationships with others, as well as reminding me that in-real-life ministry is the thing for me, better and more life-giving than online ministry.
I attended lectures on the dangers of technology that were presented by Brad Huddleston, the author of Digital Cocaine. These lectures were, for me, the capstone of several months of searching and seeking God in my technology use. I knew something was wrong; I didn’t quite know what it was. I also didn’t know what to do about it.
Brad’s lectures were full of grace and truth and provided both the scientific and spiritual impetus to take a modified tech break. Did you know the brain responds the exact same way to digital input that it responds to addictive drugs? Addiction is addiction is addiction, and the brain doesn’t differentiate. I took tons of notes on his three main addiction emphases: pornography, video games, and social media, but my favorite line from the whole lecture set was this: “We have to fall in love with parenting again.” Intrigued? Drop me a comment or a private email and we can keep talking. Or head over to Brad’s website and see some of his material for yourself.
I took most of the month off from blogging. I thoroughly enjoyed having the extra time to read more books (you’ll see the results of that free time below), and the decision really broke the pressure of feeling like I need to produce, produce, produce.
But I also learned an important lesson: I am not worn out by the tension in my roles as much as I had assumed. I had assumed that the reason I felt so stretched was because I was trying to balance my roles as mom, wife, home school teacher, and writer, and that the roles competed with one another. Now, some of those roles may very well compete with each other, but I am still just as exhausted at the end of a home school day whether I write in the evening or not. It is the day-long act of teaching my children that wears me out, and that’s probably important to remember. There’s just no way around the fact that home schooling is a time-consuming and energy-consuming job (or as I like to call it, “vocation”). That said, I am going to continue being picky about the number of writing projects I take on, in order to simplify my life and reduce my deadline stress.
A special drama teacher who is teaching and inspiring me. You may remember we joined a home school coop, and we are loving it. We love getting to see our friends once a week. My boys and I are loving the Robotics/coding class we’re taking together (it’s reminding me of all the things I learned in college and have since forgotten). My girls love their classes too, especially when their last class is done early and they can visit the school library (yes they are girls after my own heart). And it will give me a chance in the last half of the semester to teach some hands-on math classes, reviving my old self in a way.
Every student also participates in drama class. Now, I’ve never been interested in drama and don’t consider myself dramatic, though both my mom and youngest sister are and were. But this drama teacher (she’s also a friend), she is somehow speaking the language of my soul. She talks about the kids going through a character’s emotional journey. She talks about the play never being about just one person but about the entire community coming together. She talks about telling a story, not just with voices, but with bodies too. When she talks, I feel like she’s saying everything I’ve learned and am learning on other planes, but on the dramatic plane.
I got to teach a hands-on math class at coop this month and loved it. It had been so long since I’d taught in any capacity like that, and I was nervous. But I had so much fun cutting Möbius strips along with middle and high school students. I was swept up in the excitement of it all and had a difficult time coming back down to earth to help out with the younger kids’ class the next hour! I’ll get to teach more “math lab” classes in November and December and am looking forward to that too. Teaching math and science classes to upper level students really is where I belong. And really, if you think about it, it’s just another form of youth ministry — because the mention of God is almost always going to make its way into my classes.
But best of all? Tomorrow by this time, we will be greeting my Mom at the airport! We are all beside ourselves with excitement.
The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson. As I mentioned last month, I found a convenient stopping point in Peterson’s third book in his Wingfeather Saga. I took a few weeks off from reading Peterson while I read the first three books in this list, and then I returned to it. Well, turns out I stopped in one of the only lulls in the entire series, and was again and immediately swept back up into the story, staying up too late many nights to do it.
The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson. This is the last book in the series, and it wrecked me. Still does when I think about it. I talked about it on my Facebook page which you can read here, but be forewarned that even though I tried to keep my comments as vague as possible, there may be partial spoilers in the comments.
Breaking Busy by Alli Worthington. One of the great things about taking a month off from writing is that you clear some head space to read other people’s writing, and this book was the first one I read. It was mostly memoir, so not exactly what I was looking for (I was looking for more instruction), but I gleaned this very important nugget from the book (and now you can have it too):
Self-care is not the same as self-medicating.
A lot of times we (including me) like to talk about self-care, but what we are doing is not actually caring for ourselves; it’s medicating ourselves. For example, eating too much or eating really unhealthy food as a coping mechanism is not self-care. Taking the time to exercise or prepare some nourishing food, that’s self-care. (A cup of coffee by oneself, or moderate amounts of chocolate still count as self-care!) Self-care is taking some quiet time to read a book, not binge-watching shows on Netflix. It’s using technology to catch up with friends far and near, not mindlessly scrolling our Facebook feeds. Sometimes we defend our self-medicating efforts as doing good self-care, but we are lying to ourselves. Anyway that was a real light-bulb moment for me, and I hope it helps you as well.
Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung. After finishing Breaking Busy, I was still craving something more, so I tried Crazy Busy. What Alli’s book skimmed over in the theory department, DeYoung made up for in his book. DeYoung does an excellent job of describing the ways we (sometimes unintentionally) contribute to our crazy busy-ness. The message of both these busy-ness books lined right up with Brad’s lectures and my writing break. Most relatable concept: the definition of the old-fashioned word “acedia.” According to Kevin,
“Acedia is an old word roughly equivalent to ‘sloth’ or ‘listlessness.’ It is not a synonym for leisure, or even laziness. Acedia suggests indifference and spiritual forgetfulness. . . . As Richard John Neuhaus explains, ‘Acedia is evenings without number obliterated by television, evenings neither of entertainment nor of education but of narcoticized defense against time and duty.'”
He goes on to explain acedia even more. I never knew what it meant before, but I know I am too often guilty of it, and I was glad to have someone put these things into words.
The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McKnight. After Crazy Busy I cracked open McKnight’s book, in part because I linked to an article of his last month and I thought I should give his book a try. I had gotten the impression from some that The Blue Parakeet was similar to another Bible-deconstruction book that did absolutely nothing for my faith, however much others had assured me it would. So I’d avoided it until now. But the two books couldn’t be more different. Where the other book removed the breath-of-God quality of Scripture, McKnight’s restores it. The Blue Parakeet gives a framework for understanding the meta-story of Scripture, the individual stories in Scripture, and the stories of our own lives. And what’s even better, it paints a beautiful picture of God’s desires for us for experience and enjoy oneness with others and with God, in the same way the Trinity has eternally enjoyed oneness. Then the last section is a guide to re-thinking women’s roles.
(As I’ve mentioned before, John Stackhouse’s Finally Feminist is an excellent, balanced, and short starting place for thinking through these issues biblically, and I highly recommend it as well. And if you want to read how I have personally wrestled through the various Bible passages, you can read Paul, the Misogynist? and Weaker But Equal: how I finally made peace with Peter.)
Mark: The Gospel of Passion by Michael Card. Yes, I’m still reading through this (slowly, apparently). This month I hit the Transfiguration story – you already know I’m captivated by that story, right? – and for days I couldn’t stop thinking about Card’s interpretation of it. He harks back to the desert wandering of the Israelites. Why did Peter want to build three tents? Maybe it wasn’t to bestow honor on Moses, Elijah, and Jesus like I’ve always thought, but to hide their overpowering glory, in the same way that Moses’ face had to be veiled after meeting with God. But instead of the apostles building tents (tabernacles?) to hide the glory, God provided a cloud to descend on the three and to hide the glory, in the same way His glory was hidden in the cloud in the wilderness. It was a fresh take on the Transfiguration (for me, at least).
Straw into Gold by Gary D. Schmidt. This retelling of the classic Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale was recommended on the Bibliophiles podcast. It’s a what-if story – what if the prince were actually taken from the queen? – with threads of grace and forgiveness running through it. It’s a short literary treat that offers delectable imagery, like “fingers of sunlight” that reach over the edge of the world.
Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World by Henri Nouwen. I’ve had this book for a while but had been avoiding it because sometimes Nouwen can be quite dense. This little book, however, is not dense. It’s deep, but it’s an easy read. It’s written as a letter to one of his friends, and each of the few sections can be read in one sitting. Confession time: I was having particular trouble loving my neighbors this month due to their extended playing of loud Khmer music during school hours and even early in the morning during my “quiet time” hours. But as I read about how my own belovedness can teach me the belovedness of others, I remembered how very much God loves the loud neighbor next door, how very much God loves the man (okay, men) peeing all over the street, how very much God loves the brothel owners, yes, how very much God loves all of us, including me. And as is wont to happen when I meet with the God of the universe, I cried. It was a good thing.
Other in-progress works:
I’m still reading Consider the Birds along with the Velvet Ashes book club.
I’ve cracked open Christopher West’s Theology of the Body for Beginners, upon recommendation from my Anglican friends and in search of even deeper healing from disordered eating (but boy is it DENSE, and it’s only the beginners’ version!). Most important point so far: In spite of all the grandeur of the Cosmos and the wonder it inspires in us, what God says about humans (including our bodies) is that we are better than the rest of creation. It says it right there in Genesis 1, but I’d never thought of it that way before. Our bodies are good, and our bodies are important, and that’s something a talking head like myself, who would happily live only in my mind, can forget all too easily.
I’ve also picked up Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries again. It’s a collection of unrelated science essays for the general public, and as such, is easier to return to after a long break than, say, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, which really should be studied all together as the material is both difficult and related (and which I need to start over again because it’s been so long). A note on both Neil deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking: yes, I know they are an agnostic and an atheist, respectively, and yes, I often find them arrogant. But I read them for their scientific expertise, and I find that the awe they hold for the universe alone, I can appropriate for myself and extend towards the Almighty.
As for fiction, I’m not sure what to read next. I read a lot of that this month. I just barely started Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terebithia, which I found in the home school coop library, and I already like the main character, but I may veer away from fiction this next month and read more science instead. Tyson’s book has got me interested in science again. Then again, I may not read much at all, what with my mom visiting. 🙂
Feasting as an Act of War by Andrew Peterson. Everything I’ve been learning this year about the intersection of the physical and the spiritual, about sacrament, about communion, about celebration, it’s right here in this address. A must read!
Only Sympathy Makes it Real: Anyone Can Write by Joshua Gibbs. More on sacrament and the sacredness of all physical matter — as I mentioned above, it’s the type of stuff that’s been lighting me up this year. A long read. Also kind of a misleading title.
Binge-Watching with Boethius After Dark by Joshua Gibbs. Also long, but so very worth it. About desire and what really satisfies and what doesn’t, even though we keep searching for satisfaction in those places. Like Netflix. And potato chips. I was thinking and talking about these concepts for several days after I read it, which for me is always a good sign.
Our Now, but Not Yet Reality by Tyrel Bramwell. This one speaks my language. I’m all about the already and not yet. Some days it’s the only thing that gets me through the suffering I see all around me. And this post gives such a good word picture for it, too.
The Beauty in the Boom: Fiction and the Art of Paradox by Mark Guiney. Paradox — also speaking my language. Plus there’s a nerdy little science tidbit in there.
The Language of Desire by Patty Stallings. Patty gets the job done. Always. And as long as we are on the subject of other writers speaking my language, so is Patty! Desire and longing — for me they are pointers to God and His work in my life and in the world.
Light Heals by Kathy Escobar. I remember the feeling I had right before I told my future husband about my eating disorder. It felt so dark and scary. Now, of course, it’s not scary at all. It’s been brought into the light.
We Lift You High by Planetshakers. Don’t you just love this song, music and lyrics?
Who can heal all sickness
Who can make me new
No one else but Jesus
There’s no other name
For great are You Lord and worthy of all the
Glory and honor and praise
Who can take all my sin
Who can cleanse this heart
No one else but Jesus
And You reign, You reign O Lord
You reign, You reign
You Hold It All Together by All Sons and Daughters on their new album Poets and Saints. Won’t get out of my head.
It feels like an ocean of sorrow is under my skin
Even the ocean eventually meets with the sand
Sorrow on sorrow, I’m waiting
Heavy I’m anticipating
Trusting the current, will carry me
You are my strength
You are my song
You are my salvation
You hold it all together
You hold it all together
We come with great expectations, and fears in our hearts
Send us Your light, as we’re making our way through the dark
All of the earlier troubles
Chaos and pain they unravel
Looking ahead we rejoice in You
Rest in You, also by All Sons and Daughters on Poets and Saints.
Who is Lord, but our Lord
Who is God, only God
You are the highest
You are most good
Matchless is Your love
Our praise will rise above
Your peace like a river
Floods over us
Our hearts are restless
Until they find rest in You
Our hearts are restless
Until they find rest in You
This is where my hope lies
This is where my souls sighs
I will always find my rest in You
So full of mercy
Beauty and mystery
You are most hidden
But always with us
You cannot change
Yet You change everything
You cannot change
Yet You change everything
(You can watch an explanation of their album here.)
PODCASTS AND VIDEOS
We Belong to Each Other — Idelette McVicker. A beautiful two-minute story that teaches some of the same truths that Henri Nouwen teaches in Life of the Beloved. Plus, you get to learn a South African phrase.
A conversation with Andrew Peterson at The Gathering 2015. I went poking around for Andrew Peterson videos after finishing the Wingfeather Saga. This interview has bits about Eden, longing, community, and even fearing your artistic ability has been lost forever when you go to work on something new.
He Gave Us Stories by Andrew Peterson. Yep, you guessed it, more AP.
SCRIPTURE THAT STUCK WITH ME
Regarding Jerusalem it will be said,
“Everyone enjoys the rights of citizenship there.”
And the Most High will personally bless this city.
When the Lord registers the nations, he will say,
“They have all become citizens of Jerusalem.”
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Ears to hear and eyes to see —
both are gifts from the Lord.
The Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit,
exposing every hidden motive.