Jonah’s gift is mine

One quiet morning recently I was blessed to have some time to read my Bible and as I often have in the past, asked the Lord where He wanted me to read.  I was thinking Mark; He had me open Jonah.  Okay, I thought, this is super-familiar but I’ll read it quickly and move on.  Rude, right?  Well, He can work around my presumption.

And work He did.  My eyes landed on one word and my brain lit up from the verse,  “the Lord provided a great fish…” (1:7) Did you catch it?  He provided.  That word evokes goodness and graciousness – two aspects of God’s very character.  It makes me think of how He answers prayers.  Many years ago I kept a list of all the ways He answered our family’s prayers.  It happened so often I was compelled to note them all.  And although I shouldn’t marvel at a Father loving His children, sometimes I do.  Harder still, is when He answers in another way.  And He’s done that in my life, too.

I don’t think Jonah thought, “Whew!  I’m so glad this fish came along!”  Maybe he did, but he might have seen his situation going from bad to worse.  Similar to when I’ve said,  Really, God?  I’ve been feverishly praying and now this?  This is the exact opposite of what I think is best for me!  See that presumption again?  I know, I know.  I’m working on it.  The ‘great fish’ in my life has taken many forms and I have scarcely recognized them as such.  But I’m starting to gets wisps of hints of inklings that challenges and pain are my fish.  They swallow me, to be sure and I lie quietly in my bed thinking, ‘Is this my fish?  Is this the Lord providing for me?’  I certainly feel thrown overboard but remember what Jonah said after that: “I sank down;  But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God.”

Sometimes we think since we’ve read something in the Bible many times before, we know exactly what it says.  I mean, Jonah ran, was swallowed by a fish,  was spit up, and  all in a page and a half.  I knew that in preschool.  But I realized that more often than I want to admit, my understanding of God is in pre-school too.  However, sometimes He brings us to something very familiar and enlightens us.  Just because He loves us.

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My 10 life-changing books

These books changed my world, making me see people more keenly, think about issues differently & hold dear some of my previously unclear beliefs. For these I am very grateful.  (See my last post for how to find a good book.)

Roots, Alex Haley  A good book is to be enjoyed; a great book to be felt… and this one delivers.  Some might remember seeing the moving 1977 mini-series but this book taps into so many more emotions.  I remember where and when I read it, feeling outrage at what one man could do to another and ‘watching’ the fall-out that entails.  But the human spirit is strong and can endure so much…I also felt inspired and privileged to have ‘known’ these people even though it was remotely.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak  I literally hug this book.  It’s true!  I’ve read so many WWII books but this one is so incredibly different that it’s unforgettable.  The writing leaves me in awe as Zusak is a master with words.  I adore the imperfect, interesting characters and appreciate being inside Nazi Germany simply as someone who has no interest in the war but must endure it.  Tragedy changes people and in this book, it’s for the better.

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton  The only book on the list that I’ve read at least 15 times, I never tire of it.  Each time I teach it there are new nuggets to share.  Hinton makes us compassionate to the outsider and makes us question our own evaluation measures when judging someone such as their appearance and financial status.  Maybe the scruffiest person in the bunch is the most mild-hearted and kind, maybe even more so than the socially acceptable one.

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls  This is the first book I recommend no matter who asks.  This non-bitter memoir of siblings growing up with mentally ill parents was absolutely fascinating.  Multiple scenes will stay with you long after you put it down. You’ll read with disbelief that these tenacious kids not only survived but thrived.

Peace Like a River, Leif Enger   Enger’s tone is so comfortable, his style so engaging, his characters so real.  This story’s father is hands-down the best representative of a Christian man in fiction.  It’s a prodigal son story in reverse where the father (w/ narrator brother and precocious sister) seeks out the lost son.  God is the invisible travel companion through Minnesota and the Badlands in which faith is just as critical as family. My children still remember me reading winsome passages aloud to them while they ate breakfast.  I simply adore this book.

The Damnation of Theron Ware, Harold Frederic  The provocative title alone had me hooked and this classic from 1896 begs to be read today.  Not only is the writing superb, but the story line is fascinating.  A small-town preacher gets himself entangled in a mess from which he cannot extricate himself and I found myself thinking, how will this be done?  Frederic is a master of leading the reader while paying attention to his characters.  Two of his favorite themes are self-awareness & close-mindedness and this story addresses them expertly.

Hind’s Feet on High Places, Hannah Hurnard  Best spiritual book ever.  This seemingly simple allegory holds truths for anyone.  In her journey, Much Afraid travels where she doesn’t want to go but her Shepherd tells her it’s “safe to follow [my] voice” and she does to the High Places of Love but it’s not easy and each trial brings a new lesson.  When she questions him, he says, “I don’t know anything more exhilarating than turning weakness into strength, and fear into faith and that which has been marred into perfection.”  The author’s personal story of coming to faith and her nearness to Christ is just as good.

A Stranger in the Kingdom, Howard Frank Mosher  I’ll never forget laughing during some chapters and thinking deeply during others, especially when the residents of a small town have to face their “untested tolerance.”  It’s easy to proclaim you’re a tolerant bunch until someone comes along to test it.  Then what?  Only a few in town pass the test and love the stranger.

A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg  & Like Garlic for Sapphires, Ruth Reichl  These two books about food and food writing not only left me with serious travel-envy but a re-affirmation that food isn’t something that simply nourishes your body, but it’s what brings people together in myriad ways, evokes sweet memories and connects us to each other.

How to find a book you’ll love

“How do you find so many good books”? Asked many times,  I’ve always naturally found great books and took it for granted.  I do my thing and poof, a stack of great books are at my bedside tempting me to new worlds.  Happily, I share these tips with you.  Follow these steps and you’re sure to find a page-turner:

First, be a reader of magazines and newspapers.  They love to recommend books and want you to read!  I regularly glean great titles from these.  However, other people see these titles too and they’ll be ahead of you at the library.  Instead, have a notebook where you write down titles and as my son says, “Tease it.”  A year or so later, when I write down something else, there it is.  It’s available at the library and all’s right with the world.

Second, go to an independent bookseller.  These gems in your towns are worth your while.  The good folks here are true bibliophiles.  Typically they’ll reserve their endcaps to display staff favorites.  If a shelf contains 10 books and I recognize two authors I already like, then I’m bound to like what else is sitting beside the familiar ones.  I’ve discovered fantastic writers this way.

Third, these booksellers (Barnes & Noble does this too) have pamphlets of recommendations complete with a paragraph of endorsement from another bookseller in the country.  Again, these folks are good readers so scan for a topic that is of interest to you, note it, and go find it.  These pamphlets come out quarterly and include books for younger readers as well as placing titles in genres so you can go right to the topics that interest you most.

Fourth, haunt blogs and your library site.  I recently learned that there exist myriad blogs for avid readers.  In almost any category you can think of, there is a blog.  These have done the heavy-lifting for you: they’ve read, sorted, and recommended scores of books.  One gal just told me that she’d read one I recommended and it opened up a whole new world for her son who thought finding a book was like finding a needle in a haystack.  Google book blogs and let your journey begin.   Library sites also have lots of recommendations.  Search the site and you’ll find it.

Fifth, head to a used book store with your list.  I’m fortunate to live so near three richly-stocked used book stores.  With my lengthy list, I’m sure to find a $3 book in great condition.  Once done, I can either keep it on my shelf or return it for store credit.  If I want to buy it online, I always use Better World Books.  The shipping is free and for each book I buy (usually @ $4), they donate a book to a third-world country.  Win win.

Give this a try and let me know if you’ve found something wonderful.  After all, I’m always looking for a good book!!

Foretaste of heaven

Roger Ebert, famed Chicago film critic, passed away this week and although I wasn’t a devotee, I do remember seeing his show many years ago.  As I read the article in homage to him, I read about how, in the later days of his cancer, his mouth and jaw were eaten away enough that he couldn’t use his mouth in the same way you and I can and this caused him to turn to writing to express himself, especially creatively.  When he did that, he could forget about his disability for awhile and feel like the “me I was meant to be.”

Isn’t that a foretaste of heaven?  To feel so utterly you when doing something?   I reflected on that and wondered when I most feel like the me I was meant to be, as God created me to be.  When do I feel joy?  I immediately thought of two places/activities: when I’m at the whiteboard in front of teenagers that I love, [hopefully] illuminating a concept for them; and when I’m in my kitchen at my mixer, making something with sugar, flour, butter, chocolate.  Other places come to mind, like in the arms of my sons/husband, reading a good book (especially in a hot tub or on a beach)  texting a friend, or singing with my daughter.  These all show how the  Lord gives us innumerable tastes of joy and sweetness right here on Earth.

What I like the most is how my former list is not just a receptive act, like the latter one is; but how He allows us to participate in our joy.  I don’t know why teaching and baking come so easily, but I’m thankful they do because it’s so fun.  I’m in my ‘happy place’ when I’m engaging in those ways. And did you notice how when you’re experiencing joy like this, others vicariously do too?  We get swept up in others’ passions and especially where frosting is involved, then we’re all having fun.

Thankfully, our first son is noticing this as he recently decided that school is not the place for him.  He was born on the go and he’s stayed that way, exhausting his parents along the way.  Now our little busy body is a grown man who is finding joy in his work and using all his gifts that coalesce each day.  Thank God for his energy, his quick adaptability and his likability.  He, like me and you, is discovering that when we do what God has gifted us to do, we echo Roger Ebert and feel the “me I was meant to be.”