page 152: (on finding yourself or someone you know in a ‘bad’ situation) “Sometimes we let them resist finding any meaning or solace in anything that had to do with their daughter’s diagnosis…to stop trying to make things come out better than they were. We let them spew when they needed to; we offered the gift of no comfort when there being no comfort was where they had landed.”
page 163: “I believe that when all is said and done, all you can do is to show up for someone in crisis, which seems so inadequate. But then when you do, it can radically change everything. Your there-ness, your stepping into a sacred parent’s line of vision, can be life-giving, because often everyone else is hiding…so you keep them company when it feels like the whole world is falling apart, and your being there says that just for this moment, this one tiny piece of the world is OK, or is at least better.”
page 167: (on finding God in the ordinary) “…sometimes when you need to feel the all-embracing nature of God, paradoxically you need to hang out in ordinariness, in daily ritual and comfort.”
page 197: (on her battle with bulimia) “Over the years my body has not gotten firmer. Just the opposite in fact. But when I feel fattest and flabbiest and most repulsive, I try to remember that gravity speaks…I do not live in my thighs or in my droopy butt. I live in joy and motion and cover-ups. I live in the nourishment of food and the sun and the warmth of the people who love me.”
page 213: (on forgiveness) “Who was it who said that forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past?”
page 219: (on family) “…my family is like this old sweater – it keeps unraveling, but then someone figures out how to sew it up one more time; it has lumps and then it unravels again, but you can still wear it; and it still keeps away the chill.”
page 219 (on forgiveness and family) “…families are definitely the training ground for forgiveness. At some point you pardon the people in your family for being stuck together in all their weirdness.”
page 255 (on God’s love) “The mystery of God’s love as I understand it is that God loves the man who was being mean to his dog as much as he loves babies. So of course he loves old ordinary me, even or especially at my most scared and petty and mean and obsessive. Loves me; chooses me.”
I have to say discovering Anne Lamott and her works was one of my literary highlights of the year. I know, I am a nerd. One reason why I’d really enjoyed ‘Traveling Mercies’ was her raw honesty with herself and her readers. Here’s someone who:
- was an alcoholic and drug addict
- was bulimic
- had a child out of wedlock and didn’t seem to get married after all
- wears dreadlocks in her 40s cos she has had enough of her unruly mess of hair
- frets about finding the ‘right’ man
- struggles to love and accept her ageing mother sometimes (gasp, did she really confess to that?!)
- uses swear words in her book (really, should a Christian even do that!)
You know, Anne probably wouldn’t be ranking very high in the typical Christian circle. Yet how many of us can identify with her struggles and wish we were as honest as she was about it? No pretenses; not trying to appear all-put-together; just speaking from one’s heart to the other.
I am currently reading my second Anne Lamott book, ‘Traveling Mercies‘ and enjoying it. Be warned though, this is not your usual read about how a hippie/intellectual-turned Christian-and-so-she-lived-happily-after. In fact, her faith journey is fraught with accounts of drugs, alcohol, numerous relationships, unwanted pregnancies. But her honest, brutal accounts of how God meets her in some of her most vulnerable moments leave me in awe of God’s amazing grace. In fact, when I shared parts of her story with CS, his candid response was ‘if I am God, I’d have walked away.’ Am I glad that God is God and none of us will ever be!
For fear of doing a dismal job in paraphrasing her, here are snippets from her book:
pg 43: (on what it means to be ‘saved’ in the Christian jargon) “I guess it’s like discovering you’re on the shelf of a pawnshop, dusty and forgotten and maybe not worth very much. But Jesus comes in and tells the pawnbroker, ‘I’ll take her place on the shelf. Let her go outside again.'”
pg 68: (on grief when she lost her best friend to cancer) “…what I’ve discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it.”
“…the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you. A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart.”
pg 75: (on life) “Life does not seem to present itself to me for my convenience, to box itself up nicely so I can write about it with wisdom and a point to make before putting it on a shelf somewhere.”
pg 89: (chapter on church, people, steeple)
Late Fragment – Raymond Carver
And did you get what
you wanted from this life even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
pg 97: (about an old lady from church who was going blind in her eighties) “..that was heroic of her, that it spoke of such integrity to refuse to pretend that you’re doing well just so to help other people deal with the fact that sometimes we face an impossible loss.”
pg 100: (on church) “The church became my home in the old meaning of home – that it’s where, when you show up, they have to let you in.”
pg 103: (on community) “I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”
pg 106: (how the book’s title was derived) “This is what they (the old people at church) always say when one of us goes off for a while. Traveling mercies: love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound.”
pg 138 & 139: (on grace) “I know nothing, except what everyone knows – if there when Grace dances, I should dance.” (W.H. Auden)
“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
And my favourite quote from the book thus far:
pg 145: (by her son Sam aged seven) “I think I already understand about life: pretty good, some problems.”
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Hello everyone. My name is Ervina and I am a bookaholic. I don’t exactly know when it started but I did remember receiving mostly books as presents when I was growing up. Any books by Enid Blyton, The Hardy Boys, The Secret Five and Nancy Drew were my staple (literary) diet. And libraries were my favourite haunts. In fact, I am very sure that my serious myopia today was caused by me reading by the dim lights when I was supposed to be asleep!
From my latest Amazon purchase, I had since finished ‘The Blue Parakeet – Rethinking how you read the Bible’, another excellent book by Scot McKnight. A must-read for those who wish to be jolted from their usual Bible reading habits. Anne Lamott’s ‘bird by bird’ is a book about writing. I like her sense of humor and the very practical advice about getting started on writing. It makes me want to get started in my new Moleskin notebook which I bought ages ago.
I am in the midst of reading ‘Blue like Jazz’ which is kind of like a quasi-autobiography of Donald Miller and a New York Times Bestseller. The book’s now been adapted into a movie and had inspired him to write another book – ‘A million miles in a thousand years’ (a highly recommended read for those who wish to live their lives more intentionally).
I hope to see it on the big screen here soon although I am not hopeful since this is not your usual Hollywood blockbuster material but who knows?!
“I never like jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself…I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before any of this happened.” – Donald Miller
At the church camp debrief this week, the pastor passed me this book and wanted me to see if we could do a book club about it with the young adults. I’d meant to just quickly flipped through it since I am reading ‘Blue like Jazz’ by Donald Miller and really want to get right into it. However, I was hooked from the start reading his ‘first words’. And I am surprised at how ‘read-able’ the book is considering that he is a college professor with PhD in religious studies but writes crisply and concisely without fanciful words of triple or quadruple syllabuses.
I found myself challenged by the questions thrown at me so far: ‘What is a Christian?’ ‘What do I think of whenever I read Jesus’ mention of the kingdom of God?’ ‘Did Jesus come just to die for my sins and get me to heaven?’ ‘Why did Jesus come?’
On a lighter note, I couldn’t help but laugh at his ‘subtle’ product endorsements about Apple (and I can hear all die-hard Apple fans go ‘YES!’). Here’s a funny one:
“…I’m hardly an objective reporter, but I have to say there’s nothing like a Mac. Everything all the other writing machines wanted to be when they were little boys and girls is what this adult machine is. (Ok, maybe you’re not biased in my direction as a writer. So, take phones – and skip from those phones that hung on a walls to the early Motorola boxy things and on to those Nokias until you get to…yes…an iPhone. Same company. Same dream come true. Just sayin’.).”
I first came across the poem ‘Invictus’ when I watched the film of the same title. I thought it was a very powerful poem though I didn’t agree with its humanistic tone – the invincible spirit and strength of man.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
(William Ernest Henley)
Then I learned there was actually a poem written as a counter-response to ‘Invictus’ from my current reading – ‘The Grace Awakening’ by Charles R. Swindoll.
Bright as the light that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be
For Christ the conqueror of my soul.
Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under that rule which men call chance
My head with joy is humbly bowed.
Beyond this place of sin and tears
That life with Him! And His the aid,
Despite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.
I have no fear, though strait the gate,
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the master of my fate,
Christ is the captain of my soul.
Life, indeed, can be lived differently depending on who or what I put my trust in, isn’t it?
This Christmas, I keep finding myself returning to the word: Simplicity. So that led me to the work of Leo Babauta – one of the world’s top 25 bloggers and his latest e-book offering, ‘focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction‘. I haven’t finished reading it yet but so far, these are what resonated with me:
- It’s not that ‘less is more’, but ‘less is better‘.
- We’ve come into this Age (of Distraction) without being aware that it was happening, or realizing its consequences…while the opportunities offered by the online world are a good thing, the constant distractions, the increasingly urgent pull on our attention, the stress of multitasking at an ever-finer granular level, the erosion of our free time and our ability to live with a modicum of peace…perhaps we didn’t realize how much this would change our lives.
- Because we’ve created a new lifestyle very rapidly, and I am not sure we’re prepared for it. We don’t have new strategies for dealing with being connected most of the time,we don’t have any cultural norms, nor have we figured out if this is the best way to live life. We’ve been plunged into it, before we could develop a system for handling it.
- Being connected all the time, being part of this constant stream of distraction, is an expectation that society now has of us. And going against that expectation is immensely difficult for many people – it requires courage…How did this happen? When did we opt-in to be a part of this? There was never a time when we agreed to these expectations, but they’ve evolved rapidly over the last decade or so, and now it’s hard to get out.
- It’s not technology we should be afraid of. It’s a life where we’re always connected, always interrupted, always distracted, always bombarded with information and requests. It’s a life where we have no time to create, or connect with real people.
My own thoughts? Guilty as charged. I too have fallen prey at times to the constant need of staying connected and the need to keep up with what’s happening ‘out there in the real world’. Yes, that can be exhausting sometimes.
I also know I am not alone in this. Even though I run the risk of generalizing here (and I do acknowledge that is NOT always the case) I’ve observed that especially in our Singaporean friends when they are here for a visit. Even while on holidays, many would often bring along their laptops to check their emails (so that they won’t be inundated with emails when they return home) or they would be constantly checking their mobile for text messages or missed calls or going online etc. Or they would be feeling guilty for being away for work. So they are on holidays but obviously, part of them remained behind with all their work, ministry or personal commitment. And I wonder how many of those expectations are self-imposed.
Perhaps we all need to learn: i am not indispensable. the world can and does revolve without me. take a step back so others can step in and do the job. i don’t have to be there always. it is ok to be ‘un-contactable’ sometimes. being can be more enjoyable than doing. i don’t have to know what my friends are doing all the time. nothing beats a face-to-face conversation, a hug and a hand-written note, anytime.
I’ve been reading John Maxwell’s latest book ‘Everyone Communicates, Few Connect‘. Having worked in church before, I’ve had the privilege of attending his seminar and he had remained one of my favourites speakers/authors. Needless to say, I had read almost all his books. I am halfway through the new book now but I just can’t wait to share his 5 principles of connecting:
- Connecting increases your influence in every situation
“Connecting with others may not be a matter of life or death for most of us, but it often is a matter of success or failure…the further along in life we get, the more aware we become of the importance of connecting with others.”
2. Connecting is all about others
“If you want to connect with others, you have to get over yourself. You have to change the focus from inward to outward, off of yourself and onto others. And the great thing is you can do it. Anyone can. All it takes are the will to change your focus, the determination to follow through, and the acquisition of a handful of skills.”
3. Connecting goes beyond words
“What you are speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
4. Connecting always requires energy
“I am not saying that you must be a high energy person to connect with others. Nor do you have to be an extrovert. You must simply be willing to use whatever energy you have to focus on others and reach out to them. It’s really a matter of choice.”
5. Connecting is more skill than natural talent
“If you want to be better communicator or a better leader, you can’t depend on dumb luck. You must learn to connect with others by making the most of whatever skills and experience you have.”
Of all the 5 principles, the last one spoke most strongly to me. I guess, far too often (alas!) we often attribute what we do poorly in to our personality traits. But I’ve come to realize that a lot boils down to how willing we are to step out of our comfort zone of ‘but-this-is-who-I-am’ and allow God to mould and shape us further into who He wants us to be.
It has been 10 days since my last blog post so here are 10 random updates:
- We had shepherd pie which I made for dinner last night. It was delicious although CS preferred the usual mashed potato topping instead of the sweet potato version.
- We caught up with friends over coffee yesterday afternoon. One of them had started seeing someone recently and now wondered if the affection was mutual. It was hilarious to hear all the different interpretations that came through because of our diverse cultural background – French, Italian-Bosnian, European, American and Singaporean. Yet it was also interesting to see how dating norms and relationship rules differs.
- I am still baking – my latest creation was a a mango pineapple and coconut cake which I baked last Saturday.
- We had a great time of drinks with the neighbours last Friday. We met in honor of jR the neighbour’s cat who had to be put down last Wednesday because of leukemia. To a large extent, jR was the one who brought all of us closer together when he started hanging out at our house. We were happy to have him over and the neighbours were happy that jR found a second home especially since they had 2 dogs, 3 puppies and 2 amazing fish tanks to take care of as well…
- I started a weekly aqua-aerobics class with a girlfriend 3 weeks ago and has been enjoying it. (Despite a Swedish co-worker’s initial comment: oh aqua-aerobics; that’s what the old ladies do for exercise back home… And that made me realize that was also true in my class too. But who cares as long as I get my hour of workout that doesn’t leave me feeling all sore and achy afterward!)
- For the last 2 Sundays, we have been attending a Chinese service in a different church that we are hoping mum-in-law would settle down in. Thankfully, the initial signs are promising.
- What I am reading currently: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert and September Songs by Maggie Scarf. Interestingly, both books were about marriage especially in its later years. I guess it’s because we’ve entered ten years of marriage and I don’t want to take things for granted.
- I am starting to like my new car that CS bought me at an auction. Compared to my last car, this is like a luxury to me. Curious? Will post a picture here soon, I promise.
- My herb garden is flourishing so we have been eating home-grown parsley and coriander. I bought rosemary at the farmer’s market yesterday and hope it will grow as well too. I also bought mum-in-law some strawberry seedlings because this is the season to grow them, so hopefully that turns out well too.
- I am learning to trust God to work in His time, not mine. When nothing seems to be happening, it doesn’t mean nothing is moving. Makes sense? I guess this is when faith is called into action. Hebrews 11: 1: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” (New Living Translation)
The uni co-op is having a sale. So there were books literally going for a song – at no more than $5. How good is that! I am not exaggerating when I said my heart was palpitating when I walked in and saw the tables of books on sale. Among my loot were 2 recipe books, 2 travelogues, 1 novel and 2 children book.
I also picked up these two mugs which were like the paperback covers of the popular ‘Penguin Classics’ series of novels. I’ve been eyeing them since they first came out a year ago but couldn’t justify paying $24.95 for a mug (probably ‘cos it is made in UK rather than China?!). And today, the total cost for everything came up to less than what I could have paid for these 2 mugs!
P/S: I spent most of tonight making a cake for a co-worker’s birthday tomorrow. The cake is now sitting in the oven and I’ll be putting the finishing touches tomorrow morning. Stay tuned for pictures of my first cake-baking attempt!