Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Thanksgiving week 1 - “…willing to live in the risky faith-embrace of God’s action for them.” ~ Romans 4:12

I have always loved reading. As far back as I can remember books have always been a favorite of mine. My parents read to us frequently and have always modeled the importance of reading by making time to do so themselves - both their Bible as well as other books. As a child, my Dad would take my sister and I to the public library just about every two weeks and we would always check out the maximum number of books and start reading as soon as we got home. As an adult, I always have at least two or more books that I'm in the middle of at any one time. I love to buy books, borrow books from the library or friends and often recommend or loan books to my friends. I love books and reading so much!

In the past I stuck mostly to fiction, but in recent years I have really embraced non-fiction, especially books for research purposes. For me, the subjects I tend to be researching have covered many topics relating to theology, grace, faith, the church, courage, vulnerability, hospitality, encouragement, etc. I am also drawn to books about travel, cooking and food, memoirs and books about someone doing a year of something. Often times I refer to these books as "thinking" books and read them a bit slower, and always with a notepad and pen nearby to take notes. This is usually because I read so many books from the library and can't highlight or write in them (though I even find that hard to do in my own personal books). After finishing the book, I type up my notes and save it. These quotes help me to remember what I've read, or specifically what meant something to me...and they also serve as a place to obtain quotes to use for this blog or in cards to friends and family. A friend of mine also refers to these typed documents as Keri's Notes (like CliffNotes ;) and often asks me to pass them along to her.

Over the years, I've felt influenced and encouraged by a few specific authors whose writing really touched me. In reading through their bodies of work, these authors have become like spiritual mentors to me and are such a blessing. All of them are people of faith and I feel like their writing lives out the verse in my post title - “…willing to live in the risky faith-embrace of God’s action for them.” ~ Romans 4:12 - which then encourages me to do the same.

Robin Jones Gunn

“[A God-thing is] when something happens in your life, and you look at it and can't explain how or why it happened, but you know there's a reason for it. You know that God is doing something in your life, and it changes you. There's no other way to explain it except to see it as a God thing.”
~ Robin Jones Gunn

I know I've mentioned her before many times, but it's impossible to think about what I believe about God without referencing the fact that so much of it is as a result of her writing. I read her books as a teenager first and their impact is so important to what I believe about God and how much He loves us and lives and moves in our lives. Her way of writing about faith is so natural and her stories are so relatable, and I have been so encouraged and supported in my relationship with God thanks to her characters Christy, Todd, Doug, Tracy, Katie and others.

“So, if I love God, and I mean really love God with abandon, then I must come to love myself, my life. I need to love my story at the heart level. That’s what I believe life is for all of us. A story being written by God. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. When I start to love my story, with all its messed up twists and turns, then I can love other people who are living out their own stories with all their messed up twists and turns…if I’m going to go around saying I love God, then I have to trust him and believe that everything in my life first passed through his fingers. Nothing happens outside of his control. He alone will bring all things to justice one day. All I’m supposed to do is love my own story so that I can love that guy’s story too.” ~ Robin Jones Gunn

Every time I read one of her stories, I find myself and my current journey in the pages. I've made it a practice to reread through her series every other year and each time I find new nuggets of truth and new ways that the words she wrote, sometimes many years ago, seem to speak directly to me in exactly the moment I'm reading them. This is all due to the timeless nature of God, and the gift of storytelling that He has so obviously gifted her with and that she has used so wonderfully for His glory. My faith has been nurtured and strengthened by her writing and I am so grateful.

Anne Lamott

“God can handle honesty, and prayer begins an honest conversation. My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real – really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.” ~ Anne Lamott

When I discovered Anne Lamott's writing, it was like a shock because here was a Christian writer but she didn't sound like all the other ones I'd heard or read before. She was really honest and forthright and it was shocking, but so moving and so meaningful. Whether it's courage or just an inability to be anything but herself, I fell hard for her writing and couldn't get enough. I read all of her non-fiction books about faith and grace and life and love. Then I read all her fiction about real, honest, normal people. I loved it all, loved her. Her honesty shocks you at first, but then lingers in your mind and heart because it's so true and real and you feel that "me too" moment - it's incredible and it makes me want to sit next to her at the dinner table.

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation.  They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.  When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored.  We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again.  It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea.  You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” ~ Anne Lamott

When she writes about her thighs and butt as the wise old Aunties, or about her 6-year old grandson crying out in the dark, or the three prayers (Help, Thanks, Wow - great book, you should read it!),  you feel the connection that her honesty brings - when we're real and vulnerable it allows connection and community and this is a beautiful thing. I'm always so thankful to read her posts and her books because they remind me how important it is to be honest and just be ourselves - good, bad and everything else - let ourselves be seen and known. My faith has been broadened and strengthened by her writing and I am so thankful.

Mister Rogers

“You are a very special person. There is only one like you in the whole world. There’s never been anyone exactly like you before, and there never will be again. Only you. And people can like you exactly as you are.”
~ Mister Rogers

I feel like I have always loved Mister Rogers. As a child, I loved watching his show and as an adult I think I love it even more. My favorite part was whenever they would go to the Neighborhood of Make Believe - I loved the trolley and the people there and the belief in the importance of imagination. The slow pace of the show and the repetitive nature of the beginning and ending of every episode was so soothing and peaceful and I just loved it. As an adult, most of the quotes I used in my cards of encouragement were always from Mister Rogers. I have three books of his quotes and I love them. They are so kind, so encouraging, so affirming and full of love and concern.

“It always helps to have people we love beside us when we have to do difficult things in life.” ~ Mister Rogers

Several years ago, I read a book about his correspondence relationship with the author Tim Madigan called I'm Proud of You. The title comes from the way Mister Rogers would end each letter, often simply using the initials IPOY. This book helped to deepen my understanding of the kind of man Fred Rogers was and the ways friendship and encouragement were so important to him. He was a man who deeply loved God, loved people - especially children, and desired to share that love and concern with as many people as possible. My faith has been affirmed and strengthened by his writing and I am so grateful.

Henri Nouwen

“I do not think of myself as your teacher. I think of myself as a friend who has made a very long journey and has learned something so important that he does not want to keep it to himself.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Through the book I'm Proud of You, I learned about Mister Rogers' relationship with the Catholic priest Henri Nouwen and this in turn led to me reading through most of Nouwen's writings. In him, I felt such a connection and sense of kinship, and he has truly become a spiritual mentor to me. I may not have the opportunity to meet or speak with him, but through his writings I feel like I've found someone else who has been through so many of my own struggles and through his honesty I no longer feel alone. He feels like a friend who has taught me so much about discernment, God's love, feeling broken and wounded, and setting boundaries.

“Real freedom to live in this world comes from hearing clearly the truth about who we are, which is that we are the beloved. That’s what prayer is about. And that’s why it is so crucial and not just a nice thing to do once in a while. It is the essential attitude that creates in us the freedom to love other people not because they are going to love us back but because we are so loved and out of the abundance of that love we want to give. This is where ministry starts, because our freedom is anchored in claiming our belovedness. Being the beloved allows us to go into this world and touch people, heal them, speak with them, and make them aware that they too are beloved, chosen, and blessed. When we discover our belovedness, we begin to see the belovedness of other people and call that forth. It is an incredible mystery of God’s love that the more we know how deeply we are loved, the more we will see how deeply our sisters and our brothers in the human family are loved.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Through my reading of his books, I have come to understand so much more about how much God loves us. This in turn makes me feel even more strongly about the importance of encouragement and my desire to use cards and letters to share my love and more importantly God's love with others. I've also been encouraged by Nouwen's ability to be honest and open about his struggles with loneliness, despair, feeling overwhelmed, and so much more. His words speak such truth and they are so beautiful and loving. My faith has been comforted and strengthened by his writing and I am so thankful.

Shauna Niequist

“I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift, who will use it up and wring it out and drag it around like a favorite sweater.” ~ Shauna Niequist

I don't remember exactly how I stumbled upon Shauna Niequist, but I believe it was through a blog post of hers probably shared by someone on Facebook. One I started reading her words, I was hooked and was happy to discover she had three books and I quickly borrowed them through the library. Cold Tangerines was about the finding God in the smallest details and moments of our lives. Bittersweet was about finding God in the good and bad and how important yet difficult change can be in our lives. I loved both of those, but my favorite was Bread & Wine which was about communion and hospitality. This book made me cry because it reinforced my feelings about the importance of food, family, friends and fellowship.

“What makes me feel alive and connected to God’s voice and spirit in this world is creating opportunities for the people I love to rest and connect and be fed at my table. I believe it’s the way I was made, and I believe it matters. For many years, I didn’t let it matter, for a whole constellation of reasons, but part of becoming yourself, in a deeply spiritual way, is finding the words to tell the truth about what it is you really love.”
~ Shauna Niequist

I love food and having people over to my house for meals and hospitality. These things have been very important to me and part of that is the way I was raised by a Mom who felt the same way and part of that is just the way God made me. In reading Shauna's words, I felt a connection to her because these were just as important to her and she was able to put into words things I'd felt and believed but had never been able to say before. Through her writing, I was able to believe in the worth and beauty of hospitality and how it is a form of communion every time we gather together around the table. My faith has been invigorated and strengthened by her writing and I am so grateful.

Brené Brown

“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It’s about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” ~ Brené Brown

Oh my goodness, I am so encouraged and convicted and excited about the writing of Brené Brown! Once again, I'm not sure how I stumbled upon her writing, but ultimately, as in all things, know God directs my path - including books I read. She is not an overtly Christian writer, but her books on the topics of shame and vulnerability, courage and bravery, the lies of perfection and people pleasing and about the goal of wholehearted living, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong - these definitely speak to our lives and our faith in big and small ways.

“We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us. We’re afraid that our truth isn’t enough – that what we have to offer isn’t enough without the bells and whistles, without editing, and impressing. I was afraid to walk on that stage and show the audience my kitchen-table self – these people were too important, too successful, too famous. My kitchen-table self is too messy, too imperfect, too unpredictable. Here’s the crux of the struggle: I want to experience your vulnerability but I don’t want to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me. I’m drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine.” ~ Brené Brown

Vulnerability and courage seem to be two of the things God is teaching me about right now since almost everything I read seems to come back to these topics. And Brené Brown's writing is all about these subjects and she has so much research and wisdom and knowledge. Sometimes I feel like I want to take notes on everything single thing in her books and have ultimately had to purchase my own copies of them so that they can be written in and highlighted to my heart's content. Although these topics interest me, they are definitely things I struggle with and it's a slow process learning to be consistent and do them. My faith has been encouraged and deepened by her writing and I am so thankful.

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ”
~ Colossians 2:2

What a blessing and how amazing it is that God uses so many people and things and places to teach us about Him. These writers have become mentors to me. They teach me about living my faith, about learning to trust God, about the importance of honesty and vulnerability, and most of all about how much God loves us. I am so thankful for books and their ability to teach us and connect us through the power of words to people we may never meet in real life, but who are still able to impact our lives in powerful and wonderful ways.

“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” ~ 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Dear heavenly Father, thank You so much the joy and peace I have found through these writers and others. Thank You for their willingness to be vulnerable and honest and to share that with the world through their writing. Thank You for the ways my faith has grown because of them. Help me to continue to grow in knowledge of You, to trust and depend on You for all things, and for the courage to continue to share my story with others. Help me to be brave and vulnerable and real. Thank You for loving us, we love you too. Amen.

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