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Friday, July 26, 2013


I love to read. I prefer reading to watching a movie. When I prepare to go on vacation, I start an ambitious pile of things I will read on the trip, because I look as forward to getting unlimited time to read as I do the vacation itself.

If I enjoy what I'm reading, I can't put it down. I will read as I walk through the house, as I cook, as I brush my teeth, as I lay in bed, even when I am so tired that my eyes are watering from fatigue and lack of ability to keep focusing. Still I will read.

I decided to be an English major in college because I knew it would give me an excuse to read so much. There was one quarter when I took not one but two fiction classes, and had seventeen novels to read in ten weeks. Sure, I moaned a lot about how "hard" it was to get it all done, but secretly I loved it.

A rapidly fading delight in the world is the ability to wander through a used bookstore. With the advent of e-readers and the demise of brick-and-mortar bookstores we are losing that endlessly lovely pastime of simply wandering through the aisles and happening upon something we would have otherwise not thought of. This seems like a definitive, culture-changing loss to me.

Somewhere along such aimless wanderings I picked up The Writer's Chapbook: A Compendium of Fact, Opinion, Wit, and Advice from the 20th Century's Preeminent Writers, edited by George Plimpton. It is a collection of insights taken from interviews with famous writers on their craft. I have hoarded it like a fine bottle of wine, occasionally looking at it and feeling especially creative by merely owning it.

Today I cracked it open. Already, I am wondering why I have waited so long! Only a few pages in, I am completely hooked. I will have to exercise great self-discipline to take it slow, because I can already tell it's a big sloppy feast for a reader like me.

Separated into the various aspects of writing, the first chapter is on reading. Enjoy these little nuggets:

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. Richard Steele
I average about five books a week... the normal length novel takes me about two hours. Truman Capote 
The books that you really love give the sense, when you first open them, of having been there. John Cheever 
(Referring to Hemingway's writing) I mean, they're perfect sentences. Very direct sentences, smooth rivers, clear water over granite, no sinkholes. Joan Didion 
Hemingway and I used to read the Bible to each other. He began it. We read separate little scenes. From Kings, Chronicles. We didn't make anything out of it -- the reading -- but Ernest at that time talked a lot about style. John Dos Passos

And my favorite one so far:

The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination. Elizabeth Hardwick

May this little post serve as a reminder that books are indeed a "great gift." Do not let yourself get too busy to not read. And now, back to my reading...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Finding Your Way

Occasionally I get asked how I came to title my blog "Listening to My Life." The clue is given in the quote directly below the title, from Parker Palmer. I came across this lovely statement when I read one of Palmer's books, which ended up be a game-changer for me, titled Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

There is not a month that goes by where I don't recommend this book to someone. Students freshly graduated from college who are asking the big "what's now?" questions, young adults in their late twenties or early thirties who are feeling stuck in a variety of ways, or peers who are surprised by the need to change (or restart) their careers as they enter the latter third of working life.

Invariably, their next question is "can I borrow your copy?" and I just smile because there is NO. PICKIN'. WAY. I am loaning out my copy. It's more like a journal at this point, after a few readings... I've written notes and underlines and dates and even a name or two in the margins!

I was reminded of all this by another quote from Palmer that I came across today:

“The power of a fully lived life or a truly learned mind is not a power to be sought or contrived. It comes only as we let go of what we possess and find ourselves possessed by a truth greater than our own.”

I enjoy Palmer's book so much because it is raw and authentic. He freely talks about his own failures, but not in a that ridiculous, "humblebrag" sort of way. Rather, he describes real failures and lapses in judgment. He demonstrates true remorse. He chronicles painful seasons of depression. His concise but purposeful language peeled away my defenses, and I finally faced "the reality of my own fear." (p. 26) While this was painful, it was also ultimately liberating, and launched me on the trajectory I am now on. Today's quote sums up that place very well... I have to admit that I feel like I am fully living life, and know this to be a great gift, rather than something I was able to conjure up. 

How did I arrive in this place? Short answer: the grace of God. Longer answer: a long and circuitous journey during which I s-l-o-w-l-y learned to heed the still, small voice of God prompting me this way and that. I have learned so much along the way, and I shared a few these things with my crop of summer interns in our training recently. 

In no particular order of importance, they are:
  1. Your calling is to someone, not something. In Ephesians 4:1 it says, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” We must get rid of this prevailing notion that our identity is found in what we do. We must shed this Christiany tendency of thinking that we must have this crazy, blinding, writing-in-the-sky Damascus Road experience where our "calling" is given, and that anything else is living below God's passion. So much pressure! We are to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing. Period.
  2. Invite others whom you trust to help you understand your gifts. In all of my own ministry roles, I was asked to do them. People discerned things in me that I did not see in myself. In fact, I shy away from those who want to self-identify their gifts and calling. Discerning your gifts and the way you can serve can and should be a corporate experience, where your trusted community calls things out in you and commissions you for the task.
  3. Don’t look sideways. 1 Corinthians 12 is all about the various gifts of the body. All are valid, all are different. One of the big downfalls of Christian college graduates that I have observed is the comparison game. They all think they have to be "Indiana Jones for Jesus," arriving with flash and swagger, supposedly conquering some world problem or starting a non-profit. Sheesh. Don't compare yourself to others. God works through each of us in different ways.
  4. God doesn’t care what you do! Sure, I’m overstating to make my point. But in 1Cor 7:17 it says, “However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.” This passage is primarily about marital and social status, framed with the belief that Jesus would be returning quickly, but nevertheless, the statement applies. Are you being faithful to God where you are? Why would changing your circumstances affect your ministry? May we be dissuaded from the myth that there is one single path that is God's will for your life. Love God now with all you've got, whatever you are doing, be it a gardener, a CEO, a new parent, unemployed. Our eternal job is to know God (John 17:3, John 6:28-29); everything else is temporary.
  5. Nothing is permanent. You may do one thing for a long time, then you may do something else… While I could go on a dandy rant about how much "kids these days" don't understand commitment, I want to also say that saying yes to something does not doom you to 35 years of the same damn thing, day after day. I have had 3 long-term jobs in my adult life (11 years, 15 years, and now 4.5 years). Do not be afraid that if you commit to something that you're chained to it for the rest of your days.
  6. Do what you want. I have known so many people in ministry, and one thing stands out to me – everyone who has lasted a long time in their role has totally wanted to do what they were doing. I believe God gave them that desire. We tend to think calling has to be something miserable, that you are dragged into it kicking and screaming. Let me be clear – I haven’t always been happy in the moment that I was doing something; but I have always wanted to do whatever I was doing, even when it was difficult. I’m not talking about feelings, I’m talking about convictions.
Concluding, I will quote another favorite writer, Frederick Buechner: "Vocation is the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need." How I pray those are freeing words for you.