What I Read in February + how I evaluate stories

Over the years, my metric for good fiction has changed. I jumped into the Christian fiction realm as a young teenager, read excessively and honestly, found it lacking more and more as I got older. Since my goal here isn’t to critique (some forms of) Christian fiction, I’m going to leave it at that. What I want now is a story that accurately portrays humanity with all the beauty and flaws that come with being human. I don’t want performative sin in an imaginative world where consequences aren’t real. I also don’t want to see evil glorified, that’s a different narrative altogether. But neither am I looking for a pretend world that shows no parallel to reality. Even stories that at first glance seem far removed from our everyday lives such as fantasy or dystopian fiction only work when they reveal the world that we thought we knew.

Some of these stories might have themes that are outside of a kingdom ethic. We will all encounter people whose stories fall outside of kingdom ethics. All of our stories fall outside a kingdom ethic in places. Reading fiction can help prepare us for these encounters around our dinner tables. We need to wrestle with concepts in embodied life and not just academic theories. If this person, from this book, were drinking coffee in my living room, how would I respond to the story?

Of course everyone has different limits. The stories you can read/watch/listen to will be limited by your experiences, past trauma, your age and maturity, personal temptations, and so many other things. I cannot prescribe those limits to you and I have no desire to do that. This is just a potential opportunity to reframe the point of stories.

Owning My Age: Growth toward Maturity

I turned 34 in January. For a few months now, I’ve been joking with a friend that forty is starting to feel really close. I’m loving my thirties, but forty seems, not old, but maybe like I’m not wise enough to be approaching it. I thought I might be nearing middle-age since I’m turning 35 next year and I still part my hair on the side (I don’t have TikTok but I know that GenZ says that’s a “no” now). Then I did some googling and realized that no one else thinks that middle-age starts until 40 or 45. I have years to go…even though forty still seems close.

I want to own my age whether I’m 34 or 45. I want to mature and not just get old. I’ve never been one to crack jokes about being eternally 29 because I want to live these years and grow and mature and enjoy being that person versus the one I was at 29. (I’m hugging her in my mind as I think of her.) I remember being barely a teenager and there was an older teen, honestly she was probably in college, that I admired. She dressed well, seems poised; in other words, she was all the things I was not at 13. In a tiny way, it was a vision of hope for the future adult I might be.

When I was in my 20s, I remember multiple occasions when I looked around for the adult in charge, and realized that I was actually that person. It took me by surprise then but now I need to be prepared for that. I need to invest time and energy into wisdom and maturity so that I have what the people around me need, so that I am becoming who God is making me. To stay immature is to be selfish, unwilling to be uncomfortable and inconvenienced for the good of others. This shortcut to nowhere cheats myself too.

Nurturing the Spirit of a Beginner

Wednesday morning, I scrolled through all the pictures on my phone from mid-2016 to 2018. It made me feel full, as if I had eaten a good meal and was settling in for a nap. I watched our babies grow, even seeing the startling realization that I was pregnant for the fourth time unfold in the photos. I cut my hair short. I learned how to dress myself. I made space for work and redecorated our home, changing the spaces to suit our growing and maturing family. The faces of my closest friends showed up beside my own and the seasons cycled, bare branches shifting to the explosion of green summer. I wanted to go back and hug my babies, yes, but I also wanted to hug myself. The main thing I felt for the me in those photos was compassion. Life was full and hard and so much good was growing even if I was too exhausted to see it.

I knew those seeds were germinating. That’s why I took the photos. I wanted the record of what looked like nothing because one day I would know it was something. This is the startling truth of our lives at every point. These ordinary days, where we wrestle for hope and discipline and faithfulness, will burst forth with some new life. We just might not see it for a few years; in the moment, it simply looks normal. It was true in 2017 and it’s true today in 2021.

The Stories I Tell Myself

February is Rare Disease month. I don’t currently have any big plans to write about rare disease this year (although that could change) but it’s part of our lives. Our oldest son has a rare disease called Isovaleric Acidemia. It almost killed him when he was born and we were unaware that IVA existed. He carries those repercussions in his body to this day and he will his entire life.

{The short version of IVA is that your body has a defective, though present, enzyme that should function when breaking down protein, specifically the essential amino acid leucine (essential means it’s in all protein). Because the enzyme doesn’t function, instead of leucine being broken down and continuing to be metabolized, it gets stuck and produces isovaleric acid and ammonia. IVA is managed by a low-protein diet and a medical formula, among other differing things.}

This pandemic has been especially trying for him. He is not more likely to get sick but being sick is more complicated for him. We have ended up in the emergency room to get fluids over a stomach bug more than a few times. A fever of 100.4 slashes his daily protein intake because your body breaks down your own protein when you have a fever. We pay for AirEvac because our local hospital won’t admit him and/also because he needs more specialized care at a children’s hospital when he is sick.

Since being sick is much more complicated for him, we have taken extensive quarantine measures during the pandemic. We’re homeschooling. We see only a small handful of people. My husband has been working from home. We’ve done it outside, or masked, or on zoom, or not at all. While I’m grateful for all the good our family has still been experiencing, it’s been a long year.

What I Read (or finished reading) in January

Mary Oliver wrote this lovely poem that I discovered in December.

Wherever I’ve lived my room and soon
the entire house is filled with books;
poems, stories, histories, prayers of
all kinds stand up gracefully or are
heaped on shelves, on the floor, on
the bed. Strangers old and new offering
their words bountifully and thoughtfully,
lifting my heart.

But, wait! I’ve made a mistake! how
could these makers of so many books
that have given so much to my life–
how could they possibly be strangers?

I’m going to have it printed and framed just like the poem in our bathroom (which is “The Genius” by Billy Collins, in case you were wondering). I love to read and I love books on shelves; we just added some more shelves in our home. I don’t aim for a certain number of books every year and I don’t force myself to finish books that I don’t like, but I do read intentionally and I keep a record. For the past few years, I’ve kept my reads in an Instagram highlight and I’m still doing that this year. But I’m also recording them in the back of my planner (a Get to Work book– this is the sixth year I’ve used one and I love it) and I’m going to catalogue them here every month.

When 2020 ended, I looked over the years’ books and decided I wanted to sprinkle in some variety. But I don’t make a reading list for the year; I read what I feel like reading. In order to navigate this tension, I decided that every month, I would aim for some poetry, fiction, and/or essays along with my nonfiction. In an effort to relieve my stress about deciding on fiction (and since we still aren’t hanging out at the library) I splurged on a subscription at The Bookshelf  and will get a new fiction book every month, picked out by Annie Jones. Yes, it’s a treat and it will be a delight.

Citizen living: the why + how of my news consumption

Every single time I have voted, I have felt the weight of the cost for my right to vote. In my shadow walks the women who petitioned and protested and went to jail in order for me to vote. (I also cannot leave that statement there without acknowledging that did not clear the path for all black women.) It’s an honor to participate in the workings of our nation. I call and email my representatives gladly because they cannot represent me if they don’t know how I feel. At some point, perhaps the next time there is an election and not a pandemic, I would like to assist with voter registration or even the election day process. I’m sure my ability to participate will shift over the years.

I am grateful to live in America; my goal is to work for the common good of all people. Although I participate in our country, my intention is to put my effort into the kingdom of God. My ethics are to be kingdom ethics, not party ethics. I may, at times, agree with one party or another, but I am also free to critique either. My allegiance is to Jesus and His kingdom. My desire to stay current on politics or the news is to engage well with the world. To care for my neighbors, to vote responsibly, to discuss how our theology weaves throughout our tangible lives requires an awareness of the world I inhabit. To speak credibly to the world about Jesus means I must speak from the reality of what the world is.

Seminary Notes 4: a harvest of Greek

Over and again, my pencil scratches out the same strange symbols in a chart with crooked lines.

NS    ος        η/α        ον
GS    ου       ης/ας     ου

This quarter in seminary I’m taking Greek. Last quarter I took Interpretive Methods. I loved it and at the same time felt a smidge like a slacker for only taking one class. Today I’m drowning in thankfulness that I don’t have another class along with Greek. Greek is memorizing. Scratching out paradigms (that’s what the above barely-begun chart is called) until they are perfect. Memorizing vocabulary and breathing marks and articles.

Earlier this week, I flipped book and discovered I’m going to be memorizing paradigms for a long time. Chart after chart to learn equals day after day of practice. Bits of knowledge will eventually compile into a body of information that I can use. Just this week, I actually translated a few small phrases from Greek to English. The work is a gift; seminary was a closely-held dream for years. The gift is also the work; it means nothing if I won’t put in the time.