Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Rarely do I advise people to NOT read a book. I’m a believer in reading, whatever your preferred genre, however long it takes you. But for this book, The Sacred Year by  Michael Yankoski, I feel compelled to caution you before you begin reading. It’s one of those dangerous books that will force you to ask hard questions about your life and will make you responsible for your decisions. If you’re not prepared to consider a different way of living, then don’t even think about reading this book. TSY-cover-small

That said, The Sacred Year is one of my favorite reads so far this year. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)

Yankoski, who gained fame as the author of Under the Overpass, recounts his search for meaning and purpose in his faith. As a sought-after Christian speaker, Yankoski comes to a point of seeing himself as a person spread too thin with very little depth. He commits to exploring spiritual practices that act counter-culturally to the way he currently lives.

He focuses on practices like solitude, simplicity, confession, pilgrimage, gratitude and justice. There are 18 in all, and his experiences are as challenging as they are fascinating. This is not a book to rush through or read carelessly, and while it can be overwhelming to consider the kind of life Yankoski presents, he encourages readers to consider one or two of the practices for starters and begin living a life of more depth.

could-it-be

I’ve enjoyed Yankoski’s writing in the past. He is an honest and captivating storyteller who doesn’t paint perfect pictures of his journey but acknowledges the hard parts and the failings. My copy of the book is already well-worn and dog-eared from the many places his words hit home. An entire section on creativity has become an agent for change in my writing life.

justice

Despite my earlier warning, there’s nothing to fear about this book. It hits at the heart of a longing I think many are feeling about living a life of faith, purpose and meaning. Not an easy book to read but a necessary one. Definitely among my top books for the year.

Since my words feel inadequate, check out this video for the book to help you decide if it’s for you. Then read on for more information about the author and the launch of this book.

Michael Yankoski is a writer, aspiring theologian, and urban homesteader who dreams of becoming a competent woodworker, musician, and sailor. He received his MA in theological studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, is a (novitate) Oblate of St. Benedict, and has authored four books. Michael grew up in Colorado, feels at home on the Pacific Coast, and currently resides in Indiana, where he and his wife are pursuing PhDs at the University of Notre Dame. Michael2-small

Yankoski became jaded and disillusioned with his life as a Christian motivational speaker, feeling as though he was another act in the “Christian Carnival.” Religion started to become a façade instead of a deep, nourished, lived experience of faith. He knew he needed to stop talking about his faith and begin living and practicing it. In a sort of desperation, Michael dedicated the next year to engaging various spiritual practices, and The Sacred Year is a firsthand account of the downs and ups, the failures and successes of an honest search for answers to the human yearning for life, love, and God.

It’s time to stop talking about your faith and begin living and experiencing it.

Join Michael and #EmbraceTheSacred—seek out God at work in the mundane and attend to what God is doing in your life. Share those moments on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and make sure to use the tag #EmbraceTheSacred.

sacredyear-embracethesacred

As a thank-you for ordering The Sacred Year, Michael is giving away a free ebook! Email your proof of purchase of The Sacred Year to TheSacredYear@gmail.com, and you will receive A Straightforward Guide to Three Essential Spiritual Practices ebook for FREE! Learn more here.

sacredyear-400-freeebook

 

You all know how much I love to read. (No spoilers, there.) And I take seriously my duty to share with you the best books I’ve been reading. This year, I switched to a quarterly summary because there were just too many good books. (To see what I’ve liked so far, check out this post from the first quarter and this one from the second quarter.)

The third quarter just might be the toughest assignment yet because I spent the summer reading more books than I thought possible.

Here’s a valiant attempt to give you five (or so) of the best books I read in the last three months. motherhood

Topping the list is Surprised by Motherhood by Lisa-Jo Baker, mostly because I don’t typically read parenting books and this one I would recommend to any and every mom out there. I passed it on to a friend as soon as I’d finished it and ordered a second copy just so I could share it with more people. If the thought of a parenting book makes you want to throw up, then get your hands on this one because it is the antidote to all of that.

I also finally finished Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright, and it is no way similar to the book I just mentioned, but is the best book I’ve ever read on what the church should be doing in the world and what it actually means to live for the kingdom here and now. (Thanks, hubby, for persisting that I read this book from your seminary reading list, a list I often avoid.)

brotherhoodFor fiction, I’ve gotta give a shout-out to The Advocate by Randy Singer. Singer often writes legal thrillers a la John Grisham, but this one focuses on Theophilus and the Roman empire. I’ve often wondered about this character mentioned in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. Singer lets his imagination meet history and births a hard-to-put-down story.

I took a chance on a fantasy novel by C.E. Laureano and Oath of the Brotherhood didn’t disappoint. I devoured this story and can hardly wait for spring when the next one in the series releases. Captivating.

Rounding out the list would be Overrated by Eugene Cho. A gentle but firm kick in the pants to do justice every day. And Cho speaks with humility from a point of understanding how hard that can be in the world we live in. Read the full review here.Overrated BookCover-3D

I hate to even have a cut-off, but those are the ones that stand out the most from the summer. By no means is this an exhaustive list of the great books I’ve read. If you’re a book lover, too, then check back here on Wednesdays for a review of a book I’m reading.

Or look for me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading or want to read.

And if you need a recommendation, leave a comment. I’d love to help you find your next great read!

What’s on your “best of” list so far this year? And what do you look for in a book that makes it stand apart from the rest?

We walked into the WIC office, the boy and I, for the last time a few weeks ago. His fifth birthday is approaching, which means we’ll no longer qualify for the government nutrition program.

It’s the end of an era that began when I was pregnant with him. It was a decision I’d resisted with our first child. When she was born, we were still making just enough money to not qualify for it, but a year-and-a-half later, things had changed. My husband was a student with a part-time job only a high-schooler could love, and I was at home with a toddler and a baby on the way.

The clinic where we confirmed the pregnancy gave us the paperwork we needed for WIC, which was right down the hall, in the same building, and there was almost no decision to it. I am not proud that we needed it or that our poverty was such that our son’s birth was covered by insurance we didn’t pay for. But I’m so very grateful that we had the chance to walk in the shoes of the American poor.

Most days, I hated it. Hated that we had to buy the exact item of food on the check or risk setting off the alarm at the cash register or calling over a manager to fix it or heaven forbid, having to hold up the line while we went back to the aisle for the correct item. You’d think a college-educated woman would be able to perform these tasks faultlessly. But I couldn’t and didn’t and it opened my eyes to my sheltered world of privilege.

No, I’ve never been rich, but I’ve certainly never been poor either. Not really. Even in the days when we had no money to fall back on, we had family to help us. Family by relation and family by church. A support system not everyone who is poor has.

And I know you might be thinking if I hated it so much, why did we take it? Or why didn’t I use my college education to get a job? I’m not sure any of our reasons will satisfy your questions. I’ve learned along the way that no matter how much you argue, how much you try to prove to people that you are not like the stereotypes, some people will believe whatever they want and you only accomplish making your own blood boil.

This is one of the many things I’ve learned from our circumstantial poverty. That those who haven’t walked that path might never understand the whys of it. Some days, I still don’t understand the whys.

All I know is that I see the world differently because of the years–yes, years–we’ve spent receiving government assistance. (I know some of you may find that offensive. If we’re friends and you want to talk about it, I’m all for a civil discussion. I’ve lost “friends” because of this, though, and I’d prefer not to lose any more.)

I know about the limited choices for “free” healthcare and how you don’t always get the best. How the clinic is staffed by doctors in training and sometimes they can’t find the baby’s heartbeat and you panic because you need that assurance. How sometimes they treat you like you’re less of a person because you’re at the free clinic. How sometimes you have to pick a doctor whose office is 30 minutes or more from where you live because there is so much need and so few providers willing to open their doors to those with state-funded insurance. I know the shame of feeling like you’ve been labeled as “lazy” or “pitiful” or “fraud” when your insurance provider is announced at the doctor’s office.

And the grocery store? Don’t get me started on the grocery store. I always liked shopping for our family’s meals, but that was before government assistance. Before we held up the line with our WIC checks and store policies that require the cashier to get approval from a manager on the other side of the store for every single check we’re trying to use. Before I looked at the items in my cart through the eyes of someone not on government assistance, wondering which purchases they would condemn as frivolous or unnecessary. I never thought it was possible to be hated by people you don’t even know, but I feel that every time someone comments on an article about welfare or food stamps on Facebook. It makes me want to scream “You don’t know what it’s like!” But that doesn’t solve anything either because I didn’t know what it was like.

I didn’t know there was a day the grocery stores dread because it’s the day food stamps are dispersed and people flock to the stores to buy food. I didn’t know people so quickly passed judgment on other people just because they’re poor. I didn’t know there were families just like ours–families with full-time jobs and young kids–who still couldn’t make ends meet.

It’s the worst feeling, you know, when you grow up in middle-class homes, when you have two undergraduate and one graduate degree between the two of you, and you still require help. It’s the worst because you feel like a failure. Like it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Like you’re doing something wrong.

But it’s also the best because now you know what you didn’t know. Now you know it’s okay to ask for help. To get help. To do what you have to in order to take care of your family, even if you face criticism and hatred. You know what the paperwork is like. You know that it’s possible to stretch your monthly allowance, no matter how much it is. You know what shame feels like. And you see it on the faces of people you otherwise might dismiss.

Receiving government assistance has made me a more compassionate person. I’m glad we’re nearing the end of it because it means we have hope that things will be better. For some, the hope never comes. There seems to be no way out.

So, I wonder what it looks like to give people hope in their circumstances. What can I offer because of my experiences to those who are where I have been?

I’m not sure I have answers, but I’m glad I’m asking the questions.

Have you ever found yourself in a circumstance you never thought you’d be in? How did it turn out?

Are you able to see the good even in the bad?

I had lunch with my friend Dawn yesterday, and while lunching with a friend is not necessarily the kind of earth-shaking action one writes about, our time of catching up got me thinking about friendship.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Maybe because friends haven’t always come easy to me and now I’m beyond grateful for the people in my life I call friends. I’ve written before about a few of those friends. But I want to tell you more. And I want you to tell me your stories of friendship. (See the end of this post for details about how you can do that.) Because I don’t know about you, but I often take my friends for granted. I don’t always say how much they mean to me, and with most of those friends, I don’t have to say it. We just know it. Still, I’m a fan of telling the people you care about that you care about them.

I’m aiming to leave no words unsaid.

So, back to my friend Dawn. (I’d show you a picture of us together but I don’t think we have one. That might be a thing I need to change. Pictures of me with the people I care about.)

Just before my son was born, I tried to start a moms group in the little town we lived in because I was desperate for friends. We’d lived there for two years and I didn’t really have anyone to talk to or hang out with. Part of this was my own introversion. Part of it was being the stay-at-home mother to a little one in a community where most moms worked. The moms group never really took off, but I had posted a sign for it at the seminary where my husband was taking classes and kind of forgot about it.

Months later, after Corban came into our lives, I got an e-mail from Dawn. She’d seen my flyer. They’d just moved to the area. Her husband had just started seminary. And she wanted to know more about the group. We corresponded by e-mail a few times because the group was no more and I was still adjusting to having two kids in the house. I looked forward to her e-mails. I liked her immediately, and we lived in the same town but it took us a few weeks to arrange a meeting. I was nervous about meeting her in person because what if I didn’t like her anymore? (It’s a good thing I never tried online dating. I have this fear about anyone I know mostly from the Internet whom I have the chance to meet in person. Pretty good track record so far!)

We met briefly and it was a little awkward because I’m much more comfortable with written words than spoken ones. But then we kept getting together. We had kids that were similarly aged, and we both needed another adult to keep us sane through the days of seminary classes and financial insecurities and parenting troubles.

I had considered the moms group a failed attempt at ministry, but when I look back on it, I sense it was divinely inspired so that I could know Dawn. Our friendship began about six months before my husband confessed his infidelity, and I truly don’t know what we would have done without Dawn and her family. Emotional support. Babysitting while we went to counseling. Honest sharing. They were lifelines for us.

There are days I consider our time in Pennsylvania and what our lives would be like if we’d never moved here, and I can’t measure how different my life would be without some of the friends I might never have met.

Dawn is one of those friends I feel like knows me well enough that our friendship could be twice as old as it is. We’ve laughed together, gone out to movies and dinner. She took me to get my first pedicure. We’ve traded babysitting. We’ve shared our resources. We’ve walked through hard times. I smile when I think of Dawn because she is extroverted where I am introverted but she has shown me what it is to break the rules, to passionately defend your beliefs, to stand up for the poor and needy, to fight for justice.

She makes me brave.

My life is better because Dawn and I are friends. That’s the best kind of friend, right?

So, tell me about your friends. I have more stories to share about other friends, and I will do that occasionally, here. But I’d like to share this space with you. Send me a paragraph or two about a friend you can’t imagine not having in your life, or a friend who has been with you through thick and thin, or a friend you didn’t expect to have. If you have a photo, I’ll post it, too. E-mail me at lmbartelt {at} gmail {dot} com. Let’s celebrate friends together!

Generally, when I read a book, I want it make me feel better. To escape or offer a solution to a problem. But lately, the books I’ve been reading haven’t lived up to that need.

They haven’t made me feel better but they have made me feel.

tables in wildernessAnd that’s where I am with Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost and Found Again by Preston Yancey. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the Booklook Bloggers program.)

I love Yancey’s writing. His blog is one that I read whenever he posts something new. And it’s always challenging, often poetic, and downright refreshing. The book is all of that, too, in its own way. I will admit to stumbling a little in the beginning because Yancey’s writing is different than most. It’s good, just not easy. As he talks about his spiritual journey from a know-it-all Southern Baptist entering college to a questioning Anglican on the other side of college, the stories and observations roll out, sometimes chronologically, sometimes not. The first time I read Annie Dillard and Anne Lamott, I felt this sort of disconnectedness in the flow but realized as I was reading that it was all connected and related after all. This book has a similar feel.

But it’s a journey worth taking, and I found myself silently screaming “yes” to passages that reflected my own journey.

I’m telling you to notice, because at a certain point I stopped. At a certain point, I stopped  noticing that God was moving all around me, and I believe it was this lack of attention on my part, this willingness to treat common the awe of the Almighty, that would eventually arrive me to a place where God withdrew. (39)

For me, reading this book was like drinking a glass of wine. On first taste, I am startled by the taste and I almost forget that I like it. Then I drink a little more and taste the flavors buried in the glass. And by the time I finish a glass, I am satisfied by the experience and not at all sorry.

Tables in the Wilderness is a book for pilgrims and seekers, for those who don’t have faith figured out, who wonder if anyone else feels the same way. For those who question the tradition in which they were raised, who have more questions than answers. It’s one man’s spiritual journey but it contains valuable truths for those of us on our own journeys. You might not like everything he has to say, but his story is worth the telling.

 

On the days I remember and make myself sit down to read the Bible, I use the Book of  Common Prayer as my guide, typically reading a Psalm, an Old Testament passage and a Gospel passage. For the past couple of weeks, the Old Testament reading was from Job.

I’m guessing that even if you don’t read the Old Testament and don’t believe a word of the Bible you might still know Job–the guy who had it all and then lost it all in what seems like a cruel wager between God and the devil. It’s a dramatic story. I think we forget sometimes how dramatic. This guy was living not just the good life but the best life. He had everything he ever wanted and more. And then God let it all be taken away so Job could discover the true source of his security and faith.

I love the book of Job because it is full of colorful characters and deep questions and proclamations of faith. But whenever I read it, I wonder if I could do what Job did. Could I lose it all and still praise God?

How would I respond to the kind of deep tragedy Job experiences? Loss of children, home, vocation, health, reputation. About the only things he has left are a bitter wife and unhelpful friends. (Those people I can relate to, unfortunately.)

I read Job with interest but also with a silent plea to never, ever be in that position. I don’t think I could handle it.

People amaze me, especially the ones whose lives have been altered by tragedy. I don’t know if I would even get out of bed if I faced what they’ve faced. And sometimes I find myself staring, not because I want to make them uncomfortable but because I want to sear on my mind a picture of survival. This, I tell myself, this is what strength looks like. Some days, I’m brave enough to say it out loud. Other days, I just sit back and watch.

There’s this quote by Ernest Hemingway I wasn’t aware of until recently. (Although I’m a book lover, my retention of classic works of literature is embarrassing.)

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.

The context of the paragraph is not particularly hopeful, but I’m drawn to this idea that the places where we break, where we’re broken, can be strong.

And have you seen the pictures and descriptions of the Japanese art form of fixing broken pottery with gold? If you look it up on Pinterest, you’ll find these words attached to the photos of this art: “understanding the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.”

I confess: I seldom think something broken is beautiful nor do I see my own brokenness as beautiful. I’m more like, “Ew, Lisa. That’s ugly.”

But thanks be to God who sees beauty in the broken and who is even now making all things new.

There’s a killer on the loose in the Pocono Mountains, a man who waited in the bushes for a shift change at a state police barracks and shot two troopers, killing one of them. His picture gives me that creepy feeling and two nights ago, I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking: What would I do? What if he somehow made his way here, to our town? Would I be aware enough to notice? And would I be able to do the courageous thing and make a call?

I’m living in a state of fear these days, imagining all sorts of horrible things happening to our family. I’m overwhelmed and stressed and I think some past experiences are finally catching up with me emotionally. It’s hard to see good when you’re thinking like this. Everything becomes scary or a potential disaster and the words I speak have little encouragement. And a scan through my Facebook “news” feed doesn’t help. There’s fear multiplied. Bad news all around.

And I wonder if it’s only a matter of time before some kind of tragedy touches a little closer to home.

For the past year, I’ve called life “good.” Surely it’s time for that to end, right? Surely there’s a limit to the good times, the feelings of security and fullness.

Everything has a season. We’re rushing on toward fall, the season when the visible signs of life begin their descent and decay. When green turns brilliant red and orange and yellow before ending on brown. When the harvest is brought in and the fields are barren once again.

There is life on the other side, we know. Fall, winter, they don’t last forever, just their allotted time. Still, the shift from long days of light to long nights of darkness takes some getting used to.

Most transitions do.

“How did those get there?” flower surprise closeup

We noticed the flowers growing in front of our house from under our porch. We didn’t plant flowers this year. We didn’t plant anything this year. Still getting used to our new surroundings, we focused more on pruning and cleaning the land we’d been given as part of our rental property.

These flowers were a surprise. They’re still a mystery.

They make me think of the adage “you reap what you sow.” We did not sow flowers this year and yet we are reaping their beauty.

These tiny yellow blooms are a delight in a season when few things are blooming. This is why I love spring, everything pops with color, though I’m learning that it doesn’t have to end with spring.

Still, I look at these flowers and I see a message of hope.

Beauty shows up in the unlikeliest places, sometimes, at the unlikeliest times. There is no time limit, no boundary on joy or beauty or love or hope, no matter what the circumstances might try to tell us.

In Job, I read that God who began the world is keeping it together, that our very lives are a gift and we don’t have to fear loss. In other books of the Old Testament I read that God makes living water flow where only deserts persist. He feeds and fills and pursues and protects, all in the name of love.

And when I can’t see what He’s up to, He gives me just a hint.

See that, there. I’m breaking through. Don’t give up. Don’t despair.

So, I look for it, the glimpses of God breaking through. The beauty in the broken. The hope hanging on when fear is all around.

Are you looking for it, too?

Annie Downs doesn’t consider herself brave, but she’s done the next right thing in her life, even if it’s scary. Her latest book, Let’s All Be Brave, is a call to all of us to be courageous in whatever our lives require. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

braveDowns doesn’t demand that everyone pack up and move across the world. Bravery doesn’t require everyone to do the same thing, and what looks brave in one person’s life will look different in someone else’s. That’s one of the highlights of this book for me: that the brave thing is individual. Downs doesn’t offer specifics for being brave but principles and stories of what bravery has looked like in her life.

She tells great stories about the leaps she’s made in her life and encourages readers to take those kinds of leaps in their own lives. Her brave moments have included a move to Nashville when she knew no one, a move to Edinburgh, Scotland after she’d found community in Nashville, accepting her singleness in this stage of life. I was challenged by the idea that bravery isn’t always saying “yes” to something but sometimes it’s saying “no.” I hadn’t considered that before.

I appreciate the overall message of this book, but on complaint I have is that the chapters felt disconnected from each other. I didn’t get a sense of one flowing into the next. It was easy to read a chapter and walk away for a while, which meant it took me longer than I expected to read this book.

That said, if you’re feeling stuck or like you don’t know what’s next (or you do but you’re too afraid to say it or do something about it), then this book might be the nudge you need to go for it.

HOW TO WIN YOUR OWN COPY

And in case you need another nudge, I have a copy to give away! Leave a comment here on the blog about why you want to read this book, what bravery means to you or anything else you’d like to say, and I’ll enter you in a drawing. I’ll pick a winner on Monday, Sept. 22, so you have through the weekend to enter.

Want to know more about the author? Check out her website and blog:  http://www.anniefdowns.com/

And you can preview two chapters here.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,510 other followers

%d bloggers like this: