Monday, December 30, 2013

My Year in Books: The 2013 Reading Roundup

2013 turned out to be a remarkable reading year!

According to my Goodreads page, I read 186 books during the calendar year, but that number isn't entirely accurate. Unless I were to go in and manually change the dates on books I've re-read (which I haven't done), those books were not counted toward my 2013 total. 

I know for a fact that I re-read Connie Willis's entire Oxford Time Travel sequence in 2013, plus there were some books that I read aloud to my classes year after year which didn't get added into the count, so the true total would be somewhere much closer to 200. 

But let's not quibble.

One of my goals every year is to read more non-fiction than fiction, but this year I didn't succeed in this goal at all: I read 125 fiction books and only 59 non-fiction. That's actually 6 fewer non-fiction books than I read last year, but 14 more fiction. 

Here are some stats:

Total number of books read: 186
Total number of pages: 55,142
Average Book Length: 297 pages
Average Read Per Day: 151 pages
Longest Book: Stephen Inwood's delightfully readable A History of London, clocking in at 1,136 pages (which I lugged around with me while on crutches because I was in the middle of reading it when I broke my ankle and apparently I am a glutton for punishment). 

Breakdown by category:

Young Adult Fiction: 51
Misc. Fiction: 18
History/Biography: 18
Juvenile Fiction: 16
Scifi/Fantasy/Dystopia/Steampunk: 16
Devotion/Religious Issues/Theology/Missions: 15
Classics: 13
Misc. Non-fic: 11
Western: 7
True Crime: 6
Literary Criticism/Writing: 5
Travel: 5
Mystery: 3
Poetry: 2

Standout Reads of the Year:

Young Adult Fiction

Far and away my most memorable reads of the year were Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity, which I read in March, and the companion novel Rose Under Fire, which I was fortunate enough to receive over the summer as an ARC through Netgalley. In Code Name Verity, Wein pairs sharp prose with gripping narrative to create a story of staggering magnetism, hurling the reader face-first into all of the agony, drama, and suspense of the WWII era while simultaneously highlighting the supreme delights of close female friendship. In Rose Under Fire, Wein once again displays her ability to shred my heart into oozing little pieces through a terrible (but poetically stunning!) narrative set inside Ravensbruck. Beautiful and awful and lovely and gut-wrenching. Though some gentle readers may find some of the language and frank descriptions of brutal torture a bit off-putting, I think that these elements add a cold-water dash of realism that could hardly be provided any other way.

I should note that I read Code Name Verity in two anguished sittings while suffering from jet lag in Israel and Rose Under Fire while road-tripping through Pennsylvania, where the central character is from originally and which throughout the narrative, she is seen pining after. All readers know that sometimes the time or place of a reading can affect the impact a book has, and that proved to be true in both cases. 

Also, let me just say... Jamie. 

Miscellaneous Fiction

This turned out to be a somewhat dry category for me this year, but one bright spot would be Ted Oswald's Because We Are: A Novel of Haiti. Having visited Haiti multiple times both before and after the quakes, I found that this story really resonated with the reality I'd seen for myself. Oswald not only has a unique style, but he also has the ability to channel the voice of the culture more clearly than anyone else I've read. More than just using Haiti as a backdrop, he provides the readers with a genuine sense of place. 

History/Biography

Apparently my brain decided that this was the year to obsess over the Civil War. What started as one book to supplement a summer road trip led to a massive read-a-thon involving all things Gettysburg (Joshua Chamberlain!), Harper's Ferry (John Brown!), and Reconstruction. Regarding Chamberlain, I very much enjoyed Willard Wallace's Soul of the Lion; regarding John Brown, I recommend Tony Horwitz's Midnight Rising; regarding the Reconstruction, I recommend Bruce Levine's The Fall of the House of Dixie.

Juvenile Fiction

Due to a job change, I saw a sudden uptick in my number of JF, a category I haven't generally paid much attention to. I've been enjoying being re-introduced to my old friends the Ramona books, which really are modern-classics, I'm finding, but far and away the most enjoyable read of the year would have to be Richard Peck's A Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts. I don't care who you are or what you normally read. Get your hands on this one. You can thank me later.

Scifi/Fantasy/Dystopia/Steampunk

Due to a Kindle sale, I spontaneously snapped up Gail Carriger's five-part Parasol Protectorate series, which turned out to be a frothy and enjoyable paranormal steampunk comedy of manners. It was also exactly the sort of nonsense I needed to ease my mind during the trying experience of trying to pack up my house and move while having a broken ankle. 

I also very much enjoyed Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore, which I picked up on a whim and was quickly shocked to find hit nearly all of the markers that typify my favorite reads: an atmospheric bookstore, massive loads of quirk, a secret society, intensely-focused and obsessive research, conspiracy, travel, secret libraries, technology, tweed jackets, mystery, romance, the wearing of robes, humor, philosophy, friendship, fantasy. Also, the cover glows in the dark.

Oh, and I also re-read Connie Willis's Oxford Time Travel sequence, and you should read it too. I'm not going to tell you again. Stop dithering and read it. 

Devotion/Religious Issues/Theology/Mission

I probably learned the most from Timothy Tennant's Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. Assuming familiarity with standard Western theological concepts, Tennent takes the reader through the basic theological categories in context of majority-world movements, hoping to stimulate a revitalization of Western theological thought by promoting increased global discourse and more overlap between scholarship and practice. Quick, neat summaries coupled with concise explanations made for an enjoyable, stimulating read. (And the footnotes are divine!) Although I learned quite a bit along the lines of his primary message (the need for increased intercultural theological discourse), the idea that most struck me was his point regarding the importance of encouraging more overlap between scholarship and practice. His statement that "We do not meet any 'pure theologians' in the New Testament, if by that expression we mean people whose entire lives were given over solely to theological reflection. Instead, we meet people like the apostle Paul, whose lives were devoted to proclaiming the gospel and in the process produced remarkable theology" rings true and correlates with certain things I've experienced in the past few years. 

Classics

Re-reading the Anne of Green Gables trilogy with my pre-teen niece over the past few months turned out to be an experience that had us both in stitches. These books are classics for a reason: L.M. Montgomery is a master of narrative voice and character development!

Miscellaneous Non-fiction

While I may not have read a much non-fic as I would have liked, what I did read was golden. Alexandra Robbins's book The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive after High School resonated strongly with me, for reasons that should speak for themselves (I wouldn't call myself an outsider, exactly, but I matched her description of Quirk Theory pretty much perfectly). Jon Krakauer's narrative of the 1996 Everest disaster Into Thin Air had me gasping for breath, and Alex Beam's fantastic American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church aided me in my continued intellectual pursuit of all things LDS (also, another ARC from Netgalley! Hooray, Netgalley!).

Also, I got really into physics for some reason this year and read three or four books on that. Don't worry: Valerio Scarani's book Quantum Physics: A First Encounter: Interference, Entanglement, and Reality is way more readable than it sounds. (It would sort of have to be...?)

Western

Far and away, the most enjoyable book from this category would be Charles Portis's True Grit, which I read after seeing both movie versions and became curious as to which one remained more true to the book. (Answer: the one by the Coen brothers. Watch it.) 

True Crime

My true crime reading took a dip this year, mostly because I've read through nearly everything that Ann Rule has written and I'm finding that not many other writers can hold a candle to her in terms of style. I did, however, find The Monster of Florence, co-written by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi, to be fairly gripping. And horrifying. So, so horrifying. 

Literary Criticism/Writing

I decided after having written and published three plays that I should read a few books on play-writing, none of which has turned out to be particularly helpful. Eudora Welty's book On Writing, however, was worth reading just for her essay on how to develop a sense of place.

Travel

Prior to traveling to Israel in March, I read several books regarding the country's history and cultural development. The best one, which I really should have categorized under History/Biography, I suppose, would be Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem: The Biography. Despite the fact that Montefiore and I clearly stand on the opposite banks of a philosophical divide, I still very much enjoyed this surprisingly concise and readable biography of Jerusalem, a city with one of the most complex, turbulent, and hyper-analyzed histories of all time.  I also found that although this book went a long way toward sating my passion for wry descriptions of some beautifully bloodthirsty and unhinged rulers, it only began to help me put the city's sprawling, unwieldy, and often haphazard development into the greater historical context. Readers, be warned: the author takes much for granted on the part of his readers. It would not do to pick up this book without first having a working knowledge of general world history.

Montefiore demonstrates a clear command language, exhibiting a rare gift for producing prose that is substantial without being ponderous. Occasionally, he'd produce a turn of phrase that would make me laugh aloud -- not something that happens often enough in books such as these. And although I did not always agree with his commentary, I found his comments to be both thoughtful and restrained. 

Note: I found Montefore's analysis of how Kingdom Theology impacted the politics both of the Victorian and Post-Victorian Era to be especially interesting.

Mystery

The newest (to me) installment in Alex Bradley's Flavia de Luce series, A Red Herring Without Mustard, proved that the pint-sized poisoner Flavia still packs a punch. 

Poetry

Though I'm currently mid-way through a collection of John Donne (with original spellings!) I doubt I'll finish it before the year's out, leaving me with only two books of poetry read during 2013: Amy Carmichael's Toward Jerusalem and Marciuliano Francesco's I Could Pee on This and Other Poems by Cats. 

To scroll through all my 2013 reads--the good, the bad, and the ugly (not including re-reads)--feel free to see here.

This next year, I hope to read 200 new books. I will try once again (and probably fail) to read just as much non-fiction as I do fiction.

But whatever.

Happy reading, everyone!

* *

Reading 2012
Reading 2011

Friday, December 27, 2013

Stop Worrying about Who You Are

The Apostle Paul had rather impressive credentials. He was extremely well-educated, well-connected, well-read, and well-traveled. A man of letters, Paul could speak with power and write effectively. He had status and prestige, and God used him to do amazing things.

The Apostle Peter did not have the same qualifications. He was a relatively uneducated, unconnected fisherman from the sticks. A man of action, Peter was constantly ready to jump the gun and often had to be held back. He had neither status nor prestige, yet he was used to accomplish equally amazing things. 

A glimpse of these men before their conversions tells a similar story:  both men had separate but equally-long rows to hoe in terms of submitting their wills and allowing God to redeem both their strengths and their weaknesses for his service.

The point here is that it doesn't matter so much who you are when you first meet Christ. What matters is what you allow to happen in you and through you after the Spirit gets hold of you. 

Rich or poor, Ivy-league or GED, introvert or extrovert, white or blue collar: the ground is level when it comes to real effectiveness in God's service. 

So stop worrying about who you are -- about how much education you have or don't have, about how your qualifications measure up to other Christians, or about whether or not your spiritual gift is currently seen as the most flashy.  

Worry instead about the fact that all Christians have been called to be ministers of the Gospel. 

All. 

The Pauls, the Peters, and everyone in between.  

Take some time to re-calibrate. Start by putting your face in the Word, asking God to tune your heart, and getting your mind off your perceived shortcomings. 

And yes, if the Spirit points out a weakness, ask for his help to fix it. If he calls you to more specific training, by all means heed that call. While it's true that quite a lot happened between the time that Jesus said to Peter, "Follow me," and Peter's first public sermon at Pentecost, it's also true that the road to Pentecost did not include Peter sitting at home in the his boat, waiting to feel "ready" to serve.

The time has come to stop worrying about who you are. Stop waiting to feel "ready," whatever that may mean. Instead, do what you can, when you can, where you can. 

Remember that right now, you have a specific sphere of influence that no one else has. You rub shoulders every day with people whom no pastor or career missionary will ever meet.

You are you for a reason. 

You are where you are for a reason. 

Don't wait for God to send someone else "better qualified" to reach your friends, family, and neighbors. 

He's already sent you. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

What We Remember and What We Don't



If I think of Christmases gone by, a few memories stand out.

What I Remember

I remember lying under the tree as a child, looking up through the branches to watch the lights reflect off the ornaments. Which was a fine idea, until a stray needle fell into my nostril and went like a tiny dart straight up my nose until it lodged high in my sinus cavity.

I remember the year I first realized what the fuss was about yellow snow.

I remember the year soon after we moved to Florida when we had a Christmas tree that kept falling over. It literally fell over several times a week, scattering ornaments across the living room and scaring the dog half to death. Dad eventually wired it to the bookcase (which fell in turn, scattering National Geographics) and then to the wall. 

I remember the year that I was in high school, and Mom didn't feel like putting up the fake tree herself. She paid me $20 to do it, and I spent the entire time of tree assembly, light-stringing, and decorating listening to Garrison Keillor's Tales from Lake Woebegone, which I had checked out on CD from the local library just to keep my brain from dying during the mundane task. I remember that in the evening, she came and sat on the couch and watched me decorate, and we listened to the stories together. 

I remember the year when some of the adult children had already left home, and the few of us who were left decided to toilet paper the tree on Christmas Eve (in reaction to our Dad making a big deal earlier that week about something in the neighborhood having been "vandalized"). This is one of the few pranks that involved Lisa as ring-leader. I seem to recall something else about shaving cream on the back window of his van, but that part is fuzzy. 

I remember the year Bethany got the Horse Clock early in the present-opening rotation and celebrated the unveiling of each new gift by announcing, "That gets.... four neighs!" before pushing the button on the back of the clock.

The year that I sneaked into everyone's bedroom on Christmas Eve to wrap up their own possessions to be put under the tree and opened with bewilderment on Christmas morning.

The year after nieces and nephews had started to arrive so that we ran out of beds at Mom and Dad's house, and I slept on the couch Christmas Eve, which was fine until Nathan woke me up by putting a smelly diaper in my face.

The year this happened:


The year that everyone, and I do mean everyone, got violently sick, and while the kids bounced back fairly quickly, we adults spent days texting each other our symptoms as we huddled in our separate pools of misery. 

The year I tried to take Christmas photos of my brother's family and we wound up with about twenty shots like this:


...and then he and Dawn decided to use them anyway. "This is our family," they said.

The year we had a Star Wars Watch-and-Quote-a-thon on Christmas Day, and Eric absolutely schooled us all by quoting A New Hope literally word-for-word.

The year I tied up presents in plastic bags with bows on top because I'm so bad at wrapping gifts that I decided I just wouldn't do it any more.

The year we all decided to forego buying each other presents so that we could pool our money and rent a vacation house for a week, knowing that the time spent together would carry more value than any present ever could.


What I Don't Remember


When I look back at Christmases past, I barely, if ever, remember presents that were given and received. I certainly remember the act of gift-giving: the sitting around in a circle, calling Bethany our "Present Girl" and demanding that she divvy out our gifts to us because we were all too lazy to get up and get them for ourselves. Being excited to see someone open a package that I had been especially thrilled to give. Taking ribbing about what a bad wrapping job I had done.


But apart from a few stray oddball gifts (the year I got three one-pound cheese wheels, for example, or the year someone enrolled me in a bacon-of-the-month club), I really have no very clear memory of the gifts I received.

Take a moment to engage in a similar exercise. Think back over past Christmases to see what you remember and what you don't.

If what you remember is the time spent together with family and friends, and if what you don't remember is the type of gifts you have given/received, perhaps it's time for you to shift the focus of your Christmas season to ensure that you spend the bulk of your time attending to what matters.

Remember that the entire purpose of the giving of presents is to represent the gift God gave to us when he sent Jesus to earth as our savior. 

Gift-giving was never intended to become a moon-sized burden that eclipses the meaning of the holiday itself.

I'm not saying that presents are bad, or that you shouldn't use them to commemorate the holiday, or that the busy bustle of the season is wrong. For many of you, the packed schedule of festive activity is half the fun. 

What I am saying is that one aspect of the curse of sin involves the possible twist of abuse on anything intended for good.

If you find that the task of shopping and gift-giving takes away from your spiritual focus during Advent--if it has come to feel less like a commemoration and more like the purpose of the season itself--then it might be time for some re-calibration. 

In the meantime, I'll be over here trying to wrap my presents without accidentally taping my own hands to them.

Merry Christmas!


Friday, December 20, 2013

Here in This Pregnant Pause



All through Advent, I have been held captive by the idea that for nine months, Mary literally carried God around inside. 

To the Christian, this concept is nothing new. We know what the Bible says: that Mary, a young Hebrew virgin, was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and thus birthed the Messiah into the world. 

For some reason, this seemed to strike home with surprising force this year. I don't really know why. Although I am a woman, I have never been pregnant. But I have listened closely to my pregnant friends and relatives. I've observed them as their lives and bodies have been stretched to accommodate new life. Along with all women since time began, I have wondered if I would ever undergo such an experience, and if so, how I would handle it.

Mary wasn't just pregnant with any baby, though. She was pregnant with Jesus, the physical incarnation of God. Maybe you, like me, have found yourself awe-struck at the concept of Mary carrying God inside.

But should we be so quick to wonder what that feels like? 

As if we don't know? 

As if we haven't experienced something similar? 

As if we, as Christians, do not also carry God inside? 

Consider the parallels. 

Mary's pregnancy could not be hidden.

We live in a time when hiding a pregnancy is possible; however, living as Mary did in a tight-knit community with a different concept of privacy and personal space, she could not feasibly have hidden her pregnancy. While the early stages might not be immediately obvious, there comes a point at which everyone--even strangers on the street--would become wise to the facts. 

Something similar happens with those of us who have God living inside. If our faith is genuine, it is also not easily hidden: it should quickly become apparent to those around us; not just because we tell them, but because it is a fundamental element of our existence which becomes obvious by the shape of our lives.

Mary's pregnancy changed her. 

There's no getting around it: pregnancy changes things. First and most obviously, it changes the body. The bellies extend, skin stretches taut, rib cages expand, lungs (and bladders) are constricted, and internal organs cramp. Some of these changes are temporary, but some are permanent.

Most of these changes aren't comfortable, but they are necessary for the common good of the mother and baby. Likewise, being a follower of Christ and carrier of the Spirit changes us. We are stretched and made uncomfortable. Some changes are only necessary for a season, some are permanent, and all are for the common good and God's glory.

Birthing and raising the Christ altered Mary's life trajectory. 

Nothing was left uninfluenced: her relationships, her standing in the community, her geographic location--everything was affected.  Within a year, she went from being an "ordinary" young local girl to being a wife and mother living as a political refugee in Egypt. Surely this wasn't something that she had ever imagined for herself, and yet we see how God intended all of those circumstances as part of the greater narrative.  

Carrying the Spirit inside changes everything for us as well: our relationships, our aspirations, our choices, our hopes, our expectations. 

Surely once all things are known, we will look back (as Mary no doubt has already done) and see how God intended all circumstances as part of something greater.  

Mary's pain did not last forever. 

Along with most mothers, Mary would no doubt have told you that the pain of childbirth, while difficult, eventually faded. Along these lines, a friend of mine recently stated, "I remember that it was painful, but I can't describe it to you. A day after, I could [describe it pretty closely], but it fades away." 

In the New Testament, Paul draws parallels between the pains of birth and the pain of awaiting the fulfillment of the Christian life. 

Consider Romans 8:18-28:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience...And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
The pain of childbirth is not an end in itself. Neither was Christ's pain on the cross, neither was Mary's pain when she observed his death, and neither is your pain. 

When we arrive in eternity, the memories of this life will fade much as the memory of Mary's birth pains faded when she held her son (her Savior) in her arms. 

That life will become reality and this life the shadow. 

As we sit here now, anticipating that day -- here in this pregnant pause between the idea and the reality -- knowing that the time of our reunion with Jesus lies somewhere in our future, we seek to remember that this life is not a mere empty blank of waiting, but a pregnant pause during which we eagerly anticipate that day.

We do not sit still, allowing communion with the Spirit to idle. We have no desire to keep him hidden. We welcome him gladly, allowing him to change the shape of our lives. We glory in the stretch marks and the temporary discomfort, knowing that these present pains are working a far more eternal weight of glory.

We look forward eagerly to fulfillment, realizing that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

May God bless you with special grace during this Advent season.

Merry Christmas. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Running Diaries

  
I've never been particularly sporty.

If you know me at all, then you know that even that sentence is somewhat of an understatement. Poor balance and some health concerns often made physical activity difficult for me, and for the majority of my adult life, I’ve led a somewhat sedentary existence. 

Not that that I'm inherently lazy, but I do have some limitations--the management of chronic pain being one of them. I decided a year ago, however, that with a little help from some friends, this trend could reverse. I started working out three days a week, getting stronger, and experiencing less pain. 

Then I broke my ankle, suffered a life implosion, and had a harder time recovering than I expected. 

So when my friend Alissa suggested that we plan to run a 5k together on my upcoming birthday, I really didn’t take her seriously at first. After all, I've always hated running and joked with people that if they ever saw me running, they should probably be running too, because something truly horrible must be happening.

I also acknowledge that for some of you, a 5k is no big deal. After all, several of you are marathoners, and at least one of you has done an Iron Man! One of you ran a marathon while pregnant. May I just say to you all that I know I’m not worthy! 

However, consider this:

I have three pinched nerves in my back, a bulging disc, and a heart anomaly that causes low blood pressure, fatigue, chest pain, and unexpected palpitations/spasms.

Six months ago, I couldn't walk.

Four months ago, I still went with a limp. 

Two months ago, I couldn't jog much farther than the end of the block.

Still…

This past weekend, I ran a 5k. 

I firmly believe that if I can do something like this, anybody can do anything.

Here’s the story: 

In October, I started my training. Due to scheduling issues, I had to train alone—a horror for an extreme extrovert like me who already dreads the task at hand. But I’m nothing if not determined, so despite the lack of social interaction and complete paucity of personal satisfaction, I soldiered on. 

Per some excellent advice, I started my runs at small intervals over a period of 25-30 minutes per session. (I call them “runs,” although in the early days, it was more like a shamble, which eventually turned into a slow jog, etc.) 

From the beginning, I kept a short account of each run for your reading pleasure. I also took a post-run selfie to send to my accountability partners, but I will only share a few of those with you. You're better off that way, trust me.

Ladies and gentlemen,  I give you…

The Running Diaries

Run 1 – (1:00 run / 1:30 walk) Started too early in the evening – still blazing hot outside. I guess I forgot that I live in Florida. I nearly sweat my face off. Although I can’t imagine this being harder, it probably is harder without a face.



Run 2 – (1:00 run / 1:30 walk) Saw a palm frond in road and thought it was a snake. Later, I did see an actual snake in the road, but it had already been run over by a car, so it was okay. Ironically, the palm frond seemed much scarier than the snake. Didn’t know it was even possible for my heart rate to jump even higher than it already was, but when I saw that palm frond waving, I almost went into cardiac arrest.

Run 3 – (1:00 run / 1:30 walk) I actually ran a little quickly for a while, but only because I was chased by two dogs. In retrospect, I should have stopped and stood very still, but I panicked. I later saw a dead bird in the street, which wouldn’t have been too weird, except it seemed that the bird had first been put into bread bag, tossed in the street, and then run over. Which was weird. (Beginning to wonder about this neighborhood…) Ankles, knees, and shins aching after run, requiring ice.

Run 4 – (1:30 run / 2:00 walk) Right knee and ankle throbbing. Tried to favor right leg, which only caused left leg to start hurting. Perhaps should have stayed home or just walked? Or started running before my mid-30s? 

Run 5 – (1:30 run / 2:00 walk) Tonight I didn’t jog so much as just hobble. New neighbor (“Franklin”) stopped me and asked where he can buy good pizza. He became confused regarding the directions I gave him, and I doubt if he’ll ever find the pizza place that I recommended. This may or may not have been because I couldn’t breathe and as a result couldn’t talk very clearly. By the time the run was over, my right ankle had swollen up like balloon.  After shower, I iced it with a Birdseye veggie medley (because I don’t have any ice).

INTERMISSION: I took a ten-day break. I knew this might be a bad idea, but the joint pain was a concern, and I also had out-of-town company.

Run 6 – After treatments of lemongrass, clove, ice, and rest for joint pain, I’m ready to try again. I also added a knee brace to the other various braces keeping my right leg from collapsing. That seems to help. But I have a different question: Is it normal to feel one’s heartbeat in one’s face? I’m asking for a friend.





Run 7 – (2:00 run / 1:30 walk) It’s fifteen degrees cooler today, and I can feel every degree. Thank you, Florida! The temperature drop is the good thing. The bad thing is that my hair tie broke halfway through my run, unleashing the full wrath of my hair. Also, while I was trying to deal with the hair situation, a white van pulled up next to me and the driver started talking to me. I was all, “Stranger danger!” But then I realized that it was a man from my church, so it was okay after all. Still, though. Heart attack. 

Run 8 – (2:00 run / 1:30 walk) Alissa came to run with me! She talked the whole time – I did not. A very strange turn of events in our friendship! As we jogged down the street, a dog got scared of us and ran away. Confused as to why, because my hair wasn’t even down or anything. Alissa says I’m moving more quickly than she’d expected, so that was good to hear. Maybe this is possible after all!

Run 9 – (2:00 run / 1:30 walk) Halloween! Was hoping someone would mistake me for a trick-or-treater and throw candy, but no such luck. Saw lots of mini Batmans (Batmen?) and finished my run just before dark. I forgot (once again) to purchase candy to hand out, so I plan to shower really quickly and then listen to an audio version of Macbeth while sitting in the dark—a favorite Halloween tradition.

Run 10 – (2:00 run / 1:30 walk) Ran through rain tonight. No wonder characters on TV shows are always doing this! It’s amazing! I felt as if I were in an episode of The Killing. Tonight I didn’t see the guy on the bike whom I always wave to. I wonder if it was because of the rain or because the time change has thrown him off? (Note: I never did see him again after that. I hope he’s okay…)



Run 11 – (3:00 run / 1:00 walk) Bumping up to three minutes of running wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. And the heavens rejoiced with me! Came home and rewarded myself with pork potstickers.  


Run 12 – (3:00 run / 1:00 walk) Each run is starting to feel easier. I’m feeling more like I’m exercising and less like I’m just shambling along while praying for death to claim me.

Run 13 – (3:00 run / 1:00 walk) Breathing has become more free and easy, but my feet have begun to hurt. I guess it’s always something! Alissa and Karyn say that this is serious and that I need real running shoes or I “might die.” I’m unclear whether or not this is hyperbole. 

Run 14 – (5:00 run /3:00 walk) Thanks to a shopping trip with Alissa over the weekend, I tried out a new pair of Asics, and they felt great. 



Due to my new haircut, I have the added bonus of feeling my hair flopping up and down with every step, adding a pleasant sense of motion and buoyancy. The five minute running stretches felt difficult, but not horrible. 

Run 15 – (5:00 run /3:00 walk) Tonight’s run was ostensibly easier. I do believe I’ve overcome the “running hump,” if that’s a thing.

   


Run 16 – Completed two 8-minute runs with 5-minute walk in between. Two little boys on tricycles raced me down a side street. They won. They raced me during my second 8-minute run, when I wasn't at my best. Otherwise I would have smoked the little stinkers. Their grandpa watched me jog up the entire street. I gave him a look that said, "You don't even know," and he gave me a look that said, "Who are these kids?" Well, at least, that’s sort of what happened. We exchanged some complicated looks, and I extrapolated our dialogue from that. So maybe he was just thinking something else entirely. And now we’ll never know.

Run 17 – Repeated two 8-minute runs with 4-minute walk in between. Went on this run even though I wasn’t feeling well: everything on the inside of my body wanted to be on the outside of my body. Death.


Run 18 – Decided to try 10 minutes of running with a 3-minute walk in between and wound up somehow actually running two ten-minute miles. WHUT. 

Run 19 – It took me 24 minutes to do 2 miles tonight. Much slower than my last run, but there are some reasons for the slowness (health-related energy issues, not injury) so I’m still satisfied. Ran through this beautiful sunset tonight and thought about how happy I am to be able to move around at all – and also how happy I am to be alive! Thank you, Lord, for life!


Run 20 – Ran two miles in just over 20 minutes. So very humid tonight. I’m totally soaked, but only half of it is sweat. The other half is moisture that just clung to me as I ran through Florida’s pea-soup air. The 5k is one week away and I’ve never run more than two miles at the same time. Alissa says I will be fine.

Run 21 – 2.2 miles in 22 minutes—a delightfully symmetrical run! I wish it had been Run 22 to complete the symmetry, though. Happy to report that Alissa says I can now call what I do “running.”

Run 22 – 24 minutes for 2 miles tonight, with the breakdown thus: 

Mile 1: 9 minutes
Mile 2: 15 minutes. 

The reason for this contrast is that I pushed myself during the first mile to see what I could do, but then pooped out and walked the first half of the second mile before finishing up with a light jog. I guess the lesson here is that it doesn’t pay to push yourself. I will never make that mistake again. Also, I saw a pantyliner in the street. What is the world coming to?

December 14 – The Color Vibe

In all, the run went as well as I had anticipated. My goal had been to run a 30-minute 5k, but I also wanted to keep pace with my Dear Old Dad, who was running along in celebration (it was my birthday), and I’m happy to report that the two of us crossed the finish line together, clocking in at just over forty minutes. 


We all even had enough energy left over for some post-run celebratory dancing...


...and shenanigans...


And, of course, jumps! 

                              

                              

It takes a village to raise a child, and in my case, it took a village to teach me to run. From the beginning, my friend Alissa encouraged me. Along with Alissa, my new friend Karyn kept me accountable for updates and post-run selfies on run days. Karyn and I just met over this past summer when we were in Alissa’s wedding together. We bonded over an early-morning airport run to Scranton, and I plan to see her next month at the Disney marathon! (She will be participating: I will not!) Jodee, a fellow run-hater, praised me from afar. Coach Ray helped me with strength and cardo. Bethany and Dad signed up to run with us on The Collapsibles and underwent their own training. (In Bethany’s case, though, the only training she really needed was “being Bethany.” But that’s another matter entirely.)

What an amazing support system!  I may be weak in athleticism, but I'm rich in friendship.

Love you guys!




Friday, December 13, 2013

These Tracks of Time Are Not Signs of Disgrace


Tomorrow I turn thirty-five.

If we take seventy years as an average, that means I'm about halfway through life. I've decided to celebrate this auspicious occasion by trying to write a villanelle, one of my favorite fixed forms of poetry.

As you will shortly see, I have not been overburdened with poetic gift, but I enjoyed the challenge of giving the repeated lines different connotations in each stanza while still meeting the metric patterns and communicating an overarching idea.

I may or may not have succeeded.

But anyway.

Happy halfway birthday to me!

*

"These Tracks of Time Are Not Signs of Disgrace"

These tracks of time are not signs of disgrace.
The curling leaf is not a cause to fear.
Recall that each breath is a lavish grace.

Each day, confront the mirror face to face:
With laughing eyes, defy each mocking smear.
These tracks of time are not signs of disgrace.

The frenetic years unfold and march apace;
We flounder, lost amidst their tread, unclear.
Recall that each breath is a lavish grace.

Our feet may wander, straying off their place,
Beckoned by th’horizon’s thin frontier.
These tracks of time are not signs of disgrace.

Though from death’s stoop we’ll falsely seek to veer,
Our feet will find their way in any case.
Recall that each breath is a lavish grace.

The past and future gently interlace
In every heartbeat—just now—this one—here.
These tracks of time are not signs of disgrace.
Recall that each breath is a lavish grace.

Monday, December 9, 2013

In Defense of Wanderlust: The Mosaic of Mankind

(a Theology of Travel, Part 2)

The world is beautiful and amazing. It teaches us about God. The people in it fascinate, and since they are made His image, each one bears a different lesson for us. If you wallpaper your heart with maps and groan that checking off your bucket list would require an eternity, take heart and read on.

The World Is Full of the Image of God

Or, I should say, images

People

Because humankind uniquely bears the image of God, only through a proper view of all of humankind can we hope to glimpse the full scope of His attributes. 

Walking to Work

Imagine. Billions of shards of broken humanity coming together to present the imago Dei.

Night Stroll

Shards is a proper term. The image we bear is imperfect: sharp and broken and smashed by sin.

Cité-Soleil

But God takes broken bits of humanity and redeems them into the eternal mosaic of His glory. 

Though not until heaven will we absorb the breadth of the grand design, through travel we are afforded a glimpse of other segments.

Chatting
Photo by Bethany Buchanan

We see them, and they see us.

Untitled
Photo by Cliff Larsen

We are reminded that we're not solitary works of art: we're patchworks of a greater pattern.

Our Chinese Mother
Photo by Dreah Stratton

Each Trip Bears a Lesson for Us

The lesson might be something we need to learn about ourselves: about our stubbornness or our sheer limitations in accommodating change. 

Traveling solo teaches us some things.

Sleeping beauty

Traveling in groups teaches us others.

Teammates
Photo by Cliff Larsen

We learn that our way of life is not the only way; nor is it the way that even makes the most sense.

Take me out to the ballgame

We are reminded of what matters and of what doesn't.

Cité-Soleil

We learn to recognize that companionship makes nearly everything bearable and that we should lament the weakening weave of family and friendship in the West.

Gossiping over the coals

We are reminded that as natural creation reflects the glory of God's majesty, so man-made creations further demonstrate the image of God in man.

Sistine Hall

Although man cannot create out of nothing, he can create, and these lesser wonders reflect God's glory as the moon reflects the sun.

Stirling Castle

So get out there.

Go.

See something.

wing and a prayer


Enjoy the common ground. Wonder at the differences.

Witness God's mosaic.


Doune Castle

Contemplate the sprawl of the unfamiliar while remembering that none of it is unfamiliar to God, because He is intimately active everywhere.

Holyrood Park

Delight yourself in knowing that you're part of something much greater and more important than your own single shard.

* * * *



Friday, December 6, 2013

Peppermint Mocha: A Highly-Caffeinated Love Song

for Jodee

Double double, toil and trouble,
Filter drip and carafe bubble.
By the ringing of sleigh bells
Something awesome this way smells!

Peppermint Mocha, now you're here,
Bringing joy we often lack.
All year long while you're away,
We sit and cry and hope and pray
That soon you will come back.

We like you like we like our men:
Rich and dark and steamy hot.
Say that you've come back to stay.
We'll drink you, pot by pot.

Gulp by gulp or sip by sip,
Sleek French press or filter drip,
Make it strong or make it weak.
Drink it all midwinter bleak.

Clutch warm mugs in chilly hands.
Drink them singly or in bands.
Dear, warm drink, I'm glad you're mine.
Peppermint Mocha, you're divine!

Monday, December 2, 2013

In Defense of Wanderlust: The World is Beautiful and Amazing

(a Theology of Travel, Part 1)

The world is beautiful and amazing. It teaches us about God. The people in it fascinate, and since they are made His image, each one bears a different lesson for us. If you wallpaper your heart with maps and groan that checking off your bucket list would require an eternity, take heart and read on.

The World is Beautiful and Amazing

On this point, you likely need little convincing.

On Mount Cairn Gorm

From the broadest expanse to the most minute detail, creation points to an infinitely powerful and intelligent Designer with an appreciation of beauty and an eye for detail. 

Hello, Mr. Mollusk!

I'm continually amazed that even while suffering the after-effects of sin's curse, the earth manifests such exquisite loveliness.

Breakfast View

One could even argue that the earth has grown more beautiful because of the curse of sin. After all, according to the popular Creationist hydroplate theory, without the universal Flood, there would be no post-flood catastrophe resulting in the Grand Canyon. There would be no mountains to climb. No separating of the continents. No tilting of the earth on its axis to bring us the structured march of changing seasons. 

Not that I'm arguing in favor of the Fall. No, indeed. The Fall excluded mankind from Eden and drove him from the presence of God. I merely seek to point out an aspect of creation that perfectly demonstrates a key component of God's nature: that He turned the scars of the Flood to additional splendor and glory. 

How typical of Him.

Yes. 

These rocks cry out.

Deep thoughts

The World Teaches Us About the Creator

In the same way that a book could be seen as the reflection of its author or a great work of visual art could be seen as a reflection of the artist, earth can be seen as a reflection of its Creator. Well, not quite in the same way. But although the analogy is slightly flawed, it has its uses. 

Scripture is clear that because God made the earth, it is, to an extent, a reflection of Him. 

Let us push this imperfect analogy further. No writer pines for his work to remain hidden, unread, and forgotten. Rare are the artists who shroud their work, praying to be unknown. In a similar vein, we can assume that since God gave mankind dominion over the world, He intended it for our pleasure and use, and since He has given us all things richly to enjoy, then taking delight in His creation is appropriate and good.

Holyrood Park

C.S. Lewis, the great Romantic apologist, understood this principle well, although he is careful to note that appreciation of nature is not an end in itself:
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which we can hardly put into words--to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it... At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. ...Nature is only the first sketch... We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendor which she fully reflects. (from "The Weight of Glory")
For the Christian, appreciation of Creation reminds us of what is beyond the veil. It is the seen hinting to us of the unseen.

It is the temporal whispering promises of eternity.

 Christmas Eve Sunrise

Exploring the World is One Way in which to Delight in God's Rich Gifts

Gifts abandoned on the shelf do no one any good. God delights in our satisfaction at His gifts. 

So whenever possible, go delight yourself in the creativity of your God. 

Glory in His splendor.

Exploration

Swim in the deeps. Scorch your feet in the sand. 

Sign of a Good Day #4-5

Shiver on the mountaintops. 

Hinds feet in high places.

Stalk the pine forests. 

Feeling Small

Explore the caves. Descend the valleys. Walk the wastes.

Temple of Doom

Glory in the wonder of it all.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Listen to the Creation's wordless cries. 

Big Sur

Listen for the whisper of His name.


* * * *


If concepts in this post strike a chord, I recommend the following:
Also, stay tuned for two more posts in this series:
  • In Defense of Wanderlust: a Theology of Travel, Part 2: The People of the World Are a Mosaic of their Maker
  • In Defense of Wanderlust: a Theology of Travel, Part 3: Your Bucket List for Eternity