What’s saving my life right now?

Jen Hatmaker concludes every podcast with this exact question to each of her guests. “What’s saving your life right now?” She accepts any answer, whether deep or surface, silly or serious. And the answers range that gamut as well.

We’ve been embroiled in this COVID pandemic for 9 months. In early spring, we all shut down. I don’t have to remind any of you what that was like–we all stayed home, stayed safe, and worked to lower the curve. In the words of Dr. Adam London, director of the Kent County Health Department, we were heroic.

And man, I managed the heck out of that first lock down (once the franticness of it calmed down). I had a schedule and system to help my youngest thrive, the olders finished the school year with decent grades, largely unaffected by pandemic learning. I was working out 2-3 times a week, my family was getting fed (or at least I remember some menus.) I think I even managed a few small organizational projects. It was also the time when I felt the nudge to embark on this writing career in a more serious manner. I was carrying the world on my shoulders. Yes, I was tired and often overwhelmed, but really, it was going fairly well. The weather was improving and spring was in full bloom with the promise of summer.

This time around, I feel like I am barely managing. I feel like I am simply one minor crisis away from complete collapse. These shoulders are tired (maybe I’m carrying things that aren’t mine to carry..). In our home, we’ve faced a pretty serious mental health emergency which woke me up to how emotionally devastating this entire thing has been for so many of us. Also, it revealed to me how little of this is mine to fix or manage. I feel utterly powerless in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, a shifting culture, and the pain and needs of the people whom I love.

So first, before anything else, a PSA from my heart to you. If you are suffering in the midst of this, you are not alone. If you feel that you are in danger of harm to yourself, please know there are resources for you. You can call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 to have a person to talk to at any time. Tell someone of the pain you’re in–let others around you help. You are valuable, precious, and deeply loved. We weren’t created to live solitary lives, but in times like these, it sometimes feels like the work of a lifetime to build community.

So what’s saving my life this time around? Well, it isn’t cute little “self-care” things. A bubble bath has never been my cure. Even a nighttime glass of wine really isn’t it for me. Also, my house feels like a disaster every moment of the day and I want to dish out lots of dollars to the Home Edit ladies to come fix it all. New containers will fix everything, won’t they?

The things saving my life right now is the work of finding beauty of the world around me, even when it’s gray and cold outside (and I really don’t want to take my dog for another walk, but I do anyway). It’s texting or talking with my friends. It’s being mindful about the food I eat, the media I absorb, and the ways I move my body. It’s making time to work on my writing in the midst of all the other things I’m responsible for. It’s leaning hard into my faith which declares that all of this broken world belongs to God. It’s purposely finding quiet in a noisy home. And sleep, lots of good sleep.

We’re in it for the long haul. So, how are you? What’s saving your life right now?

In Praise of Little Free Libraries

Last weekend, I was away from home at a bed and breakfast in a little town not far from where I live. I had just finished my latest read and was in need of a book. And this cute, little town did not have an independent book seller, which made me sad. After a night of difficulty falling asleep because I did not have a book to help me, I decided I needed to find a read to make my weekend complete. But where to find a book?

Little Free Library to the rescue!

The cute little town had 2! So on my way to dinner, I stopped by and found a book I had been wanting: a hardcover copy of Night Circus by Eric Morgenstern! Success.

So I thought it would be great to celebrate and educate about this great community resource.

Little Free Library (littlefreelibrary.org) is a world-wide community of book sharing. People can take a book or leave a book. They are wherever a person wants to put one up and maintain it. They are made however the owner wants them. There is one on my block that is made out of an old newspaper box.

In the past months, I’ve found great books at the Little Free Libraries in my neighborhood, including The Secrets we Kept by Lara Prescott (Reese’s Book Club) and While I was Gone by Sue Miller (Oprah’s Book Club). There’ve also been numerous books that I never would have known about without seeing them there.

What are some books that you’ve found in a Little Free Library? (Or just a book you’d like to find in the one nearest you?)

Never Finished?

As a reader, I pride myself on finishing the books that I start. Even the books that start slowly, or I don’t love at first, and (especially) the recommended read that the friend didn’t think I would like.

But occasionally, I pick up a non-fiction book with great intentions. I want to learn about a person, or an event, or a system, or history. I want to be exposed to new learning or new thinking.

But here’s my confession. I almost NEVER finish a non-fiction read. Some started, but not finished non-fiction reads are: Becoming by Michelle Obama, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.

And that doesn’t include the books that I’ve always been interested in, but knew in my heart I would never finish, so why even start. What are those books, you ask? Guns, Germs, & Steel by Jared Diamond, a plethora of books to understand parenting neurodiverse and traumatized kids, and anything about marriage (I’m looking at you, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman.)

To be clear, I start these books with great intentions. Because I want to learn something new. But the truth is, at the end of the day, when I get to sit and read, I don’t want to learn, I want to escape. And for me, at this time, I can’t escape into the brokenness that is our real world. I need a pretend world.

What kinds of books don’t you finish? Is there a category that you want to like, but just don’t? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

September’s Reads

September brought with it two different book club books to read: The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim and The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Badani. Mina Lee was the featured read of Reese’s Reads and the Book of the Month Club. The Storyteller’s Secret was the featured read for Jen Hatmaker’s book club.

I’m pretty sure these clubs are all in cahoots with each other because both of these stories were of women who faced personal devastation and went on to work to discover their mother’s/grandmother’s secret life stories. Stories of strong women working through the stories that silently informed their lives? Sign me up.

First, The Last Story of Mina Lee toggles between Margot, the daughter, and Mina, the mom. Margot has travelled from Seattle to visit her mom in Koreatown LA because she hasn’t been answering the phone. She discovers her mother, dead, in her apartment. The mystery that ensues is not so much how/why she died, but how her mother lived, unravelling the stories of her mother that she never knew.

Then, The Storyteller’s Secret finds Jaya in a crumbling marriage after a third miscarriage. Against her mother’s wishes, she travels to India to meet family she’s never known, discovering she’s too late. Instead, she meets and befriends Ravi, her grandmother’s faithful servant who reveals to her the secrets of her grandmother’s story which explains her mother’s aloofness.

Both these stories feature the lives of strong women who make life-changing decisions. Both are set in settings that are far from my experience: the immigrant experience of Koreatown and life in colonial India. And lots of delicious food.

The dining experiences written in Mina Lee remind me of a Korean restaurant I went to in San Francisco. I may have been honestly tempted to make and eat some kimchi while reading.

In the Storyteller’s Secret, there is also a good deal of food, but more picturesque for me were two things: the garden and the celebration of Holi. Bright, colorful, alluring.

These two books are different. What they have in common is Strong women. Women discovering their histories, strong women choosing to live in the midst of heartache and strong women growing because of their discoveries.

What’s on tap for October…

Nice White People: This is a podcast that my book club is listening to for the month of October. It explores problems in public education. That’s a super simple way to put it, but you should just listen.