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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

What I Read in June

I always longingly look forward to summer break, as it gives me a chance to dig into my TBR piles of books, scattered throughout my house.
At the beginning of 2020, I set a goal to read 150 books... an average of around 13 books per month. I was on target until Corona and online work took over my life. At the end of June, I've read 66.

June was a month of tumult in the United States. As with most things, I process through the written word. As I watched history being made on my newsfeed, I was unsure of who or what was wrong... at the beginning of June, I decided that as a white person in a very rural, homogenous community, what I could do is vow to do the best I can for my world, for others. And in order to do that, I had to be informed... so I dived into books.

As I processed the books I read, I thought about how often we look for books, especially fiction, where the characters are somewhat like we are. We long to relate, and because of that we are sometimes selective about the words we read. I often try to picture characters in my mind, I found that often I picture those characters as white... because that is most often what I see in my everyday life. I also picture those authors as white.

So I made a conscious effort to try to broaden my worldview.

Some of that is reflected in my June reads, and also things that I'm reading into July.

Here's what I finished in June.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee
This is one of my favorite books, and I try to read it every couple of years. Scout and Jem seem like old friends. Atticus, with his integrity and empathy, remind me that it is important to stand up for what we believe in.
As I read through those familiar pages, laughing at some of the scenes and finding my eyes well up at others, the words seemed new on the page. As I thought of the injustices so many were sharing, as I thought of posts I had read about the fear many face every day because of their skin color... I read those words in a new light. How was it possible that 60 years later we still have black people who are scared just because they are black? That injustices like an innocent man being accused still result in death?
If you've never read this book... what are you waiting for? Pick it up. Read it thinking about what is going on in today's world.

2. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
This book was hard for me to get into, but worth the effort. It takes place in two different time periods... modern day, and the Russian Revolution. Meredith and Nina are sisters. One of them is settled, steady. The other is an international photographer whose work is her passion. When their father dies, it leaves them unmoored, struggling to stay together as a family, especially since their mother was often cold and unreachable. In this tale, though, they discover their mother's history and in the process learn what the love of a family truly is. I was not prepared for the ending of the story but it was beautifully written. The characters are rich and relatable. Part of it is written as a fairy tale, though... taking you back to the past... and sometimes that is hard to follow... but if you like family drama this is a great read.

3. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates writes this in a letter form to his son. As an African-American man, he wants to try to explain the world to his son from the eyes of a black body. He talks about the American Dream and what its perception is from a black perspective. He addresses racial injustice and inequality and if I'm honest it was hard for me to read. Remember, my perspective comes from that of a white, college graduate... the very definition of white privilege many are denying exist. Before June of this year, I myself did not understand white privilege. Coates's words, his stories, the examples he uses, were hard for me to face because I had never thought that way before. I'm still not sure I understand. Still not sure I relate... no, I know I don't relate, and I'll never be able to fully do so... but the fact that the book made me think of things I had never thought of before and see things in a new light means that it was a good book. Coates poses difficult questions to his son, and in that, difficult questions to the reader. These are complex issues that can't simply be explained away... and that is why it is a good book. Because even now, almost a month after finishing, I'm trying to process what his words mean to me, someone with white privilege, who he was not considering as he wrote the book, but who needed the message in a desperate way, because I no longer want to use ignorance as an excuse for not being better. If you're interested in seeing things in a new light, I'd recommend you read this, too... and keep reading, even if it is hard. Allow yourself to get uncomfortable... because that's how we grow.

4. Hardcore Twentyfour by Janet Evanovich
This series, featuring Stephanie Plum, bondswoman extraordinaire, is a light-hearted read that I didn't have to think much about. Stephanie is looking for zombies in this one. There's a totaled car, a mishap with Granny, and lots of donuts consumed. Not much change in Stephanie, or the plot, but it's familiar and it's fun and I'm a fan.

5. The Color of a Christmas Miracle by Julianne Maclean
This is another book in a "series", except that the books are stand-alone. I know it seems funny that I finished a Christmas book in June, but this one was next and I'm working my way through the series I've started. This miracle involves an infertile couple whose infertility push them apart, the miracle of forgiveness, and a little Christmas magic thrown in. This was another light read that I'd recommend if you're looking for a feel-good story.

6. Eden Hills by Bill Higgs
This book was set in Kentucky, in small town USA, in the mid-1900s. I loved that it talked about Lexington and rolling hills and fishing. I loved the small church and the Pastor. I could even see and imagine the excitement of a new gas station moving in... for everyone except the owner of the current station. This was a delightful read, with no foul language, a wholesome story line, and characters that I felt like I had grown up with. Again, I found myself laughing and crying. I was especially delighted to learn that the author is married to another one of my favorite writers, Liz Curtis Higgs. I can't recommend this read enough!

7. Star Rising by Janet Ferguson
I have read every book written by Janet Ferguson except one, and I'm not sure how I missed it. She also writes stand-alone series books. This one finds Star, a recovering drug addict, caring for her older neighbor who has health issues. Paul, the neighbor's son, isn't appreciative of her help... but his mother is stubborn and insists that Star is her friend. As Mrs. Kelley faces her health issues, she is determined to go on a once in a lifetime trip to Ireland. She wants Star to go. Paul doesn't, so he somehow manages to crash the trip. What follows is a forged friendship and a lesson in faithfulness, hope, grace, and love. Again, I've loved everything written by this author and I highly recommend this book!

8. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
I had wanted to see this movie for several months but was determined to read the book first. It follows the story of Walter Mcmillan, a Black man in the South framed for killing a white woman. McMillan was sentenced to death row. Stevenson was his council, and he dictates that story as well as other cases he fought for justice. I was amazed by the numbers cited by Stevenson- of innocent men. Of kids being sentenced to death. Of injustice after injustice. Highly recommend this book. Highly recommend this movie.

9. Becoming by Michelle Obama

Caleb loved this book and recommended it for me. I never really cared for the Obama Presidency, honestly, so I wasn't sure what I would think of this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. This book details Michelle's youth in South Side Chicago, her college education, the decision that law maybe wasn't the career for her, learning to balance work and motherhood, the campaign trail, and her life in the White House. Her message of "not feeling good enough" is one I can relate to, and her passion to empower young people is a message I can get behind. I enjoyed the behind the scenes stories and found myself a fan at the end of the book.

What I'm Reading in July
-What LIES Between Us by Lucretia Berry- I'm actually going through a webinar series based on this book through Berry's organization, Brownicity. This book is about race/ism and our perspectives, and I've found the book and the supplemental resources very helpful.
-Go Set a Watchman- The "sequel" to To Kill a Mockingbird- Jean Louise is all grown up. I fought reading this one for a while, and I've really only just now started it. I actually prayed before I started that it wouldn't affect my love for the original. Isn't that silly?
-Be the Bridge by Latoshia Morrison- Another book on race relations. I'm reading this one for a book club with other volunteers through Proverbs 31 Online Bible Studies. It has been very eye-opening. (There are common themes in the books that I've been reading, and many of the perspectives brought forth are things I never thought about. White washed culture. How we can be offensive without meaning to be. Things I take for granted).
-Unoffended- because I want to live unoffended... and that's hard in our world today. There's so much we can choose to take offense to... but I want to be love. I don't want to be bitter.
-The Fiery Cross- the 5th book in the Outlander series
-The Bungalow Mystery- Nancy Drew
-These Happy Golden Years- Little House series
-Shopaholic to the Stars
-The Crown: The Official Companion to season One- if you like the Netflix show the Crown this is a must read. It goes into detail for each episode regarding historical content. I've been reading about the episode before watching it so that the scenes make sense. Love it!
And, of course, making my way through my Bible and reading a few daily devotion books.

What are you reading?

Friday, June 5, 2020

Stay

This space has been pretty quiet this year. Was silent for almost six months, until last Friday. I felt compelled to write then, and since then, I've been out of words.

Or, maybe, I've been reflecting that maybe my words aren't right.

As I noted the word for the FMF linkup this week, stay, I thought of how this word has been on the forefront for many in our country this season.

We've been forced to stay-

stay at home.
stay away from church.
stay in our own worlds.

Stay- in one place.

But stay can also mean something else, and as the world has seemed to explode and protestors pour out into the street in droves, I was reminded of it's more literary meaning.

To curb, or check.

And that has been what this week has been for me.

For many of us.

A gut check.

Who am I in relation to my neighbor? And how do I relate to them?

What biases do I have without realizing them? And how do those biases impact my actions?

I've been trying to learn. I've downloaded books. I've read articles. I've followed some people on Twitter, and unfollowed some others. I've noted movies to watch. I've talked with Caleb, who is much more educated than I am.

But I keep asking myself, "What can I really do? How can I make a difference, a real difference, in Eastern Kentucky, where most people look like me and talk like me, even if they don't necessarily look like me?"

I'd like to have conversations... but there isn't really anyone to have those conversations with. And I know it's my responsibility. Nobody owes me any explanations...

So I'll keep digging. I"ll keep allowing myself to be uncomfortable, because growth can't happen when we stay in our comfort zone.

And I'll keep praying... because that's the most important thing I can do.

"They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the LORD was my stay."- Psalm 18:18

The Lord will be our stay. Our support. Our protector.

May you feel it tonight, and know Him.

And may we not allow our hearts to stay as they have been. May we not let ourselves grow calloused. May we stay uncomfortable.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Born For This

My last post was on my 40th birthday.

Fitting, because today I'm joining in on a FMF party with the focus word as "born".

Over 40 years ago, I was born into a loving family. My Mom and Dad had been married for a couple of years. They had a home. They both had college educations. They had jobs... maybe not the best jobs, but jobs nonetheless.

Over 17 years ago, my son, Caleb, was born into a loving family. His Mom and Dad had been married for a couple of years. We had a home. We had college educations. We both had jobs.

Tonight, as I'm sitting in my home, built in my parent's backyard, I've been thinking a lot about the word born.

Not just because it was this week's prompt, and I've been determined to get back into writing and Five Minute Friday gives me a good way to do that...

but because as I'm sitting in the safety of my home I'm thinking about how the word born signifies a dividing line.

I was born for such a time as this... just like Esther. God had a purpose and plan for me...

but I was also born into a privilege that a lot of people aren't.

And while I don't question God, or His purposes, I can't help but think about how the dividing line seems to be chance.

Where we are born... the circumstances which greet us when we first come out of the womb and blink in the bright lights... it can determine the entire trajectory of our life.

Somewhere, on the other side of the world, somebody is being born into abject poverty. Somewhere, in America, there is someone being born who won't be loved. Somewhere, in a land far, far away, or nearer than I can even imagine, there is a baby being born in a seemingly hopeless situation.

I don't know why it's like that. I don't know why good things happen for "bad" people or why bad things happen to "good" people or even how we sometimes distinguish between the two... but I do know this.

I was born in 1979. I was raised in church. I grew up wading in the creek and feeling the dirt in between my toes and learned to lose myself in a good story. I was born with the ability to take words and sometimes make them make sense, sometimes make somebody feel good. I was born into a family that is slightly crazy, that loves to laugh and sometimes cares to fight, and lives a legacy of seeking how to serve others.

I was given the opportunity to go to school. I was blessed to go to college. I can read. I have a Bible in my living room, access to His Word on my Kindle, my phone, my computer... not just one Bible, actually, but three in my living room. I am in the top 95% of the American population regarding educational status.

Yes, I worked hard for that degree... I work hard in my job...

but I was also born with the opportunity and the family who pushed me to pursue it. They believed in me, even when I didn't believe in myself.

Please don't think that I say any of this proudly. I have been proud in the past... but sitting here tonight I am humble when I say that I realize that some of this is by chance... because of where I was born.

And I don't take it lightly.

If you are reading this, you are more well off than most of the people in the world.

Read that again. Even in our severe poverty in Appalachia...

Almost 1/2 of the world's population lives on less than $6 dollars a day.

With great privilege comes great responsibility.

Yes, it's a Spiderman quote, but the Bible says something similar.

"To whom much is given, much will be required."

Think on that... and may we allow God to use us for what we were born to do.

Love Him.

Love each other.

In word... but also in action.

Born... for such a time as this.

Even when it's hard.

Especially so, perhaps...