Thursday, March 22, 2018

3 Great Books for Hard Days

There are these signs just a few hundred yards from my apartment.  A stick figure is falling with an exclamation mark above it and what I think/ hope are rocks suspended in the air below its posterior end.  It could be something else, I'm not sure, and while that would be understandable, let's not go there.  My favorite feature has to be the jazz hands.

Every time I pass these signs, though, I kind of nod knowingly, wanting to give this stick person a fist bump and say, "I know how you feel.  I've been there."  This winter has been long.  I was in a sort of funk for all of January at least.  It started when my eldest daughter Jayna went back to college in California almost 6,000 miles away, and I realized that our family would always be different now, that “normal” from here out means she is gone.

Throw in my, er, challenging property manager, my son the house horse living upstairs from a grumpy old man, and other various frustrations, and I was just not feeling myself.  It’s not the worst emotional slump I’ve ever been in, but peace and contentment have been hard to come by.

Last year, I found myself in a similar place — actually, much worse.  After our move here and four months of almost constant sickness, as well as the spinning plates of seven people and all their feelings moving to a new and vastly different country, I was feeling almost completely depleted.  

Thankfully, three books came into my life just when I needed them. And since I know I’m not the only one who’s had hard days, I want to share these books with you, in hopes that they help you as well.

 This is the story of Martin’s undoing — or maybe, rather, redoing.  She and her husband both experienced huge shifts in their careers, finances, family, and living situation, but these changes shook up their understanding of the gospel as well as their places in the world. I’d heard many great things about this book, and I’m usually disappointed by hype, but not this time.  Martin’s writing is clear, honest, and beautiful.  In the first chapter entitled “Get Risky”, she writes about how this sort of life earthquake led to her family “laying down our pet safety nets, redefining success, and welcoming pain and uncertainty with wide-stretched arms.  It meant trading more for less and leaping off the ladder of upward mobility only to hit the dirt and discover we’d had a taste for it all along.”  In the wake of our big move, these words resounded with me.  

Her no-nonsense chapter titles alone — “Redefine Family”, “Have Less”, “Unplan” (which I think was actually written just for me), and “Live Small” — indicate she’s not going to sugarcoat things.  But hers are words I believe, and have for a long time even if I couldn’t say so as eloquently.  I found myself nodding hard, highlighting, and scribbling notes as I read: 

“I want to be captivated. Awestruck. Gobsmacked.  Filled with the wonder of the living God.  I want to hold so loosely to my life, my plans, and my long-held beliefs that they can all be boxed up in minutes, freeing me to follow wherever Jesus leads.”

I knew when I saw this title that it was a book I needed in my life.  First off, “It’s not fair!” was one of my favorite battlecries as I was growing up.  Unfortunately, it was usually met with a retort of, “Yeah, well, life’s not fair.”  And I, always wanting to have the last word, would say, “But you should try to make it fair!”

Secondly, most of my life hasn't been of my own choosing.  I moved a lot more than I wanted to growing up, literally all over the world.  I swore to myself I would never do that to my kids, and then I ended up married to a guy whose job required… moving all over the world.  Oh, the irony.  

Enter It’s Not Fair.  Melanie Dale proves to be the friend you need when you fall hard, when you’re weeping about how unfair it all is.  She welcomes you in with her words, sits you down on her comfiest chair with her coziest blanket — even offers you some food.  She pats your back and says, “I know.  That’s hard.  That hurt bad, didn’t it?”  Once you’ve had your ugly cry — which, somehow, she’s made you laugh through as well — she quietly and kindly says, “Life’s not fair.”  She shares her own heartaches such as her struggle for infertility, and tells stories of others that had me thinking, You know, what I’m going through isn’t so bad after all.

And then, she asks, “But what are you going to do about it?”  I think I highlighted every page toward the end.  I cried (and yeah, still laughed), and most importantly, I was ready to turn off the lights on my pity party (however well-deserved it may or may not have been) and do something.  My favorite line (if I have to pick a favorite), “The life I have now is so unexpected... Within the mystery of this newfound life, rising like a phoenix out of the ashes, I’ve found the one thing I never thought to look for. Joy.”

This is a book I just finished, and I didn’t realize how badly I needed cheering on until I heard myself whispering, “Thank you!” time and again.  (Okay, and also, laughing out loud.)  Whatever you’re going through, she gets it — and probably writes about it.  I felt like I could tell her about the heartaches in my life and she would not only get it but have me cracking up in a few minutes.  I also thought a time or two, Here’s someone at least as crazy as me!

I’m trying to think of a subject Hatmaker doesn’t touch in this book — periods and poop and potty-training, faith and food and fitness are all there — with her signature hilarity and honesty.  Her words about parenting teens hit home just as much as her “How To” guide to potty-training your toddler.  Let me assure you, there aren’t many books that cover parenting for the age-range of my kids! 

She also writes, “People may hate us because of Jesus, but they should never hate Jesus because of us.  The way we treat others should lead them only to one conclusion: ‘If this is how Jesus loves, then I’m in.’”  The temptation — at least for me — when times get hard and forward steps are uncertain, is to sink into bitterness, to crawl into a hole and stare at the world through angry eyes.  I was reminded of my purpose and to step forward in faith and love.  

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Friends, if you haven’t already read these books, please do yourself a favor and get your hands on them ASAP.  You might not stop having hard days, but at least you'll have jazz hands. 

I’ll close with this one last quote from Jen Hatmaker’s Of Mess and Moxie just in case you’re in the middle of one of those falling-down days: “We are never defeated, not even when all the evidence appears to the contrary.  If you are still breathing, there is always tomorrow, and it can always be new.”  

6 comments:

  1. The tricky bit is to pursue justice, even while recognizing that "life is not fair." I am actually glad life is not fair, because while undeserved bad does happen, grace seems to happen to me much more than I deserve. I totally agree with the quote, "...they should never hate Jesus because of us."

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    1. That’s very true, and I think all these books highlight that — life is not fair, but grace is not fair. Thank God!

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  2. I have always regretted how difficult the transitions were for you that were forced upon you. The irony that you married an amazing and wonderful man that had a job that required similar moves and transitions had not escaped me! Perhaps God had that perfect man for you in mind when He put you through that rigorous training!

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    1. Haha, that is an excellent way of looking at it! I’m grateful for all of it now, but want to be honest that it hasn’t always been easy!

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  3. Good honest ways of coping when things 'hit the fan'. Another hilarious and interesting writing is a book- easy-read- LOVE DOES by Bob Goff.

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    1. Yes!! I LOVE that book! I should have included it and totally forgot, but I also read that last year. I’m so excited about his new book releasing in just a few weeks!

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