Books that changed my life

This question landed with a thud as awkward silence slipped into our previously giggly convo.  Book club had been lively, as we all agreed on books we loved as adolescents, each resonating with characters who thought their parents were from another planet.  But prior to my joining book club, each woman had shared “the” book that changed her life.  When asked to share mine directly, paralysis sat where my shot gun response should have been ready to fire (I used to be an English teacher for Pete’s sake), but how to choose?  Many books have whittled me, again and again, like clefts–or pebbles–hewn from a rock.  So, here’s my overdue (and somewhat indecisive) answer:

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle – As I closed this one, I knew deeply and for the first time, “I love books.”  In its weird way, this book challenged me to begin uncovering layers to a faith that allows itself to both doubt and think.
The Bible (Esp. Matthew 5-7, Galatians, Judges 6)  Jesus intrigues me both with his life and his words, especially when He’s talking in contradictions, telling stories, or generally flipping everything on its ear.
Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Marcus Borg – Helped me to re-imagine my faith at a time when I needed re-imagining.
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle – This book helped me to see my faith from a different angle.  This book continues to challenge me in my daily life.
Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr is a genius who challenges us to not just be but do faith in a way that is grown-up and childlike at once. 
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens – Contains one of my favorite chunks of text ever. “It is a far far better thing that I do, and a far far better place to which I am going.”
A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry – Contains one of my top two chunks of text in everything I’ve read. “When a man is down. . . “
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery – Gave me words for the fact that I’d been living “out in front of myself” with the vision of the soccer player.  That one line comes to mind again and again as a sort of litmus test, keeping me from my frenetic default.
This is Water, David Foster Wallace – This isn’t even a book. . . it’s a graduation commencement speech.  It challenges me in my daily living in a beautiful way.  Click the link, read it and you’ll see. 
The Manufactured Crisis, David Berliner & Bruce Biddle– Helped me to see layer upon layer of my invisible hegemony.
Wounded by School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning andStanding up to Old School Culture, Kristen Olson – Changed the type of teacher I have allowed myself to be.
Chasing Hellhounds: What my Students Taught Me, Marv Hoffman – Changed how I look at my students.
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMilan, Al Switzler – I am not naturally assertive.  This book gave practical strategies that gave me courage in a number of scary/needed conversations and helped me not only survive but also enjoy my dissertation proposal and defense.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott – Find me an English teacher who doesn’t love this book.
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, Julia Cameron – Changed how I identify myself, and healed some old hurts.
Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living, John McQuiston – This little book is on my desk at work.  I’ve read it more times than any other book.  I put a little tally in the cover each time I “begin again”.  Benedict says that through practice we can actually change our nature.  I’m working on this, and slowly-slowly-slowly this book is soaking into me.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed – This book inspired me to be truly courageous (the kind that borders on crazy) for the first time at 29-years-old.
The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of aTeacher’s Life, Parker Palmer – This is the first book I ever read where I wanted to highlight everything.  I felt that I met my first kindred spirit, and it was an amazing grace to sit in the text that seemed to hug me with the words “me too.”  It is my favorite.

That’s my “short” list of books that have changed my life.  As I get wrinkly (and more spunky), I hope the list will grow.  I’m thankful in advance for any sort of wisdom left after the words of those who’ve come before have washed over me and over me, leaving me smoother, shinier, more myself, more turned out simply from words on a page.  Someone told me once that books are mirrors to help us see who we are and windows to help us see possibility.  Cheers to those who take courage to write words that help.

Easter hangover

I walked into church on Ash Wednesday with my left arm attached low to my little toddler, like normal.  She had her little excited blessing bag skip, but her fast pace stopped short as her head cocked back and she pointed her little finger up.  “Ooh . . . tree,” she said. 

The beautiful wooden tree stopped me too.  My walk was less of an excited skip and more of a fast-paced trudge as I blew in with to-do lists on my mind and the day’s cares on my back.  Somehow the tree showed both of us that tonight was special.  As the service closed and we started shaking neighbor’s hands, she posed the question, “Mama, doughnuts?”  I leaned down to her level and said, “No honey, no doughnuts tonight.” 
I might as well have said I was going to burn all the toys in the world . . . “NOOOO!  Doughnuts!  Doughnuts!” she wailed while throwing her head back over a body that was instantly full of Jell-O bones.
Yes, normally we enjoy a donut after church, but my little tantrum-thrower had to learn that evening worship services are different.  As we finish up lent and move into the Easter season, we might have a bit of an anticipation hangover ourselves. This was all building, building, building, and the flowers and the music and everything of Easter Sunday was full of life . . . but, following that celebration we might feel a little like asking, “Where are the donuts?”  It’s normal Monday, and normal life lines up.  Good Friday and Easter teach us in a visceral way that nothing is required–Christ did it, and from that freedom is born our deepest sense of calling. If I even begin to–even slightly–wrap the tiniest corner of my mind around the cost of that freedom, it leaves me spinning.
The cost of grace could–if we don’t sit with it for awhile–scare us into “off the hook” thinking. But, if we wait, let it simmer, sense the deep that the word “grace” points to, the only response is to humbly, gladly, realize we aren’t here for the donuts–the music, the lacy dresses, even the Easter eggs–we are here to be changed and empowered by a God who even today has hands and feet in this world.  Ours.
How does this normal Monday look different in response to a love like that?

How I spent my due date

Pregnancy was. . . so  many things this go around, but one thing it was for sure was stretching–not just of my tummy, but of my ability to not have control over a situation. (Not an area where I excel).  My due date came and went.  The day after was gray outside and that day I was gray inside. . . annoyed at waiting, not really a day to remember, but my actual due date was an awesome day where instead of sitting at home using my Jedi mind tricks to coax the baby out, I headed to Lincoln for one of my last “alone” outings in awhile.
The day included a massage and lots of talking to clerks longer than I normally would–I even sat on a bench downtown.  If there were roses, I would have stopped to smell them.  It was a day of favorites, firsts, and a farewell as I headed to my favorite Lincoln bookstore, Indigo Bridge, tried curry for the first time (loved it), and stopped to say goodbye to my very dear friend who is moving to Minnesota.