Read More Stories!

Angle of ReposeLast night, I finished Wallace Stegner’s lengthy masterpiece, Angle of Repose. I set it down and contemplated what a privilege it was to have time to read. I read a lot of books, a lot of amazing books.  Because of the sheer length of my booklist, if your book is not well-written, it will be quickly discarded.

I have pages and pages of highlighted quotes, notes, and references from my favorite wise non-fiction writers (Krista Tippett, Parker Palmer, Richard Rohr, Brennan Manning, Frederick Buechner & David Brooks come to mind – all highlights of last year), but there is something different that happens when I read a great novel. While non-fiction works tend to ping around in my brain and sometimes sift their way into the deeper places of my heart, stories just march right in my heart’s front door. What is it about a story?

We are all living stories. God’s story telling confounds me sometimes. Bible stories, especially the most ancient ones, can pull up confusion and even revulsion. But I do believe God is the grand storyteller, and a story weaver in our lives. He created us in his storytelling image – story is quite literally in our DNA.

Written story stands apart from any other form of storytelling. I was staring at a page in a real book – printed on actual paper. The font was small enough to challenge even my 1.75 readers (I love my Kindle). I took off my glasses so I couldn’t make out the words, and I noted that the vast majority of the page was white. All those tiny black letters probably took up 10 percent of the space. And it struck me – that’s what a satisfying novel does – it’s leaves us space to bring our own stories, our personalities, and our circumstances with us into the reading. No one will leave Angle of Repose changed in the same way it changed me, for no one else brings what I do to all that white space.

Characters are filtered through my life’s characters, whether I mean to or not. Their faces, their voices and smiles and joys, the way they move, their successes and failures take on unique forms in my mind based on what I know. So each novel, if it is written well, becomes customized to my soul.

I have a hard time remembering Jesus’s specific theology from his sermon on the mount, but the parables stick – I often think of the lost sheep, the woman desperately hunting her coin, the scene where the prodigal son is at last spotted by his father, the struggling seeds, the grumbling workers – these are the things that inform my spiritual life automatically.

My point is made. We should all read more epic stories. Maybe one day I’ll even write one. Every time I finish a remarkable novel, I wonder why I don’t read more! Here are a few of my favorites from the past few months. Please take a moment to comment and tell me a couple of your favorites. Or connect with me on Goodreads.

Wallace Stegner:  Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose, Ann Patchett: State of Wonder, Fredrik Backman: A Man Called Ove, Marilynne Robinson: Gilead and Home (these probably top my list), Kristin Hannah: The Nightingale, Adam Johnson: Fortune Smiles, Wm. Paul Young: Eve and Cross Roads, Frederick Buechner: The Storm and Godric, John Steinbeck: Travels with Charley.

Your turn…

My Easter

IMG_2409.jpg

I have spit upon my Jesus. I have been a thorn in his crown. I have denied him outright. I have run away. And much of this was after I knew him, after he invited me into The Story.

They stripped everything from him at the cross. They tortured him physically and psychologically. And there have been moments, lost in pride and fear, when I joined right in. When I seek forgiveness for my foolish failings, I not only need pardon for my personal naughty list, I need forgiveness for my participation in his death – his death!

But… It. Is. Finished. What I am, what I have done, what I will do, what I won’t do that I should – all of these things were already accounted for when he sought my heart the first time – and the 10th, and the 1,059th. Shame haunts me sometimes, for I have done some shameful things. But shame will not win. It cannot rule because my fate is already sealed.


I was given my sentence, but He served my time.


There have been moments where my life has shown a faint flicker of the fire of his love story. These moments breathed life into my faltering faith and reminded me that HE IS LIFE, and that I am coming alive.

There have been seasons of darkness when I wandered far from the narrow, lighted path. The sheer terror of those times reminded me of the emptiness, the meaninglessness, of life without him. The universe lost its enchantment.

But, grace upon grace, every time I turned back, he was waiting. He never shielded his eyes from my sad display of self-destruction. He simply waited for me to get back to the right story, the real story, so we could get on with things.

For the REAL story is HIS story. It is written across all time. It is written where there is no time. It is written in our very hearts if we will hear it. He is the vine of all goodness, and he tells me I can be a branch growing from that perfect vine.

My story will be grafted into LIFE itself – if only I will let it.

Is Your Heart a Fixer-Upper?

FullSizeRender (10)

This is where I stood last night – between to 2 small rooms housing 2 not-so-small-anymore children struggling with heavy hearts.

One awaiting the potential consequences of an innocent error – an accidentally missed school deadline that could have extreme consequences.

The other caught out in disobedience that struck her sneaky, tender heart to the core.

525351_10152709736810554_537877700_n (1)

I stood there because I could not sleep. My forehead against each door, I prayed for their minds to find peace, for their bodies to sleep, for their hearts to recognize that individual moments cannot name them.

There is only One who names them in truth and love. He names them according to their whole story – or rather their place in His grand story.

As my tears hit the wood floor, it occurred to me that my love shows up bigger when they blow it. It’s not that the love wasn’t there moments before, but their struggles pull my fierce-ancient-mama-love to the surface in a hurry. When my kids mess up, I might get sad or mad or temporarily discouraged, but what I feel the most is crazy, hopeful, passionate love for them, for their story, for their future.

Last night as I secretly, silently loved on them through the sheetrock, I had a flash of memories. I saw in quick succession numerous failures and heartbreaks of my own. I remembered being curled up alone on my bed feeling like the world was caving in on me. And I see now that God was there, right outside the door of my heart, not barging in, but waiting, loving, hoping, knowing that there was so much more to my story, calling out to me by my real name – not the horrible ones I was calling myself.

Untitled drawing (5)

-From the first part of Isaiah 43 in The Message

 

My love for my kids in that moment filled me to bursting. That love is the biggest thing I’ve ever experienced. And I have a Father who loves me like that, but multiplied beyond any exponential factor I can imagine. Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 12.56.41 PM

The friends I enjoy most are living reconstructed lives. That means they first had to experience deconstruction – the breakdown of dreams, love, security, pride, family, and self. Piece by piece, they have been – they are being – put back together. But this time, all of those pieces are infused with GRACE, and it oozes out of them as they interact with others.

As much as it hurts me to see my kids hurt, I know what I want for them is the kind of reconstructed lives that only come through suffering and surrender. I know that on the other side of the suffering is a life full of real love, life that is vibrant and joyful and authentic. Embracing the deconstruction/reconstruction process is the only doorway to such a life.

HGTV has become one of the top cable channels. The biggest episode of all time for them? Fixer Upper – no surprise. We all love to see beautiful things emerge from the rubble, and Joanna and Chip can work some magic inside a broken home. They are pretty cute making it happen, too. On a much bigger scale, the Creator of the universe can work miracles in the secret rooms of our hearts.

I told my son this morning as he walked out the door to learn the fate of his AP English grade:

“You are a character in a grand and fantastic story – your story – and all of us who are watching your story unfold are rooting for you to find your way and get the girl, no matter what crazy plot-twists you have to wind your way through.” 

This morning, his teacher showed mercy and grace. She saw him, the real him, and I hope he remembers.

Untitled drawing (4)