I watched a grandmother take her toddler granddaughter up for ashes. The priest said, “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” Afterward, the little girl kept wiping her eye. Some black dust must have fallen in.
I watched the grandmother carry the girl, wiping her eye, back to their seat.
“We are creatures destined to die,” says Stanley Hauerwas. And mothers consent to give birth to such creatures.
Today marks four weeks exactly for the date I count as the “date of death,” the official day we lost our baby.
Today marks the first time I needed to write a sermon, post-loss. When it’s my turn to preach, I take Thursday morning to write from home, looking out at the drizzly rain. Today I couldn’t do it. The last time I preached at our church is the day the miscarriage began. I couldn’t conceive of going back to writing sermons — what would I say?
How do you talk of the Good News when sometimes there are no words? How do you reassure people they should have hope, when you might not have hope — or, at least, might not be ready to talk about hope just yet?
As with every other Thursday, I finally wrote the sermon. I decided to make this sermon’s Good News simply that we can express all our grief and pain to God — that God gave us books like Lamentations (a.k.a. “Complaints”) for just that reason. We have permission to bring it all to God and not force ourselves to rush to hope.
My comfort comes in knowing God gives us this freedom.
* a quote from my dad after I called him for help this afternoon
One book every 7.93 days. I wish my average was better. My goal is always one book every 7 days — or fewer. Sigh.
Below you’ll find my top ten highlighted:
The Liars’ Club – Mary Karr – Jan.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar – Cheryl Strayed – Jan.
Torch – Cheryl Stayed – Jan.
I Heart My Little A-holes: A bunch of holy-crap moments no one ever told you about parenting – Karen Alpert – Feb.
Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved) – Kate Bowler – Feb.
The Love of a Good Woman: Stories – Alice Munro – Feb.
What Is the Bible? – Rob Bell – Mar.
The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know – Shawn Coyne – Mar. – helped break down the structure of any riveting novel, so you can replicate it for your own! genius!
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness – Austin Channing Brown – Mar.
The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows – James Bryan Smith – Mar.
Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent – Richard Rohr – Mar.
The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business – Patrick Lencioni – Apr.
Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America – Natalie Goldberg – Apr.
The Living – Annie Dillard – May … amazing … speechless
South and West: from a notebook – Joan Didion – May
Making All Things New – Henri Nouwen (2nd time reading it) – May
Am I There Yet?: The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood – Mari Andrew (May) – lovely illustrations/watercolors, made me smile, gift from one friend, which I in turn bought for two more
Lit – Mary Karr – June – love love love love love…so many bits of wisdom, hard-won…and love the Christian connection
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable – Patrick Lencioni – June
Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – June
The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life– Julia Cameron – June – ❤️ the practical tips and inspirational essays…made me want to write regularly…makes you fearless and free
Theft by Finding: 1977-2002, diaries by David Sedaris — lol funny, difficult to put down
Motherhood – Sheila Heti – July – often felt like stream-of-consciousness or lyric prose, and I wondered if I would need to reread it to fully grasp it…definitely articulated some of my doubts about whether to become a mother
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life – Mark Manson – July
If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence, and Spirit – Brenda Ueland – July (minus pp. 59-62 because they were ripped out of the library copy) ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ want to reread and own and devour on a daily basis
The 5-Second Rule – Mel Robbins – July
East of Eden – John Steinbeck – August (finally the right time for me to read this epic book…engrossing family saga that held my attention all through vacation and plane rides)
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead – Sheryl Sandburg – Aug. – seemed somewhat scattered in its structure … oh well
Calypso – David Sedaris – Aug. – funny & sad at the same time
Saying No to Say Yes: Everyday Boundaries and Pastoral Excellence – David C. Olsen and Nancy G. Devor
One Writer’s Beginnings – Eudora Welty – Aug.
The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community – Eric H.F. Law – Aug.
America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines – Gail Collins – Sep. – so compulsively readable! took it with me to meals, to the bathroom…juicy facts and tidbits, plus some material for sermons, potentially – worth keeping around!
Goodbye, Vitamin – Rachel Khong – Sep. – warm tale of a woman whose father is losing his memory, and her care for him; real in its frustration and humor and love
American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World – David Baron – Sep.
Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living – Shauna Niequist – Oct. – first started this with the moms’ Bible study group in the spring and never finished it…but finally picked it back again during lunch at work…and perhaps God sent it to me at just the right time, before the craziness of fall
The Ninth Hour – Alice McDermott – Oct. – fiction about nuns
Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life – Tish Harrison Warren – Oct. – beautiful, soothing reflections on how our life in Christ is also our everyday life in the 21st century
Advice for Future Corpses * * and those who love them: A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying – Sallie Tisdale – Nov. – humorous, revelatory…made Jordan and me talk about wanting to be buried naturally (no coffin)…also taught me what not to say to a dying person (for instance, if they’re talking about leaving, ask them where they’re going rather than say “you’re not going anywhere”)
From the Corner of the Oval – Beck Dorey-Stein – Nov. – “beach read” fluff book (admittedly—I couldn’t put it down) of a stenographer’s five years working in the Obama White House
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – Amy Chua – Nov.
Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable about Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business – Patrick Lencioni – Dec.
Daniel Generation: Godly Leadership in an Ungodly Culture – Jolene Cassellius Erlacher – Dec. – wouldn’t have picked it up if it weren’t for my friend having written it, as the subtitle made me pre-judge the book…but I was surprised by its insight
The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time – Arianna Huffington – Dec. – making me savor sleep more and pay more attention to my dreams (which are bizarre!)!
The Great Failure: My Unexpected Path to Truth – Natalie Goldberg – Dec. – read in less than 24 hours; received on Christmas morning; my take-away from the memoir is: people are always a mixture of good and bad, and to think of them as all one or all the other does them (and us) a disservice
Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage – Madeleine L’Engle – Dec. – so poignant, heartbreaking, and sweet – worth a reread, especially if/when I deal with my own husband’s death someday
For Christmas, my husband got me a book with the subtitle “how to stop complaining and start enjoying the life you always wanted.” Should I be upset? All right, to be fair, it was on my wish list.
I’m not ready to undertake the book’s 21-day challenge, not even if it is the first day of 2019, perfect for fresh starts. But I will. The book says on average it takes people 4-8 months to successfully go 21 days straight without complaining, criticizing, gossiping, or being sarcastic. (If you slip up you start back on Day 1.)
Meanwhile, on an unrelated note, I’ve begun a list of Things That Bother Me:
When built-in ribbon bookmarks start fraying, so you have to trim them and then they’re too short.
When I’ve stopped before a crosswalk to wait for a car, and then the car slows down and stops for me.
That feeling you get when you’re wearing leggings, jeans, and snow pants, and you have to go the bathroom.
When drivers glance up and glance down, glance up and glance down. You know they’re texting. No one’s lap is that interesting.
Houses with those laser-star Christmas lights that look like the house has green chicken pox. We have ours angled onto tree branches and it is much, much classier.
When a parking lot is sandy and then I step into my car and feel the brittle sand rubbing the pedals under my feet every time I accelerate or brake.
When you take great care to clip your nails over a sink or trash can but the clippings still go everywhere.
I had just finished a hospital visit and was texting a joke to my colleague as I walked through the parking lot. I looked up every so often, between finger taps, and stayed on the edge of the lot.
A car slowed down and the driver, a man, said something out the window.
I stopped texting. “I’m sorry — what was that?” I ducked my head to peer into his car. There was a woman in the passenger seat. Both were smiling.
“I’m sorry,” the man said. “I’m not trying to be rude, but I’m worried about you texting. You can’t tell what’s going on around you.”
“I know,” I said, “and I know it’s bad, and I do it anyway.”
“I know. And you never know if someone’s gonna sneak up behind you and steal your pocketbook.”
Both he and his passenger seemed kind, and embarrassed.
“Thank you for looking out for me.”
“I care about you,” said the man.
“Thank you.” We exchanged have-a-good-days, and then I said something I rarely say, even though I’m a pastor: “God bless you.”
I sat in my truck to finish the text, zipped the phone into my purse and drove off.