Friday, October 9, 2015

Purple thistles

One of the joys of walking along the costanera is the multitude of flora we encounter. Some were intentionally planted, like the wisteria and roses I shared in the last Project 365 post. But others are weeds.
This purple thistle definitely falls into that category. They're thorny, invasive and can be truly obnoxious (especially if you're trying to get rid of it).
But aren't they beautiful, too? I love the symmetry of the bloom, the way the color radiates out from the center, and how straight and tall they stand.
I remember when dried flower arrangements were all the rage back in the 80s and my more talented friends would go on nature hikes to find beauties like these to dry. Although the color dimmed a bit in the process, they remained a lovely shade of purple which added a nice pop of color in their arrangements.
In recent months I've been thinking a lot about how God made me. After a long time of being extremely discontent with my lack of skills and abilities for the task at hand, God gently and lovingly reminded me that He made me the way He did for a reason. I'm still puzzling that one out, to be honest, but I'm understanding more and more that not only am I His beloved daughter, I am unique. One-of-a-kind. Nobody else has my genetic make-up, my history and experiences, my skill set or eccentricities.

Like the purple thistle, I can be thorny and obnoxious, but also beautiful in my own way. God has shaped me into the person that I am. I have value because God gave me value.

He is also teaching me to be more present in the moment. By that I mean I'm not always rushing through the day, thinking ahead to the next thing on my "to do" list. I'm learning to relax, to set more realistic expectations and be okay with the curve balls that inevitably get thrown my way. I'm learning to rest (boy, is that a hard lesson!) and enjoy just being, and not always worry about doing.

I'm learning to accept my limitations. Over the past few years they have been mostly physical ones. But sometimes they're related to my abilities, or my capacity.
Ivan and I have been reading a lot of books together these past few months. Following is a list in the order we've read them. As you can see, we've got rather eclectic reading tastes :) What's been the most fun is the conversations each book has generated, on topics ranging from ontology to hospitality to shame to innate ability to relationships... Frankly, we've covered so much ground I cannot possibly summarize it all with a few words. But seriously, Best.Thing.Ever! for our marriage -- and it's only taken 36 years to figure it out!

Originally recommended by a friend who knows Kay personally, I also saw it mentioned on a number of blogs. I read this out loud to Ivan a few months back when he was down several days with the flu. It's a missionary autobiography, but not like any you've ever read before. It's raw and real and it blew us away.

This had been on my wish list for a long time, so I grabbed it when it was marked down for a week. Part memoir, part cookbook, this one reminded us why we love to feed people: It's not about the food, per se (although we do love food!), but about the relationships we develop around the table. I love that here in Argentina they have a word for it: sobremesa or "over the table", referring to the conversations that take place at the table. I know I've mentioned before that a lot of Argentine homes don't even have a living room, because all the living takes place around the table.

A ton of buzz in blogland moved this to the top of my list as a must read, especially after I watched this...
Don't let the funny deceive you; Jen does a great job injecting humor but this is one serious book. We devoured it in a matter of a few days. Afterward I went back and wrote down bits that touched a nerve. Like this:
"Maybe we can exit the self-imposed pressure cooker of "calling" and instead just consider our "gifts". The former feels like a job description, but the latter is just how God wired us. Certainly we are gifted for specific faith work, but gifts can be ordinary stuff in the middle of real life. Your prayer gift? You can use it on random Thursdays, on the phone with a friend, in the quiet early morning hours. Your gift of teaching? It may look like a class or a career, but it could very well be over lunch, through an e-mail, or in your own home. Your special capacity for encouragement? Sister, that gift is needed everywhere, every day, for every person."
We loved the book, and then ended up watching the multi-part video series about her previous book, Interrupted.

by Madeleine L'Engle
The first in an autobiographical series Ms. L'Engle called The Crosswick Journals, we found it to be very thought provoking as well as entertaining. Her writing is to be savored, and lends itself to reading in small segments.

by Brené Brown
We were still reading "A Circle of Quiet" when I came across Dr. Brown's name again. I'd first heard her mentioned in the book "Quiet" by Susan Cain, which I read last year. Her work sounded interesting and I mentally filed her name for future reference. I've seen it a few times since, but what tipped the scales was the link in a post on The Quiet Revolution to Dr. Brown's TEDtalk on vulnerability, after which we watched her TEDtalk on shame. While every book generated a lot of conversation, it was this book that started some big changes in our relationship. For the first time ever we were able to talk through some issues that have plagued us our entire marriage. After that ringing endorsement, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the next book was another one by Brown...

by Brené Brown
At the bottom of the front cover, it says "If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This is a book about what it takes to get back up." To get a taste of what the book is like, read this article in Tech Insider about what Brown calls her "number one life hack".

My Name Is Asher Lev
by Chaim Potok
After so much of the serious, I felt we needed a little fiction for fun. So I chose one of my favorites by Potok. And we really did enjoy reading fiction for a change, but surprisingly enough, this book generated just as many conversations as any of the others! The complex relationship between Asher and his parents, the interesting Hasidic culture he grew up in, and the way his gift was viewed, all made us think about how our position within a family, within a community, shape us.

We are almost done with this one. The only drawback to reading together is that I don't want to interrupt our reading to stop and write down things that really speak to me. But with this book there have been a few times I've had to stop and write something down.
"And finally, I began to listen to the gift of limits God gave me -- limits related to my personality, temperment, gift mix, and physical, emotional and spiritual capacity. This opened up for me a new world of surrendering and trusting God in the midst of obstacles and challenges."
All of these books have taught me something about God, about myself, and about my position in Christ. Some of the lessons have been painful (think thorny and obnoxious), but others have filled my heart with gratitude that a loving, gracious God has made me uniquely His.


Terra said...

I like how you and your husband are reading and then discussing books. I read the 4 Crosswicks journals (you mention the first one here) by Madeleine L'Engle and they are all excellent. I wrote to her years ago and she wrote back to me, now neat is that! Now you inspire me to read Brene Brown.

The Bug said...

Wow - I just checked out that life hack. That's pretty powerful! Sometimes I wish I was better about reading nonfiction. Of course of all the books you mention, I've read the Potok one :)

This is such a great idea! Mike & I listened to The Martian audio book on a trip this fall & it's been the most fun - we both listened to it again after we got home & we keep talking about bits of it that we enjoyed (warning, if you decide to read it the language isn't great).