Saturday, March 30, 2019

Of Books and Breaking Points

via Pixabay
Our pastor holds a stick during the introduction of his sermon and places it against his knee. "Apply the right amount of pressure," he says, "and there's a breaking point." (Watch here.)

This season has been a season of pressure and breaking points. In early January on the way to work, I banged into the back of another car. It left pocketbooks lighter, a sense of innocence lost, and our family without a second van.  (The poor dear was too old to sustain injuries.) That day my employer kindly picked me up and took me home.

One month later, I was in another accident on a busy evening. While no one was physically injured either time, that has been harder to recover from.

I spent the day before the second accident with a book; looking over one dear to my childhood and thinking about using it in a 4-6th grade class. The Black Stallion held an iconic, endearing friendship that I've never forgotten and a sense of wild independence that the Jaeryn deep down in me relates to. That evening I can't remember what I did, except I was sitting under twinkle lights with my computer, crying. The stiffness in my arms went away in a day or two. Sitting in the back seat traumatized when drivers have to brake or turn has not.

When Elijah headed into the wilderness, exhausted and emotionally depleted, our pastor pointed out from 1 Kings 19 that the Lord fed him and he slept. These physical needs were what he needed in the moment to heal his spirit.

The next days after the accident I slept more than I had in a while, trying to find a sense of balance in the tailspin. I had already started a collection of Spider-Man comics the Sunday of the time change, and I read them on my phone in between sleeping, too numb to grade homework. Spider-Man comics don't have much to them, though I was surprised by the emotional depth of his battle with the Lizard. But in spite of that, they were a kind of grace as I swiped through them and found rest.

That week my favorite Christian book store hosted their Customer Appreciation sale. In some ways, it felt irresponsible to go after everything that had happened. In other ways, it felt like I could not take more loss and wanted to stem it somewhere. I had already saved some money, and bought a brand new copy of Stephanie Morrill's historical fiction, Within These Lines--a tale of America's Japanese internment camps during WW2. I started it the next morning, and it is beautiful. That was one of the books. Joanne Bischof's tender Sons of Blackbird Mountain was another. I binge-skimmed it the following morning when both parents were out and the house was quiet.

ain't never heard of binge-skimming, schuyler

They are both beautiful, and the kindness of my mother helped that and another book find their way into my basket as well.

The next day I take my first ride to the library to get a research book--one of the first simple drives I took as a young driver. Later again I go to the store. Both times are hard. It is almost impossible to comprehend how something you did for so long will ever feel feasible or comfortable again. But while that is still broken, there are other moments of grace. A student who reads the bio on your book and promises to bring you a chai latte. A conversation with another student who expresses such a hunger for writing well. Time to pray before the school day starts that never would have happened before the crash. Warm tea and writing in the car on the dark, early mornings of teaching days. Reassuring texts and emails from friends saying hurt is understandable, and to take grace and time to heal.

Sometimes I listen to music and cry. (Scars by I AM THEY and Fear No More by The Afters both touch a tender spot.) Sometimes I cry a lot. It feels like a regression, and it hurts. But out of the brown grass of spring, green shoots of dreams are spreading strong roots, and other root wants that need to die are being tugged at by the Holy Spirit. And just as my paster taught us that God brought comfort to Elijah through nourishment, conversations, and his presence, so I have received comfort through my parents, my sister, extended family, and friends--and being able to talk to Him.

We all have breaking points, my pastor says. But as he speaks, he reminds us of God's tender care and comfort in the breaking points. We are finding this to be true.

On our drive home that Sunday, a man and a woman pick up sticks in their front yard. To me, it's a picture of grace.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Celebrating the Irish {+ Kristy Cambron giveaway ends tonight!}

Friday night I heated leftovers for dinner with the accompaniment of Irish music. Celtic Thunder is a love of mine. Their songs have kept me company through book climaxes, drives to work, and dishes, and are closely intertwined with the journey of War of Loyalties. It's the perfect weekend to pull their music out again. (Check out Phil the Fluter's Ball!)

Today we put potatoes and meat in the crockpot for Dublin Coddle, and last night as I caught up on late homework grading, my dad made Irish soda muffins. It's a good time of year to have a name like McConkey. Though, to be honest, that's good any time of year.

Music is good and food is good, but I have a treat to recommend along the bookish line if you're hoping to celebrate tonight! It's book 2 in Kristy Cambron's Lost Castles series, but don't let the #2 throw you off. It's my favorite, and you could probably pick it up without having read the other one.

(Head on over to Amazon for a little Irish fun?)

This December I spent a late night when I couldn't sleep escaping to the green hills of Ireland. Castle on the Rise entwines three plots from three time periods: a divorced antique dealer seeking for healing as she explores an Irish pub and castle; a young Irish gentlewoman taking photographs during the Easter Rebellion; and a 1700s Irish heiress risking safety to hide an Irish rebel on her estate.

Three plotlines is ambitious, but this story fully carries them through. Each story has empathetic characters (Eoin was a dashing hero), an immersive plot (feeling like I was in the streets during the 1916 Irish revolt) and heart-throbbing details of life, love, and suffering. This book held drama and beauty that deeply satisfied my bookish soul.

Castle on the Rise provides beauty and excitement and was a novel I really appreciated spending time with. I am so glad to have this Irish beauty on my shelf, and I definitely want to read it again. Starting it would be a fantastic way to treat yourself to some St. Patrick's Day fun--and there's even a giveaway you can enter by clicking the picture below! (But hurry! It ends tonight!)

I received Castle on the Rise as part of the Kristy Cambron launch team. All opinions are my own and honestly expressed. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Coming of Age {wives and daughters}

Photo Credit--Jill Wellington/Pixabay
We came to the final, poignant moments of Wives and Daughters Sunday night. The last episode struck me deeply. It's a story both peaceful and full of depth, with much fodder for discussion and thought. The relationships of husband and wife, mother and daughter, neighbor and neighbor, father and son, fill each moment. But this time as I watched the climax, I was struck by the themes of coming of age, both in individuals and in parent/child relationships.

Molly Gibson's coming of age is especially striking. She starts off in her idyllic girlhood world where she and her widower father have been all in all to each other. She can read her book and talk to the servants, eat bread and cheese by the fire, and remain happily ignorant of the love of one of her father's apprentices. Her life is sweet, but it is a child's life. And as the story pages turn, she gradually has to become a woman.

It starts like many journies to adulthood: she leaves home. It's a safe visit to someone in the community, like most little forays into independence begin. She picks her own dresses for the first time (not entirely correctly, in an endearing and relatable way). There she learns of the local squire's family's trials and is quick to judge Roger for coming home and telling of his brother's failure at college. It is a girlish judgment, made out of her own limited understanding. There her girlhood world is also rocked when her father engages himself to be married again. After that, Molly will change gradually, but she will never be the same.

Gradually she faces the first sandpaper of adulthood--learning to live with something that irks; something wrong in the form of her step-mother. She yearns to go back to the way things used to be. Hyacinth's silly selfishness and "proper" behavior grate against Molly's honest compassion. Molly speaks out against change as her mother starts regulating her visits and making over her room. But throughout the story, Molly keeps holds true to her beliefs even in the midst of trying relationships.

Molly is also faced with another step towards adulthood--learning that the world is bigger and more broken and complicated than she thought. As she becomes fast friends with Squire Hamley's family, the squire's wife dies, leaving Molly with the hard maturing that grief brings. A young woman already well on her way to compassionate adulthood, and shaped to handle things compassionately through her father's profession Molly digs into her reserves and love to minister to a family without a mother. At lose moorings, and at odds with each other, the squire's family recognize her integrity and lean on her for help in ways that were probably too heavy for her young shoulders. As Molly learns of the oldest son's secret marriage to a French Roman Catholic girl, she does not know what to do, but she keeps seeking to spread healing between them.

Molly's compassion betrays her when her step-sister, too, leans on her for help. Pretty Cynthia comes to town with a secret engagement of her own, and wanting to handle it without the knowledge of her mother or step-father, ropes Molly into secret meetings with a man determined to marry his unwilling fiance. Molly, compassionate and wanting to help, doesn't refuse something that she is uncomfortable with and agrees to meet him privately on Cynthia's behalf. In this Molly makes a common error that all maturing people face: knowing which secrets shouldn't be kept, and tackling something too big by themselves. Putting her own reputation at stake and enabling Cynthia's behavior, Molly ends up with some uncomfortable weeks of shame and gossip in the face of her inexperience. But like all coming of age, she heals from and survives the experience.

Molly's arc resonates with me because I feel as if I am coming to the end of one chapter of growth and beginning a new one. Like Molly, I have traveled from an ideal and simple world and had to deal with brokenness in my own heart and in those I love. Like Molly, I have been entrusted with brokenness from other people to steward and care for. And like Molly, I have sometimes fumbled  (and still do fumble) from inexperience. But I can also see where God's grace and wise people have grown me.

The coming of age in Wives and Daughters resonated this week especially. On Wednesday we discussed past trauma in Bible study. We are reading through a book called Twenty Things We Tell Our Twentysomething Selves by Peter and Kelli Worrall. Trauma, they say, is not just abuse or deep trauma, but those events big or little, which still linger with you later. As I listed some of these in my own life, some of them had been healed and worked through with the help of wise, compassionate, experienced counsel. And some of them I have still left to face. But I no longer feel like the terrified, helpless, inexperienced girl of seventeen who graduated from high school hiding from her hurts, with no idea where to start in handling family and friend relationships. I have not arrived, but as God has grown and stretched and imparted wisdom to this child than I had a few years ago, and will continue to grow and stretch and impart more wisdom in more years to come. I still have a great deal of growing and stretching and blindness and wisdom ahead of me. But like Molly, I also see in myself a girl who started at seventeen and is growing over time in her ability to handle challenges.

Wives and Daughters explores the coming of age of individuals, but it also discusses the fascinating coming of age of parent and child dynamics as well. Molly and her father trust each other so deeply that when her father discovers her secrets, he keeps trusting her through the aftereffects of them. Her neighbors the Hamleys weren't so fortunate. Squire Hamley finds after Osbourne's early death that his son never trusted him. "Two people to live together," he says, when he learns of Osbourne's secret marriage, "and one of us with such a secret." Later, still processing his son's secret life, he says in a chilling realization, "he was afraid of me."

One of the questions we discussed this week in Twenty Things was if we processed trauma with our parents. Squire Hamley realized he wasn't the safe person his son would come to with trouble. Molly, in spite of her inexperience, was. Part of coming of age in a relationship is becoming a place of trustworthiness for each other. But Osbourne, too, never grew past his ability to face conflict. He could never bring himself to start the conversation between his father's expectations and his own wishes. And part of coming of age in a relationship is also the ability to face and graciously handle difficult conversations with each other.

Molly has a different story. Though she and her father go through struggles, and both of them make judgment errors that damage each other's trust (Doctor Gibson with his second marriage, and Molly with her private errands to Mr. Preston), their years of trust and proven maturity in their relationship are able to weather these trials. They know and want what is best for each other, even when they both sacrifice to make that happen. Mr. Gibson trusts his daughter's judgment, allowing her to know private information about Osbourne's health and letting her help the Hamleys as they face various crises. Molly trusts her father's love by making room for a new stepmother and calling her Mama because he wished her to. They are close in heart, so much so that when it comes time to give his own daughter away, Doctor Gibson recognizes the man who would be good for her and gives his blessing, in direct contrast to the squire.

Osbourne falls and Molly rises, but it is Cynthia, Molly's step-sister, who goes through perhaps the greatest transformation when it comes to parent-child relationships. Cynthia has kept secret trauma of her own--the neglect of a mother that later contributed to a hunger for love and an unwise relationship with Robert Preston. That trauma has followed Cynthia all her life and affected her ability to treat young men well as well as shadowing her with a crippling amount of inner fear. But as she comes to live in the Gibson house, she recognizes and trusts Mr. Gibson. And though they too have their difficulties in understanding each other, contributing to some of those tough family evenings that every household faces, Cynthia reaches out to him as a father-figure, and through him and Molly, confesses her past with Robert Preston in her own coming of age moment.

Mr. Gibson's head-scratchingly unwise marriage leads to the transformation and healing of a young woman who might have ended up with a very different story, proving that even our errors can lead to much grace. We love Molly here (my dad especially), and this time more than any other watching her story, it wasn't just a relaxing and dramatic period drama, but a rich story of maturing, healing, and growth.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Moments of Hygge {sutcliff + doyle}

Image by MarPockStudios on Pixabay
Today was a hygge day.

Hygge is a Danish word basically meaning comfort and coziness. Ever since encountering the hygge mindset, I've been looking for ways to add moments of it into my life. Hygge is both a relaxation from the urgency of work and the intentional looking for things to do outside of scrolling my Facebook and Twitter.

In light of searching for life outside of work, I have dubbed Tuesday nights "Hygge Night." My first hygge night was spent in the company of Rosemary Sutcliff's Black Ships Before Troy. I was reading it for a class literature option and reluctantly decided on another selection. But the gorgeous hardback with its margins decorated in Alan Lee's wonderful, terrible depictions of war and heroes spread beauty all through the beginning of February. Black Ships Before Troy re-tells the Iliad, and if you like fantasy or mythology, you won't want to miss this one. From Thetis' deep love for her son Achilles to Achilles' terrible vengeance for his bosom friend Patroclus, it's gorgeous and heart-stirring. I haven't read mythology, but this introduction (especially the illustrations) had so much beauty to offer. I think we should discuss it more sometime.

Saturday mornings are fast following as hygge moments. Friday is my climax day of the week, and after it's over, I'm often tired out and encouraged to take it easy just a little bit. This Saturday morning was the best of hygge days. The sort of morning where you grab tasty leftovers from the fridge for breakfast and pad downstairs to your desk where devotions and prayer journal await. Early 2019 has given me a sense of steady rhythm which I didn't realize how much I was deeply craving. There is something beautiful about the regularity of work, rest, and devotions that has been good for heart and soul. Afterward, I trotted off with mama for a very disappointing book sale and a very wonderful time wandering through Trader Joe's.

It was a happy morning spent looking at fresh displays of tulips, shamrocks, and pussy willows. Listening to Tenth Avenue North and munching on aquamarine-themed gummy candy. Stopping by a friend's and chatting over Earl Gray tea with cream. Watching a furry kitty sit in a paper bag, finding its own moment of hygge. Admiring patches and dashes of sunshine and rainbow on a bright afternoon hardwood floor. Resting in the afternoon with Kate Breslin's For Such a Time.

It was also an inspiring day to pick out a new book to read. I'd just finished one of my favorite Conan Doyle mysteries: The Valley of Fear. (Why that was my favorite I don't know, except it's extra angsty and has an Irish hero.) But one friend started a book group and inspired me to pick up a Jules Verne, and another friend was enjoying The Brothers Karamazov so much that she motivated me to pick it up too. Last night before I went to bed, I read the first chapter of each. And today, if I don't start reading The Golden Goblet for school classes, I'll probably read more.

How have you been filling your life with hygge lately? What are you reading this winter? I'd love to chat with you! :) 
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