My sister Dani has requested that I post an entry highlighting the books that have been most influential in my life thus far. At first I was a little daunted by the overwhelming idea of gathering my thoughts in this area, but I am so grateful for her nudging. As many of you may know, I have been (and perhaps still am) on a tumultuous journey of spiritual transformation. This has included the common stage of questioning my upbringing while in college, but has also led to some new perspectives and major paradigm shifts that have disrupted many relationships in my life. At this point I feel as though the waters have calmed--inside and outside myself--but I hope that the questioning and transforming of my heart and mind remains a lifelong process. Here's a look at my journey so far, told by the books that have deeply moved me...
I first became proactive about my spiritual growth when I was in the eighth grade. My mother gave me a copy of the Christian devotional classic My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, and I read through it over and over again all the way through high school. Chambers gave me deep insight into biblical passages that had never meant anything to me before, and he introduced me to the idea of spiritual reflection.
Once in college my world was greatly broadened with a wide variety of incredible Christian and secular authors. In a theology class I was introduced to a poet and modern-day mystic, Kathleen Norris. I first read her book The Cloister Walk and became intrigued with her tales of life in a monastery. I credit her with my continuing intrigue and desire for a more liturgical and mystic practice of faith. I have devoured many more of her books (my favorite being Amazing Grace) and am currently reading Dakota.
I would have to say that my favorite spiritual author, whom I discovered in college, is Henri Nouwen. I first read his book Compassion, and was deeply affected by his radical notion that missionaries, more often than not, portray a sense of arrogance by traveling to another culture and immediately attempting to "help them" with their Americanized Christian culture. There is much more I could say about Nouwen's words, but I must highlight my favorite book of his--and one of my favorite books of all-time--Reaching Out. In essence, this book simply and beautifully describes the spiritual life as I want to live it and I have gone back to it time and time again for his wisdom, comfort, and grace. I'm thinking it's probably time to visit this book again...
Somewhere around my fourth year of college is where I was hit with a bang by Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian. Up to this point I had begun feeling uneasy about the inherited Christian spirituality of my youth but didn't know what to do with those feelings. This book pretty much put into words the questions I'd been wrestling with and gave me a whole new approach to Christianity. It was a huge breath of fresh air and gave me the confidence I needed to step out into a transforming process. I am forever grateful for Brian McLaren's courage in writing such a counter-cultural book within the Christian culture.
One of my last classes at Point Loma came at the perfect time as I was eager for new spiritual perspectives--Moral Development with Dr. Mike Leffel. He continued to spur on my questioning and introduced me to several incredible authors who I am still reading five years later! My favorites from this class include: The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg, and Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. If only I had the time to expound on the richness of these books and authors...
After college I went through a very dark time where I questioned even more of my background, religion, and identity. I found a light-hearted, humorous take on religion in Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies, and a peaceful, open-minded look at spirituality in Hermann Hesse's Siddartha. I rediscovered a more traditional Christian author, John Eldredge, in Captivating, which he wrote with his wife on the beautiful identity of a woman. That book gave me so much in learning to love myself. And then there was The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck. (Sigh...) This book, in my opinion, sums up everything meaningful, beautiful, and true about life. It's subtitle should be taken from Switchfoot's song: "Life, Love and Why". This book awakened in me a passion for psychology and gave me tools to battle out my inner darkness and embrace God's light inside of me. I have continued to read more of Scott Peck and have decided that he speaks my mind like no other author I know. It's just blissful.
And now I come to the more recent segment of my life. (Yes, I should be wrapping this up soon.) I stumbled upon an entirely different kind of book, Spilling Open by Sabrina Ward Harrison, that mixes unique art with journal entries. It's witty, raw, beautiful, and such a delightful treat with a warm cup of hot chocolate on a cold night. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is also a most delightful treat. This very popular book documents a woman's journey to find herself through pleasures, spirituality, and relationships. It was simply inspiring to me as I continue to find myself. And the book that has most recently moved me is Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. This book was given to me in a time when I was overwhelmed by indecisiveness about who I am in relation to my career. The book's message can be summed up with my favorite quote (which does not come from this book): "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive." And that's what this process is really all about--coming alive.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
For those of you who know my mother, you know what an endearing, interesting, mysterious woman she is. Raised in Brazil as a missionary kid and the wife of a farmer in the Central Valley, these descriptions are only a start in telling about my mom. I was so moved by my sister Dani's blog on my mom recently that I just had to steal her entry and post it here. A beautiful and witty tribute to my mother...
"She likes to analyze you and herself. She is full of contradictions and I let her know that all of the time. She is the reason I am me in so many ways. She encourages me to be a feminist even though she is not one. She is inwardly feisty yet extremely, annoyingly, self-deprecatingly meek and humble. She encourages me to question things that she cannot or will not herself. She knows the importance of coming to your own conclusions and not accepting things at face value. She questions many things about herself--although irritating at times, it has shown me the importance of openness and honesty about yourself, maybe to a fault. She is infamous for her probing questions.
Sometimes her naivete about the world is a little shocking for someone of her age and intelligence. But then she will text you and sign off with 'lol' and you wonder if she really is that naive about the world and pop culture or if she just feigns innocence for the fun of it. She doesn't like to be called a closet liberal despite her views on foreign policy and the war because she voted for Bush twice and really likes Sarah Palin (I don't believe it, but I'll respect her wishes begrudgingly.)
Most people really like my mom. In high school my sisters and I had some friends that would come over just to hang out with her instead of us. Maybe because they really needed a good therapy session and she will analyze you without you even realizing it. People who don't like my mom are just shallow and don't get her and it's really too bad because I think she is often misunderstood. Possibly because she's so full of contradictions that you have to get to know her to take it all in and appreciate the confusion for what it is and not try to fit her into some silly box that you've contrived.
We call her Merchar and I have no clue why. But that's just our family. The original Merchar was actually a siamese cat we had for like 15 years, Milo. Most pets of ours usually start with one name and end with a completely different one. That's mostly Monique's doing. Just ask her what her latest name is for her husband. Or don't ask, if you don't like hearing peoples' pet names for each other. Yvette doesn't really. Nevertheless, we call my mom Merchar respectfully and lovingly and her license plate is even 'MERCHAR'. So if you ever drive by my mom just honk and wave and she will probably freak out that a stranger just did that (even if she knows you, her vision is horrible and she won't recognize you) and she'll then try to analyze later why some random person on the freeway would do such a thing.
I love my mom."
I couldn't have said it better, Dani.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
We've been home over a week now, and I've been dragging my feet just a tad about posting something ginormous to tell our Hawaii story. It was an awesome two weeks of family fun in Hana, Maui at Brandon's dad and stepmom's house. We did the usual fun things...hiking, surfing, swimming, being creative on rainy days...
My highlight was paddling in a traditional Hawaiian canoe and Brandon's was mountain biking down the Haleakala crater.
But I must admit, it took me awhile to get used to the new type of family vacation we will be experiencing for the next 18 years... We were up at 6am, played HARD all morning, rushed to be home for naptime in the afternoon (which I often joined in on), waited to enjoy dinner after the kids were in bed, and then all fell asleep on the couch around 9pm! So different from our normal Hawaii trips, but just a different kind of fun, I learned. I learned to love the early mornings drinking my coffee and watching the sunrise with Brandon, Soren and Malakai. I learned to love cousin bathtimes, running around the yard, and just jumping in the waves.
It was a richer experience as I got to spend more time just enjoying the family that I love so much. And I guess that's what family vacations are for, right?