What’s Your Story

I just finished Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, and to say that I adored it just wouldn’t do the book justice. It is the story of Don editing his life (aka Blue Like Jazz one of the best books I’ve ever read) in an effort to transform it into a movie script (a movie that is being released this Friday). While “editing his life” he learns about the concept of “story” as it applies to making a good movie, but then begins applying it his actual life. I’m not going to bore you with an attempt to better explain the book because I will do a terrible job. Just trust me, it’s awesome, and terribly motivating. And if you don’t believe me, here are a few of my favorite lines from the book.

Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller.

If I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story, and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you.

The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.

As I read this book, I spent a lot of time thinking about what the story of my life looks like, and what I want it to look like. To be totally honest, it feels a lot like the story of my life has been on hold since being diagnosed with a disease. My “life plan” was disrupted, my attention and emotion have frequently been consumed by health concerns. I’m still working on figuring it all out, and most days I make far less progress than I should. But there are a few things that I do know.

While my disease does not define me, it does give me the opportunity to do something different with my life than I would have otherwise done. What this may be I am not yet sure, but I am diligently working on figuring it out. I can choose to be the victim or I can choose to do something amazing with it. I choose to be amazing.

I want my life to be a better story than it is right now. I want my life to be better, to be more meaningful, to be filled with intention. I want it to be a story filled with love, grace, passion, kindness, strength.

There have been some truly magical moments in my life, most of them found in the simple, quiet moments when you hardly expect to be making treasured memories. I want my life to be filled with more and more of those memories. Sometimes that simply means being open and aware, other times that means setting out with the intention to create magic. I intend to do far more of both.

This book has clearly left me thinking, and there are countless more thoughts floating around in my head as I mull over what I have read. This is just the beginning. It was the perfect time in my life for this book to come along and give me a kick in the butt to make some changes. So away we go!

 

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Bookworm Update

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a book update around here because, honestly, I slowed down in the reading department for awhile. Too many distractions (that means you iPad!) and a busy holiday season put books on the back burner. But I’m back with my nose stuck in a book once again.

I finished Flying Through Midnight last week. It’s the story of a Vietnam pilot’s experience flying over Laos at the end of the war. If any of you know much about the history of the Vietnam war, you know that we were “not” flying over Laos during the war. The US government was quite clear about that. It was definitely not my typical kind of book but my dad had been telling me to read it for years so I figured I’d better get on it, and I’m glad I did. It really is an incredible story and I was at the edge of my seat for over 200 pages. If any of you are interested in the war, or enjoy adventure type books, check it out. It’s a fun read, as well as a history lesson in what we “weren’t” doing in Vietnam.

Last night I finished Moloka’i, a story about the leper colony in Hawaii at the turn of the 20th century. I loved this one. While it was certainly sad, how can a book about leprosy not be, it was a great story about an important piece of history that I had never even heard of. I think the author did an excellent job portraying the loss the residents of Moloka’i experienced while also telling the story of the community they gained because of their misfortune. If you don’t mind the depressing stuff that goes along with a story about leprosy, I would definitely recommend this one. It’s a great story filled with wonderful characters and interesting history.

Next up, I’m reading Tree of Smoke, another one about Vietnam, although this one is a commentary on the war and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (not going to lie, the title alone has me super excited for this one) about relationships and the Prague Spring in 1968.

Bookworm Update: Incendiary

I finished Incendiary Saturday night and I am still trying to process all of it. It is a very dark and graphic book that raises all kinds of issues associated with the post-9/11 world we live in today. The book is in the format of a letter to Osama Bin Laden written by a woman who’s husband and son are killed in a horrific terrorist attack on a London football stadium (as a side note, the London terrorist attacks in 2005 occurred the same day that this book was released, an awful coincidence). The protagonist is far from a lovable character. She is an unfaithful wife who continues to make bad decisions throughout the book as she slowly slips into insanity. In fact, none of the characters in the book are terribly likeable, which I believe was Cleaves’ point. I think he wanted to point out some of the flaws in Western society that people like Bin Laden latch onto, not to say that they justify terrorist attacks, but as a bridge to understanding them because we have to at least start to understand the reasoning if we are ever to defeat them. The most interesting theme to me that Cleaves raised in the book was the idea that the fear that grips people is far more debilitating to society than the actual attacks are. In the book, London becomes a police state, complete with a changed landscape, curfews, and police helicopters monitoring everything. People live in constant fear which creates chaos at the mere mention that another attack could occur. People literally lose their lives as a result of the chaos, and figuratively as the fear of the possibility of another attack takes away their freedom and life as they previously knew it and the mother slips into insanity . On the flip side, the book also talks about life returning to normal for so many people while the protagonists life is forever changed. It was a heartbreaking contrast, to see the lives of most changed a bit by the fear and changes to society, but the lives of a few shattered into a million unrecognizable pieces. It is an observation that rings true for our country as well as so many others. There was so much in this book to keep me thinking, and I’m sure I will continue to think about it for quite some time. I guess that’s why I like sad books. The happy ones just don’t work your mind in the same way! I would definitely recommend this one to anyone interested in a subject matter, but I would warn that it is dark, sad, and incredibly graphic. To me that isn’t a reason to avoid it, but I am much more interested in those kinds of books than the average Joe. I would say though that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a better book regarding the topic. That one is one of my all-time favorites and is a tad bit more uplifting.

Bookworm Update: The Shack

Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation, and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his “Great Sadness,” Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever. -Description from Goodreads

My mom bought me this book, and to be honest, I was a bit skeptical. Like I’ve said before, I am a bit of a book snob and this didn’t exactly fall in my normal book criteria. But I ended up really loving it, not from a literary standpoint, but from a “made me think” standpoint. A quick google search will bring up the controversy that surrounds this book (I actually didn’t realize it was such a hot topic while I was reading it and I’m really not interested in getting into all of that here) but personally, I think Young did a great job with some really tough topics. One of the major points of controversy surrounding the book is in regards to the presentation of the trinity. Personally, I feel like it was the first time I ever felt able to wrap my mind around the whole idea of God, Jesus, and the holy spirit. By turning each into a character in the book, I felt more able to understand each one’s role in our lives. Another thing that I really loved about the book is that it made it easier to understand what God’s love for us looks like. I understand that some may argue that this book is not a correct depiction of God or his love, but to me, it really hit home and made things feel more relateable.

What I loved most about this book though was the way it handled the idea of bad things happening in people’s lives and what God’s role in that is. Hands down, this is the number one issue people bring up whenever people talk to me about my faith. I believe that God never promised that bad things wouldn’t happen. That bad things happen because we live in a world where every person has the right to choose what to do each day. Some people choose to do bad things that hurt others, things that can ripple out much farther than we may ever see. But God did promise that if we trust him, he will use those bad things for good, and he will give us the strength to make it through them. I feel like this book did an amazing job of describing that through a story. Here are some of my favorite passages from the book.

“There are millions of reasons to allow pain and hurt and suffering rather than to eradicate them, but most of those reasons can be understood only within each person’s story. I am not evil. You are the ones who embrace fear and pain and power and rights so readily in your relationships. But your choices are also not stronger than my purposes, and I will use every choice you make for the ultimate good and most loving outcome”

“Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.”

“All evil flows from independence, and independence is your choice. If I were to simply revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning. This world is not a playground where I keep all my children free from evil. Evil is the chaos of this age that you brought to me, but it will not have the final say. Now it touches everyone I love, those who follow me and those who don’t. If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibility of love. Love that is forced is no love at all.”

While reading The Shack, I’ve also been reading a book called Falling to Grace. The two of them ended up pairing so well that you would have thought it was planned. Hmmm… More on that later.

Bookworm Update: One Day

I just finished One Day by David Nicholls and I loved it. LOVED. Couldn’t put it down. Stayed up too late reading it. Couldn’t stop thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it. Loved it. It was a good story told in such a unique way, telling a story of two people’s relationship through one day of each year. I never felt like I was missing out on any important details, it was just like catching up with old friends once a year. It was fun and different and totally sucked me in. It was even harder to put down since the end of a chapter meant the end of a year and reading one more page meant starting another year, and then of course you have to finish the year, and the vicious cycle continues, depriving me of sleep. Well worth it though. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie version, which I’m sure won’t be as good as the book but it will be a continuation of my enjoyment of the story. Definitely a book I will recommend to friends.

Book Review: So Much For That

Goodreads synopsis: From the acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller The Post-Birthday World comes a searing, ruthlessly honest new novel about a marriage both stressed and strengthened by the demands of serious illness.

Shep Knacker has long saved for “The Afterlife”: an idyllic retreat to the Third World where his nest egg can last forever. Traffic jams on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway will be replaced with “talking, thinking, seeing, and being”โ€”and enough sleep. When he sells his home repair business for a cool million dollars, his dream finally seems within reach. Yet Glynis, his wife of twenty-six years, has concocted endless excuses why it’s never the right time to go. Weary of working as a peon for the jerk who bought his company, Shep announces he’s leaving for a Tanzanian island, with or without her.

Just returned from a doctor’s appointment, Glynis has some news of her own: Shep can’t go anywhere because she desperately needs his health insurance. But their policy only partially covers the staggering bills for her treatments, and Shep’s nest egg for The Afterlife soon cracks under the strain.

Enriched with three medical subplots that also explore the human costs of American health care, So Much for That follows the profound transformation of a marriage, for which grave illness proves an unexpected opportunity for tenderness, renewed intimacy, and dry humor. In defiance of her dark subject matter, Shriver writes a page-turner that presses the question: How much is one life worth?

I seriously struggled with this book, and not because of the heavy content. The end of the book even includes a section on why the book is not a bummer. Mmmmmm… Yeah, it kind of is. But to be honest, the dark subject matter dealing with death, the health care system and how people deal with sickness wasn’t what I struggled with, it was what kept me going. As someone who spends an unusually large amount of time in a chemo room and dealing with a potentially life threatening disease, I am quite interested in all of those things. What I struggled with were the characters. They were loathsome creatures who were self-absorbed and deeply entrenched in their roles as victims of their lives. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find a single redeeming quality in a single one of them, including a teenage girl with a degenerative disease.That takes work my friends. As someone who has dealt with bad news from the doctor, and continues to do so, I have little patience for the poor me attitude that was the center of every character in the book. It gets hard to continue reading a book when you don’t like any of the characters, but I sludged through, and in the end I am glad that I did. Like I said, the subject matter interested me and is something that I am rather close too. The question of the worth of one person’s life is something that I struggle with constantly as the healthcare costs for my disease costs a crazy amount of money every year. I worry about costing so much, what J’s company will think, being a drain on the system, and so on. In a way, this book helped me with that a little bit. It gave me a bit of perspective on the kind of money that is spent every day on millions of people. It reminded me that I am not the only one out there costing a lot of money and that frequently much higher amounts are spent to keep a person alive for a few more months. Now, I am not here to argue the rights and wrongs of the healthcare system. I think there is a lot of grey in that argument and it can be very hard to know what is right and wrong when it isn’t happening to you or your loved one. But I can say that this book did a pretty good job simply presenting the issue without pushing an opinion. I also really related to what it’s like dealing with people when you are the sick one, how it can be difficult sometimes to deal with everyone’s concern and worry, and how finding subject matter that works for both sides can be challenging. People don’t want to tell the sick person all the great things in their lives but the sick people don’t want to hear others complaints of their relatively carefree lives. It can make conversations tricky when everyone over-thinks, and that is a part of the book that I really enjoyed and related to. In the end, I am glad that I read that book because of the subject matter and how closely I related to much of it. It got me thinking about a lot of things and I am always happy when a book does that. But it’s not a book that I would necessarily recommend to a friend unless they were interested in the subject or perhaps had a sick loved one.

Anyways, sorry for the super wordy review. Like I said, the book got me thinking…

Confessions of a Bookworm

I love books. LOVE them. As in, I walk into Barnes & Noble and I instantly feel happier. Ever since I was a little girl I have loved losing myself in a book and can spend hours and hours transported far away by the words on the pages in front of me. I thank my mom for this. She read to me every night when I was little and I can still remember begging her to read just one more chapter of whatever book we were reading. I get most of the books I read at the library because, well, because they are free and is there anything better than free? But sometimes I treat myself to a new book and it is like coming home with a treasure. Truly, I have an unhealthy obsession with books. Now it can’t be just any old book though. As an English major (with a history minor, can you get any more bookwormish than that???) I am a complete literary snob. It’s true. I’m ok with it. As my favorite professor in college said, there are too many great books out there to waste your time reading junk. So true. When I was a kid, I read every horse book I could get my hands on (I was a TAD horse obsessed as well). Black Stallion, Saddle club, Thoroughbred, you name it. If it had horses in it, I was all over it. These days I prefer my books to take me to different times and places. I love learning about new cultures and experiencing history through a good novel. The best books are the ones that make you feel a little sad when you’re done because you’ve grown so attached to the characters that they’ve come to feel like old friends and you’re going to miss them. So, with all that being said, I plan to include little reviews of the books I am reading here, just in case anyone is interested ๐Ÿ™‚

Swamplandia is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in quite awhile. It was totally unlike anything I’ve ever read before which I loved! It’s the story of the disintegration of a family that runs an alligator wrestling show in the everglades after the mother dies of cancer. It is clever and dark but wonderful at the same time (disclaimer, I tend to like dark and depressing books. Just fair warning). I just found it so refreshing to read something in which I had no idea where it was going because it didn’t follow the same old rules that most books follow. And the descriptions of the swamps of the everglades were incredible. I definitely recommend this one! Fun might not be the right word for it but I can’t think of a better word to describe reading something so different.

And one more picture of reading, just because I love this picture and because the only thing that makes reading a good book better is reading it on a beach!