February is a mere sneeze of a month, over before you know it’s begun. On the 1st Feb I had a rare and glorious trip out of the house. Snuggled in my faux-fur coat, Jon took me to a farmers’ market where we ate amazing mediterranean chicken salad in the bitingly cold air. Then we bumped into friends – a spontaneous rendezvous! – and went back to their house for coffee, which was nearby. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was able to do anything spontaneously like that. It was amazing.
The very next day I woke up with a fever. That virus wiped out the rest of February for me, with days of fever and laryngitis, post-viral exhaustion and vertigo. I have spent most of February feeling like I’m on a boat, the floor gently swaying – I have been trying to listen to badly-sung jazz and sign up for watercolour classes to recreate the cruise ship vibe. (Fear not: I did not succumb to playing Bridge).
But sometimes it’s in the midst of feeling like death warmed up that good things happen:
Interview with Premier Radio
I had an interview on the UK’s biggest Christian radio station. It was wonderful to chat with Maria Rodrigues, who is a fantastic interviewer and all-round lovely person. I accidentally cried in the middle, when she caught me with one question. Thank you to all those who emailed or messaged to say how moved you were by it. It starts with her asking how things were for me after I gave birth and found myself really ill – here’s a link to the audio file:
Right at the end of the month, I was finally well enough to leave the house again, so I got a long-overdue haircut. What do you think?
There are some REALLY good Christian books at the moment just being released. This is what I’ve read:
- Embracing the Body – Tara Owens
It’s fair to say that this is the book I have been most excited about for well over a year. I got to have a sneak peak at the book in the editing stages, and I feel like I’ve been hopping impatiently to get it into friends’ hands ever since.
So often the world tells us that our bodies are the most important things, and the church wants us to pretend that we don’t have a body at all, we are just floating souls. This is the first book I’ve read where a Christian talks insightfully about reclaiming the goodness and joy of our bodies, as well as delving into the tricky areas of negative body image and bad health. Not only a theology of the body, it is a spirituality of the body (the subtitle is ‘finding God in our flesh and bone’) – using our bodies to connect with God, and there are reflective exercises at the end of each chapter to help you do that. Tara Owens is an extraordinary writer – she perfectly combines rigorous Biblical scholarship, thoughtful theology, excruciatingly beautiful writing, and prayerful application and creative exercises. I don’t think there is anyone else I have read who does all those things at the same time. I found it mind-blowing – I’m recommending it to everyone I know. This is a really special book, destined to become a classic – well worth your time and money. Get it from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
- 3-2-1 – Glen Scrivener
It has been a while since I read an evangelical evangelistic book, the sort that you give to friends to help them know what the gospel is. This one started a little slowly for me (the retelling of the gospel in his initial Jesus chapter fell a little flat for me, possibly because as a Sunday School Christian, I know the stories so well). But would be a mistake to stop there, because the rest of the book just zings with energy. The structure of the book is to explain the heart of the gospel in three fairly long but engaging chapters (the 3 of the trinity; the 2 representatives – Jesus vs Adam; the 1 of unity with Christ), and the second half of the book is common apologetics questions, which are answered succinctly but briefly (suffering, sexuality, Bible etc). Glen Scrivener’s winsome and jovial style is so readable, and his apologetics razor-sharp. This book stands out as an enthusiastic, intellectually rigorous, thoughtfully-illustrated portrayal of the gospel. I found myself underlining lots of soundbites and fresh, striking illustrations. It reminded me of the best kind of evangelistic book I read as a student, and would be ideal for the twenties-thirties age group. Get it from Amazon.com or if you’re in the UK, 10ofThose.com
- The Day I Met Jesus – Mary DeMuth and Frank Viola
If you enjoyed my Advent series, you’ll love this book which creatively retells the story of five of the women who met Jesus. The structure of the book is that Mary DeMuth tells the story (which reads as a chapter from a novel), and Frank Viola then adds a mini-commentary with extra helpful details about the historical context, and a suggestion of how to apply it. I loved this book: it is a real skill to bring Bible characters to life and Mary DeMuth is so gifted at portraying the sights and smells of the Bible world so you feel you’re walking in that world. I especially liked that they didn’t portray the woman at the well or the woman caught in adultery as two-dimensional harlots, and the portrayal of the woman with the flow of blood battling chronic illness and rejection for a lifetime was beautifully and sensitively told. Mary of Bethany’s story at the end was just spellbinding, my favourite. I had just one main quibble with this book – Viola’s application of the story of the woman with the flow of blood, which seemed to imply that people battling chronic illness need to try a bit harder spiritually and press in further to Jesus in order to be healed (and we who have chronic illnesses are told that kind of thing quite enough). But is a wonderful book, well-deserving of 5 stars. Mary DeMuth’s storytelling is vivid, beautiful, and (my highest praise) emotionally true. If you want to feel you’re stepping into the Biblical world or a relaxing and creative way of doing Bible study, get this book. Parable.com are doing a crazy-cheap half-price offer for the next week, or if you’re in the UK, it’s cheapest from Wordery.
- Pray, Write, Grow – Ed Cyzewski
Last night I found myself saying to a friend, ‘Ed Cyzewski has just written a book on this exact topic – you should read it’. It’s a sign of a good book when you find yourself recommending it to others without meaning to. I always think of Ed Cyzewski as a pastor to writers, and a writer to pastors, and this book encapsulates his dual ministry perfectly. In the first chapter he says this:
“If you want to improve your prayer life, try writing.
“If you want to improve your writing life, try praying.”
The rest of the book explores how both of these things can be spiritual disciplines and how they combine to make us more whole and healthy. It’s engaging, encouraging, and easy to read, and I wore out my highlighter with all the memorable quotes. As soon as I finished it, I downloaded the app he suggested and it’s already changing my prayer life. It’s a nice short book, about the length of a Kindle single and can be read in one setting.
This is a must-read for all pastors and writers, but I’d say it would be a help to anyone, even if you’ve not thought much about praying or writing before – it’s really gentle and wise with lots of helpful tips. Highly recommended (and cheap as chips in its release week – on Kindle for £0.99/$0.99, or preorder the hard copy for £3.99 and thank me later). Get it from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
- State of Wonder – Ann Patchett
After Bel Canto, a book so beautiful I still think about it regularly, I decided to give another Ann Patchett novel a try. I wasn’t disappointed – in fact, I’m becoming a fan girl. This story is about a lab technician who travels to a remote part of South America in order to try to find out what happened to her colleague, who was meant to go on a fact-finding mission research among the tribe, but is now reported as dead. What I love about Ann Patchett is that her characters are so well observed, and she captures the subtleties of the human psyche. There is one character in particular that I really enjoyed, an acerbic academic, a sort of Dr House of the medical research world. The plot is finely crafted – it builds slowly, but there were some real gasps and page-turnings in the final third of the book. I can’t remember the last time I felt this excited about an author – every book is gold. Simply brilliant – I’m off to get another one of her books. Get it from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
- The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R King
This is billed as a book for Sherlock Holmes fans – Mary Russell, who is a gifted and eccentric teenager, meets a now-retired and slightly bored Sherlock Holmes, who is now keeping bees. They team up together, and rather than Holmes accompanied by a bumbling companion like Watson, he has an intellectual and sleuthing match to spar with. It is really well written, and Russell is an interesting character – but I got halfway through and realised that I don’t actually like Holmes-style mysteries, I like Agatha Christie-style mysteries, so I gave up on it. It felt too much like an interesting maths problem. This is an excellent, well-written, engaging book – but just not for me. Get it from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
- Inside the Commons – I didn’t think a program about politics would be so engaging, but it was really helpful to see some of the clunky systems and hoops that MPs have to jump through, if only to explain why they seem so often ineffectual. The program focused on the backbenchers willing to rebel against their party and make a stand – which made it very heartening watching. It also made me wish that political decisions weren’t governed by the whips and MPs’ political ambitions.
- Songs of Praise, Oscars edition – Outstanding episode with interviews with Jane Hawking (Stephen Hawking’s wife) on keeping faith whilst caring for someone with an incurable disease, David Oyelowo on playing Martin Luther King, and my friend Michael Wenham on living with the same illness as Stephen Hawking.
- The Other Boleyn Girl – looked a bit unsubtle after the majesty of Wolf Hall, but it was good to find out more about the Boleyn sisters. I’m slowly teaching myself about Henry VIII.
- The Voice – I’m using this as brainless comfort viewing at the moment, but there haven’t been many singers who have really stood out for me. I miss American Idol – I don’t think it’s on UK TV this year.
- Wolf Hall – this is one of the best things on the BBC for years. Americans – you’re gonna want to watch this. I’d quite like to get it on DVD, because it is so artful and art-full. Pre-order it like a true fan.
- Sky Arts 2 – I’ve suddenly discovered this channel, full of ballet and opera and orchestra, and it makes me very happy.
- Gilmore Girls – I should stop, this must be my seventh or eighth time round, but I can’t.
My little book reached number 1 in two categories, and the reviews are starting to trickle in from people I’ve never met. It’s a strange and wonderful experience. If you have read Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, it would help me massively if you could leave even a short, one sentence review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. I’m not sure how the Amazon algorithms work, but the number of positive reviews seem to influence how many others see it when they search for it. If you could take the time to review it, I would do a little happy dance. 🙂 And – in case you missed the news – you can get the book in paper form from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, or as an ebook by signing up to my newsletters below.
On the blog – I was muzzled by my ill health so the blog was quieter, but D.L. Mayfield and Nate Pyle rounded off this season’s God and Suffering series in style – both were seriously good.
ME News –
Vanessa Li died this month, aged 33. She took her own life after a long and agonising battle with severe ME, and there is a beautiful video tribute to her below. One particularly poignant quote stands out:
“It’s not so much that we’ve done a lot it’s more that I’ve been sick for 14 years and we’ve never had some kind of intervention in this illness. People are left sick 20, 30 years, just rotting away. They die without anyone knowing. My fourteen years of youth have gone.”
Her singing of Tori Amos at the end pretty much undid me, and I cried a lot.
Columbia University published a study which holds the promise of potentially being the basis of a future biomarker for ME. The authors dedicated the study in memory of Vanessa Li.
The USA’s IOM recommended that the name ‘Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease’ replace the much-hated ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’. (I will write on this later).
The Dress – I’m team blue and black.
I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for her magnificent What I’m Into Linkup.
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Over to you:
- What have you been into this February?