February was INTENSE. Because I have to be so careful with my energy, normally I have a people slot one day, a writing slot the next day, then maybe a rest day. February was all writing for two weeks, then all people slots for two weeks because of Jon’s Significant Birthday. (So probably makes sense that March involved so much resting – hence why this What I’m Into February is so late… More on Immobile March soon!)
And more on Jon’s birthday (with pictures!) below, but first – book reviews.
Books – Christian:
- Finding God in the Ruins – Matt Bays. This book is a raw, honest, intelligent look at suffering, linking his own story of child abuse with other stories of suffering, and searching for God in the dark places. It had a ‘Philip Yancey’ feel about it, because of his clear writing and skilful storytelling, though a little more personal and ‘messy’. What I loved about this book was his honesty – which is to say that he doesn’t ‘let God off the hook’ in his questioning. So many books on suffering travel too quickly from the questions to the answers, but this book gives weight and value to the questions, and the state of feeling at sea. However, it doesn’t leave you at sea. Matt Bays digs deep into the depths, but takes you on a journey back out. One thing I really appreciated about this book was that I didn’t feel by the end of it that I had to follow a set path or solution in order to have my questions resolved – he leaves space for you to find your own way back. I found this book to be full of hope and light, and highly recommend this to anyone wrestling through their own questions about suffering. If you are screaming to God about the injustice of your own or others’ suffering, Matt Bays is the perfect companion for the journey. Get it for $9.99 from Amazon.com, £9.99 from Amazon.co.uk or £9.98 from Wordery (UK)
- Bandersnatch – Erika Morrison. I imagine that this book will be a real lifesaver for those Christians, particularly in big American churches, who feel constrained by the unspoken rules of how Christians should behave or act, and who have a bit more of a hippy spirit in them. Erika speaks of how she found value in listening to the Spirit and becoming more like herself in so doing. What I found most interesting was her approach to mission: how she prays and takes time to actually connect with people on low incomes, or homeless people, and stops to see Jesus in them and honour the imago Dei in them – not by ‘examining them’ or valuing them from afar but by really connecting with them. This book was not exactly memoir or typical Christian teaching, but rather a journey round someone’s head – and a very interesting journey it was, too. Get it for $10.48 from Amazon.com, £9.99 from Amazon.co.uk or £7.76 from Wordery (UK)
- From Topic to Thesis – Michael Kibbe. This book is designed for those writing a theology dissertation (probably for undergraduate level, though it might also be useful for Masters level). It’s quite a niche market, but I think it will do well, because it is just so good. It does what it says on the tin – taking you through each step of the process of writing a dissertation – with clear and engaging writing. Highly recommended if you’re in that niche market (comes from a mostly evangelical and American perspective, but still useful if you’re elsewhere). Get it for $12.00 from Amazon.com, £8.43 from Amazon.co.uk or £6.43 from Wordery (UK)
- A Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood. This, I am ashamed to admit, was my first Margaret Atwood, and I only read it because Jenny Rowbory recommended it, and she is ALWAYS right. And boy, was she right with this. A dystopian novel about a world in which women are subjugated, it was a fascinating, breathless read. It is both literary and very readable, which is a sign of truly good literature. Highly recommended. Get it for $8.65 from Amazon.com, £6.29 from Amazon.co.uk or £6.29 from Wordery (UK)
- Murder at Maypole Manor (Posie Parker #3) – L. B. Hathaway. I absolutely love this ‘cosy crime’ series, and was honestly counting down the days before its release, and sneaking back to Amazon to check if it was out yet. It didn’t disappoint: the third Posie Parker novel is set in on the cliffs near Dover, and the twists and turns just kept on coming. I tried my best to eke it out, but I gobbled it up in two days. SO good. If you love Agatha Christie novels, then you’ll love this series (and they are very affordable at just £2.79 each). I will be reading Book 4 next month! Highly recommended. See the whole series here for £1.99-£2.79/$3.99 each from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
On my bedside table:
- Longing for More – Timothy Willard (a devotion I’m dipping in and out of).
- Malestrom – Carolyn Custis James (brilliant book about how patriarchy harms men, and a closer examination of scripture to see how it subverts patriarchal values)
- Malcolm Guite – Word in the Wilderness (a poem every day for Lent). This is amazing – just as good as his Advent series.
- To Rise Again at a Decent Hour – Joshua Ferris. Booker Prize-shortlisted novel about a dentist.
- John’s Gospel. Sister Catherine told me to read it during Lent, and it’s generally a good idea to do what she says.
Jon’s birthday party
So – the really big thing this month was Jon’s 40th Birthday celebrations. He had this vision to have a champagne and jazz party, so we got a local jazz trio in our lounge and bought lots of cheap champagne in France when the Euro was weak. (Score!) I couldn’t resist the chance to sing with a live jazz trio, so I sang ‘our song’, and then gave a short speech about Jon. (It was almost and completely a surprise for him, but then he caught me preparing my little prompts a half hour before, so it was half a surprise, which still counts.)
Discoveries about public speaking
I’ve done a fair amount of public speaking before, but I made a couple of new discoveries this time around:
1) Don’t speak sitting down – unless you can’t stand. Speaking while sitting down and everyone else is standing is more intimidating than speaking when you are standing and everyone else is sitting. It feels like you’re about four again.
2) Public speaking really is stressful. Hilariously, I now have physical evidence of this. I have a heart rate monitor (Mio Fuse) which I’ve set to buzz and flash red when it goes over 105 beats per minute, to minimise the chance of damage to my body through aerobic exercise (see this post for more on heart rate monitoring for ME). Normally, my heart rate only goes up that amount if I’ve been standing too long or walking around too much. But at this party I discovered it’s possible for your heart rate – despite being on medication – to go crazy if you’re doing public speaking.
Of course, when you’re concentrating on looking calm and making a hilarious speech, there’s nothing like a flashing red light and persistent buzzing to alert people to the fact that you’re actually terrified. Like so:
“So, onto my second interesting point about Jon…”
BUZZ BUZZ RED FLASH
*I smile brightly to show how accustomed I am to the public speaking thing and say witty and funny things with finesse to show how extremely calm I am*
“And if you remember when Jon…”
BUZZ BUZZ DON’T BELIEVE HER SHE’S NOT CALM SHE’S STRESSED
Betrayed by technology. Ah, well.
It was actually a weird kind of flash-back moment: singing solos at church and speaking in front of groups of people used to be in my life, but this was my first time in almost six years. It was at once natural and really unfamiliar. Like riding a bike again. (A slightly scary bike.)
I contacted Jon’s friends and family and they helped me put together a book of Jon-awesomeness with which I surprised him on his birthday. It was so cool to see his face while he read it and walked down several memory lanes. Thank you to everyone who helped me!
- Homeland series 4. We’re halfway through, but I think we should have stopped at the end of Series 3. It’s okay, but not up to the heights of the first two series.
- Suits – Testosterone-filled legal series. Like a less-good The Good Wife with less-likeable characters.
- The Good Wife season 3 – still addicted. I will cry when I get to the end. I am not sure how I will possibly live without a daily fix. When I reach the end of series 6, better send – something. Resources. Supplies. Troops. Series 7. Something.
- Chuck – season 2. Still loving this. It makes me happy.
- Pitch perfect. This is like the ‘Street Dance’ movies but for singing rather than dance. It is so much fun. I watched it all and then rewound it and watched all the music numbers. A little like an episode of Glee, but more comic (and crude). Elizabeth Banks (a minor character who commented on the performances) really made the movie for me.
Some of my favourite Pitch Perfect quotes:
Male Commenter: “This number is like an elephant dart to the public’s face”…
Female commenter: “I remember singing that song with my own a Capella group”
Male commenter: “What group was that?”
F: “The minstrel cycles”
M: “That’s…an unfortunate name”
Random internet links:
“One of the most endearing and saddest things about being sick is watching people’s attempts to make sense of your problem. My academic friends did what researchers do and Googled the hell out of it. When did you start noticing pain? What exactly were the symptoms, again? Is it hereditary? I can out-know my cancer using the Mayo Clinic website. Buried in all their concern is the unspoken question: Do I have any control?” – Kate Bowler
- The above quote is from a simply brilliant must-read on the Christian response to sickness and death – It’s been shared everywhere, but if you haven’t yet read it, put down whatever you’re doing and read. Kate Bowler for New York Times – Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me.
- Children’s education – starting to think the only way the parents can influence education is a mass boycott of unnecessary tests. I’m with Debra Kidd.
- Writers – colour thesaurus. A guide to help you describe any colour
- Nice to see my friend Ed Shaw quoted in What Conservative Gay Christians Want for the Spectator – an important voice in this issue
- Fascinating and terrifying – the power of the hackers. (How secure is your identity?)
- ME research of interest – Visual problems with ME
Over to you:
- What were you into in February? (Do you even remember February? It was so long ago…)
I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for her magnificent What I’m Into Linkup.
This post contains Amazon and Wordery affiliate links, which means if you click through to Amazon.co.uk Wordery.com or Amazon.com from this site and buy absolutely anything in the world, you help this site, at no extra cost to you. I received a free advanced copy of some of the books above in exchange for my honest review, which these all are.