little bit of lagniappe

reflecting on everyday grace

Archive for the tag “books”

Words and Wings

I have just finished reading Paula McClain’s brilliant novel Circling the Sun, which chronicles the fascinating life of Beryl Markham, a courageous and daring woman, who navigates the turbulent skies of relationships, loss, love, and finding one’s true self. While there are a host of reasons why I would recommend this book and far better, more convincing reviews out there to read, three passages in particular stopped me in my tracks, and their truth begged posting:

“The trick is learning to take things as they come and fully, too, with no resistance or fear, not trying to grasp them too tightly or make them bend.”

“How our lives turn and turn. Things come that we never would have predicted for ourselves or even guessed at. And yet they change us forever.”

“There are things we find only at our lowest depths. The idea of wings and then wings themselves…And whatever suffering has come is the necessary cost of such wonder…the beautiful thrashing we do when we live.”


Thank you, Paula, for these words, and for the characters who speak these words — words that teach of both surrender and freedom.

May this opening into a new month — and a new season of summer — welcome in opportunities to see and feel life deeply, to surrender to its beauty and suffering, and to have the courage to try on and use the wings each of us has — wings that are constantly growing — wings that can sprout unimaginably like new shoots from rubble.


We Need Nature

Summer reading has begun.  Already one week into summer vacation (thank you, Lord!), I have finished my first book, and it has already set in motion both hopes for the summer and  ideas to tinker with for next school year.  Thanks to our noble Department Chair, as an English Department we are engaging in a summer book club based on a work of our choosing from a selected list.  I chose Last Child in the Woods:  Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv, a book I’ve always wanted to read ever since I shared a conversation about it with Clark, my hall-mate and fellow English colleague a number of years ago.  Finally, the time came to dig in.

While the beginning chapters of this book intrigued and held me more than the later ones, I found myself gripped by the book’s premise: WE NEED NATURE.  It is so apparent that in our fast-paced, plugged-in, overly-scheduled lives, we find little time to remember that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves.  Louv resurrects the freedom, fantasy, privacy, and spirituality found in nature, and lovingly implores that we do something about our reconnection with it – both for us and for our children.

There were numerous ideas, moments, and excerpts that sang to me, and I want to share with you a few of them so that you can in turn read and digest this gem for yourself:

1.  “Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it.”  TV is the most “effective thief of time.”  We have this perceived “time poverty” in our lives, but are we in part doing it to ourselves with our choices?

2.  We need UNSTRUCTURED (imaginative, exploratory) PLAY. What a disconcerting irony that the current epidemic of childhood obesity has coincided with a  dramatic increase in children’s organized (over-scheduled? over-organized?) sports. Hmm…

3.  “Nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees.”

4.  Nature presents us with something so much greater than we are; it offers an environment where we can easily contemplate both infinity and eternity.  No, there’s not “an App for that”; such  thinking requires solitude, quiet, and depth.

5.  Currently, our lives may be more productive (although more productive for what?  What IS success really?), but less inventive.

6.  The narrow idea of “silicon faith” exists – that all things “high tech” are our salvation.  While computers are not the problem, perhaps our over-dependence on them is.

7.  We cannot be owned by fear.  I loved this quote that Louv cited from Karyl T. O’Brien, the associate executive director of the regional Girls Scouts Council in San Diego:  “when I was a kid, you fell down, you got up, so what; you learned to deal with consequences.  I broke this arm twice.”

8.  The word “boredom” did not exist until the 19th century (wow!).  There is a difference between a “constructively bored mind” and a “negatively numbed mind.”

9.  The spiritual necessity of nature involves living life in “radical amazement” — how refreshing!  how invigorating!  how life-giving!  how grace-filled!  how purposeful!

10.  Because school should not be as Louv says, “a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world,” here are some ideas to implement this summer and next school year:

-TV turn-off challenge for school community, purposefully structuring more unstructured time, keeping a “wonder bowl” – filling pockets with natural wonders found on walks, keeping a nature journal, reading outside more, and integrating what we are reading/writing in the classroom with our magnificent campus.

I encourage you to pick up this book, make notes, and remember why nature matters to our lives — to our souls.  I bet a handful of memories and scenes from childhood alone can justify why.

It seems most appropriate that as I conclude Louv’s work, I prepare to abandon the city and travel to the lush unknown of Valparaiso, Indiana with my mama to visit one of my dearest friends from childhood on her parents’ farm. I have no doubt that there, we will turn off everything, reconnect with our old selves, get dirty, and embrace the “loose parts” of unstructured play.  Nature, here we come…

Finding and Making Time

Over the weekend, a wise sage and wonderful friend Anne F. sent an article to our small group written by one of my favorite writers and thinkers (who can also pull off dreadlocks like a champ!) – also by the name of Anne:  Anne Lamott.  I usually try to get my hands on anything this passionate, hysterical, and brilliant woman creates, but somehow this poignant piece Time Lost and Found composed in the April 2010 issue of Sunset eluded me.

Her message is something our distracted, multitasking nation needs to hear daily.  I am also including and speaking to myself here, as I feel like at many points she’s nudging specifically, “A-hem, Carter. Did you catch that?  Why don’t you read me again, honey…and again…and yes, why don’t you just print me out and highlight every word like you tell your students NOT to…”

“I know how addictive busyness and mania are,” she suggests, and boy has she nailed a prideful addiction for me.  WHY?  Why do we thrive on drive?  Why do we allow that to define who we are?  We are a culture that currently celebrates our own sick, manic busyness, when what we really need to do is make time for the simple and dig deep for the creative expression of ourselves – the goldmine on which we already sit.

How do you spend your time?


Listen to the answers that surface and make sure that how you spend your time has purpose…and presence.  As she beautifully states:  “Time is not free — that’s why it’s so precious and worth fighting for.”

At the start of this Holy Week before Easter, Anne F. charged our group to use this article to think more intently about the time we make to spend with God.  What distractions get in the way of this intimacy?  Do those distractions have value?  REAL value? What justifications do we make for our behavior?

I pray that we will resurrect and “fight tooth and nail” to find and make purposeful time — time to use the gifts that God has given us.  Along the way, I pray that we will remember that we are not alone on such driven treadmills (often to nowhere), and we DO have a choice.  Let us take a step off, look around, listen, and truly and deeply live.
For those intrigued by this Anne Lamott character, she just published a new book in March 2012 called Some Assembly Required:  A Journal of My Son’s First Son.

I am chomping at the bit to read it (after The Hunger Games!), but in the meantime I’ll feast on other delicious vittles of wisdom of hers.

“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”
Anne Lamott

A Praying Life

This past week, I have started reading a book called A Praying Life by Paul Miller.

I’m hooked, I’m intrigued, I’m challenged, I’m humbled.  I’m thirsty for more.

In an early chapter entitled “Learning to be Helpless” (ah, freedom there already…), Miller talks of prayer as “bringing your helplessness to Jesus.” He then cites Thomas Merton, a 20th century Trappist monk, who offered:

“Prayer is an expression of who we are…

We are a living incompleteness.

We are a gap, an emptiness that calls for fulfillment.”

With Miller’s help and clearly God’s, I’m finally learning to offer up my emptiness and honestly pray rather than just “say prayers.”

Thank you.


Unexpected Gifts

Of the many gifts this past week and a half has brought, one of them has been the gift of our beloved Comcast going totally digital in my area.  While this 21st century move may cause many to respond, “’bout time,” it left this limited-basic cable consumer channel-less and therefore TV less.  I do admit that I am not a daily TV-watcher, but I have missed the sports, football Sundays, Jeopardy, holiday movie marathons, and the highly-anticipated chance to watch “Ellen” now that we are on Christmas vacation.

However, without the excess noise, temptation, and mindless, mind-numbing distraction, this “loss” has turned into the greatest gain.  In the past week and a half, I have been able to relish silence, candle-lit stillness, my favorite classical Christmas music, meditation, yoga, and reading at any and every spare moment. HUZZAH!  That which I always SAY I want to do every day, I’ve actually made time for and cherished…CHERISHED!

The book I just finished yesterday was Drew Brees’ (does he have a clone?) memoir Coming Back Stronger, which he completed in 2010 after the New Orleans Saints’ first Superbowl victory.  Although my parents gave it to me for my birthday last year, picking it up this year seemed serendipitous and timed perfectly; God knew that I needed the encouragement after a year of  much injury, transition, and the growing pains that come with it.

My boy Drew writes honestly and passionately about the opportunity that springs from adversity, and he speaks to his faith and the importance of trusting in God in all circumstances, as he had to come back multiple times from both knee and shoulder injuries.  What captivated me most was how he beautifully wove his story with the rebirth of the city of New Orleans, my hometown.  While many saw post-Katrina New Orleans as a landfill of hopelessness, Drew and his wife saw it has a seedbed of hope.

Overall, Coming Back Stronger was a fast and gripping read that left me inspired, hopeful, thankful, and yes, hungry for my hometown.  While a potentially odd read for the preparation of Christmas, I’d argue it was perfect.  In the midst of struggle, we are people of hope, and that hope we long for and need is on the horizon; JOY TO THE WORLD!

I wish you all a beautiful Christmas and the most peaceful of holidays.  Perhaps, you, too will be able to enjoy the freedom from cable and all the possibilities it can bring!

p.s. you can find out more about Drew and the charity that he and his wife began called the Brees Dream Foundation here.

p.p.s. If you can find another Drew Brees out there, you’ve found MY dream.  🙂

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