Category Archives: Slice of Life

Dear Christmas

Photography by Folkert Gorter, Superfamous Studios

I’m not feeling merry. Festive has fled, and while there is tinsel winding its hairy way around the lounge room furniture, I’m counting down to the new calendar and year that sparkles and glitters just a few days away.

This year has been a beautiful mess. Difficulties have kept me company and awake more nights than I’d like to consider, and answers to prayers have left me furious. I’ve made some friends this year (a miracle in itself) and I’ve been blindsided by generosity and danced myself giddy at opportunities. It’s been a beautiful mess of a year, no doubt about it.

And if someone else wishes me a merry Christmas I may not be able to stop myself shoving their Santa hat down their shirt.

I don’t want a merry Christmas. I would like a merciful Christmas. I want one for dear ones, first off. For two friends in particular, one who is weathering the first Christmas after the passing of her firstborn son, and one who is gathering the silken, sharp hours of her mother’s last Christmas. I want a merciful Christmas for them both, softly delivered like countless hugs and tears melting in the neck creases of loved ones. I want the mercy of a solid nap for them, of belly laughs and clasped hands, of whispered words lifting the weight of their bones, lightening strikes of joy, peace or even generous forgetfulness, all of it shoved determinedly into an odd little parcel then slipped in their pocket. Continue reading

Gifts of the Bookish Variety

colourful bookshelf

With Christmas fast approaching, we at Segullah thought it would be a great time to recommend some of our favourite book-related finds of 2014 for your viewing, reading and possible buying pleasure, roughly arranged by “recommended for”, and with the recommender’s initials afterwards.

Recommended for:

- Non-fiction readers:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking – by Susan Cain. For those who likes Malcolm Gladwell-type informative essays or who is interested in people-types. – DY

No Man’s Land, essays by Eula Biss. Recommended for more sophisticated literary readers who appreciate interwoven themes. – DY

The Boys in the Boat – by Daniel James Brown is a great read for anyone who likes nonfiction, history, and inspirational true stories. This would be a great book for older teens or young adults. – JC

- For historical fiction types:

I liked All the Light We Cannot See – by Anthony Doerr, for historical fiction types, people who like WWII, people who like interesting structures. I happened to be reading it simultaneously with The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind (by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer) and it made an interesting pairing-a fictional white German boy in the 1940s and a young Malawian boy in the 2000s both using radios-disassembling them, finding scrap parts, etc.-to find their life paths. – MY

The Meaning of Names by Karen Shoemaker was an off-the-beaten-track find, beautifully written about a German American settlement in Nebraska during WW1. – AW

- For kids:

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – by E.L. Konigsburg. Specifically for any curious child in grades 3-6ish, who you’re reasonably sure wouldn’t get any ideas and actually run away. One Segullah staffer recently purchased a couple of copies so she can (someday) share it with her grandchildren. She would also love to share this with the recipient and, maybe someday, hope to take them to the museum herself.

- For older teens/young adults:

I agree with Melissa about All the Light We Cannot See (see “historical fiction types” above); it’s one of those books you can feel pretty comfortable recommending to anyone. My 16 year old son loved it, too. – AW

Red Rising by Pierce Brown is a great read for older teens/YA’s too (see below under “Sci-fi/Fantasy” heading). – KG

- For contemporary fiction readers:

Where’d You Go Bernadette – by Maria Semple. For any of my adult friends who is going through a tough year and who might need a distraction from their sorrows, I would definitely give this, which I read twice this summer. I’m having a difficult time starting something new because I’m reasonably sure I won’t find anything else that amused me so. – DR

One Plus One – by JoJo Moyes is a fun book that’s perfect for anyone who wants to read a romance that’s grounded in real life. This book is sweet and funny and perfect to curl up with on snowy day (there is a bit of adult content in the book). – JC

Love Letters of the Angels of Death – by Jennifer Quist. Both KG and AW have this as a favourite this year, and I recommend it to everyone who does, has ever or hopes to one day love and be loved (reviewed earlier this year here). – AW & KG

- For Sci-fi/Fantasy readers:

This year has been all about The Martian for me, by Andy Weir. It’s about a human astronaut being abandoned on Mars, and his survival. There is swearing throughout (quite a bit at times), a whole lot of science, problem solving and I found it fascinating, hilarious, reviewed it here and it’s my favourite book of 2014. – KG

Red Rising – by Pierce Brown. Blurbed as “a cross between Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies”, this story is about a caste system on Mars, and I lost myself in it and the world building. The second book is due out next year, and I can’t wait. – KG

- For writer-readers:

My favorite book of the year was Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which is basically a memoir told by stringing together essays and articles she wrote as a freelance writer. It works beautifully and is as much about writing as it is about relationships. – SM

All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir – by Emma L. Thayne and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich It’s been around for decades now, but I just got to it this year, and it is the best thing I’ve read this year. It’s a sampler of essays, talks and poems. – SJ

- Bookish present ideas

If you’re after something not books but book-related, check out Out of Print, who do some amazing clothing, bags and associated gear, Book Riot who recommend new wonders every week and of course the Etsy search engine (it’s how I found these stunning literary bracelets!)

Don’t forget you can search for “Book reviews” on Segullah (click here for results) too!

Which books/bookish items do you recommend this year?

A Basin of Pure Water

In October my family traveled to St. George, Utah, to spend a few days in the warmer autumn air. We like to go out to the red sand dunes up a nearby canyon and play, dig, and bury. To get to the best part of the dunes you have to walk through some brambles and prickly plants. If you don’t want red sand to fill your shoes, you have to take them off and walk barefoot. This is a slow process and can be a bit painful. I tried to walk in sandals once, but tiny spiky enemies got between my foot and the sandal and I swore I would never do that again.

Once the long walk is made, the reward is sand as soft as silk. The kids like to play and I like to dig my feet under the hot surface to find the cool, moist sand underneath. I lie back and contemplate my life and that blue, blue sky. The sand follows us back to the car and when we are back at the hotel, we all stand and gather in the bathtub and wash our feet.

In Christ’s time, a basin of water sat at the front of a home so a servant could wash the dust of the road off the travelers’ feet. It was a sign of welcome, respect, and a form of refreshment after a long journey. No doubt the roads that people walked on then were dirty and full of small stones and brambles. Their feet must have been tired and hurting. Christ and his disciples had traveled many roads together. During their last supper, He did an act of tender significance. Before Passover, He gathered His friends together and took off His outer garments. He wrapped a towel around his waist and brought a basin to each one. He knelt in front of them, lifted one foot after another, and washed the dust away. This was the job of a servant and not one for the host. By humbling Himself, Christ showed the example of how to serve. In John 13, He says, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”

As Christ washed the physical road dust from their feet, He washes the spiritual road dust from ours. His atonement cleanses us. How vulnerable would you feel if Christ knelt in front of you? How much love would you feel for Him for this act of service and He for you? Christ says that if “ye know these things,” you will be happy. What “things” is He referring to? Is it more than doing simple acts of service, but literally becoming a servant?

Like my time at the sanddunes, I have had the opportunity to literally wash the feet of some of my life’s fellow travelers. I also have had my own feet washed. I have never experienced such an outpouring of pure love so quickly. I would suggest that you do this for someone, especially your spouse or children. You will feel an immediate bond and a sweet love. I have also had my feet washed symbolically. People that I would consider way above me, in many respects, have served me. It is very humbling. As the Christmas season is upon us, I am looking for more ways to serve. I want to be like my Savior. When I picture Him kneeling down and dipping his hand in the water and touching each foot of His disciples, I imagine Him doing the same for me.

Who symbolically is washing your feet in your life? Who provides a basin of water to refresh you after your life’s journeying? Who will you bring the basin to this December?

Forgiveness Comes From Without

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In one aspect of his life, my ex-husband is incredibly generous: he gives me countless opportunities to practice forgiveness. Time and repetition have not made forgiveness easier. If anything, my anger and disappointment have leaked into other areas of life, instead of immediately charring to blackened curls on the most recent act of stupidity.

Leaked, because instead of having charity, there have been times when I have wanted to go and break my hand punching him, and the lack of his address was the only save/spoiler. Other times, I am so bitterly disappointed in myself at being surprised by his behaviour that eucalyptus and lemon scent the air around me, which then cooks into steam in my fury. Then, sodden with my emotions and burdens, I flash fry everything within arms reach in frustrated realisation – now I have to try and forgive myself as WELL as the idiot I once loved.

Forgiveness hurts. Like when it’s left me cramping in a corner, trying to straighten out my fingers, because countless things I’ve forgiven have had my claw marks on them by the time God gets them. At times, the knowledge of how hard I’d have to work to repent and forgive has been the only barrier stopping me from hating my ex-husband. (That doesn’t mean I haven’t straddled that fence, wondering if I could still deliver a good kick from where I’m fuming). Sometimes, the only reason I can forgive others is because sometimes I see them in my sons.

Forgiveness hurts. It hurts right in your heart, and in the middle of your throat, and at 4pm on a sweaty afternoon when you’re struck mute at the beauty, majesty, stench and brilliance of your first born son, who clears his throat exactly the same way as his father and grandfather, and who has a mole just like his Oma’s above his lip. Forgiveness hurts as it burrows into the dry, desiccated threads of your uncertain soul, only to pour out glorias and exultation as your youngest drums out a crazy solo on the soft belly his paternal family has gifted him with. Forgiveness hurts as the love I have for my boys swamps me like an endless ocean, flooding back up the genetic ladder, until I’m unable to hate the flawed, frozen, fragile people that have had starring roles in creating my cruelest memories and – above all, and ultimately – my sons’ bodies, which house such incredible souls.

Forgiveness hurts. It cracks me open, from my furious logic to my scared, scarred heart, and scatters pieces of me into new, aching alignment. It hurts. The cracks are wide, fathomless, gentle and ferocious. The cracks are where the light gets in, swirls, soaks, soothes and – hopefully, thankfully, eventually – sweeps away to shine on others, even those lost in the dark.

Have you ever found your self at forgiveness, from an unexpected angle? How do you stop yourself being furious, hurt or betrayed at someone?

Not Putting Off the Natural Woman

natural woman pic

I had day surgery recently, and while the procedure itself went well, the post-operative pain medications didn’t work. They didn’t even touch the sides of what I was feeling, except to make everyone sound as if they were talking to me from a sealed spacesuit. It got to the point that I was pacing, panting with the ripping nerves and rolling pain, when the nurse took out my IV line, rang my friend to come collect me, and let me go home “since we can’t do anything else for you here. Make sure they know next time those meds don’t work on you.”

I don’t remember much of the trip home, because the natural woman I share my body with was counting down the minutes until I’d be behind my front door. And I’ll tell you what, that natural woman is LOUD.

But that natural woman also knows what’s she’s on about. For the previous hour she’d been growling “We need to have a shower. A really really HOT shower. We need to go home. To have a shower” constantly. It made no sense to me, but I could feel the gravity of the need crushing my bones, twanging along my gut and legs, her sure confidence soothing my intense, nauseous unhappiness. And as soon as I got in the shower, the mirror already blank, the air fogged, she and I both groaned – deep, guttural and grateful.

This is what I needed. The thought flopped, exhausted, out my ear and floated away down the drain as my eyes closed in weary relief. Sure, the scriptures say to put away the natural woman, but right now I love her beyond words and coherence.

I prayed, curled in on myself, cheek against the shower floor, thankful for my body, albeit rather critical of the particular design flaws involved in my pain, for instant hot water, overwhelmingly and repeatedly muttering thank you for my natural woman.

My natural woman demanded raspberries last week, for self-medication and reward after an emotionally gutting day. She also squealed when I was cleared to start running again, and her eyes roll back in delight when I moisturise. My natural woman tells the holy spirit to stuff it when my answers to prayer are decidedly sideways to what I wanted, screams stress into pillows and sulks before sidling up to God, kicking the ground and muttering “Sorry. I’m sorry. But it still sucks.”

My natural woman loves life, loves me, loves God as a result. She’s like hope – loud, wearing big boots and laughs like a waterfall falling on your head.

Do you listen to your body, to your natural woman? What makes your physical self happy, and does it make YOU happy as a result? Has there been something in your life lately that has made you thankful for having a physical self to wrap your self in?