list making

reading: spiritual rhythm
listening: novus
cooking: jamie oliver’s roast potatoes (we will never go back).

making: flash cards
following: instagram accounts about Ireland
playing: legos

dreaming: about getting back to lamu
eating: lots of udon noodles
wishing: for a zuri dress

waiting: for the printer to finish
hoping: for a work breakthrough
giving: to this

planning: my exam prep
pondering: hebrews 11
praying: for rain. so many people need this water.

learning: to rest
singing: badly
practicing: french grammar

wearing: my bamboo tights
drinking: g&t
writing: a little list

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Jan + Feb 2017 book report

Here’s what I’ve been reading recently:

The Secret River

(fictionalised historical account – first time read – recommended for anyone interested in learning more about the darker side of Australian history)

The Barefoot Investor

(non-fiction – first time read – recommended for Australian friends looking for some basic money advice)

The Girl with Seven Names

(non-fiction – first time read – an intriguing account of one girl’s escape from North Korea)

Better than Before

(non-fiction – reread – recommended for those wanting to reboot their 2017 resolutions and make habits that suit their personality)

The Total Money Makeover

(non-fiction – reread – the American equivalent of The Barefoot Investor, I was interested to reread this to see how similar it is to TBI… very similar!)

The Triple Package

(non-fiction – reread – one of the more interesting books I read last year)

All the Single Ladies

(non-fiction – first time read – one of the NYT’s recommended books from 2016 – it felt a little repetitive at times but still recommended!)

The Broken Way

(non-fiction – first time read – Ann is amazing and this is not a book for breezing through – if you’re only reading one book from Ann, I think I would still recommend ‘One Thousand Gifts’ first)

The Year of Living Danishly

(non-fiction – first time read – easy breezy enjoyable read, would make a good vacation book)

Present Over Perfect

(non-fiction – reread – recommended! The first time I read it I enjoyed it, but this time I soaked up every single word – very timely for me)

The Sound of Gravel

(non-fiction – first time read – intense and confronting, but recommended for anyone interested in Mormon fundamentalism (if anyone shares my same weird obsession!))

These Happy Golden Year

(fiction – reread some 20 years after I first read it – I’m just one book away from finishing the Little House series and I don’t want it to end!)

The Rest of God

(non-fiction – first time read – HIGHLY recommended for both the content (powerful, applicable) and the style, it was such a pleasure to read!)

 

 

On Sabbath

 

I recently read ‘The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath’ by Mark Buchanan. I underlined so many passages in my Kindle, then copied out some of the most thought-provoking in my journal and now I’m typing a few up again here on the blog. Third times a charm, or something – certainly I need to remember these words over and over again as I seek some more Sabbath in my  week.

So here they are – all words by Mark Buchanan:

“In a culture where busyness is a fetish and stillness is laziness, rest is sloth. But without rest, we miss the rest of God: the rest he invites us to enter more fully so that we might know him more deeply. ‘Be still and know that I am God’. Some knowing is never pursued, only received. And for that you need to be still.”

“Sabbath imparts the rest of God – actual physical, mental, spiritual rest, but also the rest of God – the things of God’s nature and presence we miss in our busyness.”

“The root idea of Sabbath is simple as rain falling, basic as breathing. It’s that all living things – and many unliving things too – thrive only by an ample measure of stillness.”

“Sabbath-keeping requires two orientatons. One is Godward. The other is timeward. To keep Sabbath well – as both a day and an attitude – we have to think clearly about God and freshly about time. We likely, at some level, need to change our minds about both. Unless we trust God’s sovereignty, we won’t dare risk Sabbath. And unless we receive time as abundance and gift, not ration and burden, we’ll never develop a capacity to savour Sabbath.”

“Exodus grounds Sabbath in creation. Deuteronomy grounds it in liberation. Exodus remembers Eden, Deuteronomy Egypt. In Exodus, Sabbath-keeping is about imitating divine example and receiving divine blessing. In Deuteronomy, it is about taking hold of divine deliverance and observing divine command.

Exodus looks up. Deuteronomy looks back. Exodus gives theological rationale for rest, and Deuteronomy historical justification for it. One evokes God’s character, the other his redemption. One calls us to holy mimicry – be like God; the other to holy defiance – never be slaves again. One reminds us that we are God’s children, the work of his hands, the other that we are no one’s chattel; not Pharaoh’s, not Nebuchadnezzar’s, not Xerxes’, not Beelzebub’s.

One is invitation. The other is warning.”

“Slaves don’t rest. Slaves can’t rest. Slaves, by definition, have no freedom to rest. Rest, it turns out, is a condition of liberty.”

“Get this straight: The rest of God – the rest God gladly gives so that we might discover that part of God we’re missing – is not reward for finishing. It’s not a bonus for work well done. It’s sheer gift. It’s a stop-work order in the midst of work that’s never complete, never polished. Sabbath is not the break we’re allotted at the tail end of completing all our tasks and chores, the fulfilment of our obligations. It’s the rest we take smack-dab in the middle of them, without apology, without guilt, and for no better reason than God told us we could.”

On refugees

I recently wrote a piece on refugees for a group of Christian women who are part of an online devotional group. The usual author had asked if I might like to pen something given the current global discussions on refugees, and while it took me a bit to get my thoughts together, once I did they just came tumbling out.

I want to share a (slightly edited) version here because this is one of the big global issues of our time and because writing a blog post is one tiny little advocacy action I can take to support those who have often lost everything as they’ve been forced to flee their homes.

So here it is…


For those of you who don’t know me personally, the plight of the refugee is one of my “big causes”.

I’ve volunteered with refugees overseas, I’ve worked with refugees in Australia and these days I work for a refugee organisation in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s an office job that involves too much time behind a computer, but it’s an amazing opportunity for me to serve a people group I care about a lot.

I’ve been mulling and praying and reflecting about what to write here – there are a hundred things swirling around my mind.

I believe the heart of God is wholly for the refugee, and considering who I am writing to, chances are many of you believe something similar. Either way, for a fantastic read on what the Bible says, let me send you to a piece by my friend Sarah Starrenburg: https://medium.com/@sarahstarrenburg/strangers-in-a-strange-land-refugees-and-the-bible-6f23eff59bd7#.9cyk4ay1y

I could pull out some numbers – that today there are 65.3 million forcibly displaced people, the highest number of people forced to flee their homes since the Second World War. I could get political and unpack the latest policy decisions in the United States – a country where, actually, I neither live nor vote. I could get technical on refugee law and explain how resettlement is an option for just the tiniest minority – and how many refugees just want peace and safety and the ability to go back to the country they call home.

Instead, let me tell you a story…

It’s a week night sometime in 2008 and I’m sitting in a dimly-lit dining room sharing a meal with a Sudanese man and his family. As we twist spaghetti around our forks, this man tells me a harrowing story of escaping extreme persecution in Sudan. Of walking on foot for days. Of capture and torture. Of being thrown into a hole like a corpse and being left to die.

At one point he lifts his shirt to show us scars across his back where he was beaten. I lose my appetite.

Our discussion is not taking place in Sudan, or in Kenya where this family eventually escaped to, or in Egypt where they spent years waiting to be processed. We’re sharing a meal together in a small suburban home in Brisbane, Australia.

About twelve months earlier, a friend and I signed up to a local community program and were matched with a newly arrived refugee family. Our task? To spend an hour a week with the family to introduce them to Australian culture, help with English studies and supervise homework.

My favourite evening was one night when we discussed the emergency services in Australia. For many refugees, their experience in their home country has taught them that men in official uniform are not to be trusted, so it’s a topic that the program stressed we should cover.

We asked the children if they knew what 000 meant (the Australian equivalent of 911), if they’d ever called it in an emergency. “Oh yes!” they exclaimed enthusiastically, recounting a long and convoluted story about an intruder in the home. After a few animated minutes and lots of questions from our side, we discovered the intruder our little African-Australians so feared was actually a possum that had climbed through the back window. The friendly Aussie policeman was more than happy to help them get it out.

Much of the discussion around refugees in the media, in politics, perhaps even around the family dinner table, is shaped by a narrative of fear. Despite the fact the US resettlement programme already involves an incredibly stringent vetting process that can take years, recent decisions in the US stir up that fear. Discussions in Australia over ‘illegal boat people’ plays up that fear.

Fear of those who look different to us, who sound different to us, who believe different to us.

Fear of the ‘Other’.

Here’s what I know. It’s hard to fear the ‘Other’ when you share a meal with them. When you colour in a Disney Princess colouring book with their daughter, and play soccer with their son. When you meet their brand new baby girl just days out of the hospital.

When you see Jesus in them.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

– Matthew 25:35-36

The plight of the refugee may not be your “big cause” – the one that deserves the majority of your time, your energy, your career or finances. My hope is that you’re aware of what your “big cause” is (or causes!) and you are using your God-given gifts in those areas, that your Christian faith is more than knowledge and good ideas, but overflowing into love-in-action.

But the refugee doesn’t need to be your ‘big cause’ to deserve your welcome, your advocacy, your prayers and petitions. Your voice, your heart, your spare $20 – they are all needed in times like these.

Think global, act local’ is not in Scripture, but ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ is. In today’s hyper-connected, globalised world, my prayer is that we as the Church would be known for loving our neighbour across the road and loving our neighbour across the ocean, and taking every opportunity to invite in the stranger and turn them into our neighbour, too.


If you want to do something tangible to love ‘the stranger’, here are three options you may consider. There are many, many wonderful people and organisations serving refugees in various locations around the world, but these are three specific causes close to my heart:

  1. Donate to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre‘s Emergency Appeal, to help provide legal support to asylum seekers in Australia who have waited for years to be able to apply for asylum, and now have to fill in a complex legal form in English in a very short timeframe.
  2. Donate to the South Sudan emergency, the third-largest refugee crisis after Syria and Afghanistan, to raise much-needed funding for over 1.5 million South Sudanese refugees who have fled the country in the last three years. Thousands of people are still crossing the borders every day, and the situation inside South Sudan is getting worse, with famine recently declared in parts of the country.
  3. For readers in Brisbane, join VoRTCS/St Vinnies and give an hour a week to support a refugee family with English skills, homework support and the knowledge of how to deal with a possum intruder 😉

 

December book report and 2016 reading wrap up

Here’s my final book report for the year: what I read in December and my favourite reads across the whole year…

December reads

The Mothers: A Novel

Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It

Little Town on the Prairie

80,000 Hours: Find a Fulfilling Career that Does Good

Dept. of Speculation

The Little Paris Bookshop

2016 Favourite Reads

Good bye 2016, hello 2017! Amidst the ups and downs of the year that’s been, a major personal highlight was all the reading I managed to squeeze into 2016. I love to read and have always read a lot, but this year I made an extra effort to always have a book on the go and, instead of automatically turning to social media, to use the quiet moments amidst a busy day to read a few pages.

I think I did most of my reading during my daily commute, and another good chunk while travelling. My dream pre-bed ritual involves half an hour or more of leisurely reading, though that actually happened very rarely this year (why is it so hard to get oneself to bed at a reasonable hour?).

The stand out book for me in 2016 was ‘When Breath Becomes Air‘ by Paul Kalanithi, a young neurosurgeon who wrote the memoir as he battled stage 4 lung cancer. I’m not sure how to describe it, except to say that it was powerfully moving and beautifully written, unforgettable in many ways. I sobbed through the final chapter, written by his wife Lucy, and will certainly reread it again in 2017.

My other top non-fiction reads (in no particular order):

Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife by Ruth Tucker: A powerful and shocking story about domestic violence – in the author’s marriage, but also in the wider church. 

The Triple Package: What Really Determines Success by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld: A fascinating read on the three common traits among America’s most successful minority groups: a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control.

Smarter, Better, Faster: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg: Hugely practical and an absolute pleasure to read – which, let’s admit, cannot be said of all social sciency / self help type books!

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller: My favourite Christian read in 2016, and most likely the best book I’ve read on prayer.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson: An epic exploration of a fascinating time in American history, told through the eyes of three different people. Wilkerson’s level of research and detail in this book is amazing.

I also read a number of stand-out fiction books this year, again in no particular order:

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes: A rare venture for me into sci-fi territory, but what a great read! Incredibly thought-provoking on how we, as a society, treat those who are different.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd: Another insightful (and at times, horrifying!) peek into American history, this novel is a fictionalised account of two young girls: a young white girl and her young black slave.

We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler: I thought the premise of this novel was very clever. Don’t google it, just read the book!

The Laura Ingalls Wilder ‘Little House’ series by Laura Ingalls Wilder: There is something incredibly soothing about these classic books, even rereading them now as an adult. My hot tip – dig out some of your childhood favourites in 2017.

If you’re after further holiday reading ideas, you can find the rest of my 2016 reading list here. Now, what should I read in 2017?

October + November book report

Since I’m waaay behind on both months, I decided to combine them for the joint book report. Here’s everything I read in October and November:

Little House in the Big Woods

Farmer Boy

Little House on the Prairie

On the Banks of Plum Creek

By the Shores of Silver Lake

The Long Winter

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

The Happiness Project (reread)

Commonwealth

The Warmth of Other Suns

The Gifts of Imperfection

Rising Strong

I did lots of good reading in October and November and could write a lot about each book listed!

Perhaps the overall highlight was discovering that the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were FINALLY available as e-books, after religiously checking online every few months since I very first got my Kindle back in 2012. I first read the Little House Series when I was in Grade 2, a whole 20 years ago, and I have to say that rereading a beloved childhood favourite is truly delightful way to unwind and relax after a stressful day at work. I’m through the first six, with three left to complete.

I also jumped on Brene Brown train for the first time with Rising Strong and The Gifts of Imperfection, and picked up So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed after not one, but two Averill girls recommended it to me.

In October I also discovered the By the Book feature in the New York Times, a discovery which has added countless books to my ‘must read’ list. It was on recommendation from one of the featured authors that I picked up both The Warmth of Other Suns and Commonwealth.

The Warmth of Other Suns is up near the top of my favourite non-fiction reads in 2016, a fascinating, well-researched and engaging story of the mass migration of African Americans from the South to the North during the 1930s onwards.

Commonwealth was equally impressive and would be high on my favourite fiction list!

Previous book reports here.