Sunday, February 26, 2017

January and February Reading Lists

I read only one book in January!  But, it was 542 pages long.  I had actually started it back in September, but when we traveled to the US in October, there was no way I was adding the weight of that book to my measly luggage weight allowance!  So I left it here and returned to it in December.  I also mentioned that I was sick with the flu in January/February.  The first three or four days, I was so sick I didn't even read.  But then the next two weeks I had no energy, but wanted to do something other than sleep, so that enabled me to do quite a bit of reading in February, finishing off six books.

I usually keep my books on the nightstand by my bed because I ALWAYS read before going to sleep.  In fact, I can't get to sleep unless I've read something.  But I've discovered that if I leave at least one of the books I'm reading (I usually have at least two going at a time) out in the living room, then I'll pick it up more when I'm waiting for something else to happen. 


So, my 542 page book was Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. Eric Metaxas has compiled a very thorough and well-written biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
I know that Bonhoeffer was not a perfect person and I don't doubt that I would disagree with some of his theology. But, according to Metaxas, Bonhoeffer was a man who believed in living your faith. He believed in meditation, in searching out the meaning of Scripture, and then of applying it to your life. For him, this meant going against the laws of Germany in the 1930's and 40's when Adolph Hitler spread the blood of millions across Europe. Bonhoeffer encouraged the "Confessing Church" to have nothing to do with the German Church, which was a made-up church of the Nazis. He recognized that it was wrong to kill Jews and he took a stand to defend them. As his brother-in-law, who was in the German military, revealed the true inside story of what was happening, Bonhoeffer came more and more to believe three things: 1. The true church in Germany could not take part in oaths of allegiance to Hitler or in the activities he promoted; 2. He himself had to be a conscientious objector; and 3. He would join forces with those plotting to kill Hitler and overthrow his government.

Was Bonhoeffer right to be part of a coup and assassination plot? That's something you'll have to read and decide. It certainly wasn't an easy decision for Bonhoeffer and he spent much time agonizing over it. At one point he even took a position in the USA, but was only there for a few weeks before he realized he had to go back to Germany even if it meant death for him.

Whatever you may think about Bonhoeffer, this much is clear: He lived what he believed and encouraged others to do the same. Sometimes living what you believe puts you right in the fray, but so be it. How can you not take up the cause of those who can't speak for themselves?

I highly recommend this book. Please remember that it's written from the author's point of view; an author doing research sixty years after Bonhoeffer was martyred. It is well researched, but there are times when one can only surmise what Bonhoeffer's motivations or thoughts were.

The next book I read is by Myquillan Smith and is entitled The Nesting Place:  It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful.  Myquillyn Smith's main premise is, you don't have to wait until you're living in your dream house to decorate the way you want to. You may live in a rental you hate, but do what you can to make your space beautiful. She gives some good useful decorating tips, but mostly she encourages you to find what you like and then make it happen. She says to stop complaining that it's too expensive to decorate (she buys a lot of stuff at second-hand stores or on sale); save up for expensive items that are important to you such as having a comfortable couch, but don't go into debt for things; and don't be afraid to experiment, especially with paint since you can always repaint. She also encourages using things from one room in another, even things you wouldn't traditional use such as taking a dresser from the bedroom and using it in the living room. This was an easy read, but I got some good ideas and some fresh motivation for some things I can do in spite of the challenges my house throws at me (such as a long, narrow living room with too many doors in it!).  I enjoyed the pictures in the book of her house, but it was through her writing that I could look at the pictures and say that's not really my style.  Her point is to find your style and the purpose for which you want to use the room and then decorate it so that it's a place you enjoy being.

My third book (Suzanne gave me The Nesting Place and this book for Christmas) was Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted by Shannan Martin.
I sometimes got hung up on the writing style, but the message is challenging and a great reminder to not get caught up in what our middle class and upper class culture tells us is good, right, and normal. The book is a challenge to live in ways that may be uncomfortable for us and that shake us up, but that allow us to be used by God where he wants us.

Shannan Martin's writing style is not my favorite. Often I wasn't really sure what she was getting at. For example, she is talking about how we need to be like the woman at the well, drop our water jars, and run to tell people about Jesus. She writes, "Once that jar hit the dirt, the gates swung open and the razor wire lost its sharp edges." Ummmm, is this called mixing metaphors? What does she mean? In another place she is thanking her blog readers and she writes, "On one of my hardest days, you baked loaf after loaf of warm, virtual banana bread and I've never felt more sustained by imaginary food." What does she even mean?

But then the book is full of challenges and quotable lines and so I love the book after all. Warning, if you are living the American dream and don't want to have your toes stepped on, you might not want to read this book! Mrs. Martin steps ever so gently, but believe me, you will be challenged to move from your comfortable life.

Subjects she covers are adoption, choosing to have less, letting God un-plan and re-plan your well-planned life, being willing to live simply and smaller, being involved in community life, showing hospitality, letting God be the one to protect your kids, involving yourself in a local church where people can come with their lives in a mess, and giving generously.

As I said, Mrs. Martin's writing style may not have been my favorite, but here are some quotes I LOVED. "We elevate our families above God's divine plan to heal humanity through his glory, but we are fooling ourselves when we believe we can rubber-stamp a guarantee of protection and provision across their lives, prioritizing their perceived safety above our call to go swiftly to hard places." "Without even catching my mistake, I had idealized 'church' into a temple created to fit perfectly around the shape of my precious soul. I was fine. I was great. I wasn't looking to be changed by the communion of its fellowship. I clearly wasn't searching for Jesus." "Quite bluntly, we have lost our way. Rather than being reclaimed by the alliance of our poverty, we've learned to endure a false community of the proud polite. We've sworn membership to our feel-good Sunday club where the real troublemakers are outside our walls, and we're honestly a bit suspicious when one straggles in. We maintain the illusion of 'family' despite not even truly knowing one another. But hey, that's what boundaries are for -- separation of church and life and all that jazz."

Can I encourage you to pick up this book and allow it to challenge your thinking?

Next up was In Search of Africa by Manthia Diawara.  This book was a tough read for me. The author is a university professor and the book reads very much like a text book. It is extremely intellectual and philosophical. There were parts I enjoyed such as the author describing interactions with friends and strangers in Guinea, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, and Liberia; his struggles to understand where he fits as an African immigrant to the US; and some of his insights into African and African-American life. He has several sections where he ruminates very philosophically on books he's read. Some of it was interesting, but honestly, a lot of it was just way over my head! Here is a sample sentence: "The frequent reference to change in conversionist discourse echoes the modernist impulse toward constant renewal." Yeah, I'm not sure what that even means.

His final chapter entitled "Homeboy Cosmopolitan" includes some really useful insights in understanding today's American black culture, though the book was written in the late 1990's, so I'd like to see an updated version of this chapter written by the author.

If you are a student of African history, of sociology, or of African-American culture, you may enjoy this book. Just be aware that it is VERY intellectual!

I've been studying the book of I Corinthians by reading through it 20 times, outlining chapters, writing down the theme of each chapter, etc. But there are a lot of complicated things going on in I Corinthians and I felt that I needed some good explanations that would be both expository and understandable, but not watered down. I was not disappointed in N.T. Wright's book entitled Paul for Everyone: I Corinthians as he has a great way of writing that doesn't water down theology, yet is understandable for normal people. I will be using more of N.T. Wright's books as Bible study commentaries.  As a companion to this book, I worked through N.T. Wright's Bible study called I Corinthians (13 Studies for Individuals and Groups).  

My final book is called Jesus and the Disinherited, written by Howard Thurman. I picked this book up for free of a book table when we visited Daniel and Kelly's church.  I wasn't sure what the book was about or who Howard Thurman was (turns out he greatly influenced Martin Luther King Jr's thinking), but I thought I'd give it a try.  After all, the book had been free!  By the second page I realized I was going to need to grab a pencil to do some serious underlining.  The first thing I underlined was, "[This] reveals to what extent a religion that was born of a people acquainted with persecution and suffering has become the cornerstone of a civilization and of nations whose very position in modern life has too often been secured by a ruthless use of power applied to weak and defenseless peoples."

Howard Thurman wrote the book in 1949, but he could have written it today.  Other than the fact that segregation is no longer legal and Jim Crow laws have been abolished, not much has changed.  How sad is it that almost 70 years later there is still active discrimination and a ruthless use of power applied to weak and defenseless peoples.  Thurman gives us some great insights into how oppressed people default to fear, deception, and hate.  It shows how the privileged have created unfair situations, sometimes due to fear and hate, but often just because they can and usually for economic gain.  Thurman shows how the disinherited need to understand the importance of leaving behind fear, hate, and deception, all things that will eventually destroy the individual.

Best of all, Thurman offers hope in living with Jesus as our example of love (but if you're expecting a call to salvation, you won't find that here) . Jesus was certainly the poorest of the poor living in a Jewish society dominated by the Pharisees and their endless laws and ruled over by the cruel Romans. Yet Jesus said to "love your enemy". I think we know that Jesus was perfect, but then we forget that he struggled with temptation as part of his human nature. He must have been tempted more than once to hate the Pharisees and the Romans. Jesus' love was not wimpy, all roses and hearts. True love takes fortitude and strength of character to carry out, and Thurman leaves us with the hope that love can change our society.

Personally, I think every American should read this book, or at least every one who says they follow Jesus.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Practice Hospitality

My mother-in-law, Jean, is an amazing person with many gifts.  One of the first things I noticed about her when I was but a young bride, was her gift of hospitality.  It was nothing for her to invite a large group of people over, make each one feel welcome, cook a big meal, and seemingly do it without stressing herself out.  I don't know if hospitality just came naturally to her or if she learned it.  In this picture you can see Jean throwing a party for a class she taught in Nigeria.  

I believe that for me it has been a learned skill.  My parents were hospitable and it wasn't unusual for us to have guests over (though usually not as many at a time as my mother-in-law would do!).  But when I started living on my own, I had to learn hospitality.  The first time I invited somebody over for a meal, the lid got stuck on the pot of vegetables, I put too much salt or soda or something in the muffins, and I forgot to serve milk and sugar with the hot drinks.  I've gotten much better at it, and I almost find it natural now.  Which is a good thing because the job I currently have involves inviting a lot of people home for meals or providing a meal for them at the Guest House. But I've had to learn how to do it.

I feel that it is a biblical command to be hospitable.  Romans 12:13 says, "Share with Gd's people who are in need.  Practice hospitality." I Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8, and I Timothy 4:10 state that elders and widows should be people who practice hospitality (which I assume to mean that everybody in the church should also be doing so).   And I Peter 4:9 states, "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling."  It's a command, which means I need to do it, but I don't think that everything in the Bible that we're told to do comes naturally to us (such as turning the other cheek, loving others, rejoicing always, and praying without ceasing!).  But if God tells us to do it, He'll equip us to do it, and He will give us joy in the obedience.  I can assure you that often when we've offered hospitality, we are the ones who have been blessed.  I have a picture hanging above my stove to remind me that when I'm weary and providing yet another meal to a weary new arrival, I am the one who will be blessed.  It says, "A generous man will prosper.  He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.  Proverbs 11:25"  

Here are some things I've learned about hospitality over the years that you might find helpful if you're still figuring out the hospitality thing.

I'm an introvert.  I enjoy talking to people, but often find it difficult to keep a conversation moving, especially if the other person is also introverted.  But John is an extrovert, so we make a great team as I never have to worry about what we should talk about.  If you're an introvert and you're not married or your spouse is also an introvert, invite somebody else you know well who is a good conversationalist to help you keep the conversation going.

Your table doesn't have to be perfect.  The only thing about my silverware that matches is that they are all silver (well, they look like silver).  When John and I got married, we combined two sets of silverware.  I don't know where it's all gone, but I've had to buy extra forks and spoons.  So it's quite an eclectic blend of silverware, but I doubt if anybody ever notices.  I don't think our glasses match our plates, but they hold water, so what does it matter.

Keep your table setting simple.  If you like to do fancy things with your table, that's great, please do it!  But tonight, for example, I used place-mats and that was it.  If you don't have time to wash a tablecloth, don't use one.  If you don't have time to wash dishes, get paper plates.  Don't let not being able to be fancy stop you from being hospitable.

Feed your guests whatever you were going to feed your family, only make more of it.  You don't have to put on the Ritz and buy t-bone steak every time you have company.  This is especially important if you're on a low income and counting pennies.

Share the work load. If you are having friends over, make it a potluck.  That way you don't have to do all the work.  Likewise, if people offer, "Can I bring something?", let them! Most of the people we have over are new to the country, so this suggestion doesn't work in those kind of situations. 

Prepare as much as possible ahead of time.  My mother-in-law, Jean, does this so well and I'm guessing it plays a big part in keeping the evening stress-free.  Use your crock-pot or bake something in the oven so that you don't have to put everything together at the last minute.  Think of simple to fix meals like rice and a sauce, spaghetti, or a roast.  Set the table before you go to work (or have the kids do it!).

Be creative with your hospitality.  It doesn't always have to be an evening meal. If you don't feel up to making a meal, just invite people over for dessert and a cup of tea or coffee.  One family I know invites people for breakfast and everybody loves their yummy crepes (which sounds like a lot of work to me!). Lunch meals can just be sandwiches, no cooking involved. Don't hesitate to buy take-out, or here in Niger to buy street food or order from one of the ladies who sells food.

Don't worry about your house!  Don't worry if it's not perfectly decorated or even if it's not perfectly clean.  As they say, just make sure "it's clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy."  Yes, you do have to have enough cleared-off surfaces for your guests to sit, but who cares if the laundry basket is still in the corner of the dining room?  Yes, a quick clean-up of the bathroom would probably be helpful, but you don't have to scrub down the tiles, just wipe out the sink and do a quick clean of the toilet.

Try to think of the needs of your guest.  Have they just come from a long trip and are exhausted?  Are they new to town and don't know anybody?  Are they your close friends?  Are they somebody you just met who is going through a hard time?  Are they your Bible study group?  Who your guests are will determine how you plan your evening.  For example, if they are new arrivals who just ended up a 24-hour long trip, give them permission to feel free to go straight to bed after eating.  If they are your good friends, you'll probably plan a fun evening of playing games after eating.

Similarly, think of their dietary needs.  Are their religious beliefs different from yours and do their beliefs restrict their diets in anyway (for example, no pork or alcohol)? Do they have dietary restrictions, such as lactose intolerance, a gluten free diet, or vegetarian?  As much as possible, try to provide them with food that enables them to enjoy the meal.  

It's up to you what you do with the question, "Is there anything I can do to help you?"  If you are the queen or king of your kitchen and don't like people in your way, you can always say, "Not really, but you can sit here and talk with me."  But probably the best thing to do is to give them a task ...after all, they did offer!

Try to clean up as you prepare the meal (I'm actually terrible at this.  My kitchen looks like something exploded in it by the time I'm done cooking a meal) so that you don't have to spend a lot of time away from your guests doing dishes and clean-up.  If they offer to help, let them.

Please believe you can do this!  I'll be the first to tell you that it's not always easy.  But it is always worth it. 


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

ABCs of Travel

If you wondered if I'd dropped off the face of the earth, yes, I did sort of.  I caught a respiratory flu and that laid me flat.  I was in bed with fever for a week.  I was so sick I didn't even read a book or watch a video the first three days.  For me to lie in bed and never pick up a book is unheard of.  After the fever went it took me another week to regain my strength.  I went to the office a couple of hours the second half of that second week, but I really felt like something the cat had drug in.  Thankfully I'm back in the land of the living and feeling much better.

I thought I'd copy a blog post idea from Suzanne such traveling is such a normal part of my life.  Feel free to copy the idea!

A: Age you went on your first international trip: Well, I was born in Nigeria and my first trip to the United States was when I was maybe 18 months old?  I really don't remember the trip, but I knew we flew in a plane.  That was probably the first time my parents had crossed the Atlantic by plane.  Previous trips had all been on board ship.  So my brother has crossed the Atlantic by ship, but neither my sister nor I ever got to do that.  And it looks like our trip started by leaving Jos on SIMAIR.  Notice that my mom is wearing a corsage and it looks like I am, too!

B: Best foreign beer you’ve had and where:  I don't drink beer and find the smell to be one of the most repulsive I can think of.  But, did you know that Niger manufactures their own brand of beer?  Flag beer.

C: Cuisine [favorite]:  In 2007 we went to Thailand for a conference.  Our hotel had huge buffets every night.  One table was usually western style food and the other table was Thai food.  I chose the Thai food almost every night because:  1.) when in another country you should try the local cuisine and 2.) it looked delicious.  Wow, I was not disappointed, and Thai food is now my favorite. They also had yummy fresh fruit in Thailand.


D: Destinations: Favorite  Hmmm, I don't know.  This is hard to say.  I guess probably England.  There is just so much to see and do there.  I love exploring the history of the country and it's also just a really beautiful place.  Though Switzerland was right up there, too. 


Least Favorite  I can't think of anywhere I've traveled that I really hated.  I guess Quebec was not my favorite just because it was sooooooo cold there.  And I was trying to learn French which wasn't my favorite thing to do.  And we had to use public transportation, which is incredibly difficult for grocery shopping and doing laundry.  But it wasn't a horrible experience, either.  I can't find any pictures of our Quebec days on my computer.  But believe me, there was a LOT of snow.

E: Experience that made you say wow:  I think the first time I saw the Grand Canyon (OK, it's the only time I saw it!), "Wow!" was definitely heard coming from my mouth.  It's the kind of place that you take a bunch of pictures because it's so awe-inspiring, but they're all so pointless because the beauty just can't be replicated by a camera.  

F: Favorite mode of transportation:  I'm torn on this one.  I like flying because it's quick, but I really, really hate being crammed into an airplane with 200 other people.  I think I like car best because it's private and you get to decide where to go and when.   You get to see a lot and really experience what a place looks like when driving.  That is, if you're not sleeping or got your nose stuck in a book, which is usually what I do when I'm not driving. 

G: Greatest Feeling While Traveling:  I think for me it's the sense of excitement that comes from doing something you've never done before and going somewhere you've never been before.  Or maybe you've taken that trip numerous times, but there's excitement about seeing your loved ones or a familiar place again at the end of the trip.

H: Hottest place you’ve ever traveled to:  Ha ha, yeah, I live in it.  Niger.  Hands down.  Nothing else even comes close.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced:  This is hard since I've never had a luxury trip.  Honestly, the most incredible service I've experienced is in the homes of people who support us and who baby us while we're with them.  What an incredible gift people have given us who have put flowers in our bedroom, fixed delicious meals, taken us shopping, or treated us to a special outing.

J: Journey that took the longest:  Traveling from Niger to Thailand was an incredibly long trip.  We flew from Niamey to Morocco; from Morocco to Dubai; and from Dubai to Bangkok.  But the most annoyingly long journey was out of New York heading back to Niger.  To make a VERY LONG story short, we sat IN THE AIRPLANE ON THE RUNWAY for six hours before we ever took off.  Which meant two days in Paris that weren't expected.  So, that was definitely the longest trip.

K: Keepsake from your travels:  I'm not much of a collector of souvenirs.  But I do have an elephant collection, so I try to get an elephant wherever I go.  I have a Delft elephant from Holland and some special wood elephants from Thailand and Kenya.

L: Let-down sight, where & why:  John and I went to the Louvre in Paris.  It's a pretty cool museum, but when we got to the Mona Lisa I just couldn't help thinking, "Why?  What's the hype?"  Traveling with this little guy (who is no longer little!), was pretty fun, though.  Although traveling through France and Switzerland with a toddler was a challenge as most restaurants don't have high chairs, hotels don't have cribs, etc.  And we didn't own a stroller.  So it was interesting.

M: Moment when you fell in love with travel:  I dunno.  When you've been traveling since you were less than two years old, who can name a time of falling in love with travel?  I do know I loved taking road trips during school holidays to visit cousins.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed at:  When traveling from Kano, Nigeria to NY on KLM, we used to get a free overnight in Amsterdam at the airline's expense.  I stayed in a really nice hotel there ... no idea what it was called, though!  The hotel grounds in Thailand where we stayed were really nice.  The hotel itself was pretty nice, but all of the swimming pools and being on the beach was what made it nice, not the rooms themselves.  Looking out our window, you can see three pools and the beach.

O: Obsession- what do you take photos of while traveling:  I try to take pictures of where we stay, what we did, scenes along the way.  I almost never take pictures of the food we eat no matter how amazing it was.

P: Passport stamps- how many & from where:  Really?  I have no idea.  I've filled up so many passports.  My current passport is new and only has a few stamps in it, though!

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where:  I'm coming up with nothing.  There's this restaurant in Denver called Casa Bonita.  It's a fun place to eat, but I think it could also definitely classify as quirky.  

R: Really frightening- a place where you felt unsafe or uneasy:  John and I once took a wrong turn on the outskirts of Chicago.  We got our out-of-state licensed car and ourselves out of there as fast as we could.

S: Splurge- something you have no problem spending on while traveling:  Well, we're usually on a pretty tight budget, so splurge isn't a word we use much!  But I'd say shelling out the fee to visit a sight we really want to see.  If we both agree that it's worth it, we'll pay that fee.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done:  We rode the double decker tour bus around Oxford and acted like tourists. Now John just blends in there and knows the city like a native.


U: Unforgettable Travel Memory:  Maybe that time I took a taxi to a hotel with a man I'd never met.  I know, I know .... how stupid was that.  Girls, traveling alone .... never, ever get in a taxi with a man you don't know!!!!  Thankfully it turned out well and as we planned and agreed on, we just shared the price of the taxi from the airport to the hotel.

V: Visas- how many and for where:  Kind of like stamps in my passport... I don't know, but over the years too many to count.  The most important visa is my permanent visa, or resident's permit, to live in Niger.  That's a separate book and is not in my passport.

W: Wine- Best taste of wine while traveling and where?  John and I are pretty much tea-totallers.  Our hosts in Oxford have a glass of wine every Saturday night, but we ended up not being there on a Saturday night when I was visiting.  So, nope, don't have anything for this one.

X: eXcellent view:  It's really hard to beat Colorado for an excellent view! My niece was staying with some people in Colorado and my parents, my sister, and I got to stop and spend the night with her.  We got up early to see the sunrise on the Sangro Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains.  They turn red as the sun comes up.  I'd love to have this view out my window!


Y: Years Spent Traveling:  Like I said before, my first trip was before I was two.  I'm not telling you how old I am now, but it's been a lot of years and a lot of trips.  Countries I've traveled to include:

Burkina Faso
The Gambia
and with airport layovers in

and with airport layovers in


United States (almost all 48 continental states)

Z: Zealous sports fans and where:
I might travel to Cleveland to watch my nephew, Seth DeValve, play a Browns game.  But honestly, other than that, I'd never plan a trip around sports.  But Daniel and Kelly took us to a Nationals baseball game that was a lot of fun.

Now it's your turn.  Tell us about some of your travels!