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Imperfectly Practicing Compassion

Last year I read the book “Slow” by Brooke McAlary. I was hesitant to pick up the book just because it seems so “trendy” right now to talk about slow living and minimalism and cutting out the clutter. And I haven’t been in the mood for trendy.

But this book was a pleasant surprise, and I’m so glad I finished it. Throughout it, the author poses a number of questions for the reader to answer. Since I’m not really feeling my muse today, I thought I’d take a stab at one of those questions: What is important to me?

There are so many things that are important to me. First on that list is my family and living and loving every single second with them. It is important to me that they know how much they are loved — and how much Mr. B and I love each other.

On top of that, though, I want them to know that even though we love each other, it doesn’t mean we always agree or we always get along. It is important to me that they know that “Love” means loving each other because of our differences, not despite them. I want them to appreciate, embrace and love differences and not just tolerate them.

(That word. “Tolerate.” It’s always been a thorn in my side. But that’s a post for another day.)

What’s more, especially these days, it is so important to me to teach my kids kindness — to themselves and to others. It’s hard because so much of what our kids learn is not in what we tell them but in what we show them. They learn from our examples, so I need to teach them kindness and generosity and openness by being (more) kind, (more) generous and (more) open.

And, quite frankly, some days that’s hard. The world can be an ugly place. And that ugliness has a way of creeping into every crack and crevice of a person. I mean, I like to think of myself as a compassionate, loving, generous person. But some days the routine of just getting through life takes over and I forget that the world is less ugly when I’m more kind.

Practice Compassion Graphic

That’s why I chose “compassion” as my word for the year. (Here I go, being all trendy with a “word of the year” when I just got done telling you I’m not in the mood for trendy. I’m nothing if not consistent. 樂 ) 

Anyway … I wanted a daily reminder to be kinder to the person in the mirror and the rest of the people inhabiting my little corner of the world. It’s worked to have that peeking out at me when I look at my computer screen or look at the word written at the top of my monthly goal tending list (thank you PowerSheets).

It certainly hasn’t been a cure-all, though. I still catch myself thinking unkind things about myself and not being as loving toward others as I know I need to be. I can do better and I plan to keep working at it. I’m still a work in progress in making sure my actions are speaking as loudly as my words and the motivational quotes I’m so drawn to.

I guess, in summary, it is important to me that my kids know that love always remains — that they loved for exactly who they are, exactly as they are. I also want them to know that a little bit of compassion goes a long way.

By watching me, I hope they also learn that we’re all imperfect and we all can do better. And do better we should.

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Finding my ‘Fringe Hours’

I don’t really “do” resolutions. But, with a new year ahead of us — yes, I realize we’re almost a full month in — it is a good time to look back and look ahead. In looking back over the past few years, I sometimes don’t know how I made it out. In ways, I’m surprised I survived. There have been a lot of times I could have just closed my door, crawled under the covers and waved the white flag — honestly, I can’t say that anyone would have blamed me.

But if I had done that, I would have missed out on some of the most beautiful days of my life. Days when the love of friends, family and strangers warmed up the coldest parts of my heart. Days when the sun glistened just so on the snow, reminding me of the life that lives even when everything around it appears dead. Days when a little girl looked up at me with wide eyes and said “Mama, up!” and leaned her head in for a kiss — “mmmmmwah!”

 

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Even in living — and loving — those moments, I sometimes find myself living on the periphery, struggling to be present. To appreciate today without looking to tomorrow and what may be. To set aside the things that are stressing me out in the moment to sit on the floor and read a book (for the 100th, 1,000th, millionth time) with Dottie Lou. To sit quietly with Mr. B and enjoy the stillness of our house when Dottie actually (!) goes down for a nap.

It was with this in mind that I joined an online study/support/inspiration group of like-minded Christian women, seeking to live a more intentional life — to “grow what matters.”

Each month we’ll be reading a book and discussing it in an online/Facebook forum. Our first book is “The Fringe Hours” by Jessica Turner. It talks about how to make time in your schedule for yourself — to make sure your cup (your spirit) is full as you help to fill the cups of those around you.

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Boy do I struggle with this. I tend to fill all of my down time: I say “yes” more often than I should and I take on projects because I can, not because I should. I also turn down “fun” nights out with friends out of the fear (guilt?) of leaving Dottie and Mr. B alone after we’ve been apart all day long.

Mind you, this is no one’s fault but my own. Mr. B is very generous with his time and offers to make sure that I get some “me” time, even if it’s just a half hour for me to take a bubble bath. And we have plenty of offers from babysitters. My inability to set aside time for me is a problem I’ve created for myself.

 

In reading “The Fringe Hours” (during my fringe hours) I’m finding myself taking out my highlighter and pen to make notes to myself — sure am glad I opted for the hard copy rather than my Kindle on this one.

In one section, the book asks us to list the roles we have in our life: mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, volunteer, publisher.

It then goes on to list the things that excite us, that make our hearts race: being Dottie’s mom, being Mr. B’s wife, writing things people enjoy reading, helping people thrive, learning new things.

The point is not to say the roles/jobs listed in the first question don’t matter. Because they do. Rather, it is to make sure we’re also filling our lives with more of the things that make our hearts race.

So, that’s my goal for myself — not just for the new year, but for … forever: to fill my life with more things that truly excite me, to focus on those things in my life that make my heart race and to better use my “yes” and “no.” I want to spend more time being present with Dottie and Mr. B. I need to do more writing and become a better servant. I am challenging myself to take time for the things that fill my cup — I want to live a life that fulfills me. And I want to show Dottie, by my example, that she can have that, too.

If you haven’t thought about it yet, I’d encourage you to make a couple lists of your own. What are the roles you have? What are the things that make your heart race?

Brene

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‘Something Borrowed’

On the recommendation of a few friends, I finally picked up Emily Giffin’s “Something Borrowed.” I was in the mood for something light that didn’t require too much thought. This book was that book. Typical of most “chick lit,” it had all the things most books in this genre include: girlfriends, boyfriends, adultery, alcohol, high-paying jobs, big-city thrills with some beach time thrown in for good measure.

something borrowedThe story is basically a tale of three relationships: Darcy & Rachel, Rachel & Dex, Dex & Darcy. Of course, there are the side characters who come in throughout the story to add various levels of distraction — for both the characters and the reader. Here’s the gist: Rachel and Darcy are lifelong best friends; Rachel meets Dex in college and introduces him to Darcy; Darcy and Dex start dating, eventually getting engaged; Rachel realized she loved Dex all along; Dex realized he loved Rachel all along; Dex and Rachel have an affair; Dex (eventually) calls off the wedding; Darcy announces her pregnancy with another man’s baby. Drama unfolds. Friendships fall apart. Up and down. Up and down.

The story was nothing groundbreaking. It was written in an easy-to-read and entertaining way. I breezed through it pretty quickly and enjoyed getting to know the characters. It kept my interest and fulfilled what I was looking for in a book: quick, easy-to-read and light. However, I am left feeling annoyed with the story, the author and all of the characters. I am also left not wanting to recommend this book.

It’s not because it was poorly written. It’s not because it was bad. It’s simply because the whole book is basically a long, drawn-out validation for being unfaithful. It’s disgusting. These people are all educated adults, but they think nothing of two people entering into a relationship that is built on cheating. And they all come up with excuse upon excuse for why Dex and Rachel’s relationship is OK. In fact, even more than OK — it’s destiny.

I firmly believe that people change, relationships change and, sometimes, happily-ever-after isn’t meant for two people as they once thought it was. But that is no reason for cheating. Adults have the responsibility to own up to their feelings and their actions and act like the grown-ups they are. Don’t take the easy way out — get out of one relationship before you start another one. “I loved him before she did” does not give Rachel the right to lie and cheat and destroy her friend. “Darcy’s is such a selfish witch” is not a reason for Dex to hop from her bed to Rachel’s. “She did it, too” does not make months of cheating acceptable.

I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. I don’t accept it. I don’t want to read about it.

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‘The Alchemist’

Apparently, “The Alchemist” was originally published in 1988. How did I not know this book existed before recently?

The Alchemist cover

This book follows Santiago, a young shepherd on his quest to achieve his personal legend — his destiny. He gives up everything to achieve this goal — his herd of sheep, his money, his initial plan for his life. And he puts every strength, every hope into following the path the world has set for him.

“Here I am, between my flock and my treasure, the boy thought. He had to choose between something he had become accustomed to and something he wanted to have.”

His journey leads him through the desert to Egypt, where his treasure lies, apparently, in the pyramids. On his way, he meets a Gypsy, a king and an alchemist who all, in their own ways, encourage, educate and advise him on his quest. He also meets the love of his life, whose mere existence tempts him into giving up his quest and settling for less than what the world intends him to have, less than his deepest desires. A daily occurrence in the lives of lovers everywhere, in my opinion. But he realizes that his love will wait for him, just as he will come back to her. For their love is a wonderful thing, a meaningful thing. But it is not the only wonderful, meaningful thing in the world. It is simply part of the world.

“… people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”

Santiago encounters forces in the world seemingly working to keep him from achieving his personal legend — thieves, storms, wars. But he fights them, and he wins. Because that is what the world intended. When you are strong enough to give up what you have for the dream of what could be, the world will help you achieve it.

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

I truly enjoyed this book. So many things Santiago experienced spoke to me and the challenges I’ve been experiencing lately. And, as you can tell, I love picking up quotes from books. My pen was kept busy while reading this book, as there were so many quotes that jumped off the pages, begging to be remembered. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, enjoyable read that has some meaning behind it. Paulo Coelho has many other books that I’ll be adding to my “to read” list.

Let me leave you with one last quote from the book that I think sums it up pretty nicely:

“We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s our life or our possessions and property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written on the same hand.”

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‘The Marriage Bureau for Rich People’

After finishing the Josephine B. trilogy and “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced,” I was needing something light, quick and easy. Well, you can see that it’s been a while since I’ve posted a book review. This book definitely relied on its eye-catching cover, intriguing title and romantic premise to draw people in. I’ll admit, I was suckered into actually buying it. I mean, it’s hot pink and orange, for crying out loud!

book cover

It was definitely light — but not quick and easy. I could not get into it, but I was determined not to quit it. It was written to attract as many readers as possible and was certainly written for a different type of reader than I am. I was unable to relate to any of the characters, and I found myself bored with the storyline. Interestingly, I had the most difficult time relating to any of the women in the book — even moreso than the men. For me, it’s usually the opposite.

The story takes the reader to India where Mr. Ali, a retired man, decides to open a marriage bureau, helping well-to-do Indian families of all castes and religions arrange marriages for their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. The concept was interesting to me. As someone who holds an anthropology degree, I am fascinated by different cultures and their practices. That’s what I was hoping to get in this book. But I didn’t. This was not so much a cultural study through literature as it was a poor attempt to provide the reader with a super basic, and somewhat confusing, look at the caste system in India.

In addition to learning about Mr. Ali, the reader is introduced to his assistant, Aruna, and her family. The story follows her troubles as she struggles to find a proper match for her own marriage — while helping customers at the bureau. Due to circumstances out of her control, her family does not have enough money for a proper wedding, much less a proper dowry. So she remains unmarried. With no hope. Until that fateful day when a new client comes into the bureau with his family, seeking to find a suitable bride. Not an appropriate match for Aruna due to monetary and situational concerns, this client is put on “the list” for potential brides.

Long story short (don’t read further if you don’t want the story spoiled), Aruna and the client fall in love, overcome obstacles so they can get married and live happily ever after.

Quite cliché, quite predictable and, honestly, quite forced.

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‘I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced’

Considering that I just started reading this last night before I fell asleep and finished it this morning in bed before church, it was a good — and quick — read. “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced” is the true story of young Nujood Ali. She worked with Delphine Minoui to tell the story in her voice, her words. It is written as simply as one would expect, coming from a 10-year-old.

Nujood Book Cover

Nujood lives in Yemen with her family: Her parents, siblings and her father’s second wife and their kids. She is 10. Or, at least, that’s what she’s told, as she has no birth certificate or officially recorded birth record. Her mother says she could be 8, 9 or 10, depending on where she starts counting. After a devastating situation forced the family to uproot and move from their village in the middle of the night, the family struggles for money.

In a desperate attempt to bring money to the family and get rid of an “extra mouth to feed,” Nujood’s father negotiates Nujood’s marriage to a man three times her age. The men of the two families work out a fair bride price and sign the marriage contract, thus forcing Nujood to become a wife. He was asked to promise, however, not to touch Nujood until after she reaches puberty. This promise is immediately broken. The husband repeatedly forces Nujood to perform her “marital duties” night after night, relying on beatings with a stick to make it happen — repeatedly drawing blood and leaving bruises behind.  Nujood finds no sympathy from her husband’s family.

Nujood is obviously lost. Why was this happening to her? Why would her father, essentially, sell her into sexual slavery? What did all of this mean? At just 10 years old, she’s too young to even know what’s happening to her for the most part — as is evidenced by her choice of words as she describes the ordeal.

My life was taking a new turn in this world of grown-ups, where dreams no longer had a place, faces became masks and no one seemed to care about me. ~Nujood Ali

Nujood knows she must escape. But how? She’s just a girl in a world run by men. Everything is pushing against her — even grown women have no voices here. How could she possibly seek, and receive, a divorce? She devises a plan and is able to escape to a courthouse, where she encounters two supportive, friendly male judges who are appalled at Nujood’s story. They help her find a safe place to stay, as the last thing she can do is return to her father’s home, as she has “destroyed his honor.” They also find her an attorney who fights vigorously to save her. Through it all, Nujood is brave and strong on the outside — continually telling her horrific story and standing up for herself. But, on the inside? On the inside, she is a scared 10-year-old girl.

A part of me feels incredibly strong, but I have no control over the rest of me, which would give anything, right at this moment, to be a tiny mouse. Arms crossed, I try to hold on. ~Nujood Ali

Eventually, Nujood is granted her divorce and is able to return home, her family basically choosing to ignore that the marriage (rape) ever happened so they could move on from it. Nujood returns to school and the life of a normal girl — a normal girl on the world’s stage. She was even named one of Glamour magazine’s women of the year, alongside Hillary Clinton, Nicole Kidman and Condoleezza Rice. Her ordeal slowly brought about change in Yemen and other parts of the Middle East — slowly.

She remains, however, a girl forever changed.

“Compared to dreams, reality can be truly cruel. But it can also come up with beautiful surprises.” ~Nujood Ali

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‘The Last Great Dance on Earth’

Oh, Josephine, where will I be without you? I have so enjoyed this trilogy. All three books were well written — I honestly felt as if I were part of the story. But “The Last Great Dance on Earth” was my favorite of the three.

In which I read the book

I was entranced in from the second Napoleon woke Josephine from her sleep with, “Josephine … come see the moon.” This first line of the book really showcases the deep love these two shared. It’s a love that several wars, infertility and infidelity couldn’t even break. Heck, it was a love that even divorce couldn’t extinguish.

This book takes us through the years of Napoleon’s rise (and fall) as leader of France — and conqueror of much of Europe. It takes us through the coronation of the couple as Emperor and Empress of France, a role Josephine despises. She longs for the simpler days, the days of solitude. She longs for the early days of her marriage to Napoleon without the pressures and rules of being the highest ruler in the land.

Josephine’s diary entries reveal her deep pain and devastation as Bonaparte takes on lover after lover — a fact she is forced to embrace in order to save her marriage, her love. She even comes to view the allowance of this infidelity as her gift to Bonaparte, as she is unable to produce an heir for him.

We also read about her joys as her children grow up and get married, bringing Napoleon and herself grandchildren. And we continue to learn about her frustrations as the Bonaparte clan takes every effort possible to break apart her marriage to Napoleon — even as far as potentially impregnating a young girl so it would appear Napoleon had a child. He did end up having a child with one of his mistresses — just not as his family had arranged.

As war continues to ravage the country, we watch as Napoleon and Josephine are forced to consider divorce as a means to reunite the country and ensure Napoleon is able to remarry and produce an heir. Josephine’s heartbreaking account of this situation left me in tears on more than one occasion. I could feel her heart breaking. What’s more, I could feel Napoleon’s heart breaking. And if there’s one thing that gets me every time, it’s the mere reference of a man crying.

If I had to pick one word to sum up this book, it would be “sacrifice.” Essentially everyone in this book had to make a sacrifice of some sort for the cause at hand — some sacrifices bigger than others, some more devastating. It made me wonder if I’d be able to make those kinds of grand sacrifices for the greater good. Love is an interesting thing — and sometimes letting someone go is the biggest act of love there is.

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