Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy Beautiful Life, Glennon Doyle Melton

You can hide from the sun, but it won’t take that personally. It’ll never, ever punish you for hiding. You can stay in the dark for years or decades, and when you finally step outside, it’ll be there. It was there the whole time, shining and shining. It’ll still be there, steady and bright as ever, just waiting for you to notice, to come out, to be warmed. All those years, I thought of God and light and the sun as judgmental, but they weren’t. The sunrise was my daily invitation from God to come back to life. (p. 19)

51dss9gpynlI was introduced to Melton’s work via my husband’s cousin, who read this first book of hers while on a year long trip around the world. She read a hundred books while they were traveling,  which covered topics as diverse as immigration policy, social work, international adoption, racism in the prison system – I could go on, but as I’m sure you can imagine, she is a woman with a great heart and a passion for difficult learning.

Many of the books she read sounded interesting, and I marked them to come back to when I have less toddler brain, but this one intrigued me. I followed the link to Melton’s blog and was instantly hooked. Here was a woman with a difficult past who was using her experiences to build a powerful and loving network of women. I’m privileged to know similar beacons in my own life, but it’s always heart opening to meet another.

If I am in the habit of turning my back on others, it is because I haven’t learned that God approaches us in the disguise of other people. If I am confident but not humble, my mind is closed. If my mind is closed, my heart is closed. A closed heart is so sad. It is the end. A heart cannot grow any larger if it decides to let no more God in. There is always room for more. A heart expands exactly as much as her owner allows. (pp. 175-176)

Melton is easy to read. She’s self-deprecating and funny, and it’s obvious she has honed her skills on her blog. She has the conversational style that I enjoy in a memoir, and I found myself eager to come back to her wisdom each evening after putting my son to bed. I was often reading new blog posts in conjunction with this story, which makes for a fascinating blending of real time and the past.

At the moment, she’s getting ready to go on a speaking tour for her new book, which I’m anxious to get my hands on, and I keep hoping her tour will be updated to come to a city near me. I don’t often have much interest in hearing authors speak (let’s just say there’s a reason why most use the written word), but her events have a way of becoming a massive empowerment of self and community love.

I find the idea of such a gathering both intriguing and terrifying. Given that I’m not the sort of person who even likes to hug, the possibility of being surrounded by hundred or thousands of emotionally stirred people strikes me as potentially the worst decision ever, and yet, her words resonate with me. Her ideas make me want to act. Her ability to make a difference, even with all the poor decisions she’s made, is inspiring. She isn’t held back by imperfection. She doesn’t point fingers or demand retribution. She simply tries. She tries to be the kind of person she wants to be, failures and all, and to me, that is the distillation of goodness – not perfection, but struggle and perseverance.

The only meaningful thing we can offer one another is love. Not advice, not questions about our choices, not suggestions for the future, just love. (p. 198)

 

 

 

 

The Accidental Terrorist, Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary, William Shunn

Over the month I took to read this book, I recommended it to twelve people. My husband was the first, and he’d finished it before I got through the third chapter. Two of the people I told were former Mormons themselves, and they not only wanted a copy but also told me they were going to pick it up for a few of their family members and friends back in Utah. The fact that I spread the word far and wide makes an odd kind of sense given this was the memoir of a questioning young man striking out on his mission in the great white north.

accidental-750pxI grew up with several Mormon friends (the Church of Latter Day Saints shared a parking lot with my high school, so we had maybe more than the average number of Mormon students for a small town in New Hampshire). Every single one of them could be described as the nicest person I ever met. Unfailingly friendly, kind, and considerate, I was never prosthelytized to or even subject to any conversation about God while with them.

Looking back, I don’t know whether it’s just that teenagers – even those growing up in a religion that expects generous time to be spent on the topic of conversion – just want to blend, to survive those four years without being labeled or judged, or if it’s that the specific people who would be friends with me were a little less devout. All I knew about them then was that we had fun goofing around in class and at play practices, and that they belonged to a church that required a lot more time than mine did.

It wasn’t until I started reading this book that I had any real concept of the history of the Mormon church. Shunn’s perspective is fascinating because he grew up loving and fearing his religion in equal measure. He had a great respect for those in authority and accepted the lessons he was taught until adulthood. I suspect that some of the information he shares in the book is considered sacred to Mormons, and his writing about it prompted a two-fold reaction in me.

On the one hand, I was incredibly curious about the secret rituals of the church. Ever since I first went to a service with one of my best friends, who’s Greek Orthodox, and was told women were never permitted to go behind a certain screen in the sanctuary, I’ve known I have an obsession for peeking behind the curtain. What could possibly be so sacred? A part of me burns to know, I’m sure in part because my own church is the complete opposite – everything on the table, free to access for anyone regardless of where they might be on their journey with God.

On the other hand, I have a deep respect for all religions, and although I don’t agree with every element of every faith, I do believe people have a right to practice with a sense of safety. People should be able to relax into their faith, to feel secure enough that they can explore a relationship with God, if they so choose. To make naked another faith against the will of its members makes me uncomfortable.

Shunn does an admirable job of balancing this, at least for me. That being said, I’m not a Mormon and have no concept of the history or tenets taught to members, so I recognize that I’m speaking about this as a wholly unaffected outsider. In that position, I found both his personal journey and the extensive history of the church and its founders to be fascinating. He pokes a little fun at the forefathers of the church but is respectful of his contemporaries. Both his story and Joseph Smith’s were absolutely captivating, and I intentionally only allowed myself to read a bit at a time so I could process what I was learning.

I realize it would be in poor taste to make a joke about bringing this book from door to door, but it’s truly been impossible not to want to share it with as many people as I can. If you’re looking for a book to rev up for fall after an indulgent summer, this is it.

You’ll Grow Out of It, Jessi Klein

There are plenty books I recommend across the board. It’s rare that I talk about a book that I know won’t appeal to a family friendly audience, but this one – by a comedienne and writer on the sketch show Inside Amy Schumer – is neither family friendly nor intended for all audiences. It’s hilarious and excellently written, but it’s not for everyone.

186c98c0323fd6c5cf1008b23d0e36edIf you’re not familiar with the television show Inside Amy Schumer, you may well be on the list of readers who will want to skip this book. My husband and I stumbled across it right after our son was born, and in a sleepless haze, we burned through most of the episodes over the course of two months, occasionally succumbing to fits of silent laughter, tears streaming down our faces while the baby slept in our arms.

Recently, we watched an episode with a sketch about a lamaze class, and at this point, we’ve probably played that five minute clip about twenty times. We quote it at the park when we run into intolerable or ridiculous parenting, and we quote it at home when our own kid is running around like a tiny naked savage before bathtime.

My husband was also the one who sent me the recommendation for this book. He hadn’t gotten around to finishing it yet, but what he’d read, he knew I’d like. He was right. I ate it up. My favorite chapter was called “Poodle vs wolf.”

One late night when I was working at SNL, I wandered out of my office for a break and saw that some random TV in the hallway was tuned to an interview with Angelina Jolie (I think it was with Charlie Rose, who was shamelessly hitting on her, as is his wont when he interviews a pretty lady). I wandered over to watch, as did Emily, one of the senior writers there at the time and an all-around hilarious and fabulous lady. We both stared at Angelina in awe.

“Isn’t it amazing,” Emily asked, “that we’re the same species she is? It doesn’t even feel like we are the same species.”

“I know,” I said. I continued the riff: It’s like with dogs. A poodle and a wolf are both technically dogs, but based on appearances, it doesn’t make any conceivable sense that they share a common ancestor. We decided that some women are poodles and some women are wolves. And no matter what a wolf does (puts on makeup, or a thong), it will still be a wolf, and no matter what a poodle does (puts on sweatpants), it will always be a poodle.

[….]

BUT BEING BEAUTIFUL IS NOT WHAT MAKES YOU A POODLE OR A WOLF. There are millions of beautiful wolf women out there. It’s how much of the beauty feels like work, like maintenance. It’s a very French concept, which is probably why we think every actual poodle was born in France and we always imagine them in berets. (loc 581)

I’ve always struggled with the marriage of femininity and being a woman. Being a mother is something that feels very natural to me, as does caring for others – both of which are considered “feminine” characteristics. Putting on makeup or any outfit that doesn’t include questionably clean jeans and a tee shirt? Makes me feel like a horse in heels. And although I consider myself to be a sensible and reasonably intelligent person, there was genuinely a part of me, when I got married, that expected to wake up the next day ready to wear dresses and enjoy cooking (or at the very least become a competent enough meal planner that every day didn’t look like my first in the kitchen…).

I kept waiting for the moment when I would “grow up” – in this case, “grown up” meaning that I looked and acted the way mothers of my childhood looked and acted. Sure, they all worked outside the home, but they also were primary caregivers, doing the housework, the shopping, the laundry, the child care. (For the record, the fathers I knew and know did share some of that load, and most of them now do much more of it – my own father is the ultimate dish/laundry/vacuum king, and has been for years.)

And even though I’ve never specifically thought of myself as someone struggling with gender identity, reading Klein’s lighthearted take on the issue made me realize that my entire life, I’ve had expectations based on observation that have zero to do with reality, or at least my reality. Those expectations have pressed down on me, led me to spend money on products I don’t need or want simply to try to buy my way into becoming a poodle, when really, being a wolf makes me happy. (Honestly, just the thought of those two animals:  wolves are rugged and have a pack. Poodles are intelligent but have always seemed reserved to me – mild mannered even in their athleticism.)

Like Klein, I have a great admiration for “poodle” women. They seem to sit in their skin so easily, as if being a graceful, elegant, well-mannered woman was no chore at all. (In comparison, I’m currently eating handfuls of Cheerios straight from the box while trying to remember the last time I saw my comb…) Reading her book was much like reading Tina Fey’s, in that it felt like a whisper of truth. It’s a truth I didn’t even know I was looking for, and I’m certain that if I had been, I wouldn’t have expected to find it in this book.

Nevertheless, there it was. A hallelujah moment hidden in plain sight, amongst the jokes and the self-deprecation. I love to laugh, so it shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does when I find wisdom in my favorite escape, when women like me – strong but also questioning – hold some of the answers that I’ve been searching for.