2018 into 2019: A Year of Review in Books!

2018 Book List
Books and Novels included:
“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi
“The Painted Drum” by Louise Erdrich
“Exit West” by Moshin Hamid
“The Song Poet” by Kao Kalia Yang
“Pure” by Linda Kay Klein
“The Future Home of the Living God” by Louise Erdrich

Wow! It is already mid-April, almost one third of the way through the new year. I wanted to take a moment to reflect and review some of the incredible novels and books I’ve read this past year. A group of friends and I started a monthly book club in the beginning of 2018. It’s been a great way to motivate me to keep reading and been so awesome to be able to process afterwards with some good company. The majority of the books listed below I read alongside my group of friends, but a few I read on my own. Take a look at my brief snapshot reviews of them:

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

I never read a book before quite like “Homegoing”. This author recounts stories of two half-sisters across a span of 7 generations and chronicles each ancestor’s life and how the smallest of circumstances changed the course of their realities. At times this book can be pretty graphic, so I found it incredibly helpful to read in small sittings usually just one chapter at a time. From recounting the details of being sold into slavery and surviving the Middle Passage to life on the plantations and Jim Crow up to present day she tells the stories of her two main characters’ families in a way that is so compelling, heart-breaking and unflinchingly honest in its portrayal of black life. The amount of research the author must have done in order to write from the perspective of people over 300 years ago in Sub-Saharan and West Africa to present day was simply astounding. Definitely a worth-while read.

“The Painted Drum” by Louise Erdrich

This is one of my favorites by Louise Erdrich. I read it back in 2017 for the first time and have reread it two times since. The story begins in present day New England when the main character comes upon a painted drum while appraising an estate and decides to keep it for herself. While tracing the journey of a Native family’s sacred drum and the powerful role it plays, she interweaves the stories of multiple related characters spanning generations of family while exploring themes of love, loss and redemption. As I said earlier, this is one of my favorites by Erdrich.

“Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid

This novel was such an interesting read for me. It jumps back and forth between multiple stories across the globe and by doing so is able to take a kind of birds-eye view on the effects of nationalism, war and violence. As one of my friends put it, “(this book is) an analysis of the psychological effects of migration.” I won’t give too much away, but this author chooses the metaphor of a sovereign nation’s border to be presented as a literal door or gateway entrance one can walk through. The main characters are constantly moving through these doors in between countries so it allows the reader to focus on the emotional experience as well as the power dynamics of those being forced to leave, and of those guarding their entries. What I enjoyed about this book was that Hamid ends it in an unexpected way, but still leaves you incredibly satisfied and hopeful.

“Pure” by Linda Kay Klein

Linda Kay Klein dives deep in this book into the world of purity culture and examines the damaging effects evangelical Christianity and American culture at large has had in shaping young woman’s self-esteem and sexual identity. Kay Klein conducts dozens of interviews that are shared in this book from people of all walks of life who have been impacted by purity culture or evangelical churches’ messaging about sex and sexuality. She shares research on the public policy during the mid to late ’90’s that drove the funding for more conservative messaging around sex education and demystifies the notion that it should be considered healthy or normal. What I love about this book is that you don’t have to come from an evangelical Christian–or even Christian– background to relate to what she writes about. For Kay Klein it’s clear this topic is personal; at the end she shares how her expression of her faith has changed and evolved through her research. A very interesting read for anyone interested in the evangelical church’s influence on young woman coming of age in the mid to late 90’s and its impact today.

“The Song Poet” by Kao Kalia Yang

Kao Kalia Yang is a force to be reckoned with. It was just announced this past week that the story of “The Song Poet” is being made into an opera at the Minnesota Opera . If you have read Yang’s other nonfiction work, “The Late Homecomer”, then this may not come as a surprise to you. Her lyrical and poetic style of writing is par none. This book is written from the point of view of her father, from when he was a young boy before the Vietnam war and traces his journey through his songs he shares as a young father with his children (one of them being the author). Yang’s work is emotionally compelling; she writes from perspective of her father and interweaves the songs he sang throughout his life, chronicling the hopes and challenges of coming of age as a young man learning how to tell his own story, his family’s, and that of the Hmong people. A must read.

“The Future Home of the Living God” by Louise Erdrich

I wrote a blog post last winter about this one, so I won’t go into the details. Check out my prior post for my thoughts on this one!B

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For such a time as this

I meant to post this a week ago, as we were heading into a week of contentious midterm elections, but I believe this message is just as relevant as it was a week earlier:

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”

-Mother Teresa

Words are powerful. I have been doing some reflecting this past month on the words in songs that have really carried me this past year and decided I wanted to share a few of my favorites. All of the artists I have chosen have come out with work within the past 2 years that has really spoken to the narrative of where we are at right now as a country and what seems to be on our national consciousness at this moment.  In the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings and in the aftermath of the Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting, it is easy to feel defeated, or at the very least lost and searching for answers. Searching it turns out can be a good place to be when you have others alongside of you seeking out the light in the darkness together. Here we are searching for answers, comforting each other in the face of trauma, reaching across our religious and political differences to stand up against hatred and bigotry, and re-learning what it means to be a part of a democracy where we constantly need to be reminded that “we all belong”–even if some decide otherwise.

Below I am sharing a few songs that speak to the powerful messages of love, acceptance and solidarity.  One of the artists that has been on my playlist, Chastity Brown, has a truly incredible story behind her latest song, “Mad Love”. Click here to read the full story behind it.

Here’s a few of those powerful songs that have been on my playlist recently:

Lovers & Fighters by Eileen and the In-Betweens

Mad Love by Chastity Brown

Shame, Shame, Shame by Lake Street Dive

 

Take good care, friends!

Book Review: Future Home of the Living God

Louise Erdrich pic 2

I recently read “Future Home of the Living God” by Louise Erdrich with a group of friends who formed a book club.

**Spoiler Alerts! Only read if you are finished reading this book, or don’t mind 😛

After putting this novel down my first thought was “WTF!?” I had been rooting for Cedar, the protagonist in this novel, so hard. It seemed like the book ended with her being totally defeated and crushed by the repressive regime that claims to be “Christian” was an unnecessary ending. I felt betrayed by the author and this book for about an hour after reading. Seriously, I was pissed.

However, when I took a step back and didn’t focus in on every single detail or emotionally grueling turn Erdrich took us on, I was able to see the beauty and purpose behind her novel. By drawing us so closely in with the protagonist Cedar, the father of her child Phil, as well as her adopted and Native family, she allows us to glimpse into a world and feel, as close as we possibly could, the weight of reality in a repressive regime designed to control life from beginning to end. We begin to see how corrupted power, specifically of the very source that brings us life, can have varying and peculiar effects on everyone–both those in control and those being repressed.

The brilliance of this novel is perhaps not that it provides answers to pressing global issues we are facing in our world today, but that it poses so many questions: Does climate change, or any social change for that matter, truly mean the end of the world (i.e. “apocalypse”), or can a new way of life be embraced and found in the chaos? Does the government have a right to control new life, or do those decisions belong to women alone? Finally, what role does religion, specifically Christianity, play in all of this?

It is women who bear, hold and bring new life. They bring to life the soul of the world. This is what makes it so overwhelmingly ironic that somehow, we fear this part of our very existence as humans; we try relentlessly to control the very source that birthed us to life.  No force, not even the end of the world, can take away the fierce strength and love of a mother for her child. Despite the most insurmountable of odds, Cedar gives birth, survives and still maintains hope for a day filled with wonder and magic of a new life for herself and those whom she loves, especially her beloved son.

Everyone has a person that suffers greatly for their sake. This imagery of a God of the suffering, one who is with the most persecuted, powerless or despised struck me throughout this novel. Cedar’s adopted mother, Phil, Eddy, her biological grandmother and her Native family all have sacrificed something great for her.  As Cedar writes to her subscribers of the Catholic magazine she is the Editor of in her last issue of Zeal“Someone in this world will always be suffering on your behalf.  If it comes your time to suffer, just remember. Someone suffered for you. That is what taking on a cloak of human flesh is all about, the willingness to hurt for another human being”.

There is no way to escape suffering. And, there comes a time for all of us to suffer unthinkably for those we love.

Newness can feel like chaos. And, as humans, chaos usually freaks most of us out a whole lot.  But life is chaos, whether it be our inability to control super storms like Hurricane Harvey and the change in our climates that refuses to be ignored, life on this planet is a roller-coaster ride. What may be “apocalyptic” for some is not the end of the world for others.

Take Eddy and his entire character, for example. Near the end of the novel when it seems the entire (white-controlled) society is falling apart and grasping desperately to maintain control, Eddy and those on the reservation are teeming with excitement about the new possibilities that are being presented to their people because the old order of things is dying. Eddy and his people, the Ojibwe, are able to reclaim some of the land that was taken away from them, land that grandmothers had not gotten close to since their childhood and veterans fought for but couldn’t benefit from. Even disorder of the most extreme kind can bring new life.

Lastly, we learn in this novel how futile it is to try to control or contain life. Even the most intensely devised political actions to control in the name of “Christ” and under the guise of “righteous order” could not tame women from bringing new life. As I read this, I realized that women are everything to the future of our world:  we determine the physical, spiritual and political health of our planet. The future home of the living god is desolate, detained, depressed and persecuted, yet undeniably (and maybe outrageously so) hopeful. Life will not be denied new life. The woman’s song of new life continues on no matter how repressed or silenced it becomes.

It’s all in how we will right now and in the future react to these drastic social and climate changes, changes that may feel apocalyptic but may in fact be bringing new ways, uncharted territories of life, that define us.  Will we try to control, repress, and manipulate these life-bearers to our will? Or, will we, like Cedar bear witness to the beauty, and watch in the darkness with curiosity, tenderness and patience to see how the world around us grows and changes and fills with even more resilience, character and wondrous beauty. It is this beauty, the uncontainable and awe-filled power of Mother Nature, and of life-bearers, aka women 😊, that will ultimately save humanity and lead it towards a surprisingly, peaceful and even better world than we ever thought possible. ❤

In honor of Women’s History Month enjoy this music video from Ana Tijoux called Antipatriarca .

If you’ve never heard of Ana Tijoux before, she is a force of nature Chilean rap/hip-hop artist who has defied many stereotypes to speak her mind through her music.

My favorite verses of this song translated in English remind us:

I decide in my time how I want and what I want
Independent I was born, independent I decided
I don’t walk behind you, I walk alongside you
You won’t humiliate me, you won’t yell at me
You won’t put me down, you won’t hit me
You won’t denigrate me, you won’t force me
You won’t silence me, you won’t shut me up
….Beautiful women, you give life

 

My Journey

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Author’s Note: While I have been inspired by the powerful and courageous stories from the #MeToo movement to share my own experience with trauma, I am not a survivor of sexual assualt, and do not pretend to be. I have chosen not to share the details of a traumatic event in my life because I want to stay focused on raising awareness about trauma and mental health issues and not so much on the traumatic incident itself. If you or a loved one are going through a traumatic life experience or battling mental illness, I encourage you to seek out professional help and take a peek at some resources I have found helpful in my own journey below. Peace, Sarah

—————————————————————————————————————————————–I’ve been trying to rewrite my story so many different times now, but tonight I am finally sitting down and doing it.

For the past 5 years I have battled with anxiety and post-traumatic stress due to a traumatic event in my life. For so long I didn’t realize the health issues I was facing were linked to trauma. I couldn’t even acknowledge the fact that what I had experienced was indeed traumatic, much less speak about my experience.

Generally speaking, I think most people think of PTSD survivors as veterans, which is true but doesn’t get the whole picture. This article on the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) explains it well.

According to the Sidran Institute, about 8 percent of all adults, or 1 in 13 people in this country, will develop PTSD during their lifetime. Women are twice as more likely to develop it than men.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had great support around me to heal. My family and friends mean the world to me and even when they haven’t fully understood what I’m facing, they truly have stood by me and listened. EMDR, a therapy treatment using eye movement and creative reprocessing, has helped me immensely. It was recognized in 2016 by the VA as a successful form of treatment for post-traumatic stress which I was thrilled to learn. I wouldn’t be myself again without the incredible therapists who have walked with me every step of the way.

I wanted others to know and understand a bit more of what it’s like when you are living with mental illness. So, I submitted a short entry to an organization called “Make it OK” that is doing great work to reduce the stigmatization surrounding mental health. Click here on My Story.

People who have experienced psychological trauma do not always develop a mental illness, but they do have a greater likelihood of developing one. There are direct links to communities that have higher levels of povery and violence and those that experience PTSD. Historical and psychological trauma are real. As Clincial psychologist Inger E. Burnett, an assistant professor at Northwestern University, writes:

“Trauma is more than a buzzword – the symptoms are real and have a profound impact on human lives. Until we recognize the fully realize the cyclical effects of neighborhood disorder, violence and its after effects, the open wounds in our communities cannot fully heal.”

For my fellow survivors:

We are the aftermath, the broken pieces, the wounded left behind to fight on our own. We have lived through car accidents, sexual assualt, abuse. We are people who have seen their families torn apart from mental illness, incarceration, divorce. The list goes on.

Trauma lives in the bones of our nation.

I think of the trauma mothers, spouses and 3 year old daughters in cars who have to endure in seeing their loved ones, their role models, or fathers have life taken away for no other reason than “driving while being black”; I think of all the women coming forward saying “enough”, speaking their stories in spite of reliving the pain of their dignity being violated; I think of all of the migrants here in this country newly-arrived and those who have called this country home long before settlers arrived fighting to make a better life for themselves and their families while trying to fend off the nightmares of the past and the fear of our police state taking all of that away from them.

Some people wonder who those are who battle with mental illness. Some call us “psychos” or “crazies”. Most people just don’t have any idea what it’s like to be battling mental illness.

Everyone and anyone who faces mental illness day in and day out and continues to live the best they can, to put one foot in front of the other and keep going, is truly incredible. I think we all would be a lot better off if we tried to learn from those who are facing mental illness and walk beside them instead of making jokes about their everyday battles.

They are heroes and sheroes. They are warriors. And, I hope we can start seeing them as the incredible people they are.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–Online Resources: 

NAMI National Alliance on Mental Illness

Make It Okay Campaign

Books:

The Chemistry of Joy  by Dr. Henry Emmons

Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

It Didn’t Start With You:  How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We are and How to End the Cycle  by Mark Wolynn

 

 

 

The power of hope

First signs of spring 2016

There is a lot of solace to be found in the simple act of writing. This Holy week I have been reflecting on the power of Hope. Each of us, whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jew or atheist, can understand the incredible capacity of people who despite all adversities maintain a spirit of hope, confident that a better way is possible. Even amidst the constant threats of violence, injustice and death, Hope remains alive.

I see it everyday.

I see it in the determined faces of the adult refugees I work with; I see it in the enduring friendships I’ve had that have carried me through tough times; I see it the trees and flowers wanting to make everything come back to life. Hope is palpable.

So, I ask you, my readers, where do you see hope in your everyday life?

As a daughter, I find hope in my mother’s relentless kindness, courage and sense of fun she exudes amidst the challenges she faces.

As a friend and partner, I find hope in the late night ice cream runs, road trips and the defiant phone calls )instead of texts) detemined to prove hearing your friend’s voice, both the laughter and pain filled moments, are always better than emojis.

As a woman, I find hope in friendships with older women, the mentors, in my life who never cease to amaze me with their well-lived but not weary, “let’s get down to work” spirit.

As a Christian, I find hope in the resurrection Christ brings.

Hope is in all of this.

Wherever you are on your life journey or spiritual path:  May this season of hope bring you a greater awareness of the new life that is found in the here and now.

Yearning to Breathe Free: A Poem

This is a poem I wrote back in 2013 that was originally published on this website. However, I felt it is just as timely now as ever.

Yearning to Breathe Free

Not like the formidable frontera that seems to travel in an endless expanse

Marked only by its trails of decay, misery and death

There stands a new, yet strangely familiar figure

Her hands are weathered from holding the torch that beckoned so many to her safe harbors

Yet her feet are firm; she has stood the test of time

Deliverance has made its home at her gates, welcoming strangers with her warm gaze and arms stretched out as if in a warm embrace

Huddled masses relentlessly pounding upon her breast, seeking a place of comfort and rest

But, through the night of standing watch

She was disarmed

With alarming fright

By people supposed to protect her

Land-dwellers. People from the left and the right,

One did not need to look far to the shore to see the abundance of florescent light,

Blindly pressing onward with their backs to the past

Like the Israelites of old forgetting stories of deliverance from the hand of an oppressor

The flame upon her torch slowly became a flicker, and then an ember until it was no more

Her gift of guidance had been cast aside in pursuit of a greater treasure, those who once cried mercy only called out for the “American Dream,” letting their new life be built upon the sweat, blood, and strife of those seeking deliverance of their own

This stolen light was a beacon of hope in a stormy night to the huddled masses that arrived at her feet pleading for freedom, for safety, for rest at the feet of the Virgin, more than just a statue, but a Mother Divine

This Mother of Exiles pleaded for a match, anything, with which to light the charred embers that served to remind the huddled masses what had been before the night… and why she must not give up the fight

From the land cries filled the night sky,

“We do not have enough to share with all of you, so go back to where you came from!”

Perplexed and distraught but never dismayed,

The huddled masses gathered the hand-carved crosses, religious figurines and old story cloths they kept as faint reminders of where they once came as a humble offering to reignite the untamed fires of freedom

Some of those on the shore already jumped away, into the vast abyss between the Lady and the land to return, as if on a pilgrimage to where their forefathers and mothers began

A sacred moment; A holy communion, some might say of meek and powerful reclaiming the stories of old, of the sweat, blood and pain that it took them to reach

A holy communion marked by the strength and sacrifice of a Mother who wouldn’t turn away those who came with hopes and dreams in their scarred hands

The fire is ablaze. The flame has been rekindled.

This light cannot be contained.

Its light spreads to even the farthest corners where traveling familias pray to the Virgen as they cross the Rio Grande, where children sit waiting for a sign of blue sky as visions of life beyond the bars of the refugee camp flash before their eyes, where parents weep asking why they left it all behind to find they were still at the bottom of the heap, where undocumented youth are told they must “get to the back of the line” where no line remains when they committed no crime but must daily endure the shame of being called “illegal,” without a name

Erupting into the night sky, the Mother Divine cries once more like she did at her birth with silent lips, “These tired, weary masses have come to breathe free, leaving their life behind to be crucified with only a vision of what might be. Woe to you who have shown little mercy, little hospitality, and little hope to your own. Your hearts they grew bitter and fear did replace that child-like wonder when you first saw my face. Now you have lived here two, three or four generations long, but I beseech you, I plead you, I beg you, do not forget where you came from

Remember that those weary hands were once your grandfather’s who struggled to provide a humble home laying bricks that would become the foundation for towers so high no one could imagine they could reach up to the sky

Remember that those tired feet were once your mother’s as she stood all night and day enduring the terrifying shrieks of the monstrous machines in a room suppressing her own hopes and dreams, just so her children could finally learn how to breathe, becoming the CEOs of a company she once worked, locked in a tower on the 30th floor sweating away.

Remember that those enduring spirits were once your parents as they labored each day hoping neither for fortune nor fame, but for a chance to give you a vision they never could have seen for themselves. One track laid upon the other through their unrelenting spirit paved the way for a railroad that would be used across the nation, stretching as far as if it were the Golden Gate bridge leading you home

Remember these longing souls were once your fore fathers and mothers willing to lay down their own lives so they could see the day when you would be free, not to further oppress or divide but to join the huddled masses to cry out for something better, for a hopeful future to all who might make their home in a place of better tomorrows than today.

Remember, remember…”

Her last words ring out as a voice of a prophet calling her people back from the wilderness, to a place of unity instead of divide, to a place of courage instead of fear and to a place of hope instead of despair

Shining brighter than ever, her torch still guides those who seek comfort, safety and rest

Like a queen leading a magnificent parade

This procession becomes a triumphant song of divine welcome

For all who may be yearning to breathe free.