Binge Reading

Since leaving the US I have read significantly more fiction than I usually do.  I would say I probably average a book or two a month.  So seeing that I’ve read about 30 fiction books (not including work and University books!) since leaving the US at the end of December, I would say I’m above my average for the year.  In addition to a trilogy and a couple random one off books, I have re-read the entire Vorkosigan Saga, I am currently towards the end of The Little House Series and will probably move on to the Chronicles of Narnia soon because they happen to be on our bookshelf.Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 12.50.35 PM.pngFor those of you who enjoy science fiction, I would recommend the Vorkosigan Saga.  I was introduced to these books while in Papua New Guinea and probably read about 3/4 of the series during my various village trips.  It was a great mind escape then and it’s a great mind escape now.  This is my third time reading through the series but my first time reading everything including the newest book which continues the story.  With 20 books of various lengths, this series could occupy your mind and time for quite awhile.  (Please note there are extramarital relationships and homosexual themes in the series.)

I’ve been thankful for books to read during this time of transition.  Books provide something to keep me occupied and allow me to really rest on my days off.  They also are great time fillers for bits and pieces of free time during the day.  Books provide some moments of peace and decompression before bed.  Although I do have a tendency to read until the end of the chapter (or even the end of the book) maybe a little too often.  And books give me new spaces to think and stretch my mind.  For example I love the juxtaposition of the sci-fi, high technology world in the Vorkosigan Saga and the simple, new technology, industrious-ness of The Little House Series.

What are you currently reading?  Any new series or books that I just have to read?  I’d love to hear your recommendations.  And it would be a good excuse to spend more time at the beautiful library here in Perth.

Book Review: The Australian Leadership Paradox

Paradox is the right word to use when discussing the relationships to leaders and views of leadership in Australia.  This “lucky country” has an interesting history that has fed into these paradoxes of leadership and authority.  I’m thankful for this book to help navigate some of the unspoken rules and general assumptions that a typical Australian wouldn’t question or think twice about.  But this book isn’t just for outsiders seeking to understand the system.  This book is a great read for Australians who want to unpack what may be obvious in regards to Australian leadership but also what sits, often hidden, beneath the surface.
Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 8.04.45 PM.pngThe Australian Leadership Paradox: What it Takes to Lead in the Lucky Country by Geoff Aigner and Liz Skelton walks the line between critique and advice very well.  More than just stating the paradoxes themselves, they begin to tease out the why behind them.  And they also give examples of how Australian leadership can and should change for the better.  These examples are in the form of short stories which give context and I believe make them easily relatable as well.  Anyone who has ever struggled in a position of leadership in Australia could potentially find their story here.  And in finding their story, hopefully see how they could be empowered to change their leadership style for the better without losing some of the great things about being Australian.

This book is primarily talking to Australians about Australians and for that it speaks very well.  For me personally I will have to do my best to apply this knowledge appropriately because so far my interactions in Perth have been with very few Australians.  In the past month, I have met more immigrants or children of immigrants than anyone else.   This is maybe my own personal paradox, coming to Australia, seeking to know and understand Australians.  But instead of being surrounded by primarily born and raised, multi-generational Australians, I’m surrounded by an amazingly multinational, multiethnic community.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but my own definitions of what it means to be Australian are definitely being expanded.

Between Oceans- January in Perth

The week before we left the US, I read a book called The Light Between Oceans.  In the book there is a lighthouse keeper living on the fictitious island of Janus, located near the south west tip of western Australia.  At some point the lighthouse keeper describes why the island is called Janus, and I can’t find the exact quote, but he simply explains that Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, passages and endings.  Janus is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks simultaneously to the future and to the past.  And this island sitting between two oceans, is aptly named Janus.  If you’re looking for a beautifully written book, this is a worthwhile read.  Be ready to feel all your emotions and keep a tissue box nearby.

Since this book is set in Western Australia, I have thought of it a few times as we’ve begun to settle in here.  And I remembered the quote about Janus as we rung in the new year.  Janus is where our word January comes from.  January 2017 is a time when we can look back and reflect on 2016, but also look forward to the new year, a new unknown future.  It’s fitting that Ryan and I would arrive in Perth just in time to begin the new year, settling in during this in-between time of looking back as well as looking forward.Screen Shot 2017-01-02 at 3.36.58 PM.pngSince I’m in reflection mode, I couldn’t resist looking at my top liked Instagram posts of 2016.  If you don’t already, you can follow me @joycandee.  I do my best to post different things to Instagram, this blog and Facebook so you can hear/see a different angle of the story from each social media outlet.  Anyway, it’s not surprising that my top liked pictures all point to Australia in some way.  The top three and the middle were taken the last week of 2016 as we made our way to Australia.  My birthday is represented, turning 32 and wearing my “totally koalafied” shirt.  And of course, travels to Europe and our road trip/travels through the US this past year.  2016 was a good, hard, wonderful and challenging year.

Today, January 3rd 2017, I am in the doorway.  Like Janus, looking back and looking forward.  I am in the passage between the preparation, what it took to get us here and anticipation, looking ahead to what is to come.  Welcome to 2017!

Counting Christmas Cheer

Since we don’t have the snow to remind us that Christmas is coming, we have to rely on decorated shopping malls, cheerily lit homes after dark and our own Christmas traditions to help us get in the spirit of things.  Some of these things are on pause for us because we’re in transition but I can still do my best to celebrate what I can and savor the traditions I can still enjoy.  Here are 14 ways that I try to remind myself of the good things about the holidays and enjoy the anticipation of Christmas.screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-3-53-44-pm

  1. I blogged last week about The Season of Advent.  Having Advent reading, an Advent wreath and pausing at least once a day to read scripture and pray through the season reminds me of what is important during the holidays.
  2. Christmas music!  Once Thanksgiving has been celebrated, I am all for Christmas music.  Christmas music in the car, Christmas music at home, Christmas music in almost every store I walk into.  I love a good mix of secular favorites and Christian songs.  Each are festive in their own way.  It all makes me happy.
  3. Baking and making delicious goodies.  I will do a little baking this week but I look forward to making cinnamon rolls for my family to enjoy one morning and I’m sure there will be cookies made at some point too.  My tastebuds love Christmas.  And the smell of baking treats definitely helps get me in the Christmas mood.
  4. Decorations!  I really enjoy decorating for Christmas but this year in our home all we have is our Advent wreath because we are moving.  However, I look forward to being in my parent’s home and enjoying the beautiful tree lit for the week leading up to Christmas.  Next year we’re decorating right after Thanksgiving and we’ll leave it up until January 6th, 3 Kings Day also known as Epiphany.  I love stretching out the holiday season and enjoying the decorations as long as reasonable to my own standards.
  5. Christmas movie marathons.  I will watch Elf multiple times this season.  We’ve already watched Elf, The Grinch, Home Alone and A Christmas Story.  Tonight we will watch It’s a Wonderful Life.  There are so many good ones!  It’s fun to snuggle up in a warm house when it’s cool/cold outside and enjoy a good movie.  I’m also looking forward to watching the TV classics like Charlie Brown, Rudolf and Frosty the Snowman.
  6. Walking or driving through beautiful Christmas light streets.  Almost every town has a street known for the amazing Christmas decorations.  It’s always fun to gather a few friends, dress warmly, carry something warm to drink and enjoy the shining lights and creativity of our neighbors.
  7. Opening Christmas letters and cards.  In my circles, I have a lot of friends who keep in touch all year around but it’s typical to just hear major updates from people at the end of the year.  I love opening cards, seeing how the families have grown and hearing about the past year.  I enjoy celebrating the joys of life with people and being able to pray through the hard things too.  A mailbox filled with Christmas cheer is a wonderful thing.
  8. Early Christmas shopping.  There is nothing better than having your Christmas shopping done early.  Even if things don’t get wrapped right away, I love not having to think of last minute gifts.  This is definitely the planner in me but it allows me to better enjoy the holidays not having yet another unfinished list.
  9. Christmas wrapping.  Seeing a growing pile of pretty wrapped presents is always cheery and festive.  A little Christmas music or a Christmas movie and wrapping with a cup of hot chocolate is a wonderful way to spend an evening.
  10. Eggnog.  So before this year, I never would have said that eggnog was a necessary part of the holiday but then my sister-in-law introduced me to Royal Crest Dairy eggnog and now I’m hooked.  Although Royal Crest isn’t available everywhere, eggnog will definitely be a staple in our refrigerator this season.
  11. The Nutcracker Ballet.  I can’t always go and see The Nutcracker but when I can, I always enjoy it.  During the holidays growing up it was always a treat to dress up and attend The Nutcracker as a family.  It’s such a festive, entertaining part of the holidays.  And the music is beautiful too!
  12. Stockings.  There is something that is special about stockings to me.  Leading up to Christmas, I love looking at them hanging across the mantle or on the wall if there is no fireplace.  Even if we opened gifts on Christmas Eve, stockings were always Christmas morning.  And my favorite tradition is always finding a tangerine in the toe.  I look forward to making stockings something special for my own kids some day (this is NOT a pregnancy announcement).
  13. Candle Light Service.  There is something particularly beautiful and celebratory about a Christmas Eve candle light service.  It’s a wonderful way to calm our hearts and refocus during a busy season.
  14. Christmas reading.  In the past couple of years I would download a Christmasy book to enjoy leading up to Christmas.  Today, I sat with the pile of my childhood books that we will be shipping to Australia and read through all my favorite Christmas stories.  From The Polar Express to Santa Mouse, these are Christmas classics for me. The Story of Holly & Ivy is precious and The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree always makes me cry.  I fondly remember reading these books as a child and I still enjoy them now.

What are the traditions that help you remember, enjoy and anticipate Christmas?

The Return of the Prodigal Son

I love that I can read passages in the Bible that I know well and still learn something new or have something revealed in the text that has never occurred to me before.  I appreciate listening to a sermon and hearing a Biblical perspective that reorients how I look at a story that I would otherwise gloss over because I am “too” familiar with the words.  The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen gave me a fresh, introspective view into the story found in Luke 15:11-32.  the-return-of-the-prodigal-sonThis heavy, thoughtful, beautifully written book contains Nouwen’s reflections on the three main people portrayed in Rembrant’s famous painting titled The Return of the Prodigal Son.  Nouwen takes a nuanced look at the Prodigal Son, the Elder Son and finally the Father.  He teases out the differences between the Biblical account and the painting and he goes under the surface into how he sees himself in each of the main subjects.  Needless to say, his conclusions run deeper than the typical Sunday school lesson.

I find it easy to see how I have been like the Prodigal Son and the Elder son at various stages of my life.  I don’t have to search hard to find my own arrogance, selfishness and brokenness.  But I have never thought of myself as being able to identify with the Father.   In light of us moving to Perth and my desire to daily live out Romans 12:12, I sincerely appreciate Nouwen’s thoughtful look into the Father.  He reminds us that in Luke 6:36 we are told to, “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.”  And Nouwen gently works through some of the ways that he himself has learned to identify with the Father.  He writes, “Grief, forgiveness, and generosity are, then, the three ways by which the image of the Father can grow in me.”  As I read through how these characteristics can be shown in our lives, I saw what I wanted to have displayed in my life and my ministry.  And Lord willing, as I continue to grow in my faith, these aspects of the Father will show themselves more and more in my life.

This is a book that will find it’s place on my shelf to be read and reread as I continue to live out this internal wrestle between the Prodigal Son, the Elder Son and the Father who all reside in me.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.”  Romans 12:12

The Season of Advent

Today is the first day of Advent.  We are currently in Colorado with Ryan’s family so we’ll have to wait until we’re back in California to light the Advent wreath but today we will start reading our Advent devotionals.  I love the anticipation and preparation that happens during Advent.  As much as I love the gift giving, the lights, the Christmas baking, music and more, there is a greater purpose for this season.screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-1-14-00-pmComing Into the World: Daily Reflections for Advent 2016 is the devotional that Ryan and I will reading together this Advent season.  It was written by a co-worker and we’re thankful for the time and energy he put into preparing these beautiful reflections.

No matter how you prepare for this season, I hope that you set aside some time for sweet meditation and prayer that point us towards Jesus, the real reason for this season.

The Discipline of Thankfulness

“How are you?” is a very challenging question these days.  On one hand, I am well.  I am healthy, my marriage is good, I have plenty to eat, I have an amazing roof over my head (seriously, God outdid himself with our November accommodations) and there are so many other big and little things that are good, if not great.Screen Shot 2016-11-04 at 12.57.49 AM.pngBut I’m also tired (the rough draft for this post was written after 12am because I couldn’t sleep).  I’m overwhelmed, anxious and generally frustrated with the twists and turns that seem to have become the norm for us these days.  My problems are not life threatening but when faced with the question, “What’s the worst that can happen?”, the worst is unthinkable.  Everything we have been working towards and sacrificed for seems to be pointing in only one ocean-crossing direction.

Now as I type that sentence I realize that God can make (and sometimes has a habit of making) u-turns in unlikely places.  And if He chooses to slam this door to Australia shut, Ryan and I will be able to grieve, pick up the pieces and move forward.  But at this point, the roadblocks are merely hurdles.  Ok, so they are pretty extreme hurdles and yet the door remains open.

Even with the amazing things we have seen and experienced so far, I am struggling with gratitude.  We can list many wonderful things on this road to Australia that point to God’s amazing purposes.  We can see His handiwork.  And despite those clear signs of blessing and favor, when we come to a point where His purposes are not so clear to us and the path seems counter intuitive to what we’ve been praying and working towards, it makes me grumble and complain.  A byproduct of this attitude is that I can find myself treating some people (including myself) in not such a nice way.  My thankfulness is full of holes.

The next book on my list (which I reserved at the local library after stumbling across this quote) is The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story by Henri Nouwen.  The quote that spoke to my current state of gratitude reads, “In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and all I have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”

Right now I am in a season where my thankfulness has to remain a daily discipline.  My mouth may tend towards grumbling, my heart may lean into discontentment and my mind may wander dangerously near doubt but I can gain so much more with gratitude.

It’s November, a month when many people are giving thanks.  This is good timing for me to have daily reminders to reorient my thinking and practice this discipline of thankfulness.