B ack in August when my family came to visit us in Connecticut, my mom brought a book along titled: Read for Your Life: 11 Ways to Better Yourself Through Books by Pat Williams. When we ventured into New York, I decided to take it along for a subway ride. I quickly ended up reading the book in a few days and was so captured by the author’s main challenge to readers: commit to reading one hour a day for the rest of your life. Right then and there, I decided to take him up on that challenge. I was a reader when I was little and it seemed high time to get back to it. When I was younger, I devoured books. I spent my allowance on buying the entire collection of Roald Dahl stories one by one. I was a READER.

I kept reading through high school, albeit at a slower pace since I was so focused on being basically as perfect as I could be in all realms of academics and extracurriculars. (Yeah, high school was pretty intense for me.) College brought about lots of reading for classes but very little reading for the sake of reading – I feel like many people fall into that bucket, yeah? Then I moved to New Orleans and started teaching 1st graders. Most of my reading consisted of books that were AWESOME for 6 year-olds but not many that were satisfying to my 20-something brain. Trying to be a good, effective teacher took up a ton of time and effort on its own and I simply didn’t choose to carve out much time for outside reading during my down time.

After Bobby and I moved away from New Orleans though, I suddenly had more time to read. But did I? No! TV shows are just way too intoxicating! I mean, to reference Roald Dahl, we’re no family of Wormwoods (Matilda, anyone?!?)…but we certainly have a long list of shows that we’ve watched and loved. Netflix or books? I think it’s a trade-off that more than a handful of millennials are making.

It’s not as if I haven’t read a book for pleasure in 10 years. I wasn’t burning books in the fireplace. (All you book burners out there – shameful!) Still, I was far more apt to save reading for a vacation instead of incorporating it into an average day. During the times when I could have picked up a book, I gravitated toward SO MANY other tasks and distractions: Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, blogs, podcasts, talking with friends on the phone, YouTube. It reminds me of a quote from Aziz Ansari which I heard during a Freakonomics podcast. (Podcasts! Here we go again!): “I spend so much time on the internet…I feel like I’m a million pages into the worst book ever, and I’m never going to stop reading.” If that’s not straight up TRUTH I don’t know what is.

Whenever I did read, though, I would be SO INTO IT. I mean, deep down I’m a reader through and through. It’s crazy how easy it is to lose parts of yourself like that to shiny distractions. So as I sat on the subways of New York and poured over Read for Your Life, I just got more and more convinced that I needed to get this habit back in my life. There are a million compelling reasons and statistics the author sites for why a hungry reading appetite will serve you well; by the time he issued his challenge for people to dive into a book for 1 hour everyday I was like, “YES, Pat Williams, yes. I am totally going to do that. From here on out, I am never again abandoning reading.”

So that’s what I’ve been attempting for the past couple months.

Full disclosure: have I actually been 100% successful with this new goal of mine? No. (I mean, have you SEEN the show Billions?!?!?!?!?!? It sucked Bobby and me in like the world’s most effective vacuum cleaner.) But have I read infinitely more since establishing said goal? Completely. Just having the bar set there has me reading infinitely more than I was before.

Reading for an hour a day lets me CRUISE through books. My mind has been swimming in so many ideas over the past few months because I feel like I’m inhaling non-fiction, self-improvement type books. Time management, money, vulnerability, morning routines – it’s all up for grabs. I tend to read those types of books in the morning for 20 or 30 minutes. Then at night before bed I try to read either a lighter non-fiction like a memoir or a fiction book.

Right now I’m re-reading the Harry Potter series so that I can actually read the seventh book and Rowling’s new stage play. (Gasp, I know, how did I read the first six books of the series and then stop right before the very end? Sheer madness. This summer my sister was talking about Harry Potter with my little brother and I was like, “DON’T SAY ANY SPOILERS, I CAN’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN THE LAST BOOK!” And Leah was like, “Uhh, the seventh book came out nine years ago…how have you gone this long without any spoilers? Maybe it’s time you read it?” Okay, sister, okay. You’ve got me there.) Last night I spent some time with HP and his crew and then dreamed about meeting a friend’s baby for the first time and was thrilled to cuddle her little baby octopus boy. Books will do trippy things to your brain, man.

When I set this goal for myself, I wanted to establish some way of documenting each book I finished. My mom has been trying to get my 11 year-old brother to write book reports each time he finishes a book. He tends to resist this wildly – but he’ll appreciate them someday! I thought I should do some type of book reports as well. Having an artistic element to go along with the goal seemed to fit with my M.O. so I’ve settled upon an artistic book journal – what could be more literary and fitting than that?

I had stumbled upon this cute little vintage book while thrifting and was just waiting for the perfect project for it – and now I’ve found it with my book reports! The llama on the cover has my heart.

Now, each time I finish a book, I dedicate a page in my journal to it. There’s something about layering text on top of text that I love. My book reports might not always be the easiest to decipher but I’m okay with that. I include the title, author, date I finished reading, and either a summary, my thoughts, a quote I really loved…anything to try and capture the spirit of the book.

Here’s my report for the book that started it all…

And some others I’ve read since August:

Some of these turn out more beautifully than others but I’m just trying to be loose and free with them. Completion over perfection.

Sometimes I basically riff off the book cover, like I did for this gem of a book:

(Glennon is one of my absolute HEROES. So much courage and truth shines from that woman. You must read both her books if you haven’t yet.)

So there you have it! My new life habit. If you’ve fallen out of the habit of reading – or were never much of a reader to begin with – it’s never too late. Start today, even if it’s just setting aside the phone for 20 minutes and trading it for real pages that you can run your fingers and eyes over. (Or read on a Kindle – I won’t judge. Just start!)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to do. :)

R edemption has been on my mind for the past 7 months. Ever since my hand went into rebellion with a repetitive stress injury, the word started ringing in my ears.

I didn’t become friends with redemption right away. I wasn’t even thinking on those terms. For awhile, my thoughts would ping pong back and forth depending on the day. There must be a silver lining to this. What am I being invited to focus on through this small life detour that I may have ignored if my hand stayed healthy? Those thoughts came on the good days. But a liberal dose of these were sprinkled throughout as well: I depend on my hands for basically EVERYTHING that brings me joy in life! This is hard. I don’t like this. How am I ever going to build a business if I can’t use my hands? Wahhhhhh me. I’m so over this! I just want to get back to my art!

Then in the midst of all this, while my hands were still on hiatus, I started talking to my sister Leah. Cue the faint chords of redemption. Leah is a really marvelous artist. She and I had previously batted around the idea of starting an art/stationery business together but, for numerous reasons, it seemed too difficult to me. There was just too much to figure out. Those conversations usually ended quickly with me saying, “Yeah, that would be so cool! But I have no idea how we would make it work in reality – how would we blend our styles, how would we split the profits, who would have what responsibilities, etc etc etc?” This went on and on. I’m an expert at seeing all the pitfalls of a proposed plan. (Uh, that’s legit, by the way. I took a personality assessment that told me so.)

When all my normal activities came to a halt, though, Leah brought up the idea again. “I was thinking about your hand injury and…I would love to be your hands. You can’t use your hands right now but what if I translated your designs for you or we somehow collaborated? I really think we should give this more thought and consider forming a business together.”

I was immediately more receptive to the idea than ever before. Suddenly all those nitty gritty questions didn’t seem as hard to figure out. That resistance I had once felt was all but gone. My thinking started to shift so drastically that it was hard to remember why this hadn’t been the plan all along. This is the PERFECT idea! Of COURSE Leah and I should form a business together!

There have been so many more conversations since that initial chat. It’s gone from a fun idea to a venture we’re pursuing doggedly. I’m talking with an attorney this week actually, to figure out all the legal stuff that goes along with forming a legitimate business. My Etsy shop of handmade cards is great but Leah and I want to take this to a whole new plane. This goal hasn’t been without challenges and there will surely be more – but overall it’s beautiful and energizing and leaves me shaking my head saying, “This may never have happened if my hand had remained healthy.” I’m actually grateful for the injury, believe it or not.

It’s like the John Steinbeck quote that I’ve come to love so dearly: “And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens – the main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”

In the midst of the tough situation it’s frickin’ HARD to not worry about losing. My brain likes to get on a freak out loop that goes something like this: “This is terrible! This is going to change life as we know it! Say goodbye to every dream you’ve ever had!” Then John Steinbeck presses pause on that soundtrack and says, “Excuse me, but may I cut in for a second? Nothing good gets away, my dear. Have faith in redemption.”

Phew, now all that’s been said, I’ll be TOTALLY FINE, God, if I never have problems with my hand again. Just want to make that clear! I’ll also be perfectly content if no other sadness ever presents itself.

And yes, I see the irony in all this. I completely understand how that last comment shows how very human I am, right down to the core. “I’ve been giving these awesome gifts that I never anticipated through a situation that I definitely didn’t want and I’m going to write a whole blog post about redemption and how everything turned out better than I could have imagined…but dear God, please allow me to avoid any and all future situations of hardship because I’m better off without them. Thank you for your consideration.” Ha! I totally see the absurdity… AND I still feel that way regardless. Maybe enlightened monks would feel differently but I still hate suffering.

I also realize that, in the grand scheme of things, a hand injury is nothing compared to much of the deep suffering in this world. Situations where people say, “What on earth is happening, and why, and how will I survive this pain?” I’m four-leaf-clover kind of lucky that I haven’t personally encountered anything like that yet…but I know plenty who have and I know my future isn’t exempt from the possibility of harsh pain.

So if this starts sounding preachy at any point, it’s basically because it’s a sermon to myself. Boy do I need it. It’s so easy to forget about redemption when you’re right in the thick of a crappy situation. I want to remember that it’s there, even if the redemptive storyline may take awhile to emerge.

THIS is what redemption is to me: something grand and beautiful coming out of something that was ugly.

Here are 3 things I absolutely love about redemption and everything it means:

1. I love that redemption acknowledges the grit. Actually, it hinges on the hard stuff. If there weren’t messy, ugly things present at the start, then redemption would be not just unnecessary but impossible. Without hard circumstances, we get a whole different story, and not a very interesting one at that. I’ll prove it. Story: “Things were great. They stayed great.” I mean, I’m not saying I don’t LOVE that kind of story and hope for it – but at some point in each life in some area, the bottom falls out. And when that happens and I’m grasping at straws, I need the hope of redemption like I need air.

2. Here’s another thing about redemption that I love: when something is redeemed it doesn’t suddenly mean that the hard parts are sanitized and are no longer part of the story. It seems insulting and even harmful when people try to morph other people’s pasts into narratives that actually aren’t that bad. (That’s a classic lament of people who’ve lost someone close, right? When others pat your back and say insensitive things like, “Oh, it was meant to be” or “God just wanted another angel.” Uhhhh NO. Wrong answers. Major buzzers going off right now.)

In light of a world where things can be redeemed, we can still acknowledge that hardships are painful, undesirable, would never even be ALLOWED to happen in a perfect universe. We can still bang our fists on tables and scream into echoing rooms. We can FEEL the unfairness and tragedy of a situation. Then redemption scoops all of that up in its great big hands and says, “Look. I am doing a new thing. YES that was gut-wrenching AND we’re going to make something beautiful out of the wreckage.”

Yes/and. It’s one of the most powerful combination of words this world offers.

3. Redemption doesn’t imply that X had to happen in order for Y to take place. That’s what I like about it, too. There are so many mysteries when it comes to this world, chief among them being why evil and bad things happen and how that can coexist with a God who is good. I won’t remotely pretend to have this figured out or know the answers but I DO know this is where the story of redemption saves me from spinning into a hopeless mess.

When I was growing up, my mom was always quoting her favorite bible verse to us, Romans 8:28. “All things work to the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” There’s the story of redemption again. It’s not just the good and beautiful things that work to the good. It’s not the things we mistakenly thought were bad but were actually good and that’s why they turned out all right. It’s not that the hardship had to happen in order for good to come. No. It’s simply that ALL THINGS work to the good. It doesn’t matter what you throw into the redemption machine; somehow, once it gets input, good things can arise from the mess.

Now, would things have been BETTER if there hadn’t been a mess to begin with? I’m a lowly, limited human but I’m going to say YES. Evil is the worst. The mystery of suffering is sucky and hard.

I think Anne Lamott describes this paradox best in her gem of a book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers:

“I also know that life can be devastating, and it’s still okay to be pissed off at God: Mercy, schmercy. I always want the kid to live.
I can picture God saying: “Okay, hon. I’ll be here when you’re done with your list.” Then He goes back to knitting new forests or helping less pissy people until I hit rock bottom. And when I finally do, there may be hope.
There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It’s exhausting, crazy-making.
Help. Help us walk through this. Help us come through.
It is the first great prayer.”

(As a quick aside, I read Anne Lamott’s writing and think, “What are you guys even DOING reading my stuff?!? Go get every single thing Anne Lamott has ever written and learn about redemption and suffering and wonder from her! Seriously. Get yourself over to Amazon or the library right this instant.)

At the end of the day, I have little explanation for why suffering is allowed to occur – but I am learning about what can happen to that crackly, dry ground even after the worst draught. The hope of redemption breathes life into the worst of times.

Deep breath. Nothing good gets away, my loves. Nothing good gets away.

Note about the nuts and bolts of this blog: It’s good to finally be back with you after such a long hiatus! Now that my hand has mostly healed, I’ve been discerning how to juggle the huge (and exciting) task of starting this new stationery company with my sister with my other endeavors, including this blog. I’ve concluded that I’ll post on the first of every month. So when you turn the page on your calendar, I hope you’ll hop over here! I’ll have something waiting for you, pinky promise.

You know what you probably shouldn’t do when you have a repetitive stress injury in your hand? Cut up all these peppers:

You know what I did when I had a repetitive stress injury in my hand? You guessed it. Cut up all those peppers (and a bunch more that were in a large bag and about to go bad). I also made apple muffins, swept the house multiple times, edited photos on my phone…the list goes on.

And for SOME annoying reason, my hand has yet to heal from this injury.

The other day I was doing my workout at the gym and nearly started crying because my hand was hurting so much. When I recounted the story to Bobby later that night I was like, “I just don’t get it! Here I am, resting my hand, and it’s throbbing at the gym when I pick up a weight or grab on to a bench to do a leg raise!” (P.S. Aren’t you so impressed with all my gym talk?)

And Bobby observed “Well, it sounds like you aren’t actually resting it then. Right?” That husband of mine. So astute.

I think I was secretly hoping that my hand would be able to understand that I was laying off the painting, writing, and obviously intense stuff but would turn a blind eye to the other normal-day activities. It’s as if I were a 10 year-old who gave up sweets for Lent but then proceeded to have hot chocolate and soda and frozen yogurt because liquid sweet things and YOGURT can hardly count, right?!?!

This is day 14 of this whole saga and finding out I had an RSI. By day 14, things were supposed to be feeling back to normal. I’m realizing that I’ve stunted that a bit.

So where does this leave me? As much as it makes me cringe, I realize that I need to get far more strict about this whole concept of rest. I’m figuring out healthy freezer-type meals that I can literally plop in a skillet and stir with my left hand. I’m asking Bobby to do the more intense meals and chopping. I’m laying off of sweeping and any activities at the gym that directly involve my hands. I’m even realizing that typing very much, however gingerly I go about it, can’t be great for my hand.

That last point, about the typing, brings me right back to this blog. I’m all about consistency and follow-through. I know how important it is. And yet, I think I need to lay low right now and put a halt to creating new blog content until my hand is out of the woods. I can only draw so many Folk-Art Friday creatures with my left hand, so that’s going to be on a hiatus, too.

I’m fully confident that my body will work to heal itself if I actually allow it to do so. Last night, I had a dream about writing a letter with no pain. This has literally become the stuff I dream and fantasize about, ha! To bring this into my reality, I’m not sure exactly how long this true rest will need to be, but I’m ready to do it right.

Please send up prayers and good vibes for my poor little hand so I can get back to this space sooner rather than later! In the meantime, I’ll still be popping in on Instagram (I can’t abandon creativity completely) so I hope you’ll come see me over there. And once I’m back on the blog train, I’ll send out the alert via a newsletter, so please subscribe if you haven’t already (subscription bar on the right sidebar).

Have the happiest of weeks, friends!