Book of the Month: Everything Here is Beautiful

Come hell or high water, I will post the book of the month for September. Yes, yes I will. The book of this month is a novel by Mira T. Lee, which I completed in three days. I am very reluctant to include this fact because sometimes the invisible competition about how long it takes to complete a book that people engage in is not my cup of tea. But this one was special circumstance, and little things like me telling myself I must finish a book and actually finishing it reminds me that if I put my mind to something, then I can most likely accomplish that thing. And I think same goes for most people too; this is of course with reason. Do NOT build castles in the air.



Inspiration over. Everything Here is Beautiful is a story about the relentless bond of two sisters and how they cope with one's struggle with mental illness. In some sense, when you read the book, you will agree though only one person has the mental illness, both of them suffer tremendously. These two sisters are daughters of a  Chinese Immigrant, and because of this we see the role of many poignant themes all through. The most interesting thing about it though is how two sisters born of the same parents can be so different. One sister, Miranda is calm, responsible, has a steady career and marriage. The younger one though (and in real life, it is ALWAYS the younger ones lol) is more headstrong, more of a free spirit, lives life on her own terms, and unfortunately has to deal with mental illness. In fact when we meet her, she is married to a "one-armed Russian Jew". Yup. The pattern and relapse of her crisis shapes both her relationship with her sister and the entire book. Through this book, we see the dynamics of mental illness; its effect on the family and its destructive powers.

"Later, I would be told I had a twenty percent chance of maintaining a full-time job, a twenty-five percent chance of living independently, a forty percent chance of attempting suicide, a ten percent chance of succeeding. I was twenty-six years old."

I'm going to be honest that what sold me on this book was that it was about sisters. That was enough for me. I love anything that celebrates the ferocious and beautiful bond and love of siblings. But I wasn't expecting this type of book. Now, I did not like this book at first. Perhaps because I was rushing but it felt rushed, and I did not like the pace. At some point, it seemed like the author was rambling. This might also be because she told the story from different points of view. By itself, this was actually a genius idea; you know I love this idea.  But still...it just felt like she was trying to get some parts of the story over with. And some of these parts she really could have done away with. There was a lot lot of quotidian events. Like okay, they had dinner and so? But isn't that what a great story is about? The ability to narrate the seemingly ordinary in a way that makes you feel a part of their lives. I also never felt like a part of any of these characters, and this is not because Lee did not painstakingly narrate the ordeals of mental illness; she did. I just could not break through.

Okay Ife if you did not like this book, why is it the Book of the Month?

Because it truly is an amazing book. The themes she explores, the author, and the story. In the last few pages of the book, I actually cried. And a book that gets me to cry is one helluva book. It's heart-wrenching; tells an unusual love story filled with passion, pain, forgiveness. It is insightful, and incredibly complex. What's not to love?

In addition, there was not great attempt to paint characters as either good or bad. In real life human beings are more complex than that binary classification. Sometimes, we are good and kind and forgiving. Other times, not so much. I think you will learn a LOT about mental illness, and the more we can learn about that, the better we can all be.

So anyway check it out, and let me know whether you enjoy it.

Love,

I

A Sunday Ramble On Being Carefree, Being Anxious, And Being Gifted

I'm inspired to just come here and ramble. Is that not what a blog is for? This is not even a planned post, and I have several of those lined up. I just felt like rambling today. Plus it's been a while I did one of these. I'm currently in Nigeria for field research for my dissertation. Normally, I would not want to say this publicly but no effs to give right now. I'm a not-so-silent fan of mizadventures of mizchif's blog, and I just read her last post and I'm full of admiration of how authentically she is living her life. I'm almost envious.  I mean, she is truly livin' her best life. I have certainly not attained that level of living authentically and free with no bother. But I am really getting there. I'm certainly better than say, earlier this year, or last year. When I was younger, a teenager, I was THERE. I literally did not care about anything or anyone. As I have grown older however, and with more to lose, I have relaxed in that I now care way too much. Yeah, gotta lose that. For you, what does living your best life mean? Because I know for sure mine would look nothing like mizchif's at all. The key though is being unapologetically you; not living for others, however you define that.



I have to say that it still matters that I am kind, that I have empathy, and that I have love in my heart. However, I must first love myself and fill myself. Because of that, I am learning to love people from afar. I am learning that when someone shows me who they are, I best listen. No hard feelings. No anger. No hate. Just go. For many people, I would rather love them from afar.  If you feel this way about certain homo sapiens in your life, I want you to know it does not mean you have not forgiven a person, and it does not mean you do not have Jesus in you. It means you have enough Jesus in you to flee temptation. Fin.

I say this all to say in the words of  our internet Auntie, Chimamanda, I am striving to no longer desire likability; to not twist myself into shapes so that some people like me. 

There are people who dislike you because you do not dislike yourself. - Chimamanda Adichie

I have been so anxious about my work more recently; so so anxious. I have to mention that this is a very frequent occurrence. Another thing you should be mindful of should you want to ahem go into academia. Anyway, yes anxious. So so anxious. When you really evaluate it,  on the one hand, it's hard to pinpoint a root-cause of work-related anxiety; on the other hand, somewhere beneath it all is a terrifying fear of failure. This is of course maddening.  So for this current season I find myself, the word of God impressed upon my heart is,

even though the fig tree have no blossoms
and there are no grapes on the vines
even though the olive crop fails
and the fields lie empty and barren
even though the flocks die in the fields
and the cattle barns are empty
yet I will REJOICE in the Lord
I will be joyful in the God of my Salvation - Habakkuk 3:17-18

Basically, no matter what happens, I will choose rejoicing. It takes another level of growth and spiritual maturity to be grateful even when things are not smooth. There is a whole other peace you experience when you know even if trouble comes, God is still good. God is still gracious. God is still kind. Now all I ask is if trouble comes, God should grant me the grace and peace to endure. It's like someone said on Instagram: she no longer prays not to go through hard times, but she has learnt to embrace suffering.  And that now just prays for peace and grace to navigate whatever comes her way. Amen? Amen. So all those emails that terrify me, I will still choose to rejoice. Come rain, come sunshine, I will choose to rejoice.

A recent caption on the blog's Instagram. Yes, we now have Instagram oh. Have you FOLLOWED? Modern Cedar Squadies, where you at? Followwwwww. Hahaha. Okay on that post, I mentioned how lethargic I have been regarding blogging. In my defense, if you ever experienced a day in my life, you would wonder where on earth I find the time for hobbies like blogging. Now normally, I would stop blogging altogether instead of being so inconsistent. But then, surprisingly this comes so easy for me, you know. Yeah writing does. I never quite admitted it to myself, but after recently coming up with a poem to post on the blog in literally five minutes, I realized wow this is quite...easy? Not that writing is easy (duh! if it were, I would have tons of books), but I mean compared to most other things I do, this—blogging  and its variants—come quite easy. I thought it must be a gift then, and even if it isn't, it really makes me feel good. So why stop? Also, remember we are about doing what we truly love. Again, normally I would never "brag" about being "good" at something. I don't think I have ever even admitted to myself about being good at anything, but again Berry Dakara posted about giving yourself a compliment. And that is something I never do. So yeah I gave myself a compliment by admitting that I have a "thing" which may or may not be a gift, but which I love and I'm pretty good at. So consistent or not, audience or not, I will keep doing it.

So consider all of these today: be more authentic and carefree; lose the toxic people in your life; choose only those who choose you; choose to rejoice no matter what comes your way; and compliment yourself. I implore you to imbibe these if at all possible.

Love,

I

P.S: Happy birthday Auntie Chimamanda!

Does God Lie or Does He Change His Mind?

A few weeks ago I read about Hezekiah and his prayer to God, and it really wasn't my first time reading about the story but I felt like I got a newer interpretation that day. When he was ill, God sent Isaiah to let him know he would die. Like it would be for most people, this was devastating news for Hezekiah and he was so sad, one could say it sent him into a downward spiral. He cried, turned his face to his wall and prayed to the Lord:

Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and I have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you?

He said, while he broke down and wept bitterly.

Picture: by my photographer sister


Now because God's heart tugs when we are  sad, and because he is a compassionate and merciful God, He actually listened to Hezekiah. God told Hezekiah [through Isaiah] that He had heard his prayer and seen his tears.

Note: God sees you, no matter how matter it doesn't feel like it. He sees you.

So God decided to add fifteen years to Hezekiah's life. Doesn't it bring you immense joy and relief to know that God sees our tears, our worries, and our concerns? I had this sitting in draft for  a long while (more than a month), but these past few days made me remember it again and boy, do I need this reminder? While Hezekiah was praying and praising God after the good news, something else stood out for me. And by the way, God did send a sign that he would keep his promise. He always does that. But yes, what stood out for me was that even though that sickness and the planned death were the will of God, it didn't stop Hezekiah from asking for a miracle.

But what could I say?
For he himself sent this sickness

A lot of times, when we think a challenge is from God with an intent to discipline us or just as a part of his will, we are reluctant to say God let this cup pass over me. Meanwhile, even Jesus [the actual messiah], as He approached death (to fulfill his greatest mission) asked God to please let the cup pass over Him. In an old post,  in explaining what faith can look like in action, I also talked about how we shouldn't always resign to well if Gods wants it to happen, well then it will. I think sometimes, we NEED shameless persistence. We must never be afraid of asking God for a miracle, no matter how radical it looks.



And yes, I know, "God does not change his mind like the son of man". That is of course in the Bible Ha! Except it did seem like God changed his mind in the Hezekiah case, doesn't it? It's amazing. I love to say there is a mystery to God that we don't know. The truth is if anyone thinks they know God from the beginning to the end, if people act like they have ALL the authority on God, they are either lying or it's some form of sheer hubris, or both. The greatness of God is so vast that we just do not know the entirety of God and I don't care how many times you read the bible from cover to cover. I, of course agree with the verse that says that God is not a liar neither does he change his mind. But to paraphrase Steven Furtick, God may not change his mind, but we ourselves evolve in how we see God. So it's not God that "evolves" as people like to say, it's that we do.

When non-Christians are rightfully worried about some of the rhetorics in the Bible like slavery, subjugation of women, and so on; Christians attempt to refute this by saying times and contexts have change. The non-Christians in turn challenge us again that if God does not change his mind then he must be the same God who condoned slavery (all of this is wrong by the way, but we are not here to talk about this). The truth is this God sent His son for salvation so our relationship is beyond laws. The same ways Christians are notorious for spouting a few verses as it suits them, non-Christians also love to spout a few Bible verses with the intention of judging all Christians by a few problematic ones. I think if you want to critique a thing, then at least know it. And knowing it is not merely regurgitating a few popular phrases.

I digress.

The point being, do not be afraid to go before him, to plead for mercy. And know, always KNOW that at His core, He is a good good father. And you and I are loved by Him.

Love,

I

Friday Reflections

1.) It has been so long since I did one of these, huh?

2.) Okay let's get into it. This is one of the saddest stories ever. And here's his wife's version.

3.) When puffpuff makes it to New York Times.

4.) More seriously, read  Yetunde Komolafe's post on the New York Times on 10 essential Nigeria Cuisines. More than food, it actually tells a tale of being Nigerian and our dynamic relationship with food.

5.) As someone very interested in food (how else can you define an obsession with food Instagram accounts?), I loved it. HOWEVER, I gotta say, some of those things pictured were very questionable. For instance, THAT is not the Agege Bread I know. But A for effort?

6.) Watch this video on the magic of not giving a f***. I really want to take this approach and God knows if I have to watch this video once every day to get it into my thick skull, I will.

7.) When Burna Boy won the BET award for best international act, and he was nowhere to be found, his mother walked majestically to the stage and accepted it on his behalf. I half expected to find you know, a mom, which we did. However she is more: an articulate, brilliant momager. Turns out she is no slouch herself: read more on her.

8.) Remember that shoddy journalism on Aziz Ansari's bad behavior. Here is an expose on the rise (?) and fall of that publication.  Chileee the manner of misbehavior that went on there is jarring and disgusting. That place itself needed a full investigation on workplace sexual abuse and just impropriety. What is wrong with  young folks?

9.) Meghan Markle interviews Michelle Obama.

10.) Read about this man who was bedridden for 11 years and then...invented a surgery that cured himself.

11.) Why 30 is not the new 20

12.) This beautiful story of childbirth.