Relating With Grace (Savoring Sunday)

I recently finished a “discussion” with a loved one, at the end of which nothing had been resolved. We hugged–we weren’t angry, but we just hadn’t come to a place where we both could nod our heads in complete understanding of the other.

Don’t you always want things to turn out right? To just get the other person’s heart and have them look in your eyes, untroubled, knowing that you care for them so deeply that you will always strive to understand them? I haven’t given up on the conversation, we’re just taking a break for now.

Healthy, worthwhile relationships require a lot of time, grace, and patience. They need room to breathe, to come together, and the ability of both people to listen with their whole hearts. It’s easy to each have a bit of a defensive attitude going on–both thinking we’re probably in the right right. And we might be, but we’re also probably a bit wrong.

We might love the days when we swing along, talking and listening and feeling the deep sense of satisfaction that comes with good two-way conversation. And we don’t love the days when we look at our friend or significant other and wonder where all the magic went and why they are behaving so differently. But don’t we do it just as often?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the passage in Matthew where Jesus talked about judging. And how often I am secretly guilty of this.

Matthew 7:1-7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

As we gear up for another messy, beautiful week on this earth, let’s listen so much more than we talk. Let’s be kinder than we usually are. I recently heard Lady Gaga speaking to Oprah about how kindness is her mission in life and how kindness and love are what everyone needs.

If you actually love the person you’re discussing/arguing/having a conversation with, look them in the eye, watch their body language, and ask yourself what are they really saying. Give them kindness, give them grace, show them the love that’s in your heart. When it doesn’t work the first time, step back with your hot and hurt feelings and breathe. Reflect on how it could go better next time, and be willing to sit back down at the table with them another day. These are the words I’m telling my own heart, and the challenge I’m giving myself this week.

And, the book on listening that I am recommending to everyone this year is You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters by Kate Murphy. I read the ARC for Celadon Books toward the end of last year and realized how bad of a listener I really was! What a wake-up call to pay more attention, to soften my heart, to stop trying to get a word in edgewise, to quit assuming I know what someone is going to say next, and to learn much for what others have to say. (There are some podcast hosts that really need this book! And if I ever start a podcast, I will be re-reading this even more often. This book will help you in your real life with your partner or spouse, your kids, your friends, your co-workers, your parents, etc.

Until next time, friends! Have a good week–yes, even in the middle of January! Enjoy the slower pace, the light, the coziness of winter evenings, the opportunity to play a card game or board game with people you love while the snow whips wildly across the fields, or streets…

Saint X (Book Review)

<a href="http://<a target="_blank" href="">Saint X</a>""Saint X is one of the very few books I’ve read this year that I could not put down! The bright, tropical cover disguises the depth of the subject matter. For although it is a clever, suspenseful thriller, this novel addresses the evolution of self, the parent-child relationship in its various stages, the advantages and guilt of white, wealthy people, and the disadvantages of poor people of color on Caribbean islands and the rest of the world.

It starts like a film, zooming in to the fictional Caribbean island of Saint X. It’s the mid-1990s. The reader is introduced to a well-to-do white family from New York vacationing at a luxurious resort for their New Year holiday.

Alison, the elder daughter, is eighteen, pretty, self-absorbed, bored, and typical of girls of that age. The unusual one and the heroine is the younger daughter, Claire, or Clairey, as the rest of the family affectionately calls her. She is seven years old, has an unusual appearance, is shy, socially awkward, and appears to display possible OCD tendencies. The parents remain on the periphery of the story, and what we know of them is seen through the eyes of Claire.

The other main character in the novel is Clive Richardson, a young man who was born and lives on Saint X, and who, along with his friend, Edwin, becomes a suspect in Alison’s death. In comparison to the comfortable lives led by Alison and Claire, Clive is without the advantages that wealth can provide. He grows up without many prospects for the future, so after high school, he and Edwin find employment serving the rich white people at the resort. Which is how they meet Alison and become involved with her on the night she goes missing.

As the novel unfolds, we glimpse some of what Alison gets up to and who she interacts with in the days and nights leading to her disappearance and death. After her body is discovered, Alison and Claire’s parents are frantic to find answers, to discover who is responsible for their daughter’s death. Although Clive and Edwin did spend some time with Alison on the night she disappears, not enough evidence is found to charge them with her supposed murder, so it goes unsolved.

The novel moves forward to when Claire is in her mid-twenties and living a fairly normal life in New York City complete with a good job and friends. She calls herself by her middle name–Emily–in an attempt to put the past behind her. Except she can’t. She still longs to learn more about Alison, and more about why and how she died.

We flash back in time to the months immediately following Alison’s death when Claire’s parents are wrapped up in their own grief and she feels forgotten. Then we see her as she grows up, through all the awkwardness of adolescence and into young adulthood, and how she must deal with the way people treat her when they discover who she is. And even though she wishes she could forget, Alison haunts her wherever she goes.

So Claire is in NYC, trying to live like other people do. As a way to assuage her guilt for her affluent background, she moves into an apartment in a part of Brooklyn that is mostly inhabited by economically disadvantaged people of color. She is still socially awkward, so she doesn’t interact much with the other tenants in her apartment building, but she wishes she could.

Then, out of the blue, while taking a taxi home one day, Claire looks in the rearview mirror and is shocked to find that her driver is Clive Richardson–the man that she has always believed was involved in Alison’s death! Everything she lived through as the sister of a murder victim comes flooding back in that instant. She becomes obsessed with getting Clive to confess. She relentlessly stalks him every night after work. She finds out everything she can about him. Then she pretends to befriend him.

What comes of this obsession with and connection to Clive? Will he eventually confess to his involvement in Alison’s murder? Will Claire ever be able to heal and let go of the past? Ah, but that would be telling! That is what you’ll find out when you read Saint X for yourself.

I was very fortunate to receive an Advanced Reading Copy of Saint X from Celadon Books; however, all opinions are entirely my own. Saint X, written by Alexis Schaitkin, will be published on February 18, 2020 and I absolutely recommend this novel to lovers of mysteries, crime thrillers, and really good fiction.