Monday, January 29, 2018

Remembering: (Gypsy Triptych by Schoorl), Godparents, and Who Gets the Dogs

I must explain my rating of the book Gypsy Triptych (before I muse further on godparents and dogs), a book that would make an excellent reading group discussion choice. Jump to paragraph six to find out who I think might enjoy the book.

I don't hate the book; I don't even dislike the book. This issue is giving three, four, or five stars to a book written by a childhood friend, the daughter of my brother's godparents. As with my review of Tender at the Bone which indicated that a reader would either love the book or stop reading depending on whether one wanted recipes in a book, so too with Gypsy Triptych and dreams. This book will either be a reader's dream book or a nightmare.

Gypsy Triptych is a family friend's fictionalized memoir. The author indicates that there is fact amongst the fiction, and one reviewer found it intriguing to guess at which parts were fact and which were fiction. I did as well. I also enjoyed walking through my memories of the location (fact) and memories of Schoorl's family (much of it spot on -- accurate).

Another caveat for friends and family to whom this would matter: Schoorl writes, "I was a firm believer in the power of prayer, magic, dream, science, and reincarnation." Whether this is Schoorl herself, her character, or just a part of the dream it is written in, I do not know. Those who have read my blog before (or know me) know that I do not believe in reincarnation; however, I agree to disagree with authors and keep reading.

One reviewer mentioned some grammatical errors. Thankfully, the errors are not too numerous and there are some beautiful sentences such as "The sea looked so calm, like a prisoner who hides the secret torments of his life" and "He was deep in slumber, looking like he was sleeping off years of woe." One section involving the various homes where Schoorl's character (or Schoorl herself) lived in is a bit confusing. I can imagine the members of my local library book discussion group getting frustrated with keeping track of what is going on. I can understand. As it turns out, I am concurrently reading Henry Miller's Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, and Miller's memoirs equally jump around in sequencing so Schoorl is in good company with her writing style.

Regarding dreams, Schoorl comments, "I was accustomed to living this way with dream scenes decorating the walls of my mind, shy wallflowers, guests I myself invited." I did find the thought "I had been trying to dream with intention" a new thought that I tried myself later that night.

Who I think might enjoy the book -- those who are tired of reading typical memoirs (often ones I never finish reading -- let's drop names of everyone famous I have ever been in contact with and drone on and on or let me tell you my story which includes so much adventure and illegal activities that the book is more of a peep show than something that resonates with one's life), those who would enjoy dreams in a book, those who live in the San Bernardino County area or are interested in that area, those who have had second chances at love or are interested in second chances, those who are in book discussion groups.

I won't list all of the questions I think would be relevant to a group discussion (too many), but I will move on with something I found intriguing early on (pages 8-9): "Whenever it seemed that I would misremember and relate events from my childhood incorrectly, or that I didn't remember anything the same way my siblings did, I just reminded myself that they weren't gifted with better memories, but that it was rather quite natural for me to remember less since I was the youngest. I wasn't being incorrect intentionally. I focused on things that were important to me, not important to them. I remembered things that were in my line of vision."

In my line of vision as I read this book were Schoorl's descriptions of her parents who were my brother's godparents.

I look at these photos now and think "How young they were!" If something had happened to my parents, my brother (according to godparent tradition) would have gone to live with them. It was fascinating to think how his life would have changed. I think he still would have gone to college just as Schoorl and her sister did. His godparents were intellectuals who strongly believed in education. Would he have met my sister-in-law, a woman he met in high school and has been in love with since that time?

I was fourteen when the picture above of my brother and godparents was taken. Too young to take care of all my siblings, although as I grew older I wanted to do so if anything happened. Plenty happened -- the death of a marriage -- but not the death of my parents. My own godparent had forgotten that she was my godparent when we met up later in life. It wasn't memory loss, but merely the aspects of coming from a large extended family.

My aunt loved to travel and did it often, almost traveling to every part of the world so I know I would have kept something I have now: the love of traveling. I would have had a good life, and by good, I mean a life of loving God and loving others.

And, just to end with a cute dog picture: these are my granddogs although I doubt my daughter would call them that!

I've started adding these little notes that my older self wished I could have told my younger parent self. My husband and I did not choose godparents for our children. I think I assumed my sisters would step up and take care of them. It is something to think about: choosing godparents and choosing in way that you can picture how your child or children would grow up with those parents.

I've also started including practices for spiritual formation, for thriving. One thread that keeps running through Schoorl's book is the loneliness she felt growing up, something that surprised me given my family of seven lived down the street from Schoorl...until I recalled that we moved away while my siblings were still in elementary school which meant Schoorl also was still in elementary school. A good practice might be to look at one's community. Do you and I have a number of friends (enough to balance the loss of friends who move away or later in life, move into eternity) that we are willing to keep in contact with (more than Christmas cards)? 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Top Shelf with the Memories on the Left in the Bedroom -- Journals, Memoirs, and Writing, Oh My!

This is my second bookshelf post. For some people, this shelf on a bedroom hutch would not be for books. It would be for pictures or knick knacks. Not so in a reader's house. If you are a mom and here for a mom moment, skip down to the hearts. If you are interested in the spiritual practices side of this blog, skip down to the dotted lines. Those of you interested in brief synopses of the books, keep reading.

From left to right:
Streams in the Desert devotional journal -- not written in. I have this habit of buying beautiful journals and then not wanting to mar the pages. My original Streams in the Desert by L. B. Cowman is on the other side of the hutch, well used and well read.

I am Inspired reflections journal -- 15 pages written in while I was in Russia. It was a good choice for Russia as it is lightweight. Twice before I had traveled to Russia and not written down my thoughts when I was there. The experienced travelers say to reflect while you are on the journey or you will forget. I found this to be true, but difficult to implement. My last written words are in Russian. Unfortunately, I have dropped my practices and have forgotten much so I'm not sure what it says. ΠœΡ‹ is "We"; Π‘Π°Ρ€Ρƒ is probably Sarah, my daughter, with whom I was traveling. I know the last word is "house" and the next to the last, I think, is "old" and we were visiting an old, very old, house.

What to do with the other pages? Sigh. I have many, many journals and a tendency to pick one up and start writing, no matter the date or subject. In other words, if my children or grandchildren ever read them, they will find the scope and sequencing way out of sync (out of order). I did have a idea for young moms (or anyone really), see πŸ’• below.

Live This Day a birthday book of questions and reflections -- not written in (are you sensing a pattern here?). I picked this up at a yard sale for 25 cents. I had grand plans of writing in it on my birthday every year, but I did not think about it two months ago.

Mere Christianity journal -- a beautiful leather journal (ahem, also not written in). I had bought one for one of my students as a graduation gift, liked it so much that I bought one for myself. There is a beautiful violet pressed inside.

All Shall Be Well by Paraclete Press -- colorful pages, quotes by saints of old (the cover quote by Hilda St. Clair), opportunities to draw and write, WRITTEN IN! I turn often to the first two pages. On one side is a quote by Teresa of Avila: "Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. God alone is enough." On the other side are boxes in a variety of colors with these instructions: "Write your fears in each of these boxes. Now mark an X over each one and write underneath each one, "God is bigger than this." I have not literally filled in those boxes, but when I am fearful, I sometimes come to this page and mentally fill in the box, cross it out, and say to myself, "God is bigger than this." If you happened to read my post Magi-Community-Regrets-Resolutions, you will know that I took issue with those who respond to all situations with a blanket: God is enough. I responded, "God is enough AND God wants community." I still think that is true. I also know God is enough and bigger than all my fears. God also uses the community of saints (and sinners) to love me and strengthen me.

Writing About Your Life by William Zinsser -- I need all the help I can get. Obviously, what I need most is either the time or the will to sit down and start writing.

Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg -- Yes, another "The Practice of Writing Memoir" Gulp, not written in. Yes, this is a "how-to" writing memories with actually exercise pages. Maybe I could put one page from a journal or memory book down on my list of "to-do" (see hearts below).

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence -- so loved, the front cover is there but no longer attached. The copyright on this book is 1982. I may have had it longer than that. I can't say that I have read and re-read the book as much as I have constantly been reminded by the title that I can practice being aware of the presence of God.

Born for Battle by R. Arthur Mathews (copyright 1978) -- I've also had this book for a very long time. Every time I think about passing it along something happens to remind me of its value. The battle in this book is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places. What saved the book on the bookshelf this week was a section "God's Good Purposes in Human History" in Dallas Willard's book The Allure of Gentleness. It's too long of a discussion to post here, but I recommend Willard's book.

The Calvary Road by Roy Hession -- This is another book that I sometimes think of passing on and then I see the words I have underlined. The author, at least as he wrote the book, writes humbly and lovingly (which always draws me in) of openness and transparency.

If by Amy Carmichael -- Another little book I have had for a long time. When I pull it down, it is usually to remind myself of her poem "Love through me, Love of God" -- the second stanza is as follows:

Powers of the love of Good, 
Depths of the heart Divine, 
O Love that faileth not, break forth, 
And flood this world of Thine. 

Boundless Love by six women -- As I took the picture of this bookshelf, I wondered, "Do I have this book up here because I'm too lazy to pass it on?" So, I pull it down and start to read. The short vignettes by these women are so good. They were all grey-haired when the book came out, and I have been looking for writings by older women. The back page is a appropriate synopsis: "Our faith begins and ends with the love of God. In the face of life's struggles, how deeply we need to trust in a love greater than ourselves..."

A Heart Like His by Mike and Amy Nappa -- Written like a blog would be written, before there were blogs.

I Celebrate You, Grandmother! -- Back to the journal type of books. A gift book I found at a yard sale and couldn't pass up...even though my grandmothers died many years ago. I'm not sure what I intend to do with it! Hope my grandchildren find it and fill it in for me? Hah!

A Closer Walk by Catherine Marshall -- I keep pages 102-103 permanently bookmarked. These are the pages when Marshall discusses the day she decided to practice "fasting from criticism." Her account is hilarious (always hilarious when someone else it is happening to someone else). She writes: "My critical nature had not corrected a single one of the multitudinous things I found fault with." Those last three words are key words. Most of us, myself especially included, would not think of ourselves as critical. The word "critical" applies to someone mean, doesn't it. However, Marshall fasted from speaking out anything that day with which she found fault (whether she was right or not!). See below the dotted line for what she learned from this day.

Finally, A Time To Pray 365 Classic Prayers to help you through the year, compiled by Philip Law -- The title states it all, and I've used this book a lot.

Would I put any of these books on my Ideal Bookshelf? -- I don't know. Possibly the All Shall Be Well. Small, good quotes, good reflections.

This morning, I wanted to accomplish as much as possible. I tend to jump from one activity to the next, getting things done, but maybe not as efficiently as possible (and forgetting some things in the middle of doing others). I have practiced making a list in the past and it has worked for me (as long as I don't lose all the little sticky notes, pieces of paper, etc.). Typically I jump from one activity to the next as they come to mind. This morning as I thought of something that needed to be done, I jotted it down on a piece of paper. This kept me from thinking of a computer activity and then finding myself still on the computer an hour later. I kept a list of everything that needed to be accomplished on the computer.

It did occur to me as my list grew that this might be overwhelming to a parent who is already overwhelmed. (One obviously can not put "change baby's diaper" on the list.) I wondered if putting one thing down per page, such as in this disposable little journal, might look more do-able. Once an action is crossed off, the page can be used again. It becomes more of a list making device than a journal, but one can look back and see how she made it through the day, and when there are encouraging words on the page to continually look at each time, an inexpensive journal (often found at the dollar store or cheaply at a yard sale) can be better than plain sheets of paper (easily lost).

If you're looking to practice a day of fasting from criticism, it might help to read what Marshall discovered:
1) A critical spirit focuses on ourselves and makes us unhappy. We lose perspective and humor.
2) A critical spirit blocks the positive creative thoughts God longs to give us.
3) A critical spirit can prevent good relationships between individuals and often produces retaliatory criticalness.
4) Criticalness blocks the work of the Spirit of God: love, good will, mercy.
5) Whenever we see something genuinely wrong in another person's behavior, rather than criticize him or her directly, or -- far worse -- gripe about him behind his back, we should ask the Spirit of God to do the correction needed. (Marshall 104)

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Cooking (Tender at the Bone)...or Eating

When reading book reviews, one must necessarily read with a pinch of salt. I choose to write "pinch of salt" here because the book I finished last Tuesday was a book with recipes, but it was not a cookbook. Readers who hate for an author to include recipes are going to hate this book, maybe not even finish it. Those who don't mind will read the book and enjoy the story where author Ruth Reichl discovers that "food could be a way of making sense of the world." As for me, the recipes did not interfere with my reading of the book, and if I were to buy the book for myself (it was loaned to me by a friend), I would be buying it because I wanted the recipes.

Reichl's story is a memoir, of sorts. She writes: "This book is absolutely in the family tradition. Everything here is true, but it may not be entirely factual. In some cases I have compressed events; in others I have made two people into one. I have occasionally embroidered." As it turns out, I have fallen into a genre of reading that I don't usually read: memoirs. I'm reading four of them currently. I have discovered that memoirs have quite a bit of fictional edge to them.

Reichl states, "I learned early that the most important thing in life is a good story." Hmmm, sounds like a good book discussion question there. I hope this means her mom was not quite as dysfunctional as she sounds in the book. Her mother's habit of serving moldy food did influence me. I immediately went to my refrigerator and threw out the turkey bones I had been saving to make bone soup. Granted, her mom had them in the refrigerator two weeks and I only had them in three days, but her mom's "Everything Stew" made me squeamish at the thought of using the bones less than fresh off the turkey.

When an author embellishes a memoir, a person with an average adventurous life (me) can feel as if only people with amazing stories are worthy of being published. I don't know about the worthy part, but certainly Reichl may have felt that need in order to have her book published. As a story, it's a fun, easy read (four days).

I did have one experience that connected with one of hers. Risotto. I am here to save your meal if you find yourself in Italy, at a local market buying Arborio rice because there isn't any other rice on the shelf. You take your groceries back to the little place you are renting for the week in Tuscany. You measure out the water, just like you would for rice at home. You measure out the rice: 1/2 the amount of the water.


Your rice will never cook this way. EVER. You will give up on it and eat the rest of the meal without the rice.

Risotto, an Italian dish made with Arborio rice must have little amounts of broth added to it and you must stir and stir and stir. As the site in the link below states it: "you have one job and one job only" to keep stirring while you add the broth. Risotto Recipe for Beginners

I have not tried cooking it the way Reichl mentions in the book: "...cover the rice with boiling broth and bake it". She does not include a recipe. I surmise that she does not think it is a good idea either.

Another take away from the book: a mentor to Reichl makes her "taste salad dressings over and over until I could pour out the precise ratio of olive oil to vinegar without looking at what I was doing. 'It's like typing, ' she said, 'you have to know it in the fingers so that you do not think about it with the head. You will need this later.'"

This is quite a profound practice. More and more I am coming to realize the body has memories which the mind forgets. I see this in my father with his Alzheimer's. I see it when I come to the computer ready to put in one of the many passwords I use. My fingers remember that which I might have a difficult time telling someone if I had to do it without moving my fingers. And, I am finding it in my spiritual life as well. In the recent past, walking with Christ has been too much of a cerebral walk and not enough of a bodily one. While saying they don't believe in Gnosticism, some Christians act gnostic! Only spirit is good, and matter is evil.

What?! Where have I taken you, the reader? Jesus loved to eat: see how often he is doing it in the gospel accounts. This is a joyful book, and I hope the character of Doug (Reichl's husband) is a true one. He really is a turning point in the book. His goodness brings out joy in Reichl's dad and courage in Reichl herself (along with her friend Marion).

So, I end with recommending this book to those who can handle recipes within a story, and if, in addition to reading the book,  you would like to watch a joyous movie (different story) about food and love and goodness bringing out the best in a group of stiff, straight-laced, religious group, watch Babette's Feast.
A suggested practice: Really enjoy making a meal. Look at the colors. Smell the fragrances. Taste and taste and taste again. Sit down to eat. Take your time. Savor the meal (or if you're at my house, feel free to chuckle with me over my mishaps). Love the people you're with. Thank God for whatever has been provided. Bless the food, the hands that prepared it, those who eat it. (If you have sandpaper people in your life -- which involves other practices -- then, in this practice, start with just you and God enjoying the meal, or a few people willing to enjoy communing over a meal with you.) 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Training (Solomon's Oak by Jo-Ann Mapson)

Once upon a time, after being heartbreakingly laid off, I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to review books and connect each book with an -ing word (swimming, walking, sleeping, etc.). "Training" works for this book, but so does "grieving", and both of those indirectly. "Living" describes the contents of this novel, but "living" is one of those generalized words that works for just about any story.

Surprisingly, this is the February meeting choice for our local library book discussion group. While the setting will be known to all of the members (since it is set in our own county and the next county over), the author mentions the faith of the dead husband early on. He had built a chapel on the property where he would go to pray. This automatically screams out "Christian romance novel" to the majority of the members of the book club and some may not even read to the end. Those same members would be wrong. Is that a plot spoiler? Mapson treats everyone kindly in this novel: believer and non-believer alike, so her target audience is obviously not going to be on the far ends of the religious/not religious spectrum.

Left with readers in the middle, those looking for classic symbolism are going to fall away. Solomon's  Oak fits the definition from Oxford Living Dictionary (online): "A fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism." Solomon's Oak is a story with a slightly typical ending in one area but not in two other areas (which I can not mention without spoiling the ending).

Is the book worth checking out of the library and reading? Definitely (for reasons I will mention below). Is it worth buying? Hmmm, that depends on what you want to remember from the book after you are done reading it which brings me to "training."

Mapson's realism comes in describing the training of her dogs (and even in some respects, her horses). The descriptions of training might be a bit much for some readers. I wouldn't say it was overdone, and I liked the variety of approaches she took with her dogs. I might still question her foster son's demonstration of building a relationship in two hours with a snapping, snorting four-year-old mare, but it fits the storyline. As Mapson writes in the story: "It's my belief that animals can help a human being travel to the wounds of childhood. The best part is, once you go there, you can fix things. Get on with life."

The animals in the story are as much a part of the story as the human beings. The main character, Glory, fosters a teenager not doing well in the county social system. The teenager, Juniper, connects with one of the dogs. Part of Juniper's issues involves a mystery, just enough for those of us who don't read mysteries. Maybe not enough of a mystery for readers of that genre.

"Fostering" could have been another word along with "grieving." The English assignment written by Juniper on Christmas is one part of this novel that makes it a definitely-read-this novel. All of the English assignments written by Juniper are as academically bad to read as you would expect from a girl who hates school (with good reason), but the essay on Christmas is eye-opening.

Grieving is what both the teenager and Glory and Joseph are doing. Yes, there's a man and there's a romance, but the characters work well in the story.

"Wedding" is another -ing word but not in the same category. Mapson's attention to detail may annoy some readers who just want to get on with the story. I think each part is described well, including another -ing word: homeschooling -- homeschooling via the John Holt method. Holt would have loved the description as it is a perfect example of what he believed in.

Annoyances for me?
Mild -- Page 72 when Glory and her sister Halle (I could have included "sibling" as a word as well) are discussing their mom who is sixty-two years old as if that is old. Granted the mom has inflammatory arthritis, but still sixty-two is not ancient!
More than mild -- Mapson starts off great with an omniscient viewpoint (something that seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years), and then she falls into the same modern flaw I see often these days. Let's change the narrator by titling the chapter with the character's name. Why not learn how to write in the omniscient view all the way through the novel?

On Goodreads, I won't be giving it 5 stars because I reserve that for books I buy, but "Juniper's" essay on Christmas and the details on activities that could be learned within these pages along with a good story push it from 3 (my original thoughts when I started the book) to a 4.
Since my blog introduction mentions slow track spiritual formation, my take away from this book: "training" when it is done well is not a bad word. We accept training for sports or sporting events. We accept the idea of training for animals, but somehow the idea of training ourselves in the area of spiritual formation seems so unspiritual as if training is too mechanical and lacks mystery. It helps me to think of training as helping my body learn good habits, in this case, good habits of coming to God in relational ways and learning good habits of being kind and patient and forgiving to others so that I can love them as Jesus tells me to love them.

A take away from the book: training myself to listen and not assume what I think is cheery (in the book for Juniper, Christmas) will be cheery to someone else, training myself to look and listen because one dog is not like every other, one human being is not like every other, one person's grief is not like another person's grief.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Word, Star Word

My parents, and my friends' parents taught us this little ditty: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." I have no idea where the saying came from, but it is not true. Words can hurt, and words can heal, mend, help, and inspire.

Joanne Rogers's forward to The World According to Mister Rogers starts with this quote by Bessie Anderson Stanley:

"He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much, who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men, and the love of little children, who has filled his niche and accomplished his task, who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul, who has never lacked appreciation of Earth's beauty or failed to express it, who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had, whose life was an inspiration, whose memory a benediction."

Since words do have impact, I would add that the English language still has a challenge in ensuring that the "He" with which this quote begins also applies to "She," and each gender can enjoy the trust of pure women or pure men and the respect of intelligent men and women.

Joanne -- Mrs. Fred Rogers -- explains: "There were always quotes like that tucked away in Fred's wallet, next to his neatly folded bills, or in the pages of his daily planner book. Perhaps he liked having words of wisdom close to him, as if he wanted -- or needed -- to be constantly reminded of what was important in life. The outside world may have thought his qualities of wisdom and strength came naturally to him, but those close to him knew that he was constantly striving to be the best that he could be. He was as human as the rest of us" (1-2).

This post is not a review of that book. I only read those first two pages yesterday and intend to save this small size book for those weeks during the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge when I'm not going to be able to finish a larger size book!

This post is about words. A word, actually. A word on a star. My word on a star last year was "Newness." You can read about last year's word here: This Isn't the Newness I Signed Up For.

I attend a small church and a big church. Big churches offer a lot, but small churches can also offer activities that would be difficult for mega churches: activities like ones where stars are placed all over the church. After service, those who want a star, take one off of the wall (or window sill or door jamb) and turn it over to reveal a word that can be used in meditation with God throughout the year.

I started thinking about this year's star last night while I was desperately trying to get to sleep (and berating myself for drinking coffee late in the afternoon). I thought about how I should go about picking my star: by color? by location within the church? I thought about what word I might get. There are over 400 words, and I was trying to prepare for the word I would get!

The word I picked up was not one that crossed my mind; however, first, I will explain how I decided. I came to church and said to myself: "I would like a star from around the beautiful stained glass window of Jesus and the woman." Next,  I thought about color: Not purple because for some reason I was thinking I already had a purple star, but that was the color of my granddaughter's star last year (she had "thankfulness"). I was drawn to a teal-colored star on the left and then a black star on the corner. (I really like black as my children know. They used to accuse me of only owning clothing in shades of black.) Meanwhile, the service began and I glanced at the stars in front of me. My eyes were drawn to a deep red star. I must explain that reds and pinks have never been my favorite colors...until the past two years. I have fallen in love with a deep red. My Christmas tree this year had deep red ornaments and twinkly white lights. Very typical Christmas colors, but highly unusual for me.

I chose a deep red star, turned it over, and read "Forgiveness." If you've read my blog for any length of time, you will know my reaction was one of my default reactions: "Oh no! Who or what am I going to have to forgive this year? From whom am I going to need to ask forgiveness?" I tend to jump  off the deep end in my immediate reactions. (For readers in other countries who may not have this saying, it refers to swimmers, usually beginners, who jump into the deep end of the pool to their detriment rather than learning to swim slowly stroke by stroke.)

After my immediate "Oh my life is going to fall apart" reaction, I settle into a calmer "Well, Lord God, this is going to be an interesting year." Here is my star in its star place:

I close by telling you that I love this picture above. So much is represented here: my husband and I (in our younger years at Christmas); items from Russia, England, and Japan; items old  from grandparents, aunt,  my childhood, my children's childhoods; handcrafted items; and items from special events. Nestled among those memories: a star of "newness" and now a star of "forgiveness."

It's an important word. I'll let you know come December 2018 how life turns out. Lord willing. 

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Magi, Community, Regrets, Resolutions, God...Or, Musings on This Twelfth Day of Christmas

Our Magi have arrived to their, not biblically accurate but culturally acceptable, place with the Holy Family and the Shepherds.

Several times in 2017 I heard the statement made: God is enough. Indeed God IS enough, AND God in God's enoughness (with apologies to those of you reading this in translation since "enoughness" -- uncountably enough -- is not in a traditional dictionary)... God, being so enough to cover anything and everything, wants community, loves community. As Dallas Willard was so often heard to say:

"The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with Himself included in that community as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant."

Picture Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, born to parents who could only afford turtle doves as their temple sacrifice after the birth of Jesus (so they were not wealthy). Angels gave them messages. An older cousin and her husband were part of their support group. Shepherds, perhaps multi-generational if the shepherds brought their older sons with them, came to honor them as well as Magi, obviously wealthy enough to make a long journey bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts. Later they will be greeted (and given messages to ponder) by an old woman and an old man. Years later they will travel with family and friends, people Mary and Joseph trust so much, they won't look for Jesus for three days (and then discover he is not with them).

Here on this twelfth day of Christmas, on Epiphany Day when the manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi is celebrated (and the Christmas tree is undecorated and put out into the trash barrel), I find myself thinking about community, regrets, and resolutions.

I'm not a New Year's Resolution maker. Resolutions set me up for failure. However, I do like to practice behaviors that will draw me to love God and love others. As I think of community, I want to practice listening and being present to those with a message, to those who support me, to those of all social classes, all ages, to my family and friends.

As for regrets, unlike a popular song lyric, I have more than a few, but when those regrets come to call, I don't want to waste present time (especially when I've apologized over and over for them) in regretting my regrets. Instead I want to practice taking the next right step I know to take (another Willardism) and not regret this present day sometime in the future. I won't always get it right, but as I fix my eyes on Jesus, I will be at peace. As I practice loving God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving others as myself, I will still experience heartache and sorrows, but I will find comfort in sorrow, share joy and peace in tribulations, see beauty in the ashes.

While I'm musing, have you ever found yourself thinking of something and then completely unexpectedly, you read about something you are thinking of? This morning, I read this in Big Sur and The Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch by Henry Miller (the first time I've ever read a Henry Miller book):

"What could one bring that would be of value to the community? Just a normal, modest desire to do whatever needs to be done in whatever way it can be done. Briefly, two capable hands, a strong heart, and a certificate against disillusionment. If you have an intellect, bring it with you, but not the rubbish that usually goes with it...And, if you bring nothing else, bring a sense of humor..." (Miller 37). Sounds like a good practice to me. 

Friday, January 05, 2018

How Does One Choose for an Ideal Bookshelf?

One down, fifty-one more to go. Books, that is. I'm trying to read 52 books in 52 weeks. I happened to be at the library, and the librarians had  showcased My Ideal Bookshelf. I borrowed it before anyone else had the opportunity. It is the perfect book to start a year of reading. Every other page focuses on the ideal bookshelf of "more than one hundred leading cultural figures" -- basically the friends and friends of friends of the author and illustrator. I gave it five stars on Goodreads (this first paragraph is also almost word for word the same as that review) because I'm going to buy the book for my own library so that I can have all those lists of books at hand. I rejoiced to see one of my favorites Middlemarch on three ideal bookshelves. Moby Dick showed up on several as expected (but I'm still not going to read it in full). Then, there were books that were on a number of bookshelves that I had never heard of before. I liked the variety in the bookshelves: books on photography, design, technology, poetry, plays, fiction, non-fiction, childhood books and encyclopedias, math books (math!) and books in languages other than English.

I already used a picture of the book My Ideal Bookshelf on my last post where I shared that I was going to take the challenge "Reading 52 Books in 52 Weeks...Oh My!" so I'll share a picture, not of my ideal bookshelf (I don't know what I'll put on that bookshelf yet), but here are the books on our nightstand. Some of these have been here for quite a while!

Frankly, I cleaned it up a bit. I truly cleaned it up before the holidays and then cleaned it up some more before taking the picture. Since I realized I was going to practice "real" this year, here is the real view:

Clothes thrown on top and a diffuser that doesn't soak everything but puts a little bit of moisture into our dry air. After I took these two pictures, I also realized one of the books is backwards.

One of my writing professors for each assigned composition also assigned an article to read out of the book above. I had primarily been a novel reader up until that time (with plays and poetry included), but I really came to enjoy non-fiction magazine articles through the influence of this book. The book was on the stand because I thought my husband might enjoy reading short pieces while he was recovering from a serious infection in his leg. He's not much of a reader, so a very long time ago, I found the Paul Reiser book on Couplehood and thought I would read it out loud. The book is hilarious (or at least I thought so way back when).

Headed upward on the righthand side is Interior Castle by Teresa of Ávila which I intended to read but only made it to page twelve. I still intend to read it. Maybe I'll do that for one of my 52 books this year. I'm practicing not starting or acquiring anything new this year. Find that idea here in this post.

Author David writes: I keep imagining a tradition I’d like to invent. After you’re established in your career, and you have some neat stuff in your house, you take a whole year in which you don’t start anything new or acquire any new possessions you don’t need.
No new hobbies, equipment, games, or books are allowed during this year. Instead, you have to find the value in what you already own or what you’ve already started.
For those of you still reading because you're curious about the rest of the books on the stand: 
Continuing on the righthand side, from bottom to top: 
Quiet  by Susan Cain -- finished last year, need to find time to review it and add to Goodreads
Boo by Rene Gutteridge -- borrowed from younger daughter, keep meaning to loan it to my mom who would enjoy the story. 

On the lefthand side, bottom to top: 
Everyday with Jesus Bible with Devotions by Selwyn Hughes -- read through several times. It's a one-year reading bible. I enjoyed the groupings of OT, NT, psalm and proverbs readings along with the short devotional and prayer. 
Two books on preaching that I finished reading: Preaching by Timothy Keller and Communication for a Change by Stanley Jones. I think they're still on the stand because I haven't reviewed them yet. 
The Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris L. West is the oldest book I own in this grouping of books. It has my maiden name written on the inside cover. Originally published in 1963, I read the second edition in 1969 and as a high schooler, I was impressed with the story. I held onto the book for years and two years ago, I finally placed it into a "give it away" box. However, then I heard a speaker quote from the book and, suddenly, it wasn't just me that thought the book had worth. As it turns out, one of the participants in My Ideal Bookshelf also included mention of The Shoes of the Fisherman

With that comment, I have brought this post full circle back to My Ideal Bookshelf. 

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Reading 52 Books in 52 Weeks...Oh My!

Austen and Huxley and Lewis, oh my! I love reading books, and I've never taken a reading challenge like this before. A book per week? I'm going to give it a go starting with this book (since I already started it on January 1, 2018).

It also has bookshelves of books every other page so I have plenty of if I needed any more ideas for books to read!

If you would like to take the challenge, here is the link to participate:

Monday, January 01, 2018

Five Books I Wish I Had Read When They Were First Published...

...six, if you count My Ideal Bookshelf, published in 2012. I just picked it up from the library last week; however, I had this idea for a New Year's post of "books I wish I had read sooner" prior to reading this anthology. It turns out that the illustrator of this book has an ongoing blog and website which you can find in the link. With hundreds of books, I find it a bit daunting to come up with an ideal bookshelf. My version of an idea bookshelf is a library. Instead, here are the books I wish I had read when they were first published.

The first book, I've already discussed above, and I'll keep coming back to it throughout 2018. I'll include the front of the cover at the end of the post. The second book, You Gotta Be the Book, was originally published in 1995 while I was in grad school for my Masters in Education, Curriculum and Instruction. This book could have been assigned to me then, but none of my professors did so. I even took a class in reading instruction. My copy is the third edition with a forward by the author written twenty years after the original. He updated the research, and that is lovely; still, I think of all the struggling readers I could have helped if I had known the information in this book. Basically, struggling readers do not see what natural or skillful readers see in their minds. This book includes practices tried and the amazing results gained when a teacher stops thinking either the student needs to get off the phone or needs to try harder or needs more skills. Some of those may apply, but they may apply because the student doesn't see what he or she is reading.

The third book, I have not finished as yet so I don't want to make a bold "you must read this" statement for it. All I know, so far, is that Aldous Huxley gave some amazing lectures at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1959. I can be forgiven for not being there at the time as I was barely in kindergarten. I only stumbled upon this collection of his lectures because I am enrolled in a trio of adult education classes on the Beat Generation authors, and Huxley is one of them. I never had any desire to learn about this group of authors since I unconsciously associated them with beatniks, and beatniks from the sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Dobie Gillis was not a beatnik but Maynard was...however, I digress. I may have to change my mind about the Beat Generation after this series of classes. Here is the Huxley quote that drew me into his lectures:

"My own feeling is that an ideal integrated education calls for an approach to the subject in terms of fundamental problems. Who are we? What is the nature of human nature? How should we be related to the planet on which we live? How are we to live together satisfactorily? How are we to develop our individual potentialities? What is the relationship between nature and nurture? If we start with these problems and make them central, we can obviously bring together information from a great number of at present completely isolated disciplines" (2).

Surprised by Hope and An Altar in the World comprise my spiritual "wish I had read sooner" section. Although, N.T. Wright's book Surprised by Hope (2008) came at the right time in my life, and maybe I need to consider that for all of these books. Perhaps, if I had read them sooner, they would not have had the impact that they did have. Wright's incredibly logical, well-researched and well-written book on the need for Christ-followers to see the beauty and importance of Christ's ascension gave me not only hope but also joy. I have read this book in full and can recommend it. I particularly appreciated the chapter on "The Redemption of Our Bodies" and "Resurrection: Life After Life After Death".
I'm finding that much of my reading these days has focused on loving God with my mind AND body. The body is not to be hated and ignored. The body in daily life is what Barbara Brown Taylor captures in her beautifully covered (stains and all) book An Altar in the World. I have not finished reading it, but I'm halfway done, and the first half alone makes the book worth buying. I recently finished the chapter on "The Practice of Wearing Skin." Will some of the people she quotes drive certain readers away? Sure. My practice when I am reading is to hang on to the good, true, and beautiful, and if I disagree with other parts, I disagree, but I don't throw the entire book out. I could not read otherwise as I have not found an author that I agree with his or her every single word...including myself!

Finally, in the fiction category: The Poldark series. I came to these books via BBC's Masterpiece Theatre. The latest series set in Cornwall is a sight for the eyes. Warleggan shown above is the fourth in the series of books by Winston Graham, the first of which was written in 1945 so I can also be forgiven for not reading this book before I was born. However, by the time I was in college, the first books could have qualified as classic (over 50 years old), and I truly feel the early novels have the hallmarks of classics: good thought provoking stories with social issues, politics, and history thrown in.

Will any of these five make the categories shown on the front cover (below) of My Ideal Bookshelf? I have not decided that as yet. Perhaps by the end of 2018, I will revisit that question and come up with my own ideal bookshelf.