How Books Saved Me

Some of the most delicious morsels we consume are not the meals we partake of but rather the nourishment of words which speak to our souls. When you are the oldest of five children with alcoholic parents, life is tenuous and uncertain, to say the least. Rocky around the edges and loosely glued together by the basic threads of food, shelter and clothing. Although my stepfather was often either unemployed when I was growing up (“I’m just in between jobs”) or underemployed, we did not go hungry.  God, via neighbors and friends throughout my young life, saw to it that we had enough to eat.

But the meals that really saved me soul-deep were the feasts I found in glorious stories, words that took me away from a chaotic and crowded household to a world of people and places that shone with beauty, peace and plenty.

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Nobody worried about ‘personal space’ when I was growing up—it would be decades before people considered that a thing. Whenever we traveled somewhere in Southern California circa 1960, we’d pile into the family station wagon, drawing invisible lines down the middle of the bench seat. Thus we claimed our personal space. There weren’t even seatbelts then to contain us.

Around the age of twelve or thirteen I was often left to babysit my brothers and sisters while my parents stepped out for the evening. (Times were different then, yes they were). When I was in charge, I simply left my siblings to play on their own while I escaped into the pages of a good book. (No one died. We are all still friends.)

During the long, slow summer days when everyone was at home, if I wanted any peace and quiet at all, I retreated to my bedroom with a book. There, away from the clamor and chaos, I could dive into the pages of a story to take me far away. Books became my solace, shutting out the noise and distraction, leading me to a pleasant world full of kind and caring people. I found beauty and gentleness, people who were just like me, getting by on little, yet living with happy hearts. I know this is the time that God planted the seeds of my love affair with words and writing.

One of those lovely books into which I escaped was Louisa May Alcott’s Rose in Bloom(c. 1876), a sequel to Alcott’s Eight Cousins. Rose in Bloom was a very old-fashioned coming of age story “with absolutely no moral” as the author stated in the preface.  The lines I read sounded like a fairy tale; splendor and parties, fancy dresses, adoring young men—all a young pre-teen girl could want.  I got lost for hours.

I also fell in love with Alcott’s classic Little Women and gravitated to the lead character of Jo (my mother’s nickname for me).  The heroine and I had much in common: both of us the oldest, bossy to a fault, and enamored of our absent fathers—Jo’s was off fighting the war, mine-a stepfather-was often away somewhere drinking or gambling.

Jo often dreamed at her mother’s feet of her father’s homecoming; perhaps the story resonated so with my young girls’ heart because I longed for that to be true as well—that my father would be present in my life.

I discovered Gene Stratton Porter’s classic Freckles which became like a sacred text to me; I have the volume I read as a 12 year old on my bookshelf today. Dreaming as I read, I envisioned Freckles’ cathedral in the swamp forest as a place of quiet wonder.  Freckles crafted a place of beauty from the forest at his feet, designed by God, where he was heard and understood.  Between those pages I found an escape like I’d never known, a place where silence spoke volumes.

I also found a kindred spirit with Freckles— a father who’d abandoned him (as my birth father had when I was five. Freckles had no one but he and God and the stunning beauty of the Limberlost Forest. Although Porter’s story never directly mentioned the Divine, God”s existence palpated between the lines.  I could sense a Presence in her words, the light glimpsing its way into the Cathedral in the woods, the chapters like a song calling me to a Somewhere Else far away. This longing planted the seeds of my search for a father who would never leave me–my Heavenly Father.

There are many other volumes that struck a chord as well—stories like The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Margaret Sidney, 1881.

“Ben, Polly, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie, and their widowed mother are a loving family, full of spirit and adventure. Ben and Polly do what they can to support the family, but a bout with measles threatens the well being of the entire Pepper clan, especially Joel and Polly.” (from the book jacket)

Five children, an absent father and the measles, a threat to our family I remember very well.  The book had been written for me, I was sure. Another classic was The Boxcar Children, Gertrude Chandler Warner, 1942, first book. A tale of four orphaned children living in—imagine!—an abandoned boxcar, making do with little or nothing.  The common thread of happy children scraping by with little, making the best of what they had; the parallels rang true as a bell.

Through all these ‘bells’, the resonating tune I heard was God’s song calling me through tales of beauty, peace and provision, feeding my soul and tuning my heart to hear His voice. My friend Laura says that “every good story leads to God” and I am inclined to agree. I didn’t have ears to hear until many years later, heeding God’s call to come, a lost and lonely little big girl with an empty heart.

I am still drawn to the classics, the song and rhythm, the beauty of the language a magnifier of the beauty in that other world where I will live some day, with my God who will never leave, the Source of all I will ever need.

Books brought me a sort of salvation, carrying me to my Savior; they carry me still to this day.

What books carried you to the Savior, Jesus?

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This is an edited version of  post which appeared in August 2015 for the blog link-up “Literacy Musing Mondays.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

May, March and April in Books #ReadUpstream

In keeping with the inauguration of the #ReadUpstream movement, I’m going to speak a little about what I’ve been reading and maybe entice you to do your own reading ‘upstream’; i.e. choosing classics and good books that speak to your heart, even if no one else is reading them. More about the origin of #ReadUpstream is here.

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When it comes to those things that bring me joy, I’m not sure whether I fancy birds or books more. Perhaps equally. I have books with ‘birds’ in the title melding those two—a love of reading and a fascination with my avian friends. There is much I learn from both—life lessons from the birds, echoing God’s message of carefree, trust-filled living and lessons in the lines of the many books that populate my home.

I often am reading many books at one time, which is why the title of this post is “March, April and May in Books.” There are many books that continue to engage me, but I will attempt to whittle down the list to include some of my current favorites.

  1. Fierce Convictions—The Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, Karen Swallow Prior

I first learned the name of Hannah More in the film ‘Amazing Grace’ (2006) about William Wilberforce and his campaign against the slave trade. There was a small part played by a feisty young woman named Hannah, whose name I catalogued for later. The later arrived with the release in 2014 of this book by Karen Swallow Prior, Professor of English at Liberty University.

Hannah More’s life was set in the backdrop of Bristol, England in the early 1700’s, a historical period that was the height of the slave trade in Europe. I’ve only just begun reading how Hannah and her sisters started a school for women, an outright novelty for the day and age, as well as learning of the unheard of practice for her to spend time–imagine this–writing in a place of her own-mostly poetry. This particular privilege was made possible by the allowance of kind benefactor who was a previous suitor.

Hannah and I have much in common—a love of writing and reading and a background in education. Of course, the part we don’t share is an experience in opposing the slave trade. That tale is ahead of me in this book and I look forward to reading it.

Continue reading

Why Creation is a Messy Process

It all began with my suitcase.

I recently returned from a five day trip to Texas to see family and friends and attend a writer’s conference in the Austin area. I packed way too many clothes and shoes. And books. (One always miscalculates the amount of ‘free time’ to read while on a trip.) In fact, when I checked into our airport in Seattle, my suitcase was three pounds overweight. I had to do some quick reshuffling to manage everything. Sigh. Out with the laptop, out with the pillow (yes, I travel with my pillow). Out with the shoes. Buy new shopping bag to sling over my shoulder. Sigh again.

Besides gleaning some nuggets of truth from the folks I heard at the three- day conference, I also began mentally gleaning my wardrobe. Weird, I know, but God often uses my physical life as an object lesson to illustrate what he’s doing inside me.

One of the gifts of getting older is finding out what you like and don’t like, what you love and what you can live without. Not only with words but in this case, with my wardrobe. I was processing new discoveries about ways of looking at my writing, adding them to the mix of my current mindset, but my mind was over-full. My overflowing suitcase matched my over-stuffed mind.

Some things needed to go to make room for these new ideas.

One of the conference speakers relayed the ideas of looking at our writing through orientation, disorientation and reorientation. I love learning about words and their root meaning. When I got home I looked up the word ‘orient’–from the Latin, ‘oriens’ meaning ‘rising sun’. When we are facing ourselves in the right direction—towards the Son—Jesus—things feel right. But when God is doing something new we feel disoriented.

We often dislike the feeling of being disoriented, so we try to pass over it too quickly to eliminate the uneasy feelings. But God is often there in the mess. In fact, He is always there in the mess. Maybe we need to take time to process and work through what’s there so we can learn from it.

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I returned from my trip on a Saturday evening. The next day I thought about rushing off to church to be with family and friends in worship. But something pulled me towards dealing with my overstuffed suitcase. I needed to get rid of some of my clothes; most of my clothes. My husband kissed me goodbye and left me to my project.20170219_154157

I was determined to go through two closets (two!) and two dressers (seriously?), keep what I knew I loved and would wear again and get rid of all the rest.The process took me most of that day and little of the next. By the time I finished I had two big plastic blue Ikea bags full to the brim.

It’s hard to explain how much lighter I felt. Not only did I have more room in my closets, I could actually see what I had.  Clearly I don’t need anything new to wear, what I have now is the ability to put things together in a new way that feels right to me. I felt reoriented, creative.

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Creation is like that, whether we’re writing a poem, planting a garden or building a piece of furniture. It often begins with the mess of feeling disoriented while things are undone and all over the place. Stuff needs to be moved around, thrown out, cut down, laid all over the floor.

I think we need the disorientation process more than we know. The song ‘Simple Gifts’ has the lines about ‘turning, turning, til we come out right.’ Our lives are a continual turning towards the Son to see what needs changing, throwing away, cutting back. When we embrace the disorientation process we’re better able to see what new and beautiful creations God has to give through us.

What mess is God calling you to make today? What have you gone through that’s led to something new? Please share in the comments.

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Simple Gifts” is a Shaker song written and composed in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett. You can hear Judy Collins singing it here.

* * *  linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee for Tell His Story

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The Most Remarkable Missionary You’ve Never Heard Of

The eyes of the world have been watching Arab refugees pour into Europe the last several months. Fear has fueled many of the reactions of folks across the continents as there has been talk and concern about the people flooding Europe–they are Muslims and could therefore possibly be terrorists.
Because of this fear many countries have said to the refugees, ‘You are not welcome here,’ leaving Muslim as well as Arab Christians abandoned and exiled, fearful of ever returning home, trapped in a life-changing limbo.

The country of Germany, however, has said, “Yes. Yes, you are welcome and we will help you.”
And miracle of miracles, many of those same Muslim people are coming to Christ.
Story after story is coming out of a church work in Germany recounting just that; using no real names, only initials–“A” was baptized, “C” received Jesus, and so on–I have personally read of the move of God changing the lives of these desperate people.**
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“Trained faith is a triumphant gladness in having nothing but God–no rest, no foothold–nothing but Himself–a triumphant gladness in swinging out into the abyss, rejoicing in a very fresh emergency that is going to prove Him true–The Lord Alone–that is trained faith.”  Lillias Trotter’s diary, 1894

 

The work of evangelizing the Muslim people may well have begun at the end of the 19thCentury when a brave, young lady left a world promising her fame and fortune and decided instead to follow God’s call to bring the Gospel to the Muslims in Algeria.
Lilias Trotter(1853-1928) was that daring young woman. She defied all the norms of Victorian England by winning the favor of England’s top art critic, John Ruskin. In an era when women were thought incapable of producing high art, Ruskin promised her work could be “immortal.” But with her legacy on the line, Lilias made a stunning decision that bids us to question the limits of sacrifice. As Lilias journeys to French Algeria in the late 1800’s to pioneer missionary work with women and children, (film) viewers are left to wonder, “Could you abandon a dream to pursue your true calling?” (from ‘Many Beautiful Things’ website).
                                                
Lilias’ biography, “A Passion for the Impossible” by Miriam Huffman Rockness, recounts the tale from Lilias’ British childhood of privilege, filled with art and leisure, to the sands of North Africa where she laid down her life for forty years. 
Her story was recommended to me by my friend Kimberlee, who insisted I’d be carried away not only with the heart of the book’s message but by the beauty of the language as well.  She was right.The text is rich and deep, full of Lilias’ observations not only of God’s faithfulness but her own deep abiding in the presence and power of God. The miraculous tales of God’s intervention and move among the Muslim people in Algeria are stirring as well as inspiring.

In 1888, without knowing a speck of Arabic and without the sponsorship of any organization, Lilias left her London home of comfort for a modest dwelling in Algeria. From the courts of their headquarters at Rue de Croissant in Blida near the North African Coast, Lilias’ love of literature and art became dynamic tools for evangelism. Many of her hand painted illustrations and sketches were part of the printed work that went into the Arab world of that day; her compassion and enthusiasm carried off the page.
“The pebble takes in the rays of light that fall on it, but the diamond flashes them out again: every little facet is means, not simply of drinking more in, 
but of giving more out.”
(letter from Lilias to her friend Blanche Piggott, 1894).
Today, over a century after John Ruskin’s encounter with Lilias, many of her exhibition paintings, along with thirty-four other leaves from her sketchbook, are buried in the Print Room of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, a hidden testament to “potential recognized, promise unrealized,” as the Lilias Trotter website declares.

Although I dream of seeing these works in person some day in England, I am thrilled to tell you that a glimpse of Lilias’ life will be available soon via film. “Many Beautiful Things” releases on March 8th on DVD.

The film has been playing to private screenings across the country and will now be available to the general public.  The movie features the voices of Michelle Dockery(Lady Mary of Downton Abbey) and John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings).
 
In Dockery’s words from the film’s trailer, “Even though I’m a Brit, I had never heard of Lilias Trotter. Now I think the whole world should hear of her and see this film.”  
 
Why? Because the legacy Lilias left is continuing to this day–barriers she crossed in the frontiers of Northern Africa in the 1900’s paved the way for many to hear the Gospel of Christ for the first time. Her artistic vision and the work of words and paintings she left the world are inspiring treasures and a testimony to God’s love and creativity.

 
“Things still look dark and heavy all round–but “when the clouds be full of rain they empty themselves upon the earth”–it is better to wait as the parched ground waits here, for the torrents that will set life going.  
And I am beginning to see that it is out of a low place that one can best believe.
It is water poured down into a low narrow channel that can rise into a fountain–
faith that comes from the depths has a spring in it! (10 July 1896)
 

Old Tables and New Life {Roots & Sky Edition}

I pour lemon oil onto my dust rag, massaging the small table’s worn and chipped surface. No amount of elbow grease or lemon oil will cover up the wear and tear–scuffs from an old plant container, water rings from one too many glasses of iced tea, the solitary black circle from a dropped cigarette.
Simply an every day side table, no precious wood or dovetailed joints in its construction.  Made of common mahogany, one small drawer holds the flotsam and jetsam of my living room, a shelf underneath supporting a large basket of books.
There is an angry spot on the bottom shelf where some rubbing alcohol spilled. I thought it would come off with the lemon oil, but the surface’s finish prohibited such repair.
Chips, scratches, streaks….the wood is far from perfect, but no matter. We will keep the table, hauling it into and out of the garage each Christmas making way for our holiday tree. Repolish, re-oil and sift through the drawers contents as needed.
Why? This piece belonged to my mother and my mother has been gone for over 30 years. I have so few of my mother’s things in my home; this little table is a daily reminder. Its value is only in the eyes of the beholder—and I am thankful to behold its glossy, worn presence.

In Christie Purifoy’s new book, “Roots and Sky” she ponders the power of every day wonder in simple things, viewed through the lens of the Seasons.  I asked a friend if I could begin reading “Roots&Sky” with the ‘Spring’ section, skipping over Fall and Winter. She counseled me to begin at the beginning, explaining there was a reason for the Autumn backstory.
I’m very grateful I started with Fall. Christie’s journal chronicles the trials and triumphs encountered when she and her husband purchased a very old farmhouse high on a hilltop in Pennsylvania. Old, like built in the 1880’s old.
 Dreaming of a grand future—flowers, farming, fellowship with neighbors–Christie and her husband begin the daunting process of reclaiming the old and worn and broken down.

Without the dark and empty slate of Autumn/Winter, 
we cannot appreciate the riot of new birth in the Spring.
What a parallel for life.  As I sit here typing on this rain-soaked day, the old, tired earth is waking up. There are signs everywhere.  Although the mantle of ground has been beaten down, grass browned and soggy, leaves laying in saturated piles scattered about, the scilla and tulips are peeking out. The Crocosmia are threatening to invade the vinca, my Pink Viburnum puts on its saucy show.
Viburnum ‘Pink Dawn’
Why do we tend the earth? Why do we tend anything that we hope will grow and yield a present joy or future beauty in our lives? Perhaps it is a statement about our confidence in the future.

From the ‘Autumn’ chapter:
“This house is deteriorating. My body is dying. We are subject to the same terrible decay.  But worth is not measured in such terms.
Once upon a time, God called his creation good.  And no curse of sin unwound those words. Gnarled maple trees. Plaster walls. An ordinary woman’s ordinary body.  All good.
To care for these is to say to death, “You are not the end.” p. 55.
This is why we care for the earth, care for ourselves, care for our homes. 
Death is not the end, but a beginning, we know, to another life with our Saviour.  The physical earth mirrors the spiritual, the cycle of seasons death/life/care, death/life/care ultimately mirror the power of God’s saving.
purple scilla
red flowering quince
From the ‘Spring’ chapter:
“To remember as the earth remembers is a powerful thing. 
Winter remembers death and spring remembers life…”  p. 121
‘Death’ is a near naked lilac bush with bare bumps of buds threatening to bloom.
‘Death’ is an old, worn table or a scuffed threshold or a broken down fence.  

We repair, we replace, we rejoice when the new comes and the old holds. When life stirs in the ground and in us we remember—what we love will hold us until that final day we see our Jesus.
But for now we plant, we tend, we care.  Spring is coming.  
Winter Hazel (smells like honey!)

My Favorite Things {Vol Three}

‘My Favorite Things’–a sporadic gathering of posts you may have missed because they’re buried in The Middle Pages. You know what I mean, eight pages into the ‘A’ Section of the paper you find a story you think belongs on the Front Page.  “Why is that buried there? I almost missed it!”   Here are few thoughtful gleanings from the virtual pages of the interwebs. 
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1. ON CALLING–Chara Donahue for Faith & Culture Blog

For long before I chose to call myself a writer my God fashioned me a scribe. Would I dare tell the God of the universe, “You can have my hands but not my pen?”
When God reminds you you’re a Writer

2. ON THE COLOR DIVIDE–Romal Tune with Fr. Richard Rohr

White privilege is largely hidden from our eyes if we are white. Why? Because it is structural instead of psychological, and we tend to interpret most things in personal, individual, and psychological ways.”
 “The Power of White Privilege

3.ON BOOKS–Jill Reid for Relief Journal

“It’s important to pay homage to the often unsung writers who grabbed hold of us in the really formative years, the years where the concrete of  bones and brains were just beginning to set, and one good sentence pressed in the soft plaster would leave its mark forever.”
 “Bookmarkings” and the power of LM Montgomery

4. ON BLOGGING–by Rebecca Reynolds at Thistle and Toad
“We can easily associate worth and identity with these digital signs of approval. And now that bloggers can made tens of thousands of dollars a year simply by collecting readers, keeping a public diary has become a legit job as well as a hobby.”
 “Why it’s kind of okay if Nobody Reads Your Blog”   

5.  ON WRITING–Beth Moore at Living Proof Ministries
“You have to factor in more than writing time. Decent writing requires much more time than it takes to actually type the sentences. Decent writing requires thinking and spinning and mulling and living and watching and listening and experiencing and reaching. These bring the strokes to the page that turn the transfer of information into true connection.”
“To New Writers With Love”  (a very long read but worth every word.)

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HAPPY READING!
photo–shadows from the lampshade in our room. j.l.c.

How Books Saved Me

Today I am guest posting at Literacy Musing Mondays Linkup with Mary Hill and Ashley Hales.  Literacy Musing Mondays  is for all bloggers who love to write anything literacy related such as essays about the love of reading and/or writing, book reviews, or posts about fun literacy activities. All family-friendly posts are welcome.

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         Some of the most delicious morsels we consume are not  the meals we partake of, but rather the nourishment of words which speak to our souls. When you are the oldest of five children with alcoholic parents, life is tenuous and uncertain, rocky around the edges and loosely glued together by basic threads of food, shelter and clothing. I could always count on those basics while growing up.  Although my father was often either unemployed (“I’m just in between jobs”) or underemployed, we did not go hungry.  God, via neighbors and friends throughout my young life, saw to it that we had enough to eat.

      But the meals that really saved me, body and soul, were the feasts I found in glorious stories, words that took me away from a chaotic and crowded household to a world of people and places that shone with beauty, peace and plenty.

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I am lending a hand to my son as he and his family move house (for the 3rd time.) My grandson Hanan, the oldest of 5, is hiding in his room reading “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”  As a teacher and a grown up I am loathe to call the Wimpy Kid books ‘literature’ but I will say this—those books have got my grandson reading.

Books were my solace when I was growing up, too. I remember hiding away in my room, shutting out the noise and the too-muchness of my four siblings. As early as the age of 12 or 13, whether I wanted to or not, I was often left to babysit my brothers and sisters while my parents stepped out for the evening.

When I was in charge I just let my brothers and sister play on their own (those were simpler times) while I escaped into the pages of a good book.  I found beauty and gentleness, people who were just like me, getting by on little, yet living with happy hearts. A big family was a plus in hard times; I could definitely relate.

One of those books I carry in my heart is Louisa May Alcott’s “Rose in Bloom” (c. 1876), a sequel to Alcott’s ‘Eight Cousins.’  It was a very old-fashioned coming of age story “with absolutely no moral” as the author stated in the preface.  The lines read like a fairy tale; splendor and parties, fancy dresses, adoring young men—all a young pre-teen girl could want.  I got lost for hours. 

I also fell in love with Alcott’s “Little Women” and gravitated to the lead character of Jo (my mother’s nickname for me).  The heroine and I had much in common: both of us the oldest, bossy to a fault, and enamored of our absent fathers—Jo’s was off fighting the war, mine – a stepfather-was away somewhere drinking or gambling. 

Jo often dreamed at her mother’s feet of her father’s homecoming; perhaps the story resonated so with my young girls’ heart because I longed for that to be true as well—that my father would be present in my life.

Gene Stratton Porter’s classic “Freckles” also became a sacred text to me; I have the volume I read as a 12 year old on my bookshelf today. Dreaming as I read, I envisioned Freckles’ cathedral in the swamp forest as a place of solace.  Freckles created  a place of beauty from the forest at his feet, designed by God, where he was heard and understood.  Between those pages I found an escape to quiet like I’d never known, a place where silence spoke volumes. 

I also found a kindred spirit with Freckles— a father who’d abandoned him, no one but he and God and the stunning beauty of the Limberlost. Although Porter’s story never directly mentioned the Divine, His existence palpated between the lines.  I could sense a Presence in her words, the light glimpsing its way into the Cathedral in the woods, the chapters like a song calling me to a Somewhere Else far away.

There are many other volumes that struck a chord as well—stories like “The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew”, Margaret Sidney, 1881. (from the book jacket),

“Ben, Polly, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie, and their widowed mother are a loving family, full of spirit and adventure. Ben and Polly do what they can to support the family, but a bout with measles threatens the well being of the entire Pepper clan, especially Joel and Polly.”

Five children, an absent father and the measles, a threat to our family I remember very well.  The book had been written for me, I was sure.

Another classic was “The Boxcar Children”, Gertrude Chandler Warner, 1942, first book. A tale of four orphaned children living in—imagine!—an abandoned boxcar, making do with little or nothing.  The common thread of happy children scraping by with little, making the best of what they had; the parallels rang true as a bell.

Through all those ringing bells, the resonating tune was God’s song calling me through the pages of these books. I was being drawn  to beauty, peace and provision, while He prepared my heart and soul to hear His voice.

I didn’t listen until many years later, heeding God’s call to come, a lost and lonely little big girl with an empty heart. 

I am still drawn to the classics, the song and rhythm, the beauty of the language a magnifier of the beauty in that other world where I will live some day, with my God who will never leave, who is the resource of all I will ever need.

Books brought me a sort of salvation, carrying me to my Savior; 

they carry me still to this day.

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Now back to the LMM linkup.What have you read this week?
What literacy activities have you participated in with your family and loved ones?
All family-friendly posts are welcome. 😉
You will have until Saturdays at 12 p.m. now to link up!  
Literacy Musing Mondays
Ashley from www.circlingthestory.com
Ashley @Circling the Story: Blog/Twitter/Pinterest/Instagram
Mary @Maryandering Creatively: Blog/Facebook/Twitter/PinterestInstagram

Last Week’s Top Clicked Post!

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