On Reading & Reciting Poetry

I have a signed copy of this lovely book from Caroline Kennedy’s Seattle appearance a few years back. I was amazed by how many of these poems she knew by heart, many of which she recited for us  that night. 

I am a terrible memorizer. Memorization is an analytical skill, a counter-intuitive trait to this Random Abstract Global thinker. However, next to trying to remember favorite Scriptures, which I’ve gotten mostly by osmosis lo, these 40 plus years, I do want to get some poetry in my memory banks. As C.S. Lewis said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” (Thanks to Johnny Anomaly at Creative Coping Podcast for that quote.)

So off we go; there are so many lovely poems to memorize.

Poem Number One-The Singing Bowl, Malcolm Guite

I began memorizing Malcolm Guite’s The Singing Bowl last March after a special retreat  where God gave me a singing bowl as a metaphor for the weekend’s experience. In an effort to remind myself often of what God had done, I committed to the process, which I discovered is very doable if the words rhyme. Meter helps, as well.

Guite’s poem is a sonnet–14 lines written in iambic pentameter, with alternating end rhymes. What is iambic pentameter you ask? For those of us not steeped in Shakespeare’s work, let’s thank Google.

“Iambic pentameter is line of verse with five metrical feet, each consisting of one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed) syllable.”

Read The Singing Bowl and you’ll see what I mean.

What I’m Reading–3 Top Picks for Summer

I hope you’ll find some time to read just for fun this summer, just for the enjoyment, inspiration and beauty of words. 

Here are my 3 top picks to consider–Poetry, Biography and Fiction.

Poetry–Poems to Learn by Heart, Caroline Kennedy, Editor

caroline kennedy collection

I met Caroline Kennedy when she was in Seattle five years ago for April’s annual National Poetry Month. (“Met” is a relative term; see photo below.) The line to get into the enormous church snaked around the streetcorner but it was so worth the wait. Caroline  was animated and inspiring, regaling us with tales of how her grandmother made she and her brother John learn and recite poetry. How Uncle Teddy entertained the family with his memorization of “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Poems to Learn by Heart is a lovely book to look at as well as read, full of remarkable illustrations. Sections include poems about friendship and love–with passages from I Corinthians 13 and Micah 6:8–as well as poems on family, school, sports and games. And because the book is for children, too, there are fairies and ogres and nonsense, some of which I enjoyed reading out loud to my grandchildren.

Here’s my post/poem about meeting Caroline.

P_20180625_073017_vHDR_Auto
‘Caroline Kennedy’ (can you read that? Smile.)
caroline kennedy
The closest I’ll ever be to royalty.

2. Biography–Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, 1967 Scholastic Edition

the story of my life

“Those are red-letter days in our lives when we meet people who thrill us like a fine poem, people whose handshake is brimful of unspoken sympathy, and whose sweet, rich natures impart to our eager, impatient spirits a wonderful restlfulness which, in its essence is divine.

“The perplexities, irritations, and worries that have absorbed us pass like unpleasant dreams, and we wake to see with new eyes and hear with new ears the beauty and harmony of God’s real world.”

I re-read The Story of My Life last summer and was surprised as a grown-up to recognize the way Helen Keller’s faith in God shown through her words. I also enjoyed very much the description of Annie Sullivan as Helen’s teacher, and what it was like for Helen to go to college. We share a similar aversion to numbers, and her comments made me smile.

There is much to enjoy in this book–the description of nature, it’s sounds a n d “sights”–“reading” other people with a simple touch and “listening” with one’s hands.  This is a short book but full of rich words to savor. The Story of My Life is only $2.50 Amazon(!!) and also available FREE as a PDF from the American Federation for the Blind. Click here to download it.

The book was also made into a movie “The Miracle Worker” with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke as Helen. The movie was filmed in 1962 and Patty won the Academy Award for best actress that year; she was a mere 16 years old. If you click on the video in the blue highlighted link, you’ll find the sound to be a bit iffy, but I still like it better than a contemporary adaptation done by Disney in 2000 also available online free.

3. Fiction–Wonder, R.J. Palacio, Alfred Knopf, 2012

Wonder cover

School is officially out for the summer, and although I’m retired, I still mark time by the school calendar. When I was substuting as an elementary teacher, it seemed every other week there was at least one classroom where Wonder was the class readaloud. Of course, that meant I read only one or two chapters at a time and completely out of order, so I had no idea what the story was actually about. The illustration looked odd to me and I couldn’t ever get a straight answer to, “What’s the book about?”

I figured it was another wimpy kid’s book; you know, not actual literature, just some fluff. But Elementary school kids are always the first to know when anything cool is going on, especially when it comes to new books. After all, it’s because of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” that some  5th grade boys I know actually started reading.

R.J. Palacio (a sort of made-up name; more on that later) wrote Wonder in 2012. The book wasn’t on my radar again until the 2017 movie came out with Julia Roberts. She played the mom (Owen Wilson plays the father) and I definitely wanted to see it. But first I had to read the book.

I’m so glad I did.

Raquel Jaramillo, aka R.J. Palacio, was a children’s book editor and working with OTHER people as a cover designer for their books before she wrote Wonder. (Palacio is her mother’s maiden name.) If it wasn’t for a chance encounter at an ice cream shop with her kids in their New York neighborhood, the story of Wonder never would have been born. (Palacio tells the background of the book in her Preface.)

Wonder is told from different viewpoints, each one a person connected to Auggie Pullman, the main character.  Of course, the first person we hear from is Auggie, who tells us what it’s like to be him—a kid with severe facial abnormalities due to a very rare condition—Treacher Collins Syndrome.

Other sections are written by Auggie’s sister Miranda, two classmates Summer and Jack, as well as a section is written by Justin, Auggie’s sister Olivia’s boyfriend.

Like the Gospels, Wonder weaves together an entire life story via these alternating narratives. Through the weaving we learn about prejudice and the harm it can do, as well as the revelation that comes when people recognize and embrace their alikeness more than their differences. Embedded in the weaving are Mr. Browne’s Precepts, taken from the words of well-known writers, including John Wesley, Virgil, John Donne and Blaise Pascal.

If there’s one theme of Wonder, it’s to be kind. And to not judge a book by its cover. 

That’s a lesson that never goes out of season.

You can learn more about Treacher-Collins syndrome here.

 

 

 

On Reading & Connection

“A book begins with falling in love. You lose your heart to a place, a house, an avenue of trees, or with a character who walks in and takes sudden and complete possession of you. Imagination glows, and there is the seed of your book.” -Elizabeth Goudge, The Joy of the Snow, 1974

Squeezed into the wooden container on my desk is a well-worn yellow file folder labeled simply, ‘Books.’  Inside are sticky notes on old journal paper, torn pieces from the corner of a calendar, typed out comments from my computer and the other jigsaw pieces of my writer’s random brain. This is the folder where I stash my “find this book!” titles. (Maybe you have notes like that?)

In 2007 I discovered a writer whose name continued to pop up in the work I was reading. After awhile, when one hears a particular person mentioned over and over again, when their writing is cited with glowing praise each time in those mentions, one considers, “well, perhaps I should look her up.”

That is how I found Elizabeth Goudge. Goudge was a British writer in the early 1900’s (1900-1984) whose astonishing descriptions and magical phrasing carries a strong message of faith throughout each and every one of her rich stories. I recently added to my Goudge collection with the arrival of eight (8!) paperback copies from a publisher in Great Britain–titles I’d been looking for high and low here in the States. I’m very grateful for online used book dealers.

In the recent delivery is a copy of  Goudge’s autobiography, The Joy of the Snow mentioned above, I have relished learning more about her life but find particularly encouraging her notes for writers. In the first chapter, ‘Storytelling’, she has this to say about inspiration:

…the great flood of light which poets and mystics pour into the world

has nothing in common with the glowworm sparks of the small fry;

except for the fact that something, or some being, must have lit it in the first place. (emphasis mine) p. 18

What I find most remarkable and deeply likable about Goudge’s storytelling is the way she embodies the Christian life without ever talking about Jesus. It is far easier, I think, to make surface declarations about faith and a relationship with Christ, spelling out for readers exactly what you mean. A truly great writer leaves a bit of illumination on the page, lighting the way for us to find the Truth buried like a treasure in between the lines.

Sacrifice, kindness, faithfulness and selflessness are just a few of the many biblical themes woven through the characters and story in Goudge’s work.

Her reactions to critics who questioned the ‘value’ of her work due to its religious (albeit often hidden) nature, she has this to say:

We all hold our faith with a certain amount of fear and trembling (even Blake wrote,

My hand trembles exceedingly upon the Rock of Ages”), and to find that others share our faith has a steadying influence, especially in these days when the Rock of Ages himself is for ever being prodded and sound to see if he is still there.

To those of us who think the tapping hammers would not sound so loudly if he was not there, the likemindedness is a very special joy. (p. 21)

If our faith in God were not based on truth, all those ‘tapping hammers’ on the Rock of Ages would indeed sound quite loudly as the echoes ring out because of the hollowness inside.

But ours is not a hollow faith. And for those of us who write, that likemindedness with our readers, the gift of connection when we find a kindred spirit responding to our words–well, there’s nothing richer.

Things I’m Not Good At (or Why I Decorate With Books)

        “So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.” Romans 12:5, The Message Bible

* * * *

My sister Elle got all the creative genes in our family. She can watch a how-to show on HGTV and then shop at Home Depot for plywood, staples and vinyl covering, go home and 5 hours later, voila–she’s got a way cool headboard for her bedroom. She was a do-it-yourselfer before DIY was part of our current vocabulary.

I’ve seen her re-fashion fabric pieces into throw pillows, make a shower curtain out of a bedspread, design, sand and paint a picture frame, recover chairs. The list goes on.

Me, I decorate with things that make me happy--books, photos in small frames, fresh flowers from our yard, rocks I collect from the beach. There is no ‘decorating’ scheme in my home, simply moving things around in the seasons. Oh, and candles. I do like candles.

But imagining something out of almost-thin air then creating it to go in my home? Not me.

So not me.

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There is a great deal of freedom in knowing what things you don’t do, what you’re not good at. Being aware of what you can say “no” to so that you can say “yes” to the truest part of who you are.

I’m in a small book study group at our church, going through Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet-thoughts on change, grace and learning the hard way. (Zondervan, 2010). I don’t need anything extra to read at this time in my life, but frankly, the content is perfectly timed.

In particular, the affirmation that it is okay to not be awesome at everything, because we aren’t meant to do everything.

It’s often easy to buy into the lie that says we should be like all those “other people” who have remarkable gardens, super-original clothes, the ones that knit or cook, bake, sew, decorate, craft, fill-in-the-blank. The enemy of our souls would like us to think we should be able to do it all, whatever that all is.

If we buy into that argument, then the “this” that we should be doing, which is often the one thing we were made to do, gets lost.

We’re spread too thin trying to be something we’re not, trying to fit in where we shouldn’t be, trying to look like everyone else.

May I suggest that you do what Niequiest challenged us to do? Make a list of “Things I Don’t Do.” Her list included things like gardening, scouring flea markets, baking, making scrapbooks–definitely not in her DNA, although they are all the “right” mom things to do.

Niequist also added something intangible that she doesn’t do,
“I don’t spend time with people who routinely make me feel like less than I am, or who spend most of their time talking about what’s wrong with everyone else and what’s wrong with the world…”

* * * * *

Life is a constant decision to redefine our boundaries again and again, making them tighter and smaller, not so that we can live in a hidey-hole kind of place, ignoring the world and staying safe, but so that we can live in the freedom of being who we were created to be, where we are, doing what we have been gifted to do.

As the writer of Romans declares in the opening quote, “let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be.”

Maybe you’re a remarkable photographer that captures a world that some of us miss, adding to our lives by showing us what you see. But you definitely don’t do windows.

Maybe you like to run. For fun. Because you sense God’s presence when it’s just you and He together, pounding the pavement. But cooking is so not your thing.

Maybe you enjoy setting a beautiful table, creating a welcoming piece of art for others to enjoy while their souls and bodies are fed. But you haven’t weeded your garden for 6 months. And you’re probably not going to.

Lean into your list. Write down “The Things I Don’t Do” and then listen to what you hear in the spaces.

What are you free to do? What have you been created to do? Live into that.

And be ready to make a new list when the time comes.

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; it would be years before my discovery came true.

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 illuminating that other world where I will live some day, with my God who will never leave, the Source of all I need.

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

What books have carried you? I’d love to hear in the Comments

*****

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

March, April & May in Books #ReadUpstream

P_20190129_114828_vHDR_Onn 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.

~*~*~*~*

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.

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.

******

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.

*******  

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.

_ _ _ _ _

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

Summer is for Reading

“The heart has its own time. How incredibly fleet are the happy hours, and how leaden slow the sad ones.  The clock cannot hurry the sorrowful minutes a jot, nor clip the wings of the joyous ones!”

Gladys Taber, Stillmeadow Seasons

When I was twelve years old I ran away. Well, not literally; I just hid in my room away from my four brothers and sisters and all the noise of summer.  I wanted a quiet place alone, an escape from my all-too-ordinary life, into another more peaceful one full of beauty and kindness.

Not that my siblings were markedly mean in anyway, but when I was in charge, as I often was, there were a lot of moving parts—we didn’t always fit each other. I, the bossy big sister (a ‘grown up’ 12 years old) and my younger charges—ages 7 to 11–were always getting into one scrape or another. All I wanted was peace and quiet and a place to feed my soul instead of making bologna sandwiches to feed everyone else.

The best place to find my escape was in the pages of a book. 

I can still remember lying on my bed with “Little Women,” Louisa May Alcott’s story written (I thought) just for me. Why? The heroine-Jo (my mother’s nickname for me) was not only the oldest, but  the bookish one—we were exactly alike. Well, except for the long dresses and bustles…

The pages of “Little Women” afforded me a get away like no other. Lying on the bed in our humble Southern California house I was transported to a world of make believe and dress-up, parties, plays, and my favorite—for I wanted to be a writer,too—the pages of the Pickwick Portfolio.

Alcott’s “Rose in Bloom” caught my fancy next, a story of a young girl and her beaux, a coming-of-age story that resonated with my almost-13-year-old soul.

Gene Stratton Porter’s  “Freckles” was another favorite; I still have my copy, Joanna Lee Ohlsen written in cursive on the right inside cover. My own father left us when I was 5; we were being raised by my stepfather at the time. I think there was something in my spirit that was looking for a place to belong, a connection of sorts that Freckles needed as well. And of course, there was his ‘cathedral.’ All these years later it’s clear there were many sacred echoes in that story.

IMG_20160608_161820

This summer is no different. I have my bookstacks all ready. The ‘vacation’ pile—for our 2 week trip to see relatives in New York (but who am I kidding? Will I even have time?)

And there’s the California stack for my week with my sisters…a little more low key; plus, there’s beach time, hence book time.  I might make more progress.

Whether I read these choices in the next summer-y months or into the Fall, the lure and escape of  good literature is always there. My favorites are authors like Elizabeth Goudge, George MacDonald, Gladys Taber, writers from over 60 years ago who somehow seem to mine deeper and richer words than those writers of today.

Someone has said that all good stories lead to God, which is why I still like to get lost in the pages of a book, listening for those sacred echoes.

What are you reading this Summer?

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!)