Less Than Six Degrees

Time once again for our library’s summer reading program. The adult version has us reading up to 16 books, and various other ways to earn raffle tickets, to go toward prizes and coupons. Some years I am so not interested, but for whatever reason this year am totally hooked on reading as many books as I can and completing the ‘bingo’ card on the back of my tally sheet.

I expected to have plenty of time to read, as I nurse all day long and can’t do much else with that time. What I didn’t expect was how these books, as randomly chosen as I could have done, are inexplicably linked. let me give you some examples.

I saw on a blog I read where the lady recommended a book called Raising Real Men. I was able to get this from the library, and enjoyed it very much. It is full of great advice for raising boys, and one book they recommended in there was Now Discover Your Strengths, the manual that accompanies the StrengthsFinder test. I got that book out of the library, too, thinking it would help my older girls as well as my older guys.

Another way to earn a raffle ticket in the library program is to listen to an audiobook on Hoopla. While browsing titles, I saw a book called 5 Habits of a Woman who Doesn’t Quit. That looked like something I could use, for sure, so I began to listen. The author mentioned starting a workout program and, of course, quitting, and the morning I was listening to that, I was just about to head to Mommy and Me. I thought that was strangely coincidental, I mean, what are the odds that I would hear that right then?! Then tonight, I was listening to the fourth chapter, and in it she mentioned StrengthsFinder! Weird stuff. Something similar happened with another book last week, but I can’t remember it now. It might have even been a Little House book! Just some crazy stuff to keep this big part of my summer interesting.

Anyway, here is my book list. F means finished, S means started. Have a go at one or two and see if strange things  relate for you, too.

Raising Real Men F

Your God Is Too Small F EXCELLENT READ You can get this as a pdf, simply google the title and pdf.

Happy Wives Club F

Love Comes Softly series F

For The Love F VERY GOOD READ

Little House series F

Lessons From Madame Chic S FUN READ

In His Steps

In His Place

Joni

Prodigal Girl

Big Book of Homeschooling

All the Light We Cannot See S  (I almost finished this a while back, but quit because of vulgarity. A friend gave me the all-clear to finish it, as I had already read the worst, so I plan to fill in the place on my bingo card that says “a book you never finished” with it. It really would be one of my favorite books without these blemishes it has.)

5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn’t Quit S HA HA HA

Now, Discover Your Strengths S RIVETING READ

 

Newbery Reads

Every winter I anticipate the Caldecott announcement. This highlights five or so books that have been selected to receive the coveted Caldecott medal, or several honors, for excellence in children’s picture books. Can I just say that to even think about Caldecott books, my hands feel electrified. I would LOVE to produce a Caldecott- winning book someday. At times, this goal seems as far off as the moon, other times I think, yeah, I could do that. Who knows. We’ll have to see.

Another coveted award is the Newbery Medal, awarded to children’s literature, usually chapter books. I hadn’t more than glanced at these lists in the past, other than to give my kids something to go by when picking books to read. But this year the winner was an author we had read last year, so my interest was piqued. I reserved Echo at the library, and searched the shelves for other titles that looked promising.

For the most part, I was not disappointed. These books are geared toward a younger set, but I was heartened by the cleaner language, the introduction to deep subjects like war and racial discrimination and ethics, and the great writing styles these authors had. Here is a list of the ones I have read lately, with a little opinion thrown in.

Echo has to come first. I love the time period, World War II, and I love the way Pam Munoz Ryan weaves three different stories together. Excellent! I am recommending it to our homeschool literary club for next year.

Number The Stars is also set during WWII. It tells the story of Denmark and their response to Hitler’s invasion and attempt to anhilate the Jews there. Great read.

The Underneath was strange, but really wonderful when I finished it and saw such redemption for the characters. An animal story (which some of my kids sneered at) that can be applied to humans, too.

Lions of Little Rock was terrific. I do not know much about the time when schools in the South were fighting desegregation. This was illuminating. I found the heroine very endearing, as well.

Wonder was thought-provoking. It is about a boy who has a severely disfigured face, and the time he starts going to public school (he was homeschooled, but his parents decided it was time to learn in the real world). There was more potty/youth humor in this one that I could do without, but I appreciated being challenged: how would I would behave toward someone who was hard to look at. I don’t often have that experience.

We also just discovered 101 Dalmations! It isn’t just a movie, it was a book first! I started reading it to the kids, and some of them have taken it to finish. It looked to be delightful.

…And Miguel (can’t remember the full title) was kinda interesting. It is about a boy anxious to be old enough for all of the responsibilities on a sheep ranch in Mexico. I only skimmed it, but came across a story that sticks in my mind, you’ll see why. Miguel knows a lot about sheep, and is describing what happens when they are bearing their young. He states that normally the female has a look on her face that is a blank stare. For whatever reason, when she is about to give birth, her eyes become very focused and she is all about finding a place to lay down. She is in the zone. Then, once the lamb is born, her eyes glaze over with a stupid look again. Isn’t that funny? Another cool story- when a mother loses a lamb, the shepherds will shear the dead lamb and put the toupee on another orphaned lamb, in the hopes that this mother will ‘adopt’ this one in her lost lamb’s place. It works, apparently. I am sure both of these sheep stories have spiritual implications, as Jesus was always talking about sheep, and us being just like them, but I am at a loss at the moment. Just enjoying a good story is enough.

 

Keep Trying

It must frustrate her to no end to play through that song on the piano, making bumbles and hitting wrong notes. Keep playing, I silently say to her hunched figure. There is value, possibly the most value, in keeping with a thing, and keeping on, than stopping short and moving away.

The last few months I have been melancholy. Not being the most bubbly personality anyway, this is difficult to take for me, because I feel even my lowest reserves of cheer are no longer available. Blame it on the pregnancy, but that is like saying blame it on the baby, which I do not want to do. Pause with me here and I’ll tell you about her.

She is beautiful, with two arms and two legs and a sweet face. The first ultrasound I had, the tech was in a hurry and the pictures I was able to take home were lacking her arms, just had her head, abdomen and legs. Even though this is number twelve, even though I could ably explain to my children that the picture was like a cross section of her body, I still battled some real fear that she was not all there. But, I would tell myself at low points, that is ok. Even if she is not all there physically, it doesn’t have to mean she can’t be excellent and surpassing spiritually, with an amazing potential for God. But still, I had a tough first trimester because of this, and other little things that threatened to rob the joy from this wonder. If there is another pregnancy, I am not going to see a doctor until I’m 20 weeks. So there.

Back on track. So, I know the solution to feeling down is not to check out a self-help book from the library, but I just happened upon a great one by Jon Acuff called Do-Over in the midst of my life burnout. What a shot in the arm! I’m considering buying the book, it is that good. Acuff is really speaking to people who are in careers and find themselves encountering (or needing) some kind of dramatic change. As I was reading about jobs and ceilings and markets and skills, however, I saw countless ties to my life as a wife/mother/homeschool teacher. It was such a needed inspiration to keep trying to make of my life what I can, keep reaching, keep smiling, keep hoping, keep persevering.

All that to say, here are my goals for 2016:

1. Paint/ draw/ do art more. I already have some fun stuff planned to help me meet these goals that I will blog about later.

2. Become conversationally fluent in Spanish. On the surface, this is a strange goal for a person like me to have. But I have always regretted not getting any further with learning Spanish than an almost-minor in college. When I encounter a Spanish speaker in town, I wish I was comfortable enough to connect with them in that moment, and often walk away sad. My hope is to meet and secure a conversation partner in the next few months. Meanwhile, I am learning some phrases that I would use frequently in describing myself and life; I will post those on the blog next time for my friends in Bolivia to critique, as I used Google translate for the Spanish. Ha! Addicted to Google!

3. Piano. I sit down to a piano and it is like painting, or hearing Spanish. I belong there, but, again, I have not made it on to fluency. I hope to get back to practicing and making a better effort at enjoying this beautiful instrument.

In all three of these pursuits, there is talent required, but the skill comes from consistent practice. Were I to devote time and energy to these things, I would not only improve in them, but also in my moods and attitudes. Who knows? Julia may be welcomed with a new painting, a Spanish lecture, an aria on the piano, or all three.

Here’s to a new year of trying again. Who is with me?

I Laughed, I Cried…

…It moved me, blog.  Since you are named for something my beloved hero of the Mitford novels is known as saying, I thought I should first share with you my thoughts of Jan Karon’s latest book, Come Rain Or Come Shine.

The other day I was feeling bored, which is rather rare for me. I had just finished the December ladies’ book club selection, which  had put me in a nice Christmas mood. But now I had nothing else to read. Nothing frivolous, I mean, for those moments of boredom when I just want to relax. So I did a search for Jan Karon books at the library, hoping that the title I was looking for, Light From Heaven, would be at my closest library. I have trouble picking one novel for my favorite of the Mitford series; for a long time it was These High, Green Hills. But then came along Light From Heaven, and I have been attached to it ever since. I like how it ends at Christmastime with a lovely surprise for the reader.

I gained more than just the location of my favorite Mitford book, though- there was a new one! And it was showing available at my library! Win!

You wouldn’t have trouble with a summary of this book, blog, but others should be informed that this book series now numbers 12 full tomes of wonderful stories. From the very first book, At Home In Mitford, we readers are introduced to the most colorful of characters, and sometimes the most heartbreaking. Young Dooley Barlowe was basically abandoned by his alchoholic mother and left to raise his siblings at times, until they were scattered here and there. One of Father Tim’s goals, then, after he takes in Dooley and sets about raising him as his own son, is to find the missing siblings and bring them back together. It is such a great side story.

Dooley is now a grown man in Come Rain, just graduated from vet school and preparing for his marriage to Lace Harper, another would-be victim of her negligent parents and poverty-stricken surroundings if it had not been for Father Tim’s intervention. Yes, through the entire series, this Episcopal priest shines unrealistically as more saint than sinner, but I find it inspiring, not irritating. He is what I would like to better be, he says what I wish I could have better said. And he is not without his faults- at least two of the books have us wading through a debilitating depression right along with Father Tim. His salvation comes when he can begin again to spend his life pouring it into the lives of others, and serving them. I think this is fabulous advice.

I am really pleased with this newest book. Ever since Light From Heaven came out I have been surprised to see any more additions, and have not been  very happy with them. The ‘Father Tim’ novels, I thought, were rather dramatic for drama’s sake: Let’s have all these skeletons jump out of his family closet because isn’t that exactly how every other family has issues from their past to deal with? Then came Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good, which seemed to want to take another intense ride into subjects like high-risk pregnancy (the tamest) to unfaithfulness and attempted suicide (the heaviest). But maybe it had just been a long time since I had read any of the others. I mean, she’s got a lady set on fire by her drunk husband in These High, Green Hills. Pretty heavy stuff in my favorite book.

All in all, I was glad that this latest offering was a happy ending in many ways, but also provided much to continue the story if Karon so chooses. Her limit is Father Tim’s advancing age, and she has said in the past that she does not want to have him die. We shall see.

Good book. Now I am on the hunt for a new boredom-buster.

He Reads

I should be doing reading lessons right now, but…there are lots of good excuses but the main reason is I just don’t want to today. The lessons have been going really well lately, but they are never something I can make a habit of doing- so many interruptions and off days and lack of desire prevent this. But I will keep trudging through, chalking them up as one of those hard things worth doing. Of course it is.

I did have a breakthrough of sorts today. I was reading The Giving Tree aloud to Adon, and Caleb came by and stopped to listen. Caleb has been one for whom my staying consistent with reading lessons has been especially hard. He doesn’t want to be there; I don’t want to be there. This reminds me over and over that I have no magical reading teaching powers- the older 5 just happened to love reading, as I do. But not everyone is like that. Luke is an example. It makes me chuckle to think of him traveling with Burton Reading, because, well, he doesn’t read. Not like the other six of us in the family that know how, anyway. So Caleb may likely be more like him, reading for necessity and understanding, but not for enjoyment.

But today, today I felt like we turned a corner. After I finished The Giving Tree, Caleb took it off of my lap and left the room. Later I found him reading it to Noah! Just last trip to the library, I was scanning the shelves for books that he might become interested in enough to read on his own, and Shel came through for me. I’m so grateful.

Waiting

101_2257

One month to go, more or less, until Elijah joins us. Some days I am really excited and energetic, thinking about how little time that is and how fast it will go. Other days, like today, I am tired. And down. There is no reason to be down today, especially since there is a baby coming. Finding out the insurance check for the bulk of my jaw work is in the mail (yay!) this morning should have sent me over the moon with happiness. But, as I prayed earlier, happiness isn’t what I want. I want joy, lasting, true joy. I’ve been reading through a series of missionary stories, and in the most recent one the author was talking about a book she’d read called Humility by Andrew Murray. I was able to obtain that book through interlibrary loan, and finished it last night. It had some thought provoking statements, such as the definition of humility being “the simple consent of the creature to let God be all, the surrender of itself to His working alone”. Here is another good quote: “In God’s presence, humility is not a posture we assume for a time- when we think of Him or pray to Him- but the very spirit of our life. It will manifest itself in all our bearing toward others…It is in our most unguarded moments that we truly show who we are and what we are made of.” And this: “Let us look upon everyone who tries us as God’s means of grace, God’s instrument for our purification, for our exercise of the humility of Jesus.”

I had already been thinking along these lines as I work again through The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. I say “work through” because I really don’t want to pass to the next chapter until I have seen some evidence of God working something out from the current chapter. In this book he talks a lot about the ‘self life’ and how deep and tangled it is in our souls, making it very difficult, therefore, to die to self. A crucifixion is necessary, Tozer says, and nothing less. It was required of Christ, it is required of me. But, this is not something I can do myself. I only can submit myself to God and ask Him to do it for me. Only a work of God can allow me to die to self, and only a work of God can produce in me true humility.

So, I have started praying for humility, and for God to peel away those many layers of my self that exist there, and maybe waking up the way I did today (down, tired, not wanting to be humble or even act like I wanted to be humble) was the normal way of this new life. Maybe it is like a detox from sugar or caffeine- you feel crappy at first. Maybe I need to continue in prayer and praise, specifically because I don’t want to.

Getting back to my missionary stories, the next chapter in the one I am currently reading was about the couple’s experience in Thailand in a very dark place. The husband was struggling with even feeling like the Holy Spirit was in him.

“…he began to understand that he had truly received cleansing at the moment of repentance and that he must take the focus off himself and his unworthiness and turn his attention toward God. In the days that followed he began to sing to the Lord in joyous worship and adoration. He read the Psalms, making the ancient phrases his own. Praise became the gateway of assurance that the cry of his heart had been answered. In this gracious, simple way God was explaining to Norm the deep truth of death to self (Romans chapters 6-8).”

Isn’t that amazing? Taking the focus off of self, death to self…not to mention I have been going through the Psalms this summer! All this to say, it could be that I am going to have days like this as I wait on the LORD. Days my self is quite comfortable in first place and doesn’t take kindly to being ignored, let alone crucified. But it isn’t about me; it is about Him, and how He can use a sinner like me.

“God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

Taking What We Can Get

100_9803

This morning during chores, it was really windy, so every time someone went outside with laundry or whatever for the basement (we have to go outside, then back inside, to go downstairs to our basement; this has blessed me way more than it has inconvenienced me and I could write a whole post about it), the screen door would fly open and hit the siding. So, I left it open. It was fifties out, very breezy, as already stated, and once both doors stood open, the little ones approached the opening like it was a doorway to another world. They giggled as they stuck their heads out, pulling them back in before the wind sucked them out completely. They seemed to be content to just stand in the doorway and look and look and look. Kenan crawled over, too, to see what all the fuss was about. I immediately thought of the part in the Ramona and Beezus movie when they knock out a wall of their house and Ramona imagines herself hang gliding out of it into the blue sky. Only our skies were gray, and threatening rain. But still. I love those moments where the kids just get to be kids, and wish I was able to put more of those memories down here before they are forgotten. One thing that will likely help me with that is the sheer volume of photographs my talented firstborn has been taking- as I browsed through her pictures, I thought of all the posts I could write just captioning the photos of the children. Christmas this year was a bit thin for her, but we did give her free rein of our camera with some rechargeable batteries (the camera is a power hog). This has proved to be a great gift- she has exploded with pictures of everything we have going on in our lives that is noteworthy. Even Adon’s terrible twos going on threes:

100E9705

In other news, I am loving this month’s book club selection- Homer Price by Robert McCloskey. I read it to the kids a few years ago, and recommended it for this year, and others must have voted for it, too, because it made it. The timing of it is perfect, as well. Last month we read a biography about Corrie ten Boom, that I was close to not reading aloud to the kids because the subject matter was so heavy. But we did end up reading it together, and actually getting into the whole WWII era- ration cards, battles fought, and of course the suffering of the Holocaust. So it has been a fresh breath for us to pick up Homer Price and read a lighthearted story about a fun-loving boy. Next chapter is about when Homer stands in at his uncle’s lunch counter that happens to have a donut machine. The machine goes a little crazy while Homer is at the helm, and hilarity ensues. We simply can’t read something like that without eating donuts, so if we get the snow forecast I will make donut muffins, if we don’t I will go get some Krispy Kremes.

Outspoken

I just finished a book that produced some really strong feelings in me. Not good ones- disgust, anger, nausea. Here was a novel claiming to be ‘Inspirational Fiction’, but only living up to the latter of those names.
First, let me say that I am not opposed to fiction. What a treat to be able to escape this life if only for a few minutes and peek into someone else’s, whose may or may not be very different from my own. And, I have a very high threshold for the author’s imagination and poetic license; these guys can get away with quite a lot in their stories before I would have trouble with their plots or characters.
The problem I now have, as I didn’t realize it existed before, is when a novel advertises itself as a work of Christian fiction, but doesn’t do a good enough job of being Christian. It makes me wonder why the book is in that category- is it easier to have something published if you submit it as Christian fiction? This story, to me, seemed like it could easily have passed for adult fiction, or even romance. It played out like a really complicated soap opera, where every character had issues. Maybe I am not living in reality, but these personas were so over the top in the multiple problems they each had, one could be certain as they read this book that there would be no way of solving all of the problems, and maybe no chance of solving any of them.
There were Christian references from time to time, but they seemed to just be placed there, every few pages, again, to make it look like this was a Christian novel. In no situation did the main character, who needed an awful lot of wisdom, guidance, and direction, ever do anything spiritual to get it. We never see her reading her Bible, or asking older people she should have respected for advice, or really seeking the Lord. From the beginning of the novel we know she is dying, and she appears sure she is going to Heaven. Yet she doesn’t practice any life disciplines to demonstrate she and the Savior are growing in relationship. It is never our job to say whether this or that person will be in Heaven, but since this is fiction, I can freely speculate that this girl will have a big surprise when she closes her eyes on this life and opens them in the next. As to her treatment of others, there is not a person in the book she hasn’t fired one-liners and sarcasm at except her daughter, and excepting her daughter it appears her family members are the ones she despises the most. She has no respect for her father or grandmother, nor for any other person who may be in a position to help her.  The only spiritual discipline I do see is that she prays, but it is more like shaking a magic 8 ball than coming before the throne of grace to find help when needed.
Overall, this book just made me sick. I can’t help but think of Jesus when He told the Laodiceans He wanted to spit them out of His mouth, they were neither hot nor cold. Also where He says, if you do not confess Me before men, I will not confess you before the Father…Where is our contemporary Christian culture going with this lukewarmness? Do they think it will attract unbelievers to the truth? This book would do nothing of the sort- in it we see a girl with lots of problems at the beginning, and at the end we see a girl go to Heaven, but in between there is zero explanation as to how this arrogant soul would have gotten there. Way more explanation is needed if we are going to bring others into the kingdom with us.
I have to stop here, though, and look at the three fingers pointing back at me. What have I done lately that unmistakably points others to Christ? It isn’t enough just to smile at the cashier and let someone use my grocery cart. Jesus isn’t just going to ‘rub’ off my friendly overtures onto another person. I have to make it happen.
So, in summary, yes, this was the worst book I have ever read and it scares me that this author had editors, publishers, family and friends who all supported and approved of this text going to print and wasting all that paper. But it is not my job to judge the work of others. It is my job to be ready at the judgment seat of Christ, with my silver and gold ready for the fire.

Spirituality And Productivity

I’m nearly done with quite possibly the worst book I have ever read. Even now I am drafting a letter to the author laying out my complete disappointment in this, her offering of an inspirational novel. Maybe I am wrong in assuming a book with that label on its binding makes it a level (or more) above the traditional romance novel. And I am not expecting over-religious text, either- just keep the characters and the plot realistic. That is all I ask. The ladies at church are reading this for Book Club this month. I accepted the book, then suggested a book, Evidence Not Seen, to our club facilitator. So now I feel like I have to finish this book as if to say, I read your book choice, now you read mine. We’ll see what other ladies think of this book at the meeting in November. I suppose a bigger thought is: will anybody think the same way I do about it? If not, why not?
Dinner is in the oven. I love the days when I don’t have to think about it much, if it is a roast in the oven or something in the crock pot. The grocery store in Bellville had pork shoulder for a decent price, so tonight we’ll have pulled pork. If it is done in time. I got so busy doing school stuff that I forgot to put the roast in until 10:00. Again, we see the law of Can’t Do Everything Well All Of The Time at work. 8 hours would seem like enough time. Let’s hope so. Last night I made the Black Bean Soup again. It wasn’t as good as I remembered- maybe because I was out of sour cream- but still a great soup to know how to make. My goal for this coming week is to do better at meal planning and prep. Lately the kids are plain hungry, all the time, and if I would simply plan for that, and prepare foods ahead of time when I have a spare minute, we’d be in good shape.
Tomorrow looks to be a shop till I drop day, as we need not only groceries, but clothing items for the kids with this chilly winter weather upon us. I am a little excited and hopeful at the prospect of finding some really good deals. I wondered aloud to Luke if it was a good idea to shop thrift stores first, as it takes me sooooo long to find anything good. He reminded me that time is money, and since we don’t have the money to snap up just any expensive item when we need it, we must spend the time looking for comparable items. He’s so smart. So, Goodwill will be the first stop on our little spree tomorrow.
Adon is here on the couch with me as I type this, asleep on my arm. I would like to get up and fix my tea, but I don’t think I can without disturbing him. He isn’t feeling well, has been fussy all day. We each have passed a cold around these past two weeks, and I expect that this is only the beginning as we move into the winter season. No time to sit worrying about that, however- we’re having Thanksgiving at our house this year and many other great events coming up over the holidays.
Adon is awake now, looking at the computer screen like he can actually read what I am typing. If so, Hello, my boy. I love you.

Good Quotes

I just finished a couple of good books, Crazy Love by Francis Chan, and Stepping Heavenward by Mrs. Elizabeth Prentiss. Here are some quotes worth remembering.

Most of us use “I’m waiting for God to reveal His calling on my life” as a means of avoiding action. Did you hear God calling you to sit in front of the television yesterday? Or to go on your last vacation? Or exercise this morning? Probably not, but you still did it. The point isn’t that vacations or exercise are wrong, but that we are quick to rationalize our entertainment and priorities yet are slow to commit to serving God.
Crazy Love
Francis Chan
………………………………………………………………………………………….
Four steps that lead to peace:
Be desirous of doing the will of another rather than thine own.
Choose always to have less, rather than more.
Seek always the lowest place, and to be inferior to every one.
Wish always, and pray, that the will of God may be wholly fulfilled in thee.

All these years I have been tormenting myself with doubts, as to whether I could be His child while so unable to say, Thy will be done. If you had said, “Why yes, you must be His child, for you professed yourself one a long time ago, and ever since have lived like one,” I should have remained as wretched as ever. As it is, a mountain has been rolled off my heart. Yes, if I was not His child yesterday, I can become one today; if I did not love Him then, I can begin now.
Stepping Heavenward
Mrs. Elizabeth Prentiss