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

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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

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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:

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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
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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

Endearing Classics, Enduring Classics

This summer I ran into a homeschooling mom at the library whom I hadn’t seen in a while. She told me about a literary club that her friend was trying to put together, and wondered if our family would be interested. I haven’t yet gotten involved with co-ops or clubs as far as homeschooling goes, partly due to babies coming pretty often (making scheduling activities difficult) and partly just because groups like that seem intimidating to me. But the more I thought about a literary group, the more I thought this would be something we could do, and enjoy doing.
Our group this year consists of four families with anywhere between two and six school age children in each. There is a classic book planned for us to read aloud to our children every month, and at the end of the month we get together, have a discussion about the book, and share projects related to the book that our children have completed. So far it has been a real boost to our homeschooling- not only are we enjoying a ‘new’ book we haven’t read yet, we are getting to know some other families and encourage each other through this homeschooling journey.
September’s book was Lassie Come-Home, the story we only previously knew from the movie with Elizabeth Taylor. The book was good, but we found ourselves unable to finish it before our meeting, and only could draw some pictures of Lassie for our project(s). That first meeting found many of our families in this same predicament, and some added shyness made the first book discussion very quiet, and very short. The kids didn’t end up minding this; it left more time for playing outside with new friends!
Last month our book was The Treasure Seekers, by E. Nesbit. I had never heard of the author or the book, but a mom from our group commented during September’s meeting that the author was well liked by C.S. Lewis. High praise! Though eager to get started, I thought about the challenges this book would pose: one, we might not get it read in a month if reading it aloud was up to me, and two, it really would be better enjoyed if read by someone with a British accent. We have the Narnia series on cd and the kids love hearing the books read by Patrick Stewart, Kenneth Branagh, and others. Luke saved the day and solved both problems by finding The Treasure Seekers on Librivox read by a British woman, allowing us to finish the book and really appreciate its spirit.
As we readied for our October meeting, I mentioned to the other moms in an email that this book was one of the most endearing books I have ever read. I got to thinking about what makes a book endearing to me, and noticed that many of these titles I had listed to myself had some things in common. First is the characters- the books are almost always about children. Another is their theme- most plots involve families who are poor and simple, but either very industrious or very imaginative so their time is never wasted. But the main thread in each of these prized books of mine are the devotion these children have to each other as a family. These are characters, whether real or fictional, whom I want my children to be like as they grow and learn about their place in the world. Here is my list of endearing books, subject to additions as I discover or remember more:
The Little Britches Series by Ralph Moody
The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Narnia Series by C. S. Lewis
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
Cheaper By The Dozen by Frank Gilbreth and Earnestine Gilbreth
And now I have a series to add! The Treasure Seekers continues with a book called The Wouldbegoods. After enjoying the first book so much, I started reading the next, and am nearly done with it. If possible, The Wouldbegoods is even better than The Treasure Seekers, in that the children’s characters are even further developed and the scrapes they get in are even funnier.
Maybe the endearing factor of a book contributes to it being an enduring classic. I wouldn’t doubt it- it makes me want to take another look at classic book lists to discover more endearing books my children and I have yet to enjoy.

Prisoners of War

I finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand last week and was worn out! The biography was about Louis Zamperini, a man who survived many trials during WWII including a plane crash, drifting on a raft in the Pacific for over a month, and being imprisoned in several POW camps in and around Japan. Reading about all these awful experiences he had and still made it through caused me to feel tired emotionally; I wanted to finish the book to find out what happened to Louie, but the act of turning the pages was a difficult journey in itself.
I was very surprised to read toward the end that after being home for some time, he accepted Christ as his Savior at a Billy Graham crusade. Louis had been dealing with severe post traumatic stress disorder because of the treatment he’d received in the POW camps. He was unable to sleep without nightmares, and during the day drank heavily to dull the pain and fear. He testifies in this book that once he came home from the crusade, his nightmares ceased, he got rid of his booze, and even felt compassion for his Japanese tormentors in the camps. This was an amazing thing to read about for many reasons. First, the book was sooo long on his afflictions in the war, and even though Louis admits to seeing later that God had a hand in saving him from them all and allowing him to survive, neither he nor I realized that until his conversion to Christ.
Second, it is astounding to hear of the complete change Jesus Christ made in this man. It doesn’t seem that the author is a believer, so she downplayed this part of the story, I thought. But it is still unmistakeable – the before and after were diametrically opposed.
This book also got me thinking about prisoners of war, how even after the war is over they likely still deal with the fears and pains inflicted on them by their enemy. We are all in a war that we can’t see; a spiritual battle that leaves many with those wounds of a prisoner of war. Even though they survive the battle, they still live captive to the enemy, Satan, in key areas of their lives. I know of loved ones in this very situation right now, and it hurts to see them continue to live in captivity when Christ has come to set us free. The ending of this biography was an inspiration and hope to me as I continue to pray for these people. Jesus can change their lives, and it may be like Louis’ experience, overnight, or it may take years. But I should never doubt His power to do this if it does take longer than I would like.
I’m not sure I can recommend this book; it would have been much better had it been written from a Christian perspective. Still, it was very exciting and moving to read of all Louis Zamperini’s remarkable life. I wish more of the book would have been about the even more remarkable life he had once Jesus came into it.

Summer Reading

I’ve been reading a lot this summer. It started when I picked up a biography that I had originally borrowed from the library for Sam to read and found myself totally delighted with it. So, when the kids all signed up for the library’s summer reading program, I did, too. I haven’t won any prizes yet, but the books have been so inspiring I thought I would give a review of each one here. Stay tuned!

George Washington Carver by David Collins
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
The Vow by Kim and Krickitt Carpenter with Dana Wilkerson