reading round up 2.13.15

[What We’re Up To] 
This has been a fairly out-of-control few weeks. My grandmother recently passed away, so Annie and I spent over a week in Michigan for the funeral, and came  home with wicked colds. I’m still not entirely recovered, probably due to her waking up congested/crabby/hungry 4-6x every night for the past several weeks. We’re surviving, but we’re also wearing our pajamas for several days in a row and the house is a complete disaster. (As in, “it’s a good thing no one is calling CPS on us” dirty.) But! The disarray is also here because we’ve got stuff pulled out all over the place to prepare for installing the new floor in the whole upstairs starting this weekend! Then we’ll use a gift card and go out to eat, because making progress on DIY projects and not having to cook speaks love and romance to me in so many ways. Aaron is a good man and he knows this about me.

Annie is now six months old, so in celebration we presented her with an exciting, but not quite age-appropriate, toy. Max understands it better than she does. (And now that enough time has passed and I’m sure my thoughts on the whole thing are not crazy, or at least they haven’t changed with this much perspective, I may get brave/annoyed enough to share some *non-graphic* thoughts on the “birth culture” in America.)

[Valentine’s Reading]
My all-time favorite treatise on love and finding contentment with the simpler life is The Romance of Domesticity, written by the husband-half of one of my all-time favorite couples.
Despite a few nagging theological differences, I think a series on marriage from a while back at Like Mother, Like Daughter really hit the nail on the head for me. I was very encouraged to know we’re building something of spiritual value in marriage, even before we had kids, and even when building up marriage and each other comes at the expense of other “good” things. Now, this can be taken WAY TOO FAR, and I think the book below provides some balance to that, but there were some encouraging thoughts found here. 

[Books]
I’m reading You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan, which can be purchased on their website or downloaded free in PDF format. (I chose the free PDF.) I really appreciate the focus on the Kingdom of God instead of the glorification of marriage, which is what usually oozes out of stuff I read. If I hear one more thing about how the primary key to Christian life is “Building a Marriage-Centered Family” or something like that without this balance, I might scream. (It’s dangerous and idolatrous.) Instead, I’m finding this very refreshing:

You are more than a spouse. If you have been blessed with kids, you are more than a parent. You have a unique role in the Kingdom of God, and he has great works for you to do… For some of you, it isn’t about the “Christian Bubble,” it’s just the plain old idolatry of the family. I want you to seriously ask yourself: Do I spend more time focusing on being a good spouse and parent, or more time focusing on being a godly person?

[Science] 
This excellent Ted Talk asks, “Can You Feed 9,000,000,000 People?” and goes over much of the truth the “organic” crowd misses when they condemn GMO crops. I’d ask any of my friends to thoroughly examine these claims before condemning genetic engineering in crop science.

[Music] 
Mostly classical and nerdy this week…
The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky
Toccata and Fugue in D-minor, BMV 565 by Johann Sebastian Bach.

[Fun]
One-Star Book Reviews are just plain fun. As I think about children’s literature, I can’t help but appreciate the kindly reviewer for The Flopsy Bunnies: “The focus on killing baby bunnies and fighting over what to do with their bodies once they were dead, wasn’t very child friendly.” Duly noted.
These New Titles For Children’s Books (Based Entirely On Their Covers) is providing much entertainment here. My favorites? “Whoever Is On That Boat Is About To Be Disemboweled,” and “When The Colorblind Decorate.” Maybe “Midget Girl Adopts Satan’s Puppy,” too.
Unrelated to kids’ reading, Elizabethan Superheros is also worthy of a few chortles.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy weekend!

it takes courage

I’ve never thought of myself as a writer, really. A musician, an artist, a creator? Yes, but not much of a writer.  During my senior year of high school I had a tutor for my college entrance essay assignments, and I remember confessing this frustration during an editing session. Nearly every other form of creative expression came easily for me. I could write a song, arrange a collage, perform a piano solo, lead in a musical, knit a scarf, or decorate a room with confidence, but every time I tried to write, I questioned myself and was consistently unhappy with the results of my hard work. She listened patiently, and then suggested that frustration about my challenges as a writer might actually be a cover for the fear that my ideas weren’t valuable. Writing doesn’t have to come naturally to matter, she assured me, and good things are worth working for. I didn’t really understand what she meant for several years, and I rarely thought of this conversation after it happened. (I can recount this now because, in a move that is admittedly ironic, I recorded her comments in my journal, which is my long-standing habit after all thought-provoking conversations.)

Though I got plenty of challenging writing assignments once I started college (thank you, Dr. Freeh, et al!), I spent most of those years surrounded by absolute geniuses in every variety of written communication – literature analysts, poets, journalists, scriptural exegetes, curriculum editors, and columnists of every sort. I’m sure my writing competence sharpened significantly during this time, but I never felt like I was even close to average abilities. My insecurity might make even more sense if you know that I was tight with these writers: I married a scholarship-winning journalist, one of my wedding bridesmaids has now published a book, and several other friends from that life are in graduate school or regularly writing things read by people they don’t know. Spending my life with people who were beyond my own mastery in this one area was a fertile breeding ground for that long-held fear of inadequacy, the nagging sense that I just didn’t have much to say. I didn’t realize this was exactly what my tutor meant yet by then, or even in the following years when I would escape boredom at work by maintaining frighteningly voluminous email correspondence.

I finally remembered the admonition about writing-insecurity hiding my idea-insecurity again at the end of our recent Michigan vacation when I was packing up a box of my belongings from my old bedroom in my parents’ house. It’s been four years since I “officially” moved out after graduating from college and marrying Aaron, and we own our home so I don’t have many things left there. This final load was a collection of my journals, now chronicling over half of my life. There were twenty-five notebooks that I brought home, with dates stretching back to 1998. I was twelve years old then.

After arriving back in Iowa, I organized this small library by date and added my other recent journals, which brings the total number to thirty-four. While setting things in order, I thumbed through a few books and recalled God’s kindness and my growth with laughter and cringing. I’m glad I don’t have to go back to middle school… or high school, for that matter!

And maybe it’s a sign of that same kindness and growth that in the middle of this project (besides wondering where on earth I am actually going to keep these) I couldn’t help but think: It’s probably time to stop pretending I don’t write. And I should stop being afraid of my ideas, too.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
– e. e. cummings.

Thou art the journey

I love this prayer from Boethius, a 6th century Christian:

O Father, give the spirit power to climb
To the fountain of all light, and be purified.
Break through the mists of earth, the weight of the clod,
Shine forth in splendor, Thou that art fair weather,
And quiet resting place for faithful souls.
To see Thee is the end and the beginning,
Thou carriest us, and Thou dost go before,
Thou art the journey, and the journey’s end.

-Boethius, c. 480-524 AD.

(photo found here)

Thou art not so unkind…

first snow of the season, as seen from the front door

Blow, blow, thou winter wind
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.

Freeze, freeze thou bitter sky,
That does not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As a friend remembered not.

-Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind
from “As You Like It” by William Shakespeare.

leaves under the snow

It’s not really that cold or windy right now, but with the excitement of a first snow-that-sticks-for-a-while (why does it always make me feel like I’m five years old?) it’s good to remember that no winter wind matches the coldness of an ungrateful spirit.

Praise the Lord, Oh my soul,
and forget not all His benefits…
…who satisifies you with good…
…he does not deal with us
according to our sins
-Psalm 103, esv.

Literary Decor

I took a little time this fall to re-read Perelandra, a special favorite of mine from C.S. Lewis’  Space Trilogy. In many ways, a good book can become much like a dear friend, and I loved contemplating the themes of perfection and un-Fallen paradise in this Utopian story.

As I curled up on the couch with a mug of steamy tea and devoured this beautiful tale, I was also stuck feeling like the fireplace was looking a little sad. I’m not ready to get out the Christmas stuff yet, and I found some great inspiration here:

fall mantel from "sweet something design"

So I whipped out a few things I had around the house and used a key phrase from Perelandra to put on a bunting banner, so now our mantel is looking great for fall. I think I can make this banner work for the Christmas season, too!

my mantel!

“I know now what they say in your world about justice. And perhaps they say well, for in that world all things always fall below justice. But [God] always goes above it. All is gift. …The best fruits are plucked for each by some hand that is not his own.”
(Perelandra, C.S. Lewis.)

all is gift

[Linking up to The Pinterest Challenge – see other projects here: Sherry, Katie, Erin and Ana.]

friday five: classical music for halloween

One of my goals in life is to get more people listening to classical music. I believe this would be a great weekend to explore some of my spooky favorites, which are shared here in chronological order. (Admittedly, some of these youtube videos are not that exciting.)

1) Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by JS Bach (1685-1750). Such a classic.

2) Erlkonig by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). This sad story is from a poem by Goethe, and you can hear  the child crying “My father, my father!” in terror before being kidnapped.

3) Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz (1803 – 1869). This is just the fifth movement, called “The Witches Sabbath.” This selection depicts the vulgar and grotesque sounds of a pagan gathering. The witches’ dance becomes a diabolical joke as it melds with the tune of a “Dies Irae” chant, which was used in churches to teach about Judgment Day.

4) Danse Macbre by Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921). This gruesome “Death Dance” isn’t quite as exhilarating and terrifying as some of these other songs, but the xylophones are supposed to sound like rattling bones.  Creepy!

5)  Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881). This is another Witches Sabbath scene from a Russian composer.

I hope you can explore some interesting music this weekend!

an ode to latin

One of my exciting adventures this fall is taking a Latin class. I enrolled mostly for mental refreshment, since I studied the language eight years ago (!!!) in college, and the chance to get student-rate health insurance. Those practical reasons aren’t at the forefront of my mind right now though, because I’m having fun getting back into the school-groove of studying, homework and even taking tests. Yes, I said “tests” and “fun” in the same paragraph!

flashcards - what ecstasy!

I love autumn and I’m grateful this year’s cooler weather brings opportunity to use my favorite school supplies: 3×5 flashcards, skinny sharpie markers, 3-ring binders and post-it notes. With my mug of peppermint tea, a warm hooded sweater to keep out the chilly breeze, homework in my lap, and joyful anticipation for a visit with some Hillsdale girlfriends next week, I’m having serious college flashbacks right now. And so, in this spirit of reminiscence, I share a poem I wrote nearly eight years ago when I first began learning the mother of all romance languages.

“an ode to latin”
This language has passed: it is dead, it has died!
But study I must, though I can’t – I have tried!
So many new rules, my brain’s full – it is fried!
“No more nouns or verbs!” my poor eyes, they have cried.
“A cinch,” I was told, “Its easy,” they lied,
But poor grades like these, parents fail to abide.

I start out my homework with paper and pen,
Someday I will finish – the good Lord knows when.
Grammar and vocab – it’s all beyond my ken.
The sounds are so silly, they’re starting to blend.
It’s worse than Beowulf with his mean monster Grend
Latin is stupid- was it made up by men?

I was still waiting for Aaron to ask me out when I wrote this, which may explain the gender-jab. Angst!

school supplies

“…the grammar of even one language is more than enough to make life a perpetual agony.” ~ Erasmus, “The Praise of Folly”

acquainted with grief

What a full summer for us! There are plenty of exciting pictures of long-awaited kitchen progress to share soon (I’m cooking on the new stove already and we have the bar counter top ready to install!), and I’m very pleased with some other home projects we have accomplished as well, like making over the brick fireplace and relaying some stone pathways outside before reseeding all the grass. This has been a good season, and we are grateful for the chances to improve our home and see so many beloved friends and family. …And then at the end of this excellent summer, I find myself thrown into situations where grief is all around, both for myself and those I hold dear.  This is truly a heavy thing to think on and discuss.

The Thinker

Someone who isn’t in the midst of this can pull all sorts of cliche comments out of thin air, trying to explain gut-wrenching heartache by saying things like,  “Everything happens for a reason,” or “Things will get better; your good time will come soon,” but those are shallow answers to one who is devastated by sadness. A trite comment cannot explain away the painfully simple truth: grief is hard, dark and lonely. Whether you are witness to the deep soul-groaning of the bereaved or experiencing it yourself, the weight of difficulty seems unbearable and cruel. It is true comfort for a Christian to cling to Jesus, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, in these times.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53, esv)

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? …Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8, esv)

with what I most enjoy contented least

I rediscovered this Sonnet a few weeks ago and I love how Shakespeare describes the emotional and mental benefit of changing one’s perspective. This poem is about romantic love but it certainly applies to many aspects of life.

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
-Sonnet 29, Shakespeare

Friday Five: books I’ve read lately

This week I realized I’ve read 14 books already during 2011. I’ve made an effort to read “real” books this year, and I believe this is already much more than I got through in all of 2010. I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to make this a priority! The five books I’m sharing here are some of my favorites, listed here in my own chronological reading order.

1) Orthodoxy
by GK Chesterton. This book is a great look at how Chesterton came, intellectually, to accept the Christian faith. I devoured this immediately after re-reading Mere Christianity, where CS Lewis similarly reconciles his academic intellect and confession of faith, and enjoyed the way they told almost the same story in two very different ways. I especially appreciated his discussions about the way modern thinking (that is, modernism and humanism) affect human belief:

“Everyday one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. …Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought… Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.” (Orthodoxy)

*****

2) One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp is really popular right now and I normally shy away from “those” popular Christian books because I prematurely assume they are fluffy and not interesting, but this one is on fire for a reason. This book was passed on to me by a brilliant woman, a dear friend who assured me it profoundly blessed her on the path to recovery from a life-altering betrayal, and I am so grateful I didn’t brush this off! It is anything but superficial. Her lyrical style is almost burdensome at first, if you’re not normally reading much poetry, but after the first chapter I found it easy to connect with her writing about a life of thankfulness in the midst of heartbreak, disappointment and unhappy circumstances. I loved this quote about reversing your heart in a typical “go-go-go” busy life of ungratefulness:

“The real problem of life is never a lack of time. The real problem of life – in my life – is lack of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving creates abundance; and the miracle of multiplying happens when I give thanks – take the just one loaf, say it is enough, and give give thanks – and He miraculously makes it more than enough.”  (One Thousand Gifts)

*****

3) The Scent of Water by Naomi Zacharias. I enjoyed this book immensely and thought it could be a great companion to the book above. Where Voskamp’s book is framed into her life as a farm wife and home-schooling mother of six, Zacharias uses her experiences of traveling the world in Christian ministry to tell the stories of how God reaches to us in suffering – both the hot-button exotic type, like refugee camps, orphanages and brothels and the every-day challenges we brush off because they seem so common, like rejection, death, and divorce. And what I really, really, really love is that she doesn’t say “I am so glad these awful things happened, and as a Christian you have to be thankful that you are suffering.” Instead, she reflects about the sorrow of her broken marriage:

“I am not in a place where I can say I am grateful for all that has happened. Given the choice I still wish very much that it could have been different, that there had been another way to have learned the lessons. I struggle to accept the life that is mine because it is not the story I wanted. And not a day goes by that I don’t notice it still hurts inside…. But now I see the world with perspective; I view people through vastly different lenses and recognize beauty in things that once escaped my notice. God seems more mysterious – sometimes mysteriously confusing, absent, and maddening. But always mysteriously true. …I opt for a life that is extraordinary over a life that is simple.” (The Scent of Water)

*****

4) Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Aaron actually read this one first and convinced me to try it, too. It’s the only real “story” I read, and it’s still a biography! Apparently there isn’t much fiction being read around here. It was great to talk about this tale of Louis Zamperini, a troublemaker-turned-Olympic-athlete-turned-Japanese-POW, in the context of our own life. While, thankfully, there was no capture and imprisonment business during Aaron’s deployment to Iraq, there’s no denying that any experience of war profoundly affects everyone it touches and we were both blessed by this testimony of the invincible dignity of the human spirit, created in the image of a gracious God:

“Resting in the shade and the stillness, Louie felt profound peace. When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that [his captors] had striven to make of him. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation.” (Unbroken)

*****

5) Here and Now by Henri Nouwen. I loved these short devotionals, especially his urging to consider the importance of communing with God in the midst of each moment:

“The real enemies of our life are the oughts and the ifs. They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. But real life takes place in the here and now. God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful or painful… God is not (just) someone who was or will be, but He is one who is. …Prayer is the discipline of the moment. When we pray we enter into the presence of God whose name is God-with-us. To pray is to listen attentively to the one who addresses us here and now. When we dare to trust that we are never alone but that God is always with us, always cares for us, always speaks to us, then we can gradually detach ourselves from the voices that make us guilty or anxious and thus allow ourselves to dwell in the moment. …If we could just be, for a few minutes each day, fully where we are, we would indeed discover that we are not alone and that the One who is with us only wants: to give us love.” (Here and Now)

*****

I hope you’ll take an opportunity to read some of these yourself if you’re looking for straightforward and thought provoking summer reading!