Letters to Estelle

2017-10-09 13-20[1538]-page-001Miss Estelle Wood, waiting for her train to go back home to Baltimore in 1935.

Just one of the many envelopes with a story that her beau, Victor, sent her during their courtship.

 

 

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A Room of My Own

For many years, my bedroom was the room where I did much of my study, reading, writing, and thinking. Morning is when I read, meditate, pray, reflect, and work on my current study project. With children in the house and a busy schedule, there was no other time and place to work on my own studies and cultivate my devotional life.

Now that my children are grown and mostly gone, I am working every day outside the home so I still don’t have a lot of time. However I still write and read in the morning, and I now have a place for my studies. When we moved into our house, my husband decided that since I was the only woman in a house full of men, it would be a good thing for me to have a room I could call my own. He had our contractor take the back porch and turn it into a room off the back of the house.

It’s a jewel of a room. The pale green walls reflect the sunlight that pours in like liquid gold throughout the day. The dark wood floor is covered with an oriental carpet with rich, deep colors, which my father gave me. Family heirlooms dot the room and the wingback chairs are both elegant and comfortable. And, of course, there is a full wall of bookshelves, covered in books of all kinds, so that I have novels to sink into and bits of information right at my fingertips.

Virginia Woolf wrote in her famous essay, A Room of One’s Own, that for a woman to write fiction, [she] must have money and a room of her own…. She did not just mean a physical place, but also that one must have leisure as well as mental and emotional space in order to pour out her thoughts onto a page.

While I believe that anyone can write in the middle of a busy, crowded room, if necessary, as journalists and other professional writers have learned to do, I also can see what Woolf was implying. In order to write, you must create a mental space to take in information through reading, watching, observing, and then meditate on those things long enough to turn them into your own thoughts. Once those thoughts are formed, they must then be written down in some way. All of this takes time and space and energy, much of which is lacking in busy family life, especially when the children are small.

Of course, a mother must make time for her children. Interruptions must be allowed. Attention must be turned from her work to her child’s needs. Reeve Lindbergh discussed this in her memoir, Under a Wing:

…if I knocked at my mother’s door, she always answered, and if I entered the room, she never seemed to mind. She would put down her pen immediately, and smile gently, and ask what I wanted.

However, since my children have grown and moved out into the world to embrace their lives as adults, it has been easier for me to go deeper and further in my thinking and writing. The empty nest has allowed me to acquire the mental and physical space I need work. Having a room with doors that can be closed signals to others that I am in working mode: please do not disturb. I can now fall into what I call the “black hole of research” without being concerned for hungry tummies and skinned knees.

It doesn’t mean that the men in my house always pay attention to that closed door (which is why I still get up before everyone else in the mornings), but it does help me to feel less conflicted and less likely to be interrupted, which allows me to more freely pour out what I want to communicate. Long stretches of time are still scant, but with careful planning, I can often find corners of time and sometimes even a few hours to gaze out the window, read beautiful prose, chase down my myriad of thoughts, and write what’s in my heart.

A room of one’s own—what a luxury and a comfort to have this place of beauty in which to work and think and ponder the important things of life. This room, this jewel, is in the top ten of things for which I am thankful every day.

Penny Plain by O. Douglas

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I had another blog post planned for today, but I just finished Penny Plain by O. Douglas and had to share about this new to me author.

I had heard of O. Douglas, a pseudonym for Anna Buchan, because my boys and I have long loved John Buchan’s books. I still enjoy reading about Richard Hannay and his adventures, especially Mr. Standfast. Did you know that John Buchan is the father of spy novels? His first, The 39 Steps, was written in 1915 but set just before World War I. The first time I read it, I couldn’t put it down. It’s so full of hair-raising adventures and last minutes escapes that you find that you must read one more chapter to see if Hannay escapes the current tight corner.

Anyhow, because of my enjoyment of Richard Hannay, I had read about Buchan’s sister, Anna Buchan/O. Douglas, and had seen her books reviewed by other middlebrow novel enthusiasts. However, until this weekend, I had never read one for myself.

I downloaded Penny Plain for free onto my kindle. (As an aside, while I still adore real books, being able to read out of print, unaccessible books is one of the definite upsides of the digital book revolution). I’ve spent the last two days in Scotland with Jean Jardine and her three brothers, whom she is bringing up by herself after the death of her parents and her aunt.

It’s a charming little story with wonderful characters and a happy ending, the best kind of book. Jean is making do with little money but lots of books and love when Pamela Reston comes to the village of Priorsford to escape the social whirl for a while. The book is set just after World War I and the sorrows of the loss of so many young men come across from time to time. In a way, it is more poignant than a modern novel about the losses because the author knew those aching gaps in a way we modern readers never will.

However, the book itself is upbeat and tells about the kind heart of Jean, her genius for helping others, and the way her life takes an unexpected turn as a result of her kindnesses. Also, there are numerous quotes from Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson, and poetry, which I will have to track down to their sources one of these days for the sheer fun of it. I love books that are full of quotations.

Just a few bits to give you the flavor of the book:

“You know the people,” said Pamela, “who say, ‘Of course I love reading, but I’ve no time, alas!’ as if everyone who loves reading doesn’t make time.”

She has been nowhere and seen very little; books are her world, and she talks of book-people as if they were everyday acquaintances.

She was glad she lived among people who had the decency to go on caring for each other in spite of lines and wrinkles—comfortable couples whose affection for each other was a shelter in the time of storm, a shelter built of common joys, of “fireside talks and counsels in the dawn,” cemented by tears shed over common sorrows.

It wasn’t sad to be old, Jean told herself, for as the physical sight dims, the soul sees more clearly, and the light from the world to come illumines the last dark bit of the way….

The other rooms are lovely, but they are meant for crowds of people. This says tea, and a fire and a book and a friend—the four nicest things in the world.”

If you love books with kindness and laughter and true values and happy ever afters, even in the midst of life’s sorrows, then you will enjoy Penny Plain.

 

An Opportunity to Trust

White Arum Lilies by Tony Hisgett

A few months ago, I received a call from one of my children. He was sitting in a parking lot an hour away from school with a smoking vehicle. The car was dead.

Usually, this particular young man is more than capable. However, this situation was beyond his experience, and he was unsure about what to do next. After discussing the situation, we agreed that the only thing to do was to call a tow truck. I had to leave for a meeting with my pastor and said I would call him later to decide the next step.

As I drove to my meeting, I worried and prayed. I told the Lord how J needed a car to work this last year in school. I told Him that he had food to buy and school bills to pay. Without that car, J couldn’t get to work. What if he would be forced to drop out of school a semester before graduation? None of us had the money to buy him even a junker car to last until May. What were we going to do?

At my meeting, I shared my anxiety. My pastor prayed with me for my son and his situation. As I was leaving, he said, “This is an opportunity to trust, to trust that God will provide for J’s needs.”

An opportunity to trust. How often do we see difficult or perplexing circumstances as opportunities to worry and to fuss and to run around, crying and complaining instead of seeing them as opportunities to trust God? We can have faith that our loving Heavenly Father, who created the world, who owns all things, and knows our needs before we are even aware of them, has every new circumstance in control. He wasn’t caught by surprise when J’s car broke down. He wasn’t wringing His hands in heaven because of the school bills or food needs or lack of transportation.

No, God had all of this in His sovereign control. He knew the exact minute that car would die, and He allowed it to happen for His own glory and J’s good. The Lord already had the provision ready to meet J’s need before the circumstance occurred. He wants His children to depend on Him just as the sparrows depend on him for food and the lilies of the field depend on Him for clothing. He wants us to depend on Him for our daily bread and for our every need.

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. [Matthew 6:31-32]

Give us this day our daily bread. [Matthew 6:11]

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? [Romans 8:31-32]

In our proud independence, we think that we need to take care of our own needs, to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps”, instead of relying on God’s gracious, abundant provision. Scripture says that the Lord doesn’t let the children of the righteous beg for bread I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread. [Psalm 37:25].

Here I was anxiously seeking provision for my son when God has promised to take of J. In myself, I am not righteous, but because of Christ, God the Father regards me as righteous so I can trust Him to not allow my children to be in need, physically or spiritually.

How many times over the years have I seen His provision! Over and over again I have been in need, sometimes financially, sometimes emotionally, often spiritually. Yet, I have never been abandoned by our God. He has always supplied my every need in His perfect time and usually gave me more than I asked for. His generosity never fails. Sometimes His timing wasn’t what I thought it should be, but it was always exactly right for the situation.

There is a hymn that I would sing with my children when they were small. The words even now remind me of the Lord’s provision when my faith is weak:

Children of the heav?nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e?er was given

God, His own doth tend and nourish
In His holy courts they flourish
From all evil things He spares them
In His mighty arms He bears them

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord, His children sever
Unto them His grace He showeth
And their sorrows all He knoweth

Though He giveth or He taketh
God His children ne?er forsaketh
His, the loving purpose solely
To preserve them, pure and holy

Lo, their very hairs He numbers
And no daily care encumbers
Them that share His ev?ry blessing
And His help in woes distressing

Praise the Lord in joyful numbers
Your Protector never slumbers
At the will of your Defender
Ev?ry foeman must surrender

Children of the heav?nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e?er was given –Caroline V. Sandell-Berg

Christian friend, are you in need today? Is there a circumstance in your life where you are poor and needy. Go to your Heavenly Father. Take this opportunity to trust Him. He loves you with an everlasting love, and He always gives good gifts to His children.

For my readers who don’t yet have the Lord as your Heavenly Father, are you in need today? He is willing to meet your needs—spiritually in Christ first and also physically and emotionally and in every other way. Go to the Lord, ask Him to save your soul and to provide for your needs. You can list those needs, but He already knows exactly what you are lacking in your life. Take this opportunity to trust that Jesus died for you, that He rose again from the dead to save you, and that He will lead you for the rest of your life.

As for J’s need, a friend had a van that he is not using. He graciously loaned it to J for the remainder of the school year until J graduates and can buy a new car.

God provided quickly and abundantly. He will provide for you, too. The next time a need arises, remember my pastor’s words: “It is an opportunity to trust.”

Favorite Authors: Madeleine L’Engle

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Last week I finished A Circle of Quiet, the first in the Crosswicks books, by Madeleine L’Engle. It has been on my “to be read” list for years. However, I had never found the right time or been in the right mood for it until now. What a lovely book! L’Engle talks about the writing life, family, community, God, and many other things. It’s a memoir of sorts but so much more. Listening to her voice, I heard echoes of ideas I have pondered, events I have meditated upon, and values I also hold dear. It gave me hope that my writing is not in vain and that I must continue to pursue it as long as I am called to put words on paper.

This is not the first time that L’Engle has written something that filtered into my mind as sunlight filters through the branches of a stand of trees. In my early teens, I read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time. The protagonist, Meg, was so like me—nerdy, misunderstood, thoughtful, awkward. I had braces but no glasses at that point in my life. Instead, I had wild, curly hair in a time when everyone had straight hair, “feathered back”.  My nose was stuck in a book every possible moment, I spent hours writing in journals, and I was still fond of my dolls, although I’d never dream of letting anyone at school find out.

I loved Meg and her search for her father, the quirky Mrs. Whatsit and the adventure. When Meg found a friend in Calvin, who seemed out of her reach, I realized that I might not always be weird and misunderstood. Her little brother Charles Wallace, her mother’s lab at the house, and making spaghetti sauce while doing research charmed me.

The sequel, A Wind in the Door, was another favorite. Looking back, I suspect it had something to do with my love of biology in high school and choice of a major in biochemistry. I spent many hours in the library after finishing A Wind in the Door, reading about mitochondria and wishing that farandolae existed so I could discover them.

Both of the books helped form my thinking as a teenager. I learned that being odd was okay, that big thoughts were allowable, and that someday my outer and inner lives would reach an equilibrium of some sort.

I read many of L’Engle’s adult fiction years later including one of my favorite books, A Small Rain, and its sequel, A Severed Wasp. As I read these two books I realized how L’Engle incorporated her belief about God throughout her books, which caused me to view her writing in a new light.

Five years ago, I first picked up one of her nonfiction books, The Rock That is Higher: Story as Truth. I marked so many of the thoughts, it’s almost a solid underline. I did the same with Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art a couple years later.

I plan to read the rest of the Crosswicks quartet soon and someday finish the Austin books (I’ve only read the first). I know that Madeleine L’Engle’s books have much more to say to me as a writer, as a human being, and as a Christian. It is a delight to know there are so many of her works I have yet to read for the first time. I look forward to learning much from them as well as enjoying her prose and sampling her poetry.

Morning Quiet

We live in a world full of noise. Everywhere we go, there are TVs and cell phones and radios. I work in a library, and even there, now that we no longer require silence and hush people, it can be noisy. If you are similar and you find noise interferes with thinking and meditation, what do you do?

If there isn’t a place of quiet, find a time of quiet. The best time I have found are those early morning hours before people want to get out of bed.

Most mornings I get up at 5:00 a.m. When I confess this to others, they are appalled at the thought of getting out of their cozy beds at that hour, far earlier than they need to get up to prepare for their day. Admittedly it is difficult to convince my body to leave the warmth of my bed some days, but I have a bigger goal in mind than bodily comfort. My morning time is a time for prayer, for contemplation, for creativity. Without it, I go through my day mindlessly and on auto-pilot.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “That’s fine for you. You enjoy the morning.” Well, yes, I do. I’ve always been a lark and found it easy to get up early. Your quiet time may be in the evenings, long after everyone has gone to bed. However, the main reason morning works better for me is not because of my love for mornings. It is because, in the morning, the world has not yet had the opportunity to start demanding. By evening, I am depleted by the many people who have needed me and the tasks that required my attention. My own thoughts have had no chance of developing because I am too full of other people’s thoughts or I’m just too weary to think.

In the morning, I read Scripture and pray, and then with a fresh mind and a quiet heart, I can hear the thoughts I want to share and sometimes even write them down. C.S. Lewis said,

It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

In the quiet of that first hour, I am recentering my mind and heart on the true, the good, and the beautiful. Whenever I skip that time, the ‘wild animals” run the zoo of my mind, and I have a much harder time putting things into their correct perspective. Once I put aside my wishes and hopes for what the Lord is asking of me that day, I can see more clearly what to do and how to think. Once I find that quiet within, I can hear my true thoughts, underneath the stresses and to do’s and oughts and shoulds.

In the very early morning, my family is asleep and aside from the dog next door, the only thing I hear is the humming of my computer and the song of the birds. I can look out my window and see the sun just peeping up from the horizon and let the thoughts and ideas and feelings arise from inside my heart and mind and pour forth onto paper.

Since I do not live alone, I need to have two places in which to seek that morning quiet. Most mornings, I hide out in my bedroom because my husband leaves early for work and it is quiet there. Some mornings (on weekends and vacations particularly), he is still sleeping so I  wander downstairs to my book room with my coffee, close the doors, and seek my quiet there.

Whichever room I choose, the main requirement is that there are no competing voices in my head. That means I need to quiet the external voices—TV, radio, internet, etc. And then I need to quiet the internal voices—the clock, my desire to be lazy, my worries and anxieties, and all of the “ought to do’s”.

As I sit in silence before the Lord, I pray for wisdom to share what He has laid on my heart. Sometimes those sharings are spiritual, lessons I have learned or am learning, to help my fellow travelers on their journey through life. Other times I want to write about books, my favorite topic, and share what I have read that may be enjoyable or helpful for those reading. Occasionally I share a glimpse of my heart so that my readers can hear what is most important to me and what I am convinced ought to be most important to all of us.

However, if I’m bombarded with external voices and demands, I cannot read, meditate, and then compose what is on my heart and mind. So, I seek quiet.

Apparently, I’m not alone in this. Jesus got up early in the morning to pray and seek His Father’s will for Him:

Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. (Mark 1:35)

So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed. (Luke 5:16)

Surrounded by people and demands, Jesus knew that He could not pray or meditate or plan for what He should do and where He should go unless He had time alone in the quiet to pray. Martin Luther, Saint Benedict, and many other Christians also found the early morning a good time for prayer and meditation.

Will you join me and find your quiet time each day? It could be morning. Or perhaps nighttime is the best time for you. If so, you may need extra time to rid yourself of the day’s voices and demands to hear your own thoughts and those of God. Whenever and wherever you choose, give yourself time each day to read, pray, and meditate. It won’t be long before you find that your morning (or evening) quiet hour is the most valuable of your day.

Remembering Mother

Veda-Young

Each year on November 22*, I remember my mother. The world remembers John F. Kennedy on that day, the anniversary of his assassination, and the Christian world remembers C. S. Lewis, who also died that day. However, while I do remember both of these men, the one I most think about and grieve is my dear mother.

It’s been twelve years since she went to be with the Lord. They say that grief eventually subsides and, in one sense, that is true. I don’t actively grieve every minute of every day as I did that first year after she died. I don’t go to pick up the phone to tell her something and start to cry as I remember she’s gone.

However, it’s not true that you “get over it.” Grief of a great loss never truly goes away. It hovers in the background, waiting to pounce on you when you least expect it. Days like the anniversary of her death or her birthday or, for some odd reason, on my birthday bring her to mind. Milestones in my children’s lives, finding a recipe card in her handwriting, reading old letters or looking through photo albums, finding a purse in her favorite shade of aqua or receiving a gift from an old friend of something my mother made many years ago have also triggered memories. Any and all of these things cause me to tear up and remember the gift that my mother was, not just to me, but to so many other people.

My mother was born a month after the U.S. entered World War II. Her father was unable to fight due to health issues so while they didn’t have a lot of money, she grew up in a household with both her parents and was a much-loved only child. She learned her love of beauty from both of her parents, her ability to create art and garden from her father, her cooking and housekeeping and music from her mother. Her father’s sister was the one who introduced her to the love of books and good writing, which influenced my mother for the rest of her life.

My parents met while Mother was still in college, studying English, and they married before she graduated. She didn’t let a lack of a college degree get in the way of her learning though. She went on to teach herself a multitude of things, such as cut-glass work and quilting. She never passed up an opportunity to learn from someone else.

When I was a child, we lived next door to an Indian family, and my mother received recipes and help from our neighbor to learn Indian cooking. I still have the recipes and still remember the assortment of colorful lentils and flavored curries that Mother made. When my brother married an Italian girl, Mother went to the local community college and took Italian so that she could communicate with her in-laws, whose English was fragmented, at best.

Mother was always doing something. Like Martha from the Bible, she was busy with many things. She often said that while my father was working hard at work during the day, she should be working hard at home.

A few things I remember her doing: dipping pine cones in wax in the autumn for the fireplace each winter, standing over the kitchen sink soldering pieces of glass together, sewing something on her Singer sewing machine, and gardening. She had a large vegetable garden when I was young and after she gave up the large garden, she always had a small plot for herbs for cooking. And her cooking! She was a gourmet cook. Countless meals and gifts came out of her kitchen. I know she touched the lives of hundreds of people through her cooking alone.

She spent her odd moments of leisure doing needlework and taught me how to do embroidery, needlepoint, and counted cross-stitch. She sewed many of my clothes, my dolls’ clothes, and many of her own garments as well.

One of our most cherished memories was of the time we were walking through our favorite department store. One of the saleswomen in the suit department admired the suit I was wearing and asked me if I had bought it at their store. When I told the woman that my mother had made it, she was astonished and said that the suit was as beautifully made as any the store carried. What a triumph of Mother’s skill!

Mother was a letter writer. Before I was even in school, I called our typewriter a “type-a-letter” because that’s what my mother used it for. When my brother and I went away to school, we could count on at least one letter a week. She sent some emails but even when she used a computer in later years, she often printed the letter out and sent it in an envelope along with articles and other little things she had clipped and saved. I have years of letters in her beautiful handwriting that I treasure for the glimpses into her life, for the wisdom of her advice, and for the love that poured out to me in her words.

Mother believed in the idea of anything worth doing is worth doing well. Her gifts were wrapped as if they were done by an expert. Her home was always warm and inviting. The backside of her needlework creations was almost as beautiful as the front. Every garment she made had finished seams, so you never had to worry about loose threads, and I don’t remember ever losing a button off one of the blouses she made me. When she started quilting later in life, every quilt was beautiful—all her points came together in the piecing and the quilting was always perfect.

Every year, she made dozens and dozens and dozens of homemade Christmas cookies. Some were for the Christmas brunch she held for many years, some were to give as gifts, and some were for her family. Each cookie was beautiful. Se would spend hours on finishing touches to make them more than just something to pop into your mouth.

Best of all, my mother loved people and would go out of her way to befriend them and care for them. She spent her time, listening, advising, and serving her friends and acquaintances. After she died, many people told me how much Mother had meant to them. I only knew a fraction of them because her circle of friends was so wide.

How does one get over the loss of your mother? I remember my pastor once commenting that losing your mother is one of the greatest losses. He said that on his birthday, his mother would buy him a shirt and after she died, he missed those shirts. Your mother is the one who has known you from the beginning. Very few, if any, people will know and love you the way your mother does.

A good mother knows her children—their likes and dislikes, their weaknesses and strengths. A godly mother instills the truth of the gospel in her children from the time they are very small, she prays with and for them, and she teaches them the ways of God in her words and deeds. A loving mother spends time with her children and does many things for them. She encourages them when they are struggling, advises them when they are confused or lost, and is their greatest cheerleader.

Years ago, my mother and I read a book that said that our fellow Christians are our “balcony people.” The author was talking about Hebrews 12:1:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

The author pointed out that the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 are the saints who have run the race before us and who are now standing in the balcony of heaven, cheering us on as we run the race of the Christian life.

Mother said that she would always be my balcony person, that she would always be cheering me on, no matter what. She knew me better than anyone else in the world and was my friend and advisor and support until the day of her death. And, I suspect, that she is still cheering me on from heaven.

When I lost my mother, it left a hole in my heart that will never quite be filled on this earth. But I can cherish the memories of her, share the good things she shared with me, advise my friends and family with the wisdom with which she advised me, and tell the world about what a good mother can be by telling the world who my mother was.

Go give your mother a hug. She is your first and best friend in the world and no one can ever replace her.

*Although I wrote this post on the anniversary of my mother’s home-going, it seems appropriate to post it on her birthday.