My Reading Life

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. —C. S. Lewis

Bookroom corner

For anyone who has read my blog for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve discovered that I love to read. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t love books or have time for books in my life. As a child, the bookcase in my room was a never-ending source of delight. I read and reread favorite books. Every year a friend of my grandmother’s gave my brother and me books for Christmas. The Velveteen Rabbit, the Little House books, The Little Princess, and a set of six matching hardbacks, including titles such as Mary Poppins and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe were some of the titles I remember receiving from her.

My mother took us to the library regularly and once I was big enough and strong enough to bike there myself, I would go on my own. We lived in a small town for several years and the library was only a few miles away. By the time I was in junior high, I could go by myself.

I still remember that library. It was a little house on the town square, filled with books. I first read the Anne of Green Gables books and The Scarlet Pimpernel there. It’s funny that I remember no librarians, just stacks full of books to browse and borrow.

When I was in high school, we moved to a different state and I had a job at our town’s public library. That meant that I could bring books home every day after work. I didn’t have to wait for the once a week trip. It was in high school that I discovered Agatha Christie books, selling for 10 cents a piece at our library book sale. I spent many happy hours reading when my schoolwork was done and on weekends. I remember taking a book out with me to the woods, sitting in a chair with an apple and a book on a rainy Saturday, curled up on my bed one weekend with Gone with the Wind and astonishing my mother when I finished it by Sunday evening.

In the library where I worked, the fiction collection started on the left-hand wall, continued around the back wall, and finished on the right-hand wall. I started the A’s with Jane Austen and spent the last two years in high school working through classics like Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, Les Miserables and many others. I also fell in love with the historical fiction books by Thomas Costain, Anya Seton, and Leon Uris.

Despite my studies in college, I still found time for pleasure reading. I mostly had to rely on the books that I had brought from home until my last year in college. The summer before my senior year, I moved to a house within walking distance of the university with a bunch of other girls.

Just around the corner, there was a tiny public library extension and any time I wasn’t at work that summer, I was reading. Our house didn’t have air conditioning and the nights could be unbearably warm so a book to read until 2 a.m. was a help in making myself tired enough to sleep in the heat.

I worked at my university after graduation. On weekends, I poked around used bookstores and made a trip to the main downtown library for something new to read. My collection of books was growing. I started branching out from historical fiction and mysteries into poetry, plays, and literary fiction. I first found Miss Manners and learned etiquette while giggling over her snarky attitude. I read biographies. It was at this time that I first discovered Anne Morrow Lindberg’s books of journals and letters that made such an impact on my life. I was single and not a party girl. I would go to work and afterwards my books would keep me company in the evenings.

I did finally get married, but I didn’t stop reading. My husband was in school so we spent evenings reading—me with my beloved classics and mysteries and he with his school books. This worked out well since it would have been hard if my new husband hadn’t understood my love for books.

After our children came, I was busy most of the day caring for them and the house but I still carved out time for books. With just one baby, I could find time to read while nursing, while he napped, before bed. However, when the second little guy came along, it was much harder. I was on the go all day. Every time I wasn’t doing something, I was exhausted and only wanted to sleep.

I was feeling starved, intellectually and spiritually, without time spent reading, reflecting, and writing. One day, I realized that after the baby’s early morning feed, he went back to sleep and I had an hour before my oldest woke up. Rather than go back to bed, as I had been doing, I used that time to read my Bible, to journal, to read uplifting books. I rediscovered my core being again as God’s Word nourished my spirit and mind, as I read good fiction and edifying nonfiction, as I reflected on new ideas, and wrote about what I was thinking and how I was growing.

When we started homeschooling our children, I introduced reading as a pastime to my children. I had read aloud to them for years, but now we spent long hours every day with books—reading, discussing, narrating. The boys would look forward to library day when we would go for library programs, gather a new stack of books, and spend the evening together, everyone with the book of their choice.

People asked me how I had time to read while homeschooling three children and running the house. My response was that I needed to read in order to do those things. Reading and studying was key to my ability to grow in my faith, teach my children what they needed to know, and to keep my sanity. Studies detailed how many women were on anti-depressants and other drugs in order to cope with the stresses of modern life. I found that if I kept learning and reading and regularly interacting with good ideas, those pastimes helped me with stress. I found strength in the nourishment I was receiving intellectually, emotionally, and, most importantly, spiritually.

These days I still read whenever I can find a few moments. Now that my children have grown up and starting new lives in working and higher education, I work at our local library so I still have plenty of books at my fingertips. Newly published books make their way to my nightstand, piles of books that I’m reading and pondering teeter around my “book room”, and my bookshelves still overflow.

What started as a common pastime as a child has turned into a way of life. I still spend many evenings and weekends with a book and a pot of tea. I do not regret the many hours spent in other people’s lives. I lived a thousand lives, traveled the world, and learned about life from other people’s experiences. Reading has enriched my life beyond all imagining. The reading life is the only life for me.

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Quote for the Day

Bookroom corner

 ” ‘I thank you, sir, I thank you,’ he murmured, and placed George Herbert between Spenser and Piers Plowman on the shelf. ‘You give me great wealth for the gift of a book is the gift of a human soul. Men put their souls in their books. When one man gives another a book then three souls are bound together in that most happy thing, a trinity. ”

From The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge.

Deep Work – Using Free Time Wisely

I just finished reading about Rule #3 in Deep Work by Cal Newport. Rule #3 is Quit Social Media. I won’t go into all of the reasons he mentions or some of his suggestions as to how. You can get a good idea from his TED talk  (or read his explanation in the book).

Instead, I want to focus on the last section of the chapter because I found it very motivating. His subheading is Don’t Use the Internet to Entertain Yourself and in this section, he refers often to Arnold Bennett’s How to Live on 24 Hours a Day.

We tend to think that distracted free time and wasting time after work is a recent phenomenon. Apparently it was also a problem in the early 20th century when Bennett wrote his book. I read Bennett’s book about ten years ago and found it very helpful and practical. Newport refers to it often and, in particular, focuses on two main points that Bennett made.

The first is Put more thought into your leisure time. Newport says,

It’s crucial, therefore, that you figure out in advance what you’re going to do with your evenings and weekends before they begin. Structured hobbies provide good fodder for these hours, as they generate specific goals to fill your time. A set program of reading, a la Bennett, where you spend regular time each night making progress on a series of deliberately chosen books, is also a good option, as is, of course, exercise or the enjoyment of good (in-person) company. p. 213

He goes on to say that he spends his evenings reading, with his computer and phone tucked away.

The second point he pulls out from Bennett reminded me of Charlotte Mason, who suggested switching subjects often for children since changing to a fresh type of work helps our minds not become too fatigued. Bennett wrote,

One of the chief things which my typical man [or woman] has to learn is that the mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want to change—not rest, except in sleep.

Newport goes on to confirm this,

If you give your mind something meaningful to do throughout all your waking hours, you’ll end the day more fulfilled, and begin the next one more relaxed, than if you instead allow your mind to bathe for hours in semiconscious and unstructured Web surfing. p. 214

This section resonated with me. There are so many times that I am annoyed with myself for wasting time over too much time surfing the Web, but I am rarely dissatisfied with time spent reading a good book or writing or knitting or walking around the block. I am finding that I must actually plan for those things or it’s all too easy to waste time doing nothing. If I write down the things I want to accomplish, work or recreation, on my daily “to do” list, I am much more likely to do them than if I just float through my day. That may not be true for you, but try planning your free time this week. Or pick up Arnold Bennett’s book and see if he inspires you to give some structure to your recreation. I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

What is your focus today?

Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen good harmless worlds at once – art, music, social science, games, motoring, the following of some profession, and so on.  And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the “good” hiding the “best” even more effectually than it could be hidden by downright frivolity with its smothered heart-ache at its own emptiness.

It is easy to find out whether our lives are focused, and if so, where the focus lies.  Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning?  Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day?  Does this test not give the clue?  Then dare to have it out with God – and after all, that is the shortest way.  Dare to lay bare your whole life and being before Him, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focussed on Christ and His glory. Dare to face the fact that unfocussed good and useful as it may seem, it will prove to have failed of its purpose.*–excerpts from “Focussed” by I. Lilias Trotter

Distractions abound these days, even more so than in Lilias Trotter’s time–home, school, family, friends, work, church functions and ministries, books, magazines, and newspapers, music, movies, and television, phones, tablets, and computers, and so forth.

How hard it is in this busy world with all of its noise and news and amusements to stop and sit at the feet of Jesus, to be still and know that He is God, to quiet your heart and mind so that you might hear His voice.

A favorite hymn from my childhood, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, was written when the author, Helen H. Lemmel, read this pamphlet by Lilias Trotter.  The chorus of this hymn is a reminder of how we can learn to focus on the eternal things:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

I pray that you would turn your eyes upon Jesus today and that, as you gaze upon Him and His grace and glory, you would choose the best things, not merely the good.

*To read the entire pamphlet, Focussed, go here.

Affirming my choice in thousands of ways

Daffodils April 3 2014

To be “saved” requires a severance from the former life as clean and sharp as though made by a knife. There must be a wall of separation between the old life and the new, a radical break. That means death—death to the old life, in order for the new to begin. “We know that the man we once were has been crucified with Christ, for the destruction of the sinful self, so that we may no longer be the slaves of sin, since a dead man is no longer answerable for his sin” (Romans 6:6-7 NEB).

This wall of separation, this barrier, is the cross.

From earliest memory I understood that everybody ought to love Jesus. Then I began to hear that everybody ought to “receive the Lord Jesus Christ as his own personal Savior.” To the best of my understanding that is what I wanted to do, so I did it—I asked Him to come into my heart, as I was instructed to do. It was a once-for-all decision, and I believe He accepted the invitation and came in. So far so good. I was told that I was now “saved,” saved by grace. That was a gift, a free gift, from God. Amazing. Simply amazing that the Lord of the Universe, the One who is “the ruler over all authorities and the supreme head over all powers” (Colossians 2:10, JBP), “the blessed controller of all things, the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the One who lives in unapproachable light, the One whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see” (1 Timothy 6:15-16, JBP)—amazing that the same One bends His ear to the prayer of a child or of a sinner of any age and, if asked, comes in and makes His home with us. For His name is Immanuel, God with us.

How shall He be at home with us unless our lives are in harmony with His holy life? Unless He lives His very life in us and we live our lives “in company with Him’? Salvation means rescue from the pit of destruction, from the miry clay of ourselves.

So my decision to receive Him, although made only once, I must affirm in thousands of ways, through thousands of choices, for the rest of my life—my will or His, my life (the old one) or His (the new one). It is no to myself and yes to Him. This continual affirmation is usually made in small things, inconveniences, unselfish giving up of preferences, yielding gracefully to the wishes of others without playing the martyr, learning to close doors quietly and turn the volume down on the music we’d love to play loudly—sufferings they may be, but only small-sized ones. We may think of them as little “deaths.” –pp. 26-27 A Path through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot

I am re-reading A Path through Suffering for the fourth or fifth time and was struck by this passage in light of our sermon yesterday about Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.  Our pastor pointed out that the reality of many of us is that we often follow Jesus at a distance just as Peter followed Jesus and His accusers at a distance in Matthew 26:35 before denying that he knew Him.

It seems to me that the only way to be close to Jesus, to walk beside Him rather than follow at a distance is found in this passage from Elisabeth Elliot’s book.  The turning away from my own selfishness and fear and preferences and the turning towards Christ in humility and trust and desire for righteousness.

Counting my blessings

image

One of the ways I have learned to feel the contentment I talked about the other day is to count my blessings.  No matter how difficult my circumstances have been, I can usually find at least one thing that warms my day.  I call them simple pleasures, and if you begin to look for them, you will find that your life is full of them.  You only need to develop the habit of noticing.

I would also sing the hymn Count Your Blessings as a way to remind myself to be thankful and content:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

—Johnson Oatman, Jr.

Today’s blessings are a cup of pistachio almond tea, a batch of homemade applesauce, loaves of oatmeal bread rising in the oven, a new Charles Todd mystery to read, and a rainy Saturday afternoon in which to enjoy them. 

What are your simple pleasures and blessings today?

A definition of contentment

 

I have been listening to Gateway to Joy with Elisabeth Elliot over the past few weeks over at BBN Radio.  When they did a repeat of last week’s episodes, I thought I’d poke around for another place to listen and happened upon a treasure trove of talks by Mrs. Elliot on YouTube.

Elisabeth Elliot is one of the women who has most influenced me in my walk with Christ.  Ever since I discovered her books in college, I have spent many hours reading her work, praying through her excellent counsel, listening to her talks in person and in recordings, and being continually challenged to give my all for Jesus Christ.

Who is Your Master? was a convicting way to start my day.  I especially loved her definition of contentment, so much so that I copied it into my planner as a reminder for the rest of my day:

Contentment does not lie in despising what you don’t have; contentment lies in gratitude for what you do have.  And contentment lies in receiving these things as gifts from God, knowing that, if they are gifts, the One who gave them can also take them away…We can hold these things, as it were, on an open palm, ‘Here, Lord, thank You, and any time You want to take them away, they’re Yours.’   –Elisabeth Elliot