Tuesday, January 19, 2016

An Obsession With Books

Recently I was visiting my friend, Violet, and we were talking about books. Violet is in her 90s and lives with her daughter and family; she has very few personal belongings these days. Violet's criteria for keeping a book: it had to be worth rereading, and she remembers she once owned over 300 books. It can take a lot of reading to find over 300 books worth rereading; I discovered a few in 2015. We'll come back to my top three reread worthy books of 2015 in just a bit.

You may wonder what criteria determines when a book gets the distinct privilege of being placed in the reread pile. I have no official criteria. A book has to challenge me in some way and to reread it would help me more fully absorb the truths or lessons I long to take root in me, or it must be a beautifully woven story by a masterful wordsmith. These are the primary reasons a book may be exalted to a special shelf or stack in wait of another go around. I love words and especially well crafted phrases I can taste, touch, smell, hear and see. Reading has been a lifelong obsession for me.

As a little girl I memorized the rhymes my mother read to me; with book in hand I pretended to read to others all the while quoting from memory. Once I mastered reading I would disappear for hours, held captive by words between the cover of any book I could get my hands on. We didn't have many books in our home, so I begged to order books when money was available and borrowed from anyone willing to share.

I am not sure how I developed such a voracious appetite for reading, but no one else in my family seemed to have the same desperate need for another book and time alone to read it. Many evenings my dad would call for me to come out of my room and spend time with the family; being with the family at our house meant watching TV. For over 100 years several inventors worked on developing the technology to give us a talking box with motion pictures. It is important to note here the television came to America in the 40s, during my parent's childhoods; you were practically a celebrity if your family was the first on your street to get one. And in the 1960s, my childhood years, color television sets became available for purchase. By 1966 all of prime-time television was in color increasing the thrill of watching anything. The idea of being able watch current events live, like the first man on the moon, and movies in the privacy of your home had American families mesmerized.

I was usually more interested in living inside my own imagination, even if guided by another's story, than watching sitcoms and movies. Conflicted, I would join the family with my book in hand. If I was caught up in a better story than the one playing on television, I continued reading while sitting by this noisy box amidst the family, training myself to tune out the noise with singular focus. My skill for tuning out all sound and being fully taken in by a good book became so fine tuned my mom would have to raise her voice to jerk me from out under the cover of a book into the stark reality of chores and crazy family business. A few of my favorite childhood books to read and reread were Pipi Longstocking, Ellen Tebbits, Black Beauty, Little House on the Prairie and Little Women. Some of my childhood favorites, I have read and reread as a grownup: Anne of Green Gables, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia and Jane Eyre. And that's just the fiction.

Over the years I've reread many nonfiction books, as well as skimming all I underlined, culling rich morsels to nourish to my soul. So no one misunderstands, I am not leaving out the Bible. Those who know me well know it is my life book. I find reading good writing transforming; these days I read far more nonfiction than fiction. On my list of of books read in 2015, here are three I plan on reading again:


As I look over the list of books I read in 2015 there are actually more than three I would like to reread, but these I am certain to read again. I wrote a post of the impact of Benson's book, Dancing on the Head of a Pen early last year. http://juliejjoiner.blogspot.com/2015/01/thebenson-influence-asi-set-up-to-begin.html And of course there is a stack of new books to be read with a goal to read even more books than last year. Though reading well is more important than the number of books read; I like to challenge myself to make reading and learning a priority. But those who know me well know I can't help myself; I have to read and learn.

I would love to hear about your top three favorite books read in 2015. What are your favorite types of books to read?

I love this excerpt from The Dean's Watch by Elizabeth Goudge, a British novelist born in 1900. It is about a boy who is put in an orphanage and finds it a miserable place. Health returned to the boy as he immersed himself in reading.

In the schoolroom there was a shelf containing a few tattered books, given by some kindly citizen, and the boys were allowed to read them on Saturday nights. Few made use of the privilege, for they couldn't read well enough, but Job read them all. . . . All the books had pictures in them. The books were like rooms in a great house and the pictures were lamps lit in the rooms to show them to him. As he read, his dreams slowly changed. The nightmares . . . gradually gave way to dreams of forests full of great trees, where fabulous beasts galloped down the cool green aisles, meadows full of flowers and celestial mountains musical with streams.”

Happy reading!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Fresh Start in Contentment

Clean, fresh, crackly white – like the first sheet of paper in a brand new journal. This is how I feel about the new year. I love the way starting afresh feels, like a perfectly tailored dress. But January quickly becomes messy and scribbled all over and the only way I can claim the freshness is to be still, to listen and pray, journal and seek God's direction for 2016. If I focus on all the busyness begging to claim the squares on the calendar and robbing me of open space and breathing room, I soon begin to lose the joy and hope of what God wants to do. And my spirit soon feels deflated and worn like the Christmas inflatables up and down our street that just weeks ago seemed all bright and cheery, having brought smiles to faces of those passing by. Now their appearance is glum and messy.

And here it is only 9 days into the new year and the clean pages on the calendar have been snagged from behind and taken captive by events unexpected. “This is life,” I tell myself. But I whine, “Can't I just pull away for a day's worth of peace and quiet to get on solid ground before the tumult begins?” I have stolen moments and pulled away to seek direction, wisdom and strength. The hurts of others struggling press in on me and I long to make it all better for them, but I am just little ol' me and I am not God. Discovering the places He invites me to join Him is the purpose of eeking out quiet space and listening.

My reaction to the unexpected, to needs and activities taking away my days before I have had time to think and plan reminds me of the two choices Ann Voskamp writes about: “complain or communion.” This is the year I am opening myself to increased contentment. “Complain or communion” is simple, but a challenging reminder of the choices I have when things aren't going the way I want them to go. Three C's.

Communion – Complaining = contentment


Contentment – complaining = communion

Either way you figure it, complaining and discontent get in the way of communion with the Father. And it doesn't attract healthy fellowship in the Body either. I cringe when I think of being short of contentment; it is a little embarrassing considering how great God is and how wonderfully He cares for me. It is a reminder the big picture isn't about me, I am just blessed to be a part of the story.

Digging about for words on contentment I came across this footnote by Charles Stanley, “We find our greatest source of contentment, of course, is a delightful relationship with Jesus Christ.” The seeds of contentment grow when rooted in an intimacy focused sharply on Jesus. Writing about Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a boy's lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish, Jennifer Kennedy Dean added an exclamation point to my need for contentment with this line:

It's not what you have, it's who I AM that defines the situation.”

My biggest area of discontent is lack of time to do things important to me. When I read Jennifer's words on lack versus Jesus, it occurred to me that He has given me all the time I need. He multiplies our little to so much more. Reinforcement from Savannah at ramblingsmom.com, “Contentment isn't about what we have. It's a matter of the heart being; satisfied with what God has allowed for us in our lives.”

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NASB). It all circles back to gratitude and trust. If I trust in Him that all things are working together for good (Romans 8:28) then I can be grateful, and content in all circumstances. Oh, for sure I know this is a heart-change requiring the transforming power of His Spirit.