Wednesday, December 31, 2014

{Now I Know My ABCs}

Last night Jamie and the kids were sprawled about the family room playing "Would You Rather." My dad had picked up the card game as part of Jamie's Christmas gift, and it was hilarious to hear my family bantering and arguing about which fate would be worse: living with fingernails that could never be trimmed or having an extra, teeny-tiny head to deal with.

I hate this game.

And this is why. It's as though this game knows my fragile little personality and delights in tormenting me. Because:

1) I am terribly indecisive.
2) I don't like to be uncomfortable.

Are you beginning to see why this is such a terrible game? Why on earth would I want to think about leaving an inch-deep trail of dandruff in my wake or wearing permanent antlers on my head?!

I let them play, eager for the moment when Jamie would say, "Who's ready for a Little House episode?" (We got Season One for Avery for Christmas.) This is so much more up my alley. The only decision to make? Which episode. (And, duh, we go in order.) The only thing uncomfortable about it? Nellie Oleson. Hooray for Little House.

It is this indecisiveness that led me to come up with my book plan for 2014. Back in January, I scanned my bookshelves and noticed how many stories I had yet to read. Of course it was too overwhelming to decide which book to read and when, so I came up with my little ABC plan. I would attempt to read through the alphabet from A to Z, starting with Austen (I had never read Emma!) and ending with . . . whatever title or author I could find with a "Z" in it.

My only other goal was to try -- as much as possible -- to stick with the books I already owned. (I did end up borrowing a couple from friends and the library.) But I really wanted to develop a spirit of contentment with what I have, and that seemed like a simple way to do it.

This amounted to about two books a month, although I did add other books in along the way, too. (In November I had an Alcott fit and was compelled to read Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. I just couldn't help it. I also had a friend loan me a wonderful children's book, akin to Little House on the Prairie, called Peddler's Summer. Avery and I read it together and loved it! We just started the sequel, Mist on the Mountain. Oh -- and Bethie and I found some of the high school Betsy-Tacy stories, too. Charming!)

I found most of the books in my ABC journey to be thoroughly enjoyable. Throughout the year I've kept a list on the sidebar of my blog and I've tried to keep my list somewhat updated on Goodreads, too. Naturally, there were a few books that I just didn't care for and wouldn't necessarily recommend. But I also found some real gems lurking on my shelves.

Among my favorites from this year are a couple of children's titles: My Friend Flicka and Swallows and Amazons. Delightful reads. (Flicka was hauntingly thoughtful and deep.) I also really enjoyed The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. My dad loaned it to me, and it was a perfect blend of our reading interests. It was as though Louis L'Amour and L.M. Montgomery had teamed up to write a romance. (I later ended up finding my own copy at the church STM sale -- hooray!) Mrs. Miniver, a collection of stories welcomed by the public as a ray of sunshine in 1939, war-torn England, was another wonderful surprise.

Toward the end of the year I found myself running out of time. So I had to make some cuts. My "U" book was changed from my original choice, Uncle Tom's Cabin to the simpler, Understood Betsy. Another children's book. (But I loved it!) And for my final selection I had planned to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, but the whirlwind of the season led me to decide on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz instead. I found a couple of Zs in the title and called it good. (Did you know that Dorothy's slippers were not ruby but silver?)

My book choices this year were mostly fiction, but I did sneak in a couple of great non-fiction pieces that have encouraged me to think thoughtful thoughts as we head into the New Year: Speak and Notes from a Blue Bike. One was a gift, and another came from the library, just when I despaired of ever finding an "X" book. (I bent the rules just a tad on that one. Thank you, Tsh Oxenreider.) I appreciate books that inspire me to think differently and act on those thoughts, yet in ways that are do-able, realistic with my family life, and still kingdom-driven. Both encouraged me to do so.

As 2015 stretches before me, I glance again at my bookshelves. This time, I see many books I long to revisit. I haven't read Wuthering Heights since high school, and it's about time to read Christy and Papa's Wife again, too. Of course I'm starting the year with Little Women, which happens to be written by an "A" author . . . so maybe my ABC plan will work for the New Year, too. We have a family challenge to read through the Bible as well, so I see many hours of cozy reading in my future. Time to put the kettle on!

Happy reading, dear friends. May the New Year bring you many words of hope, encouragement, inspiration, strength and joy.

What titles are waiting for you this coming year?
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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

{For the Small and Tippy Sheep}

I was tidying up the living room the other day and saw that the wee nativity sheep were in need of some attention. Again. They're small and tippy (not to be confused with tipsy) and it's a wonder we still have all six of them. As I stood them up on their little hooves and pointed their muzzles once again toward the Baby in the manger, I wondered at the truth of it all: for sixteen years we've arranged these sheep around the manger, and for sixteen years not one of them has gone astray.


Wait. I take that back. Perhaps they've gone a little astray. Over the years we've found them under the rocking chair, we've found them strolling across the piano, we've found them buried in the nativity straw, and we've found them mingling with LEGO mini-figs. But they've always been found, and they've always been placed back where they belong, with muzzles pointed quietly, hopefully toward the Baby.

I've been thinking about this belonging-ness, this re-direction, ever since I found the painting. It's hanging in the living room, not far from the sheep. The subject -- a little girl of about six -- peers demurely from under a hat. This month she's peeking at me from behind the Christmas tree, and I can almost hear her little voice asking if she can tell me a secret or show me her new doll.

Last month she was still living in the home of a dear family friend. An estate sale brought me to the house I hadn't visited in years, but when I saw the painting, my heart leapt and I knew she wanted to come home with me. I wasn't sure if the longing had to do with a faint remembrance from my childhood or just an appreciation of the art itself, but I obeyed the impulse and gratefully gave her a new home.

As I often do following a bit of thrift shopping, I decided to do some research on the painting. I was curious about the artist and didn't know the name of the piece, but a quick google search gave me the information I needed. And then some. I clicked on the link and was astounded. So that's why she wanted to come home with me! The name of the demure, 18th century little girl? Miss Juliana Willoughby. (My exclamations were intense and frequent and my family is still afraid that I might shriek without warning.)

A few days later, our pastor was preaching from Luke 10. As he prepared to retell the story of The Good Samaritan in his thoughtful, relevant, and engaging way, he first landed on the staggering truth of verse 20: "Rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." He reminded us that there is no greater joy than this. I marveled. Here it was again: my name. My name that was shared with Miss Willoughby, my name that I shared with a stranger last week who kept exclaiming again and again, "What a beautiful name!" My name that was shared with another stranger the other day . . . whose eyebrows shot up as she said, "That's my name, too!" (We both realized the rarity of it.)

It's as though the Lord really, really wanted to make it clear to me this month: your name is written! It is sealed for eternity! You are loved, and no matter how you stray -- no matter how small and tippy you feel -- whether you land under the rocking chair or bury yourself in the straw, no matter what occurs, I will find you. (And He sounds even better than Nathaniel Hawkeye when He says it.) I will not lose you, but I will gather you in my arms and gently carry you, placing you once again among my dearly beloved sheep, pointing your little face toward My manger, toward My Truth.

Reader, I want to make it clear to you, too. You are loved. The Lord knows your name, and He longs to record it in His Book of Life for all time. As Miss Willoughby peers from behind the Christmas tree, longing to tell me her secret, I too want to peer from beyond the hustle and bustle of this week to tell you a secret: Look to the manger. "For my eyes are toward Thee, O God, The Lord." (Psalm 141:8) Look to the manger and thank the Lord for knowing you, for loving you. Ask Him to scoop you up from under the rocking chair, to brush the straw from your backside, to point your precious face once again toward His Light. Because you know what? He's longing to do it. In fact, that's exactly why He came.

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