There’s a little challenge that has been floating around Facebook, asking people to pick their top ten favorite or influential books that they’ve read. I decided to share my list with you. Maybe you’ll think about your top ten too or pick out one of the books on my list to encourage you, especially if you’re an avid reader like me. I usually read a book or two each month, and on the more busy months, I use a free library app to listen to an audio book. So, here’s my top ten list of influential books.
Anne of Green Gables: I loved how creative Anne’s mind was. Green Gables was the perfect place in my mind when I was young. In the series, Anne became a writer and a teacher, which were both my goals in life, and she had a great romance. I want to visit Prince Edward Island someday.
Pursue the Intentional Life by Jean Fleming: This book had a great influence on my spiritual life. Even though it’s written from the perspective of an older woman, I found so much wisdom in it.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau: Thoreau challenged the conventions of his day and valued the basics in life. He also wrote beautifully. Larry and I were engaged at Thoreau’s cabin site in Massachusetts.
Mere Christianity by CS Lewis: This book helped me think about Christianity on a deeper level.
Jane Austen novels: I love the romance and manners (but I’m glad women have more mobility in the world today). I also love how Jane Austen was always looking at people’s motives in such a humorous way.
Gifted Hands by Ben Carson: His life story was always an inspiration for me. I read this all the way back in 8th grade, but I still think about his journey in life. He came from poverty, but his mom’s determination to make him an avid reader (even though she was illiterate) eventually put him on the path of becoming a great children’s neurosurgeon.
Little House on the Prairie series: I liked to imagine that I was Laura.
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series: I liked this series because the characters were not one-dimensional. I felt like I knew all four of the girls. I could see them as role models, and I like Ann Brashare’s writing style.
Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 542 Recipes, 1 Tiny Kitchen Apartment by Julia Powell: This lady cooked all the way through Julia Child’s cookbooks and blogged about it. What a neat idea. I like how Julia Child’s life is woven into the story. This book is so good (Unfortunately, Julie Powell’s second book is crude, at least for my taste. All of the romance and positive outlook of her first book is gone there. I don’t recommend her second book!).
Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz: This book helped me understand my own dogs better and how they perceive the world. I’m a dog person, so this book fascinated me.
Besides this list, I am also working on reading through the Bible. As I finish a chapter, I write down the name of the chapter and the date in the front of my Bible. As someone who grew up in church and became a Christian at a young age, I’ve realized that reading through the Bible should be a priority.
Even though the top ten list didn’t include blogs, I feel like there are a few blogs that have become influential in my life too. I read the incourage blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy, and www.holleygerth.com each week. I also listen to Tsh Oxenreider’s Art of Simple Podcast while I’m cooking. Since these blogs are so current and “with me” each week, they are very influential.
This beautiful weather has been leading me to slack a little in the blogging department, but I’ve been making some great memories with my son. Maybe you can relate to that too :)
Anyway, what are your favorite books, blogs, or podcasts?
1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV) Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
Isaiah 64:8 (ESV) But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
Philippians 4:8 (NIV) Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
I walked a labyrinth in a beautiful garden last week that whispered these snippets of a Navajo prayer. I had never been on a labyrinth before, but I took the tiny stone journey to de-stress during a long day of travel. I needed moment of peace. As I stepped, I said small prayers to God in thanks for the beauty that He has placed in the world and in my life. Above, I’ve juxtaposed Bible verses that came to mind.
As I stepped on the words “beauty above me,” I looked up at magnificent, tall trees that cast shade over the garden. As I read “beauty below me,” I looked down at green grass and fallen leaves. For “with beauty all around me,” I thought about the beauty in my own life — my son, my husband, the gifts God has given, the struggles that Jesus can still use in a beautiful way.
The interesting thing about the labyrinth is that sometimes I thought I knew where it was going, but then it would turn differently than I expected. I could trust it because I knew eventually I would get to a middle; that’s how a labyrinth works. For me, it’s impossible to walk on something like this and not take it as a metaphor for life. As a Christian, it made me think about trust. Sometimes it’s so hard to trust. Sometimes the path seems very unclear. On a labyrinth it’s easy because we can see the path. Yet, this is something God asks of us — to trust, even when we cannot see what’s ahead.
Live this week with anticipation for what God is going to do.
Those were the words of one of the pastors at my church this week before he offered prayer.
So, that is how I have approached the week.
Some beautiful moments have happened so far.
On Monday, I stopped by a new friend’s house. She is pregnant, in her second trimester, and already has two little girls. Both girls were down for a nap, so she took me and my son into her backyard to show us her garden. It was full of beautiful squash, zucchini, tomatoes, herbs, and sunflowers.
She picked zucchini, squash, tomatoes, and marjoram as my son played nearby, and then she gave the vegetables to me to cook for my family. It was a beautiful gift, and I felt blessed by it. Then we both sat on her backyard swing and talked while my son scooted around Fred Flintstone-style in a big toy car.
We literally hadn’t seen each other since winter because it seemed like every time we tried to get together, one of our kids was sick, or we were sick, or some other circumstance got in the way.
That morning when I turned on the car to go to her house, my tire pressure warning light came on – and I thought, here we go again. I wondered if we would get to see each other. Then I thought: anticipation. I decided to just find an air pump before I started thinking that the day was ruined.
It worked out that the tires did just need some air in them; fortunately, I didn’t have a nail or something stuck in them, and they didn’t go flat until I got to the air pump. I made it to my new friend’s house a little later than expected, but it all worked out fine. This particular friend’s faith astounds me, and I enjoy hearing her talk about the ways God has worked in her life.
I had been feeling like I really just needed to sit down and talk with someone, and she was the person I wanted to talk to. I think plenty of full time moms have that feeling sometimes.
* * *
On Tuesday, I had my five-year-old niece sleepover at my house and babysat her the next day while her parents worked. It was my niece’s first time sleeping over at my house. I will admit, I came into it with some naïve expectations that she would play beside my son, and they would bond. That didn’t really happen as much as I wanted. She tended to want my attention, and she wanted to do a lot of pretend play (usually involving my dogs) while my son drove his toy trucks. I took my son and niece to the playground near my house, and my niece did put him on the slide with her and push him in the swing. Even though they didn’t play side by side as much as I had wanted, it was still good that I could give her the experience of walking in the forest, seeing deer, gathering some rocks and pine cones to paint, and showing her how to play fetch with my dog. Even though I had to adjust my expectations, I still got a chance to show love for my niece.
* * *
Yesterday, I took my son to an open session of his toddler music class, and I invited another new friend to come along. Both of her children smiled and laughed as we played with scarves, used jingles, played a xylophone, and marched in a circle as the teacher sang. A bonus that I hadn’t expected: whenever my son started to wander – or run – away from the activities at hand, my friend’s daughter would pick him up and bring him back to me. The week before, I was literally sweating at the end of class because I had chased Carson so much. It wasn’t pretty, I’m sure. I told the little girl that she had no idea what a big helper she was this week! After that, we took our kids out for lunch. Seeing both of our sons, so close in age, sitting in high chairs side by side and eating the same foods, was an adorable sight. This was also another opportunity to chat – and I have come to treasure any chance to chat. Something else that I appreciated: my friend never touched a cellphone the whole time.
After that, I took my son to Antietam Battlefield to walk. The landscape there is so peaceful — with cornfields, farms, rolling hills, and blue sky that meets huge stretches of green grass – even though the history there was obviously not peaceful. My son, who is obsessed with wheels, spent an inordinate amount of time touching the wheels on cannons and wagons. Then I strolled him for miles in the jogger, and the cool breeze made it refreshing. As I walked past a white farmhouse with green shutters and read the historical sign on it, a lady who was also walking came up to me and said that the farm had been owned by her family in past generations. We ended up walking the rest of the time together. She said, “Just so you know, I don’t usually end up walking with people.” The other funny thing is that her first name is the same as mine, and she spells it the same way too.
It’s only Thursday, so I don’t know what else the week will bring. So far, conversations have been the best part of the week. I feel like God has brought these people into my life because some weeks are much more solitary and chore-filled. That is part of being a full time mom – learning to be content with the quiet times, the teething times, and the times when it seems like the house will never be clean. In those weeks, I’m thankful that I can turn to Jesus in prayer and feel His presence. Even when my faith is small or much weaker than it probably should be, and even when I tend to dwell on my mistakes and shortcomings, I’m thankful that I can draw strength from His love.
Will you look at the rest of this week with anticipation too?
This post is different from what I typically write on my blog. I just wanted to share a page of my art journal because I really like this one! I was inspired by a photo I took of my son last month at the beach (you can see the photo in my last blog post). I used scrapbook paper to make his shirt and the background of this. Then I ripped pieces of our tickets from the merry-go-round and the dolphin boat to add all over the collage. A lot of the variations in the sand color are from the pier ticket. I also Mod Podged a small sea shell from the beach onto the page. The sky has fabric, scrapbook paper, and cellophane on it. Finally, I wrote about my son’s first beach experience on his shirt.
I started art journaling last year, and I think this page is my best one thus far. It is neat to see how much more freedom I take with ripping up things and scribbling all over the page; when I first started, I was much more careful — but to me, this looks so much more interesting than the pages where I was trying to be neat.
My notebook is small (around 5×7), so that makes it very easy to fill the page. I am not great at drawing, but I love to use color. I work on a page here and there when the inspiration hits, usually while my son is napping.
One person’s work I’ve found inspiring during my dabbling into art journaling is Julie Fei-Fan Balzer from Scrapbook Soup. I was sick earlier this month and ended up on laying down and binge-watching about 10 episodes of Scrapbook Soup, which I had just discovered on television, while my husband took baby duties for the weekend. I was in awe of Julie’s creativity! If you are a creative type or someone who enjoys tactile forms of creating, you will definitely pick up some ideas from Julie.
Another person who inspires me is Auralea Krieger. I think her paper dolls are stunning. I love to look at what she’s up to.
My family just got back from a short trip to the beach. It wasn’t the waves that really impressed my 1 ½ year old as he toddled along the water, scooped sand into his pail, and ran his toy trucks over the wet landscape.
Instead, he pointed out every bird – or at least it seemed like every bird. His little finger would stab the air in the direction where the bird was flying, and his head would follow.
After my last post about Jean Fleming, author of Pursue the Intentional Life, using albatross birds as a metaphor for the Christian life’s ups and downs, I had a constant reminder of that image each time my son toddled toward another bird. The albatross can soar through great storms, but often the same bird will stumble when it gets to land, where life *should* be easy, after so much time at sea.
It made me smile. It didn’t really matter that my son wasn’t pointing out actual albatrosses. That’s still where my mind went.
* * *
Could I just admit that I have gotten a little bit behind the rest of the Bloom Book Club in my reading of Pursue the Intentional Life? I am enjoying the book so much, but I still have about 10 chapters to go before I finish it. I decided to savor those chapters over the coming week rather than rush to catch up.
Besides the image of the albatross from chapter six of the book, three other passages also stick out in my mind from what I have read thus far.
In chapter 17 Fleming writes:
Throughout his life on earth, Jesus noticed the world around Him: the farmer sowing in a field, the birds lighting on a mustard plant. Everyday objects and occurrences were windows into spiritual truths. With a sharp eye for natural revelations, Jesus challenged His disciples to “Learn this lesson from the fig tree” (Matthew 24:32). The world system loses its attraction, but as I learn Christ, the created world around me takes on new hues and dimensions. Fireflies and dragonflies, hollyhocks and corn shocks, starlight and firelight all enrich my joy in the Creator. All of life can be contemplated with value. Lord, please heighten my awareness and appreciation; make me more alert and receptive to ways the Spirit might illumine the Truth through the world around me.
I loved this quote because I am the type of person who naturally likes to observe creation anyway. I love animals, plants, birds, and trees, and often I sit out on my porch with my son and just watch creation unfold. Fleming’s quote made this time of observation from the front deck of my house take on new importance for me.
Our house is bordered by a wildlife preserve, so it’s normal to see deer, turkeys, or even foxes in the yard. Three times, I have seen bears – and one time, a bear actually came into the yard while I was outside. I remember my dog started barking from the porch. I was sitting in a lawn chair reading a magazine, with the magazine covering my face from the bear’s perspective, and I was probably being pretty still. When I looked up, my first thought was “there is a big black dog in my yard” (trying to make logical sense of it). Then I realized I was sitting in the yard with a bear, who seemed as surprised to see me look up from the magazine as I was surprised to see the bear. I got up slowly and went into the house with my dog, and the bear left the yard. That’s a nature experience I will never forget because: 1) it was neat to see a bear that close and 2) it showed me how faulty my own understanding can be sometimes, considering that I thought the bear was a dog at first glance.
Another time, I saw the northern lights while I was driving home. This was a few years ago. I live in an area where it is not normal to see the northern lights, so I wasn’t sure what I was actually seeing. It was about 9 or 10 p.m., and the sky was a bright magenta with several beams of white light coming down. I stared at it as I drove, magnetized with awe and curiosity. I told my husband about it when I got home, and he looked at me like I might have lost my mind. I thought about it the next morning and then put it out of my mind until I saw the news that afternoon – and the news said the northern lights had been spotted in extra states, including mine, because of some unusual atmospheric activity. When I think about the awe of God, that night usually comes to my mind. I’m also really glad that the news explained what happened because, otherwise, I might have always wondered and maybe even doubted that I saw the fantastic colors in the night sky at all.
I’ve seen whales and dolphins and admired them on different occasions, but sometimes the small things that happen in my own yard speak to me the most. The squirrel that has been visiting my bird feeder is one example (click on the picture of him at the top of this post to see a bigger view of him in action). The bird feeder that I bought was squirrel proof, but this guy was working so hard — stretching out his little body far as it would go — and it was so entertaining to watch him that I decided not to move the feeder. It made me think about this blog: I am putting observations out there and giving love to the world, for free, with no expectations in return, and no certainty of who will actually show up to read this. When anyone shows up, I celebrate. Like the squirrel that was so enthusiastic to get to the bird food, I may never know who I have nourished with my words – but I hope the words do some good, even if the outcome may be unpredictable.
Just this week, I had lilies that I had planted months ago – probably in April – bloom on my deck (I do most of my planting in flower boxes and containers on my tall deck so that the deer won’t eat everything). My husband started calling the flowers patience lilies because it seemed like they would never bloom. They just kept getting taller and taller and taller. Then, on July 2, they bloomed. I called to tell my mom, and she said, “Lilies bloom in July.” I even knew that, but somehow I had forgotten. The lilies popped out when it was their perfect season, and they are thriving. They look so strong and healthy, and I marvel at that because I do not have a great green thumb. I saw a hummingbird visiting one of the lilies this morning, which was funny because I’ve had a hummingbird feeder on my deck for months and hadn’t seen a single hummingbird at it. Everything has a season…
Besides Fleming’s passage about nature, the other two passages that I really liked were about hospitality and about cherishing spiritual discoveries. In chapter 16 Fleming writes:
When a teenager questioned why she should make her bed and tidy her room when she could merely close the door on the mess, her mother replied, “It is an act of hospitality to yourself.” There is profound wisdom in this mother’s answer. Our homes minister to us as well as to others… . My mother was a widow for 25 years. Although she lived alone, she cooked full, well-balanced meals and kept a neat house. Her friends asked, “Why trouble yourself to cook when you could slip something ready-made into the microwave?” The answer, I believe, was “hospitality.” It was something she could do to live a beautiful life in a fallen world.
As a full time mom, this quote spoke to me because it gives some justification for fixing myself nice meals during the day instead of just throwing something in the microwave. I enjoy cooking something healthy and delicious for myself, and my husband benefits from it when he comes home later. We don’t get to do a traditional sit down family meal because my husband works late, but there’s usually something good waiting for him to eat if he is still hungry, or he can pack the extra in his lunch the next day. Also, it really brightens my day to eat a nice meal. Right now, I’m cooking some recipes out of the Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy cookbook that I checked out from the library. The Summer Vegetable Pizza on page 119 is a real winner, and the ingredients are easy to find and not expensive. The crust incorporates wheat flour along with regular flour, so that makes the crust a little healthier, and squash, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes taste amazing on it. Delicious! Next week, I am going to make the melon and prosciutto pizza, grilled cauliflower steaks, and yogurt oatmeal muffins from his book. I will admit that Jean Fleming’s chapter has not yet inspired me to make the bed every day, but maybe that inspiration will come. Maybe I should try it for a week. Hmmm… no promises.
The final quote that I’m going to write about today from Jean’s book was about the stewardship of insights in chapter 2.
I most often hear the word stewardship used in regards to money, talents, and time. My husband reminds me to be a good steward of the insights God gives as well. Revelations are graces from God not to be received lightly. For me, that means setting down on paper thoughts that might evaporate if left floating in the air. The ideas that I explore, pray over, and chew on form a body of truth-in-process for me.
This quote encouraged me to keep writing down spiritual insights and to continue honoring those insights. I want a victorious way of thinking. I thank God for what He is teaching me.
Thank you for visiting the blog! Hope you are having a great summer :)
If I had to explain my faith to someone else, that is where I would start.
It isn’t enough to think that Jesus was a great speaker, a great man, a great teacher, or a historical figure. It isn’t enough to have a strong moral code, however that might be defined, if a person is to truly call herself a Christian.
To be a Christian is to call upon God’s grace and to know that nothing of my human actions or accomplishments alone could ever make me pleasing before Him, apart from my faith in Christ.
If I didn’t cling to Christ’s promise that he would cover sins and failures when I asked Him into my heart, then I would be a hopeless case as a Christian because I have stumbled many times. I’ve made many mistakes, and I’ve learned a lot about my own pride, but the trick is to continue to have faith and hope.
It takes courage to think that way instead of becoming cynical when life gets tough.
I want to do my best for Christ because of his gift of grace to me. This gift came when God sent his son, Christ, to die on the cross for my sins – sins that are part of the human nature that so often is focused on self, money, or the outward appearances – to give us a new way of thinking and a home in heaven someday.
Yet, I am human, so I won’t always have the right words or the right motivations behind my actions unless He helps. I often remain quiet because I am not sure what to say in different situations.
Although some people see it differently, I choose not to be political in my faith because I believe both parties have their issues, and I do not worry too much about religious denominations. I also am not offended if a Christian wants to have a glass of wine sometimes. Again, some Christians would see it differently, and they should live according to the convictions that Christ is placing in their lives. Much like C.S. Lewis, I prefer to focus on what we have in common as Christians – the things that really matter concerning love and faith in Christ.
Christ’s love and grace is open to anyone who will call upon Him genuinely to receive it. It’s open to anyone who is willing to follow Him and seek His guidance (which often comes through prayer, reflection, and reading the Bible) rather than follow our own whims.
A beautiful image that comes to my mind when I think about grace is in the Christian writer Jean Fleming’s book, Pursue the Intentional Life. I highly recommend her book, by the way. She writes about seeing the mighty long-winged albatross birds that spend 18 months at sea, touching down only on water, which makes them lose their ability to make smooth landings on soil. They glide above turbulent seas, and they actually thrive in storms, yet when they return to the land to nest and lay their eggs, Fleming writes that they land “like drunken sailors, tumbling, skidding, crashing, earning these regal birds the epithet gooney birds.” Here is Fleming’s analogy for the Christian life concerning these birds:
“Old thought patterns hinder [in Christian life]. Maybe my stumbling, tumbling times train me in sustaining grace… . Though I want to soar, maybe God will make me, like the albatross, fruitful even after a crash landing. Isn’t that like Him? Isn’t that grace?”
What a beautiful thought! I won’t put any limits on what God can do and who He can use to accomplish it.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
Hope you will pursue the intentional Christian life this week! Also, I really encourage you to check out the link that I’ve included about Jean via The Bloom Book Club. This is the third online study that I have participated in through Bloom, and each book that is chosen is truly mind-shifting.
Two hours is a short pilgrimage for something that a person really cares about.
This past weekend, my family drove two hours from home to participate in The Promise Walk for Preeclampsia in Culpeper, Virginia. As I have written in several posts, I had severe preeclampsia when I was pregnant with Carson, which meant I had to deliver five weeks early. Carson spent two weeks in the NICU because of this.
Only another woman who has experienced severe preeclampsia could truly understand how terrifying it is and how much added trauma it puts the body through. I wanted to walk beside other women who have experienced this.
I wanted to walk to celebrate the way God brought Carson and I through it.
Getting the message out about the signs of preeclampsia during pregnancy is something I care deeply about because this can save the lives of moms and babies. I normally have excellent blood pressure, but I had very high blood pressure, swelling, and a high level of protein showing up in my urine test when I was diagnosed (by the way, it’s so important to keep up with prenatal exams because your protein level is tested at those visits, and the nurse takes your blood pressure).
Though I walked to celebrate, the opening ceremony provided a sobering reminder that others have gone through something much worse than I did. A mother from North Carolina who lost her pregnant daughter spoke about the serious realities of what can happen, and the event organizer talked about losing her first baby because of preeclampsia. Fortunately, she was able to experience a healthy birth with her second child.
Several people at the walk mentioned their faith, even those who had lost loved ones, and I thought it was beautiful that they shared their testimony, even as they thought of terrible heartbreak. What amazing strength these women had!
As everyone walked, a great DJ played songs that kept everyone moving. Carson seemed to be walking to the beat of a Michael Jackson song, which made me laugh. My little guy actually walked a full lap on his little toddler toes, and he spent the rest riding along in the jogger stroller.
About 150 people attended, and over $5,000 was raised.
Our family left that day feeling humbled that we were so fortunate, optimistic that we helped contribute toward awareness and research, encouraged by others who walked beside us, and grateful for the opportunity. Looking back on this weekend, my heart is filled with thanks.
I hope you are having a great week! May you make a difference when you can. Focus on your blessings, and take comfort in Christ’s promises and love when the answers are unclear.