This book’s companion Advent devotional, Behold the Lamb of God, has become a staple in our home. Ramsey’s writing is rich with imagery and steeped in sound theology. He invites, challenges, reveals and inspires – all while drawing us more deeply into the Greatest of Stories. For more about the heart behind and content found in Behold the King of Glory, you can read Ramsey’s recent interview with Barnabas Piper.
Last year during Lent, our family read through the corresponding sonnets from Malcolm Guite’s Sounding of the Seasons together. In response, the children illuminated a few of the readings that were particularly meaningful to them. Although a stretch for all of us, Guite’s poetry played a significant part in preparing our hearts for Easter. The Word in the Wilderness includes poetry and meditative prose from Guite as well as a number of poems from classical and contemporary poets.
If you’re looking for something to read with younger children:
Both Amon’s Adventure* and Vinegar Boy transport the reader back in time to experience the culture, social climate, political dynamics leading up to the crucifixion through the eyes of one who was there. Either would be an excellent choice for families with children of all ages.
*Amon’s Adventure is a companion book to the Jotham’s Journey Advent series by Ytreeide.
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Do you have any recommendations for reading during the Lenten season?
Every year, the onset of Advent brings with it a small degree of (self-imposed) pressure to make the most of the season. We’ll never have another Christmas when the children are their current ages. I want them to remember. To capture smells of peppermint cookies and fresh pine, sights of white lights and red bows on the trees, and sounds of Yo-Yo Ma, Sufjan Stevens, and Andrew Peterson’s Christmas music. To tuck away their experience in an emotional time capsule – one that can be excavated when life down the road gets hard and they need to remember.
We may not have another Christmas when we’re all in good health. Or in our current home. The list of what could, and probably will, change in the next twelve months is longer than Santa’s scroll filled with names. Once the season slips by, it’s gone forever. I want to live fully in the moment – in the story unfolding before me – but I can’t help grieving the little (and big) lost opportunities.
This year, we won’t be sending out Christmas cards. I just couldn’t pull it together to get a reasonably good family picture taken, much less to order color-coordinated cards, then address, stamp, and get them in the mail. It’s a small thing, really. But there will never be another Christmas 2014 – the last one with a ten-year-old in the house, and the last one before our eldest son gets married. And I missed capturing it in a glossy 4×6. The calendar flips and the children grow up and we say goodbye to a season that’s gone forever.
It’s hard not to look back.
Among the many decisions to be made each Advent is, no surprise, is what we’ll be reading. This year, it will be a lesser-known Christmas story by Charles Dickens and a re-read of This Way to Christmas by Ruth Sawyer. But of particular importance is the choosing of an Advent devotional. We’ve accumulated quite a selection. Personally, I keep returning to God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And for the family, despite the countless options available, we keep returning to the Jesus Storybook Bibleby Sally Lloyd-Jones.
Our children are hardly wide-eyed little ones anymore. There will be no baby doll paraphernalia or Rescue Hero action figures found under our tree. Rather than spending these days reading (and rereading) cherished Christmas picture books, we’ve been wrapping up school projects and tweaking papers. Much to my enjoyment, my thirteen-year-old has been taking a Literary Analysis class from which much of our daily dialogue flows. Words like “protagonist, conflict, and foreshadowing” pepper our conversation. I miss the fair-haired little boy sitting on my lap while we read, but I’m sure having fun with the larger version’s rascally smile and quick sense of wit.
Earlier this week, in order to catch up with the reading schedule (yes, running chronically behind), we read a few chapters out of the Jesus Storybook Bible. Then we read a few more. Here’s how they ended:
As we closed the book, my boy turned his face toward me, and rather pleased with himself, proclaimed, “Foreshadowing.”
This year, he has learned a new word that represents a much more complex concept. Through months of example, analysis, and practice, my son has developed the skill of reading words on a page – then looking beyond what is seen to anticipate what is to come.
Perhaps that’s the purpose of the Advent season: to prepare the eyes of our heart to look beyond what we can see. To anticipate the coming of the One who makes all things new.
If it’s been a hard year, take heart. Advent is for you.
For you, friend, who feels the pressure of having to get it right. In your relationships, your career, your parenting, your choices. In the million minor daily details like creating and sustaining holiday traditions.
For you, friend, who’s grown weary of longing. Who feels paralyzed in the twilight between hope and despair. Who flirts with the temptation named numbness, which protects from pain, but suffocates joy.
For you, friend, who is fighting for your marriage. The marriage that felt so solid to you and looked ideal to others. The one that is gasping for life in an atmosphere running dangerously short on oxygen.
For you, friend, who received the diagnosis. The diagnosis that’s only supposed to be delivered to “other people.” The one that brought life to a screeching halt and has permanently rerouted your plans for the future. The one that terrifies to the core and steals dreams.
For you, friend, who is broken and wounded. Who feels too tired to move forward. Who is weary and losing hope, because life isn’t what you’d thought it would be. Who lives in regret of lost dreams and what could-have-beens.
It’s hard not to look back and remain tethered to the past. It’s hard to believe that life is more than the joy, sorrow, hope, fear, delight, regret, love, and loneliness we experience.
But Advent is here. Readjust your eyes. The text is pointing to a Truer Truth than the sum of what we can see.
Light will drink up darkness.
Hope will snuff out despair.
Love has already won.
The stories are true.
He’s been whispering them since the beginning of time.
Greener Trees Reads was born when a few friends, after attending Hutchmoot 2011, wanted to dig deeper into The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. We found that reading together helped us: 1) Read more carefully 2) View the text from different perspectives (therefore seeing them more fully) 3) Get to know one another along the way (an accidental, but wonderful, byproduct). This fall, we’ll be reading, discussing, and writing in response to Breath for the Bones by Luci Shaw. You are cordially invited to join us. For those who won’t be reading along, the plan is to pluck one idea from each week’s reading to share with you. Please consider the question(s) posed and share your response – we have much to learn from each other.
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Week 1: Graffiti Art and Repentance
In celebration of our 20th anniversary, my husband and I took a trip to New York City. It had been far too long since I’d visited the Big Apple, and I couldn’t wait. At the top of my “to-do” list for the weekend were: two Broadway shows, an exhibit on Children’s literature at the NYC Public Library, and a long, unhurried stroll through the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For the months prior, I had binged on books (and an occasional movie) about the life of Vincent Van Gogh and was giddy about spending some time with his work. It did not disappoint.
One afternoon, we had a few unscheduled hours before dinner. Since my husband had graciously allowed me to direct the agenda for the majority of our trip, I suggested that he decide what to do in that small slice of free time. After considering multiple options, he landed on visiting The Museum of the City of New York. Sounded great to me. Museum = art = culture. Yet upon arrival, I discovered that museum = graffiti. I paused, weighed my options, and muttered (internally), “I will humor him and endure.” I am a lover of art. Graffiti is an imitation at best.
After entering the museum, I glanced at the first exhibit – and promptly dismissed the “art and artists” represented. Silently, I was pining away for the unfortunate loss of the next few valuable hours. Yet as we meandered through the exhibits, something inside me shifted. My pace slowed. I became more curious and less dismissive. As I read the stories of the featured graffiti artists, as I looked closely at the detailed renderings in their sketchbooks, and as I stood under the massive sections of their intricate work, what I had deemed chaotic I saw as beautiful. The surging symphony of color and line played a melody I’d never heard before. Each display sang the unique song of its artist’s life and experience. In dismissing the graffiti art as less than “real art”, I had been dismissing an entire culture (and its expression) as less valid than my own.
Less than an hour later, I left the museum having grown – if even just a bit – in compassion. If I could so unwittingly devalue an entire culture, then how frequently do I make the same mistake with individual people? I make assumptions. I dismiss. I devalue. All in the blink of an eye. A crash course on the history of graffiti art in New York softened my heart.
Makoto Fujimura talks about being willing to “stand under art – not over it.” If we’re willing to be curious, to be expectant – to come as a little child – when approaching art, we are given the divine privilege of tasting another’s experience of life. In turn, our hearts are stretched to grow in understanding, compassion, or gratefulness. We become more human.
Poetry, and any art, says something in a way that nothing else can, and that something that art says is so qualitatively different that it demands a radically different expression. Where linear, logical thinking may produce prose with a specific function – information or historical record or critical analysis or instruction – art selects and reflects on a small slice of human experience and lays it out there, a gift to anyone who is willing to savor it and enter into the artist’s experience even in a minimal way. . . It is my soul crying out to your soul: This is what I see and how I feel. Can you see it? Can you feel it too? ( p.4)
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When has a work of art (poetry, painting, music, dance – or even graffiti) impacted you?
How were you changed as a result?
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If you’d like to read with us, you can order Breath for Bones at the Rabbit Room. The reading schedule is as follows (but may possibly and will most probably shift):
A friend recently asked me if she needed to re-subscribe to Greener Trees – she hadn’t received anything in her inbox for a while. I tried to log in to the blog’s administrative page to work on a few things and couldn’t remember my password. Apparently, it’s time for an update.
Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:
A little over a year ago, I was honored to join a team of wonderful folks over at Story Warren. You can learn more about their mission here. I’m delighted to share that Story Warren’s inaugural conference, Inkwell, will be held in Charlotte on June 21. On that day, two of my favorite worlds will collide. To say that I’m excited is an understatement. The conference is sold out, but there are still tickets available to the Andrew Peterson and Randall Goodgame concert to be held later that evening. We are lucky ducks, indeed.
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Last summer, Greener Trees Reads (online reading group) read Jeffery Overstreet’s Through a Screen Darkly together. In the fall, I was able to meet and chat with Overstreet during the wonderful weekend called Hutchmoot. We talked about the possibility of working on a future project together. Months later, the idea became reality. Here it is:
Once upon a time, two total strangers — one a mother and a teacher with a background in business; the other a writer, editor, and film critic — became friends after she invited him to join an online discussion of his book about film. They were both Christians. And they met at an arts-and-faith gathering called Hutchmoot in Nashville. They both agreed that they wanted to work together on something someday. You can continue reading here:
This summer, we’ll be listening to and discussing the recordings from Hutchmoot. If you have an interest in the intersection of faith and art, you may consider purchasing the 17 hours of audio here. It will be well-worth your investment.
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A simple assigned writing prompt surfaced this long-forgotten memory. We have much to learn from each other – far more than initially meets the eye. Over at Art House America:
Not much was said as we hiked up the trail. Words would have tarnished the moment. The Colorado mountains were doing their thing — offering the fresh taste of reality in a saccharine-laced world. The climb provided ample time to survey the landscape. I was overcome with the beauty, so thick I couldn’t swallow it all in one gulp. I had to take in little sips. You can continue reading here.
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In March, David and I celebrated twenty years of marriage by taking a few days away in the Big Apple. It was a rare grown-up playdate – complete with Broadway shows, unbelievable food, and my first visit to the Met. I’ve binged on the life and works of Van Gogh this spring, so standing before Starry Night was a hi-light. We’re deeply grateful for twenty years of struggle, joy, friendship, community, and far more detours from the assumed path of life than we could have imagined.
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Perhaps the biggest news coming from our home is the newest addition – Little Lucy. It’s amazing how much joy this sweet little pup has brought into our home. She’s six months old and we are all smitten.
During the season of Lent, we’re reminded of our humanness. From dust we were made, and to dust we will return. We attend church services marked by ash, read devotionals to focus our minds, and abstain from sugar, caffeine, or the internet to redirect appetites. The forty days serves a solemn reminder. This year, the season feels particularly weighty. The stark reality of cancer, deeply fractured relationships, and untimely deaths have seeped deep into the Lenten liturgy of our community.
We begin most mornings with a family devotional, which is followed by the current read-aloud. Today, after naming and praying for a number of folks who are walking through incredibly painful situations, I was given pause. Although brief, it was a “Why does any of it matter anyway?” moment. I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the small cheerful book covered in red and gold cloth. To transition from our world filled with pain to one marked by myths and fairy tales felt foolish. The moment passed. The show must go on. There are tasks to be completed and boxes to be checked.
Half-heartedly, I opened the book and began reading where we’d left off. The world had been a paradise full of beautiful children. There was no sickness, nor aging, nor despair. Yet Pandora couldn’t be content with perfection. Her companion, Epimetheus, was no help. The ornate box in their possession, full of mystery and promise, drew Pandora closer. With a slight touch of her hand, the golden knot at the enclosure was untangled. The box flew open. The grave deed of all deeds had been done. For the first time in history, the world knew evil passions and diseases and sorrows of all kinds. Again, I was given pause. This make-believe world was a mirror of our own. It was tarnished. Soiled. Full of despair.
But despair wasn’t the ending. It was the beginning.
Epimetheus sat down sullenly in a corner with his back towards Pandora; while Pandora flung herself upon the floor and rested her head on the fatal abominable box. She was crying bitterly, and sobbing as if her heart would break. Suddenly there was a gentle tap on the inside of the lid.
Hope had been born from the place of deep darkness.
“As long as you need me,” said Hope, with her pleasant smile, – “and that will be as long as you live in the world, – I promise never to desert you. There may come times and seasons, now and then, when you will think that I have utterly vanished. But again, and again, and again, when perhaps you last dream of it, you shall see the glimmer of my wings on the ceiling of your cottage. Yes, my dear children, I know something very good and beautiful that is to be given you hereafter… Trust in my promise, for it is true.”
And so they did; and not only they, but so has everybody trusted Hope, that has since been alive. And to tell you the truth, I cannot help being glad – (though to be sure, it was an uncommonly naughty thing for her to do) – but I cannot help being glad that our foolish Pandora peeped into the box. No doubt – not doubt – the Troubles are still flying about the world, and have increased in multitude, rather than lessened, and are a very ugly set of imps, and carry most venomous stings in their tails. I have felt them already, and expect to feel them more, as I grow older. But then that lovely and lightsome little figure of Hope! What in the world could we do without her? Hope spiritualises the earth; Hope makes it always new; and, even in the earth’s best and brightest aspect, Hope shows it to be only the shadow of an infinite bliss hereafter! —Nathaniel Hawthorne (A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys)
Perhaps the days we feel least like reading stories of knights and dragons, of giant wooden horses and sea serpents, and of mythical gilded boxes filled with the problems of the world – are the very days that we need to catch a glimpse of the shadow of Hope. In the beginning, Hope spoke while hovering over darkness. In the end, it will sound like rushing waters and blaring trumpets. But while we’re waiting, Hope’s whisper can be heard in the most unexpected of places – like the funerals of saints and the flutter of fairy wings.
Apparently, my daughter has grown weary of waiting for me to compile a list of Books for Girls. Said hypothetical list’s predecessor, Books for Boys, has been floating around cyberspace for a while now. I’d always planned on pulling together a companion list, but it seems as though my girl is taking matters into her own hands. I recently discovered this tucked neatly between the pages of her book:
The second title listed is one of our family favorites (which also happens to appear on the Books for Boys list). We have given the Wilderking books as presents and frequently recommend them to friends who are looking for quality children’s literature. When the books went out of print, they became fairly expensive (the third book in the trilogy, The Way of the Wilderking, has been listed on eBay for up to $100). It’s a sad thing when tales of feechie folk have become too costly to acquire – but take heart. With spring comes hope.
I’m grateful to share with you that the Wilderking Trilogy will be back in print this April. If you preorder our copy before the end of next week, you’ll get yours in early March.
~ You want to know what kind of practical instruction your children will receive? Here are a few things we learned from the books:
~ How can you reserve copies? Visit the Rabbit Room today. Then while you’re there, go ahead and order The Charlatan’s Boy.
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Full disclosure: The author of the Wilderking books has previously demonstrated a disappointing prejudice against the fine city of Charlotte, NC. We’ve chosen to believe that his views are a result of misinformation rather than deficit of character. The love of good story covers a multitude…
As I look back at the adventures, mishaps, joys and trials of the past year, it seems fitting to recount the books that have gently adjusted my vision. Some books have been read and discussed in a group, while others I’ve enjoyed with my family or alone with a cup of hot tea. Here are a few books that left their mark on my life during 2013:
With the Reading Group In 2011, a small group of folks came together (virtually) to read and discuss The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. Greener Trees Reads was born. In the past few years, we’ve read and discussed several books, each of which has stretched, challenged, and inspired me in unique ways. These are the books that we read together in 2013:
Through a Screen Darklyby Jeffrey Overstreet*
If you watch movies, read this book. If you’re a parent, read this book. If you want to better love your neighbor, read this book. It’s as much about posture of heart as it is about movie-going. As a result of reading Through a Screen Darkly, I’ve viewed not only movies, but also current events and the people in my life through a different lens. You can get a taste of the book and our group’s discussion of it here.
The Art of T.S. Eliotby Helen Gardner
I’m an ardent supporter of Makoto Fujimura – both his art and his writing. Last year, our group read his book Refractions, and Mako was kind enough to join our discussion. At his suggestion, we read The Art of T.S. Eliot in preparation of the Four Quartets exhibit at Duke University. This book was a stretch (to say the least) for me, but it was successful in illuminating Eliot’s work as well as exercising literary muscles of mine that had previously been inactive. More on my stretching here.
So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger*
Shortly after Leif Enger was announced as the keynote speaker for Hutchmoot, I was asked to lead an online discussion of So Brave, Young, and Handsome over at the Rabbit Room. I was hesitant. My only experience of reading with a group had been limited to non-fiction. I had no idea where to start. But this book made the process easy. Enger is a master with words and subtext. I took pages of notes from So Brave, Young and Handsome and enjoyed hearing the insights of others. I emerged from our weeks of discussion reminded and hopeful. Redemption is a messy, beautiful business.
“A line only gets grace when it curves, you know.” Leif Enger (So Brave, Young and Handsome)
The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon
I’m not sure how one book can simultaneously be about cooking, seeing the miracles in everyday life, and idolatry, but this one is. An entire chapter dedicated to the cutting of an onion is potentially life-altering, and I own a new whisk and two new knives as a result of my reading.
“Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful. Necessity is the mother only of clichés. It takes playfulness to make poetry.” Robert Capon (Supper of the Lamb)
With the Kiddos
The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This one took me by surprise. A story of friendship, character revealed in hardship, and the hope that creativity can offer. I almost didn’t make it through. My painful experience of the first few chapters is chronicled here.
The Singing Tree and The Good Master by Kate Seredy
Seredy has quickly become one of our favorite authors. Hard to find in hardback, but worth the hunt.
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
It was an honor and a privilege to read and discuss The Hiding Place with my children. A glimpse into our conversation and an explanation of why we still read aloud to with them here.
On My Own
The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge
My last read for the year. If you’ve never read Goudge, this is a good place to start. I look forward to reading the remaining books of the Eliots of Damerosehay Trilogy in the upcoming months.
“Beauty and shabbiness are quite compatible. . . A thing of beauty is a joy forever, but it must be a costly and strong beauty, purchased at a high price of service or sacrifice, not skin-deep but bone-deep, if it is to be as desirable at the shabby end as it was at the sumptuous beginning.” Elizabeth Goudge (The Bird in the Tree)
Death by Living by N.D. Wilson*
Last year, Notes from a Tilt-A-Whirl was significant in shifting the culture of our family (a bit more on that here). Death by Living had a similar impact. “Life is meant to be spent.” Those six words play out in a million everyday choices. I’m fairly certain that the recent decision to add a new member to our family can be traced back to seeds of ideas planted by Wilson. A book can be a dangerous (and glorious) thing.
“When Job lifted his face to the Storm, when he asked and was answered, he learned that he was very small. He learned that his life was a story. He spoke with the Author, and learned that the genre had not been an accident. God tells stories that make Sunday school teachers sweat and mothers write their children permission slips excusing them from encountering reality.” N.D. Wilson (Death by Living)
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger*
For years, I’d heard friends proclaim that Peace Like a River was their favorite book. A few come close to swooning when they speak of it – for good reason. Enger weaves an endearing tail of adventure, family tragedy, and healing, with the bright thread of hope running throughout.
“We see a newborn moth unwrapping itself and announce, Look, children, a miracle! But let an irreversible wound be knit back to seamlessness? We won’t even see it, though we look at it every day.” Leif Enger (Peace Like a River)
The sequel to The Fiddler’s Gun. If you’re looking for a meaningful, rich, story that is full of adventure, Peterson’s books are not to be missed.
Lilith by George MacDonald
I read this book by sheer will. It’s been a long time since I started a book and so desperately wanted to quit. But I love MacDonald’s work and decided to trust the author more than my own judgement. I trudged through the first 3/4 of the book, wavering between being bored and wondering if I just wasn’t smart enough to “get” it. The last 1/4 was more than worth the work. I’ll read this one again. And perhaps again.
The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse by Michael Gungor
This is the year I became a fan of Gungor‘s music. Although this book was written with “creatives” in mind, it has significant insight to offer to everyone. After all, we are all “creatives” in some capacity.
The Weight of Gloryby C.S. Lewis
I’ve heard quotes taken from The Weight of Glory for years. Now I know why. Lewis never disappoints.
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* I’ve had the very good fortune to meet the authors of several of the books listed at a gathering called Hutchmoot in Nashville, Tennessee. This year, the sessions of these authors as well as a number of additional writers, musicians, and generally swell people were recorded, and you can purchase the 17 hours of audio here.
May your 2014 be filled with beauty, friendship, and many a good book!
As you’re preparing for Christmas, consider gifts that will encourage the love of story. Here are a few ideas:
Homemade Book Mark
When my children were very young, they created marbled and homemade (recycled) paper in art class. The colors and textures were beautiful. I didn’t want to throw the papers away, so I cut the them into 2″ strips, had the children sign and date the backs, then laminated each strip. From just a few sheets of paper, we were able to make several gifts for teachers, family members, and close friends.
Another option is to create bookmarks from photos – of family (individual or group), places you’ve visited through the year, Christmas’s past, favorite quotes or verses, etc. Here’s one my husband (yep) made for me a few years ago:
Personalized Book Plate
These make excellent baby gifts, Christmas gifts, and birthday gifts. We reserve the usage of book plates for special books – those received as presents, those marking special occasions, or those that become favorites of the child. Personalized book plates say, “This book is important. It is meaningful to me.” There are countless stores from which you can order book plates (including virtually any place that sells personalized stickers). Although not the least expensive option available, this online store has a beautiful selection. For many folks (sadly, not me), it would be easy to create bookplates using an online template. (Embossers are also nice to have, although not ideal for children. I stumbled upon a nice selection of embossers here.)
“A book reads the better which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots, and dog’s ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins.” Charles Lamb
Subscription toLamplighter Book Club
This would be an ideal present idea to suggest to grandparents. The Lamplighter Books are beautifully-bound treasures. More about Lamplighter here.
“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.” Abraham Lincoln
Start a Collection
There’s something special about owning a “family” of books. One collection that we’ve enjoyed is the Illustrated Junior Library. Several of these beautifully illustrated books are easily found in bookstores. Older titles are out of print, yet still available at the occasional book sale or online. Whenever we find a used bookstore, my children keep an eye out for a member of the collection’s family. Searching a specific and easily recognizable book helps to keep those who are too young to hunt for specific authors (or are less-than-excited about book shopping) occupied. I hope to read through all of the titles in set before the youngest leaves home. Choose a collection that has beautiful illustrations and easy-to-read print (lots of white around the border of the text). Add a new book each Christmas.
“The book must of necessity be put into a bookcase. And the bookcase must be housed. And the house must be kept. And the library must be dusted, must be arranged, must be catalogued. What a vista of toil, yet not unhappy toil.” William Gladstone
Book Lover’s Journal A book journal is great place to record books that have been read, favorite quotes, and insights gained. It’s a literary diary of sorts, not only documenting data about books that have been read, but also drawing the heart of the reader out to capture responses on paper. I wish that I’d started one of these years ago.
Stories on CD
As much as I love reading aloud with my family, I’ve grown increasingly grateful for good audiobooks. When my children were very young, CDs by Jim Weiss (Greathall Productions), Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre, and Lamplighter Theater were staples at rest time and on family trips. Audiobooks are a great introduction to books that may be a bit out of reach for children to alone, and they foster a growing love of story. We recently invested in a family membership to Audible, which has already more than paid for itself.
Hardback of favorite book (children’s book for teenagers/adults)
Don’t feel like you can’t buy a book for someone because they’ve already read it. Quite the opposite. Receiving a hardback book is an affirmation of its importance and an invitation to read it again (and again). Our eldest son had read Lord of the Rings several times in his teenage years, but had never owned a hardback copy. That situation was remedied in he early adulthood when we gave him a boxed set. If you’re looking for a hard-to-find book that is not longer in print, try addall.com.
“Some day, you will be old enough to read fairy tales again.” C.S. Lewis
I shared some of our favorite Christmas books here (2011) and here (2012).
A few more I’ve added since last year:
On that Night by Elizabeth Yates
The Conscience Pudding by Edith Nesbit
The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas by Madeline L’Engle
“I don’t think I can keep going,” I told my daughter.
We were mid-chapter, and the story had taken an abrupt turn. The bright little girl, so full of hope and life and love, was minutes from receiving devastating news. She would have to trade in her pink satin birthday frock for a black dress of mourning. In an instant, her day of celebration would become one of unbearable grief. The life she’d known as an adored, lavished-upon daughter was to be no more. Unbeknownst to her, the little girl’s father had died. Fate had left her a penniless orphan. Life would never be the same.
I’ve been present when such devastating news has been delivered. When the hot coal of truth was passed to a child, searing the tender soul and leaving an indelible scar. I remember wanting to stretch those last moments of blissful naivety into years, where innocence could romp and play through the fields of childhood. Yet the hard realities of the world had intervened. I had no control. The truth had changed life’s landscape forever.
The real world is one thing, a story quite another. In the world of ink on paper, I possess the power to freeze time. With the closing of a book, heartache and evil can be kept at bay. I didn’t want to read further. I wanted to prolong the party, taking note of every detail, and basking in the enjoyment of fanciful dresses, the bounty of refreshments, and the crowning present – a beautiful doll, complete with a wardrobe fit for a princess. My heart dropped. I couldn’t bear what would happen in the next few minutes. It was all too familiar.
“But we have to go on, Mom,” she said to me. “We can’t just quit, or we’ll never know what happens. It has to get better. We just have to get through the hard part.”
My girl’s steadfast words spoke volumes.
We’ve been at this juncture before. When Tacy’s baby sister dies. When Elizabeth Ann must leave the safe, protected world of her Aunt Harriet and Cousin Frances to live with strangers who felt like foreigners. When the cholera outbreak in India leaves Mary Lennox an orphan.
As we’ve walked with these characters-turned-friends through valleys of grief and hardship, a pattern has developed: Life is as it should be. What feels like unbearable hardship interrupts. Provision is made. Adjustments occur. Life, although not what was expected, continues. Like a river quietly cutting a path through stone, with time and repetition, such a pattern is engraved into the heart’s memory,
As my daughter’s insistence to continue reading nudged me out of my sentimental stupor, I was reminded. Of the power of story. Of the unexpected turns in life. Of the truth of redemption. Of a Storyteller who is often unpredictable, yet always good.
Ultimately, our quick conversation about little Sara’s plight left me hopeful. That when disappointment, hardship, betrayal, or heartbreak enter into my daughter’s story, a still, small voice will echo back to my girl (and to me, and to you), “We can’t just quit, or we’ll never know what happens. It has to get better. We just have to get through the hard part.”
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This piece was originally shared in Story Warren. Drop by and visit. You’ll be glad that you did.
Today’s guest post was written by Carrie Givens – writer, teacher, editor, friend, and a member of the Greener Trees online discussion group.
I have a friend who is a composer. One of his pieces, performed by a quartet of two violins, viola, and cello, he wrote following the sudden tragic death of a mentor and professor. There’s a moment, late in the fugue, when the first violin raises its voice to the heavens in a single, pure, heartbreaking note. It holds, longer than you think it should be able to hold, seeming to carry all the sorrow of the world.
There’s a moment that happens sometimes after a grey or rainy day when the sun breaks out below the clouds as it sets, turning all the world a rich, gold. As evening winds down, we are left in quiet with this strange and lovely light which tinges everything with beauty.
In Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, there’s a scene where the camera pulls back from the mother and daughter working at the table into the next room, and we watch the final moments of their conversation from afar, framed by the doorway, lit by the light coming in from an open door and interrupted by the gentle flapping of an apron hung on a wall hook blowing into the frame.
Michael Gungor, in his book The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse, writes: “The single atom in the atomic bomb can lay waste to a city. Maybe one note of music holds within it the power to end war” (p. 62).
There is power in great beauty. Beauty heals, it soothes, it allures, it inspires. And when we see it, in a film, in a book, in a moment, it can catch us by surprise and stay with us forever. We can lift it up from the depths of our memory again and again, and every time it draws us toward the Creator of beauty, the Beautiful One Himself.
Jeffrey Overstreet begins Chapter 13 examining Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue. He writes, “Every scene—in fact, almost every shot—unfolds like a poem. . . .Kieslowski leaves clues for us to consider—little windows into understanding the state of Julie’s heart. When we take the time to think about them, we begin to participate in the film in a way that popular commercial cinema doesn’t allow. There are long passages in Blue in which no one says anything and we must shift our attention to what we see in order to discern what is happening.” (p. 305-306)
Are there other films that come to mind in which the filmmaker leaves clues like this—focus on particular objects, use of light, use of music or sound? Have you found yourself participating in those movies in the way Overstreet talks about above?
“Blue became a way I could move through my loss by experiencing someone else’s journey rather than facing my own pain directly. It coaxed me to give creative shape to the grief.” (p. 308)
Have there been movies, other works of art, or moments of beauty that have helped you through a time of loss, sorrow, or grief? Has art ever helped you “to give creative shape to the grief”?
“The power of narrative lies in the succession of events: This happens and then that happens. . . . Imagery speaks even when nothing is happening, offering us something more than provocation to anticipate what’s next.” (p. 309)
What are some of the ways that the nature of film as a visual art form – one based in imagery – impacts how filmmakers approach narrative? Are there movies you’ve seen where the filmmaker has taken full advantage of the opportunity to tell stories through images?
“Saint John of the Cross wrote that man is like a window through which God is shining. If the window is clean and undefiled, it allows us to see past it, to the light. We hardly notice it at all. And yet, if a man gives evidence of any kind of arrogance or ego and self-interest, then that window becomes noticeable. It is not fulfilling its purpose. It is not merely a vessel for the light.” (p. 320)
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” (John 1: 6-8)
“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’. . . He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28, 30)
How do the words of Saint John of the Cross and John the Baptist speak to one another? Have you seen characters in movies or met individuals in life who have exemplified being a “window”? What have you learned from them?
“There have been so many moments at the movies that have become part of my history, giving me images that function as a vocabulary, enhancing what I experience when I am away from the screen.” (p. 322)
Much of Jeffrey Overstreet’s final chapter is made up of retelling the experiences he mentions in the quote above, when a moment from a movie enhances what he experiences away from the screen. Have you had moments like that?
Carolyn Clare Givens lives outside of Philadelphia where she’s a freelance editor and writer. She edits and writes for The Curator and teaches as an adjunct faculty member at Cairn University. She has bumped around the world, growing up as a missionary kid in Michigan and Hong Kong, and serving on staff at Alaska Bible College.