Monday, September 22, 2014

10 Books That Influenced My Life ~ Monday Musings



Recently, I was challenged by a Facebook friend to share 10 books that influenced my life. I don't generally accept Facebook challenges, but this one, well, how could I not? 

Since such probings take time, and since I tend to get long-winded, I have chosen to share this first as a blog post, rather than a Facebook status. Aren't you the lucky ones? (wink, wink)

There have been way more than 10 books that have influenced my life, but I'll stick to the challenge. These 10 books are listed, roughly, based on my age as I encountered them, from my youth up, shall we say. 

OK, here goes, and I challenge you to do the same, but that's entirely up to you, of course.




1. As the daughter of a preacher, the Holy Bible was a constant in our home from the day I was born. Like a golden thread, its words were woven throughout the tapestry of my life. I was captivated by its stories in Sunday school, at home, and in the messages I heard preached. As a youngster, I adored the varied characters of the Bible, and envisioned each one of them in my mind. When I became an adult, I fell in love with the Bible’s truths and its message, and most of all, with the God who made it all possible. The Bible shown here was given to me by my parents the Christmas after I turned 18. It’s pages are worn and some are even torn. I’ve marked up the margins and underlined verses galore. I’ve read through it, cover to cover, several times. I would never want to be far away from my old green Bible. It continues to be a book I turn to daily for strength, for direction, for answers, for comfort, for peace, for salvation. It is the Bread of Life, and I find something new and fresh every time I open its pages. The Bible's influence on my life cannot be measured and will never cease; it is eternal.



2. I loved books from a young age and used to haul home mountains of favorites from the library each week. The book, Henry and the Clubhouse, by Beverly Cleary, put me in touch with my storytelling tendencies. I fell madly in love with all of Cleary’s books and the assorted characters she brought to life. Somewhere, in a dusty box in the attic is my very first short story, written in fourth-grade, "imitating" the voice of Beverly Cleary. Predictably, I titled it, “Henry’s Clubhouse,” but of course.



3. One of my fondest memories from childhood was being read to by my mother, and my favorite book, without question, was Eleanor Clymer’s The Trolley Car Family. As a child, I was transported by this book, by the unique story line, the illustrations, the characters. Truth be told, I still am. I found great joy in sharing its pages with my daughter many years later. Lord willing, I will do the same with my grandchild.



4. I was probably 21 when I first read the novel, Just David, by Eleanor Porter, a story that moved me to tears—so much so that I remember having to lay the book down so I could sprawl out on the bed and sob unashamedly. When a book can do that, you know you’re reading the work of a great storyteller. It was the first time I fully understood the potential power in a single story. I’ve never forgotten this book, nor the impact it had on me. It will always be a favorite pick from my library.



5. It took several readings before I came to fully appreciate Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, but it remains one of my favorite classics. The messages it contains are priceless ones, no matter our age. When readers witness the transformation of "a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner," as Scrooge was, and when they meet loveable characters like Tiny Tim, who, despite his grave illness and living conditions, remained a cheerful lad, it leaves them with a feeling of hope for all mankind.



6. As a new mother in 1986, I found very little time to read, which was why the small gift book, Children Won’t Wait, by Helen M. Young, was a welcome addition to my library. Given to me by my older sister, this book mirrors my own feelings about motherhood, that “no other career is so precious, no other work so rewarding, no other task so urgent.” Young urges mothers to not neglect, but accept their role gladly, “for children won’t wait!”



7. As a young parent, I relied heavily on the wisdom and experiences of those who’d walked a mile in my shoes. One of my favorite authors during the busy years was Chuck Swindoll. His book, Growing Wise in Family Life is a great source of information and direction, and offers parents a look at both what can help and what can hinder the nurturing of a child, based on not only he and his wife's experiences as parents, but on the experiences of other parents, as well. I remember being blown away by his advice to say "yes" to harmless activities as often as possible.  When a parents' first response to a child's simple requests is generally, "No," a child quickly becomes discouraged and frustrated. In the opinion of Swindoll, what harm is there in saying "yes" to having a picnic for lunch? "It is amazing how much of a positive influence that simple guideline provided for our home," he writes. This book's lessons served me well through the parenting years.



8. In 1990, my mother gave me a life-changing book entitled, The Power of Optimism, by Alan Loy McGinnis. This book left its imprint on my heart and in my daily activities. I learned that simply being optimistic and having a cheerful disposition, no matter what troubles may be swirling around you, can change not just your day, but your life. In the words of McGinnis: “Optimism is not saying that everything is getting better and better every day in every way. Nor is it saying that our worst days are behind us. We don’t know either of those things. What we do know is that this world, for all its faults, is a big world filled with good things to be savored and enjoyed.” Oh, that people everywhere could understand and embrace this truth.



9. If I were imprisoned on an island I would hope to have in my possession Mrs. Charles E. Cowman’s Streams in the Desert, Volume 1. This daily devotional was given to me by my older sister for Christmas in 1999 and I have read it through every year since. Each day's Scripture is accompanied by insights from long-ago men and women of God. Their writings never get stale and have, on my occasions, provided the precise message I needed for a particular day or season. I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s influence on my life has been great, and continues.





10. Every summer, since discovering this book, it's become a tradition that I read again the classic, Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I didn’t discover this book until well into my 40’s, but, perhaps mid-life was the best time to encounter this gem. Published in 1955, this book contains timeless truths, words to live by, a steady reflection of women everywhere. It's a small book (barely 100 pages), but its richness requires time to absorb it all. And, if you ask me, those are the best kinds of books. I've quoted from Gift from the Sea often in my blogging and I believe every woman should have a copy of this remarkable work in her library.


***

Until next time, sweet friends, keep calm and read on! If you're up to it, I'd love to know what you're reading, or the books that have influenced you, from your youth up.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Change in the Office



For a number of years, I enjoyed this plaid wing-back chair in my office. It has been with me a long time, but its history is another post for another day (or not).


In early 2013, my grand-niece, sugar plum I call her, had just turned two, so when I found a little table-and-chair set in a thrift store close to my mom's house, I snatched it up and brought it home. The office seemed the right place for it, so I relocated the chair. I knew sugar plum would have a whole lot of fun in this space, at this table. 


And that is precisely what has happened. From Play-Doh bonanzas, to puzzles, to drawing, to eating lunch, this little table has been, and continues to be, a perfect fit for the youngsters.

***

But there was one chair that I dreamed of having in my office, a chair I’ve loved from the day I sat in it at my sister’s home many years ago. 

So when it came up for grabs last month, I raised my hand and said, “ME, ME! Pick me!”


And that's how it came to pass that this cozy chair is now in our home office. In time, I may slipcover it, but for now I’m enjoying it to the fullest and I think it still looks wonderful.




It’s big enough to sleep in, practically, and plenty big enough for two while reading books.


As for the little table, it now sits in front of the window, behind the big chair, still bringing joy and a happy space for the little ones. And with a grandbaby on the way, I expect it will be around for many years to come.

***


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Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Morning Musings



Dear friends, the rain has come, leaving the air light and cool, the earth like a painter’s fresh canvas. I awoke earlier than usual Saturday morning. A last-minute change of plans meant sugar plum was coming for a few hours. 

In the kitchen, I put a pot of coffee on to brew and found pleasure in the sound of it spitting and sputtering its way to goodness. 


Whoever came up with the idea of making coffee from a bean, I love you. Although I do enjoy an occasional flavored creamer, I prefer my coffee black, thank you very much.

With Diesel in tow, and coffee in hand, I stepped into the gray morning and sat on the bench under the breezeway, feeling almost giddy. It was 68-degrees in the middle of September and that’s something to be giddy about in my little woods. As the wind played in the trees, a cool mist blew against my face, making me glad I grabbed a light jacket on the way out.

This cooler weather may not last long, but since August, my gut instinct has told me that fall will arrive earlier than usual this year. I have my reasons for this wild notion; time will tell if I’m right.


Whether I’m right or not, one of these mornings fall will arrive and stay awhile. A few days from now, the sun, having shifted gears back in June, will no longer sit high overhead at noon, but will rest a little lower, its golden path slanting across the earth in delicious shades of autumn.

New seasons generally mean a spell of stormy weather, a few wardrobe adjustments, a farewell to whatever season came before. A letting go of what was, if you will, and embracing what is.

Last night, in this very chair, in this very paragraph, I wrote about hard places, about the struggle of letting go of things, especially those things over which you have no control or influence. But this morning, in a moment of clarity and a step of faith, I hit the backspace key and erased it. Truth is, I wouldn’t be telling you anything you haven’t experienced yourself, so why spoil a perfectly good day, or paragraph for that matter, lamenting?

Instead, I leave you with something I read years ago that went like this:

First scenario:

Do you have a problem?
Yes.
Can you do something to fix it?
Yes.
Then don’t worry. Just fix it.

Second scenario:

Do you have a problem?
Yes.
Can you do something to fix it?
No.
Then don’t worry. Just pray.


Growing up, we sang a little song in Sunday school about worrying. I hadn't thought of it until just now. I don't know who wrote it, but if I remember correctly, the lyrics are these:

Why worry, when you can pray?
Trust Jesus; He leads the way.
Don't be a doubting Thomas
Rest fully on God's promise.
Why worry, worry, worry, worry
When you can pray?

Until next time, sweet friends, thanks for hanging with me; your company is a balm to my spirit. May your week be filled with worry-free days and nights wrapped in peace.



*** 


Monday, September 8, 2014

I finished before February and other weekend news

Well, well, dear friends. Persistence and patience paid off and I have completed the baby afghan for my coming grandchild. After multiple unravelings, I admit to having brief moments of doubt, but there are times when being stubborn comes in handy. My crocheting skills were put to the test, to say the least. And while the blanket is not perfect, it is finished. Hallelujah and amen!

I have started another one. It's a very simple pattern (whew), but is done using two strands of yarn throughout, which makes it heavy. I don't plan to work on it again until the weather cools off. You'll be the first to know. Wish me luck!


On Friday, The Man and I drove over to visit the parents. After supper, the skies opened up and drenched the earth. I walked out and stood under the carport, watching the rain fall. There's something about a rainy day that draws out the reflective side of me. I recalled the days of sun and rain not so awfully long ago, days when time stood still, when love and loyalty pointed the way, and the prayers of family and friends brought strength to the four of us. I wouldn't trade those days for anything in the world.


The weekend found my sisters and I enjoying time on the Island. Twin sister invited me and big sis to join her in celebration of a generous raise on her job. She said it would be her treat (speaking of generous), but even had it not been, we would have been there, sharing food and conversation, bedtime prayers, and laughs galore. That's just what we do.


I couldn't be more proud of my twin sister, and if you knew all of the obstacles she has overcome, you'd be proud of her, too. She has always honored God with her finances, and, true to His word, He has blessed her abundantly in return.


We discovered it is nigh to impossible to get a selfie when three people are wearing hats the size of Texas. It didn't stop us from trying though.

In life, I find it so refreshing spending time with my sisters, whether a few minutes or a weekend. Not only are we blessed to have each other, we love each other, unconditionally. Does that mean we're perfect? No. Does that mean we always agree with what the other one does? No. Does that mean we've never had a spat and spoken unkind words to each other? No. But all of these things are temporary situations, while our love for each other is forever.

Until next time, dear friends, thanks for keeping me company. May your week be filled with quiet spaces and friendly faces.

***


Friday, August 29, 2014

Living in the Moment ~ It's the Only Time we Have


On those days when you tend to think too far into the future, imagining what anguish, what difficulty might await you, take a deep breath, look around you, and breathe in the moment. Squeeze every ounce of goodness out of it, because it’s the only moment we have. The future belongs to the One who is already there, and I’ve learned that He can be trusted.

So, I’m taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, living in the moment.


Inside, the fragrance of apple pie lingers in the air.


Outside, the neighborhood is peaceful and green.


My little backyard garden has been prodded and pruned.



And still, she offers her beauty.


While a stake in the ground reminds me of what I already know, and what was proven again just this week.


The laundry has been folded, the floors have been swept, and I discovered long ago that the best flowers come from your very own garden, and the best arrangements are not arranged at all.

I'm living in the moment.

Here’s wishing you a weekend of the same.

***


Monday, August 25, 2014

The Simple Gifts of August


Dear friends, our weekend arrived warm and bright, and with it came a rejuvenating of my spirit, in small and big ways.


Saturday morning, after a refreshing and needed time of prayer and devotion, I made a simple meal of biscuits and eggs and buttery grits, in true Southern fashion. The air was cool enough to have breakfast on the patio, so that’s what we did.


Long ago, I discovered there’s healing in the outdoors. Being surrounded by nature brings peace to the mind and calm to the body. With only the sound of water trickling down the rocks of the little backyard pond, I looked at the man across the table and felt safe and loved.

***


I spent some time working on one of the final steps of my baby blanket, whipstitching the strips together. Despite a rocky start, it’s finishing up nicely in shades of yellow and white. Considering I started over three times, that's nigh to a miracle right there. Next, I'll crochet two rounds of edging then I'll be done. My grandbaby is now about the size of a peach. I think often of this unborn child and feel my heart widen as I prepare to fall head-over-heels in love.

Later in the afternoon, I drove down the tree-lined street that takes me to my twin sister’s house. Pie was there in all of her sweetness. After a lively welcome, filled with the three of us singing and dancing in the foyer, I watched as she toddled about, carrying a lemon in each hand. Her Nonni wasn’t sure why the lemons had so captured her attention, but we dared not take them from her as she made it clear they were hers to carry.

When she saw me open one of the many books Nonni keeps on hand, she rushed over and settled on my lap, listening intently to the words and studying the pictures, the lemons still clutched in each hand.

***


Before I left, she let go of the lemons and played the piano for me, then enjoyed big gulps of Nonni’s sweet tea, one precious foot getting a lift from Nonni’s boot.

Making my way back down the shady street that leads me home, I gazed up into the blue skies of August and said, “Thank you, Lord, for all of these many gifts, for the ordinary things that make my life so rich and beautiful.”

What is life? It is the reviving that comes from prayer and devotion, the steady flame that burns in the soul that neither man nor circumstance can extinguish. It is preparing a simple meal and sharing it with my beloved, while the sound of trickling water brings calm to a late-summer morning. It is the patter of little feet across a sunlit floor, and a sister who prays for me and cheers me on. It is the stitching of common threads that come together in a pattern of uncommon beauty. If life is what you make of it, then I choose a simple one, rich in all of the things that matter. 

Until next time, dear friends, the calendar is a week away from September, a fact I find both shocking and soothing. My gut tells me fall will come earlier than usual this year. I, for one, am sitting on ready. In the meantime, I trust you are well and are unwrapping your own gifts of August.

***


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

When Seasons End ~ Scenes from a Blessed Life



Dear friends, as I write, the morning is new. I am sitting at my desk, just me, my coffee, and my thoughts. Growing up, my dad used to tell me that if I missed the morning I missed the best part of the day. As a teenager who engaged in sleep marathons during summer months, I considered his summation a whole lot of hogwash. Through the years, however, I came to realize how right those words are. Mornings whisper to my spirit. Their quiet hours have a pureness about them that can’t be duplicated, a pureness that I crave and seek out.


The last few days have brought sighs and smiles, starting with Saturday when my parents drove over to spend the day. Yes, dear old dad is still able to drive and I dread the day when some brave soul may have to tell him he can't. Sparks will fly, but for now he remains the chief navigator. Blessed is what we are.

My sweet mother delivered the pillowcases she had made for the both of us to send to Kelley's Pillowcase Project. I love them all and encourage you to participate in this worthy cause.

As summer draws to a close, I must say it’s been a one-of-a-kind summer for us—not in temperatures, but in personal matters that stretch your faith and test your patience. There have been comings and goings, here a little, there a little, time spent away from home, from church, from family, and time spent away from all of you. I have missed the days of routine.



But yesterday, as happens around this time every year, there on the ground lay the first sign that a new season is on its way, that nothing lasts forever, not even the state of limbo. (And let the people shout, "Hallelujah and amen!")

It was only a small thing, but I felt a stirring in my spirit as I imagined the coming days when the smell of a pumpkin pie baking in the oven will waft through the house. When, on brisk evenings, homemade soups will fill heavy pots on the stove, and cornbread will slide out of an iron skillet, golden brown and piping hot, just waiting to be slathered with butter.

Sometimes, it's the promise of what is to come that gives us the courage to accept what is, to let go of what was, and to keep moving forward. 

Until next time, sweet friends, your company remains a pleasure. May the final days of summer be slow and easy and filled to the brim with all of the things that make you smile.


***


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