Saturday, December 24, 2022

I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day

Merry Christmas from a very cold Pennsylvania Christmas Eve. 

Hands down, my favorite part of Christmas is the music. I start listening to Christmas music on Thanksgiving Day, and our family has memories surrounding numerous Christmas songs. 

Earlier this week our church went caroling. We divided into five groups. My group walked the street singing to some of my brother's neighbors. It was a cold clear evening (thankfully not nearly as cold as this morning) and perfect caroling weather. Several people said they hadn't heard carolers for twenty or more years. Some joined us in singing. Some videoed us on their phones and sent it to friends. One man asked if we'd come down to the park because he wanted the children to hear us sing. The evening reminded me why caroling is my favorite Christmas tradition.

I remember the first time I read through the words of all the verses to the song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." I was a young teen, and the message moved me to tears. 

At that time I didn't know the story behind the words. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a widower, His wife had died from injuries from a house fire two years before. His son had left to fight in the Civil War against his father's wishes and was seriously injured. When I think of a grieving husband and father, facing a Christmas season during a turbulent time in the nation's history, these words feel even more poignant. 

Here are the words to Longfellow's poem that are usually sung, omitting two of stanzas that refer more specifically to the Civil War.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
Th' unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

This song reminds me that Jesus came to a groaning earth, not a perfect paradise. He came to hurting grieving people, not those who are merry and bright. He came to restore our peace with God and give us love for our fellow humans - all things we need just as much today.

In recent years, Casting Crowns has recorded a beautiful new tune that has become popular, but here is a recording with the traditional Calkin tune.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Sisters' Fall Reading Challenge

I had so much fun reading this fall. Somehow the right books found me at the right time in the right mood. I loved that the fall challenges pushed me to read some books that I would otherwise probably not found.

This post contains affiliate links.

 1. Read a book that intimidates you.

Charity - Hard Times by Charles Dickens
I love Dickens and read his books over and over. I have read Hard Times more than once.  That is precisely why it feels daunting. Something about the sadness of the book coupled with the lack of lovable characters made me never want to read it again. But when my favorite podcast was going to be reading it, I just had to read it with them. It still isn’t my favorite Dickens novel, but, with the help of those who are knowledgeble about the Victorian era and literature, I learned vast amounts about education, theVictorian home and reading a book well. 

Gina - Hard Times by Charles Dickens
I read the same book as Charity, but for a different reason. I've only read a few of Dicken's books and it has been years since I tackled one. I wasn't sure I had the patience for a Dicken's novel. But Dark Times is one of his shorter books, and it was such fun to read and discuss it with Charity. I didn't expect to gain insight into the education of children and the need to encourage the imagination.

2. Read a book about a founder of a ministry or nonprofit organization. 

Charity - He Gave Us a Valley by Helen Roseveare
For twenty years, Roseveare lived in the Congo. A few of her years overlapped a terrifying time of rebellion and civil war. This particular book gives an overview of all twenty years but mostly focuses on her last few years as the founder  of a medical school. It is a story of intense work to build a school out of nothing, working with a confusing government, and eventually facing rejection from those she had given her life to serve. Roseveare taught me a lot about surrender and giving our lives because Christ gave everything for us. I’m looking forward to reading a few more of her books. 

Gina - Chasing My Cure by David Fajgenbaum
The author was a young medical student when he became very sick and was hospitalized as his organs began failing. Eventually, he was diagnosed with Castleman's Disease. A few months later, his health crashed again and again he nearly died. This book tells the story of beginning an organization to help find a cure for himself and others as well as improve the health care for those with rare diseases.

3. Read a book published in your birth year. 

Charity - Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes

It was delightful to browse my  TBR pile and find a book published exactly in 1999! Bella Tuscany is a sequel to Mayes first book Under the Tuscan Sun, a story about buying a home in Italy. Both books had me drooling over the incredible descriptions of food, longing for a glimpse of the Italian scenery, and laughing at Americans living in a foreign country. Disclaimer: this is a secular book written by an author whose lifestyle is very different from what I would promote. The consumption of alcoholic beverages is frequent and the author is divorced and cohabitating. 

Gina - Beautiful Swimmers by William W. Warner

I was struggling to find a book published in 1976 until I searched the Pulitzer prize winners. Beautiful Swimmers follows the crabbers in the Chesapeake Bay through a whole year as they search for the bay's famous blue crab. I took this book on our vacation to Chincoteague where my sons brought back a catch of blue crab for us to enjoy. I loved learning about a bay that has always fascinated me and the people who make their living from its waters. 

4. Read a book that others have raved about.

Charity - The Lazy Genius Kitchen by Kendra Adachi
Gina passed this book to me with the words that I might enjoy it as I set up my own kitchen. It was such a fun read while also making me think through the way my kitchen is arranged and how to make this important part of my home efficient and enjoyable. She offers a variety of tips that inspired me to think about what matters in my kitchen, how to organize and make the everyday tasks a little easier. A beautiful, simple, and easy to read book. 

Gina - Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy
Almost every book I read could fit this category, since most books I read have been recommended by a friend. I was at a baby shower this fall and the rave review I heard about this book sent me immediately to to place an order for it. I'd been wishing for a resource for goal setting. I thought this book would be geared just for business men and not be applicable for somone whose life has been upended and planning feels futile, but I found it very helpful in evaluating my current life and future goals. But reading the book is only the first step. I fear that I'll put this book on the shelf and not actually use the plan they lay out. This is when I need an accountability partner!

5. Read a book set in your state or province.

Charity - The Christopher Saurs by Stephen L. Longenecker 
We have all learned about Benjamin Franklin and the time period surrounding him, but I realized when I picked up this book that I had never read about the contemporary printers of Franklin, especially not Brethren printers. Christopher Saur Senior and Junior were an influential part of the German population before, during, and after the Revolutionary War. Living as Anabaptists and printing a German newspaper, they held spiritual and political influence over their people during an important time in American history. I enjoyed this glimpse into a well-known time period.

Gina - Placemaker by Christie Purifoy
Purifoy has written a lovely memior about the homes she has lived in, from Texas to Chicago to Florida to now an old farmhouse in Pennsylvania. It is hard to categorize this book. It is about trees, and restoring old houses, and the value of community. Maybe it is about hospitality. Maybe it is simply a celebration of home. Maybe it is a reminder that we have been placed on this earth to cultivate beauty. Whatever it is, I loved it. If you need a cozy read this winter, I suggest this one. 

6. Read a book that addresses an area you want to grow in. 

Charity- Flourish by Dorcas Showalter
This book addresses a number of topics related to being a wife, homemaker, mother, and Christian woman. Through telling her own story of failure and triumph, Showalter gave me much to contemplate and I plan to read it again in a few years as my life changes and her wisdom will find new things to teach me.

Gina - The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon
If one of Jesus' two commandments was "Love your neighbor," why don't I know my neighbors' names? This was the convicting question I asked after reading this book. I have lived in this house for twenty years, and I could only name three of my neighbors. I walk by their houses, and know their dogs, even wave and say "hello," but I don't know even their name. Since reading this book, I have stopped and talked to two neighbors, finding out their names, and hearing a bit of their story. I have a long way to go to truly loving my neighbors, but this book inspired me to start. It is easy to read but shoots down excuses for obeying the second commandment.

7. Look up the definition of a word that you read in a book.

Charity - I no longer remember what words I looked up, but I do know when I take the time to look up words I don’t fully understand, it always makes me wonder why I don’t do it more often. Maybe some day I’ll develop  a habit of  slowing down and finding out what words mean.

Gina- Several times as I was reading, this month, I'd think, I should look up that word. But I don't like to have my phone near me when I'm reading, so it as inconvienent to look up the word. If I'm reading online, I am much more likely to look up a word because it is only a few keystrokes away. I guess that shows how lazy I am. I did read, and love, Reading the OED by Ammon Shea, who read the entire Oxford English Dictionary, a feat that required dedicated reading for ten hours a day for MONTHS! The book chronicles his experience and shares his favorite words and their meanings.

8. Carry a physical book with you.

Charity - My philosophy is you will never regret taking a book with you. More often I regret not having a book. So this fall I read about organizing my kitchen while in the doctor's waiting room and often have had a book on the passengers seat of my car. You know, just in case. 

Gina - I am usually good at grabbing a book when I leave the house, just in case. But this fall I sat in the Urgent Care and the Pet Emergency Room (neither life threatening situations) without a book. I couldn't believe that I was so frazzled that I walked out of the door without a book! Maybe I need to start keeping a spare book in the vehicle for emergencies.

What did you read this fall?

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Sisters' December Reading Challenge

Charity and I plan to keep our reading simple for December. We chose three challenges that are low pressure but will hopefully enhance our enjoyment of the holiday season. 

This post contains affiliate links.

1. Read a Christmas classic.

Charity and I are both choosing The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, but you may have another classic you'd like to read or reread. Some options include The Best Christmas Pagent Ever and Little Woman.

2. Read an Advent book.

There are many books with a short piece to read every day until Christmas. Preruse your library or a bookstore to find one that fits your wishes. I'm chose Malcolm Guite's Waiting on the Word, which is a poetry collection for each day of December. I don't read much poetry but I couldn't think of a more counter-culture and defiant stance against commercial craziness than reading poetry.

3. Read a cozy book. 

I haven't chosen my book yet for this category. I might reread a favorite book or pick up a just-for-fun fiction book. After a very busy fall, our December looks rather empty and I'm planning to prioritize a few quiet evenings at home. I'm looking forward to evenings on the couch, reading favorite Christmas picture books to my children, then enjoying my own book for an hour.

If you want some more suggestions of Christmas books, you can check out my book lists from other years.

What does reading look like for you in December?

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Fall Lament

 "The leaves are prettier this year than usual." 

It was a comment I heard over and over. 

"Did I just forget how pretty the leaves are in the fall?" my dentist asked.

"Someone said the leaf color is the best in ten years," said a friend.

Leaf color and brilliance is hard to measure, but week after week, the colors were astounding. I gushed and gaped - as I rushed to the next thing on my agenda. I kept saying that I needed to go for more walks to soak in the beauty. In February I would regret that I was too busy to truly enjoy the leaves.

Now it is nearly the end of November and I look back, wondering why I was so busy this fall. Flipping through my photos, gives me a glimpse.

A few days in Chincoteague, Virginia with two of my brothers and family.

Making applesauce.

Picking squash.

Of course, raking leaves.

Making apple cider with my family.

And potato chips.

Introducing some new Ukrainian friends to canoeing.

Lots of living - with meals, school, shopping, and questions big and small. There were kids' clubs, gatherings with church friends, weddings, crochet classes with Grandma, and playing games with Grandmother.

But maybe when I think back to the fall of 2022, it won't be any of these things that will stand out in my memory. 

Throughout the fall, my dear friend's mom was slipping away. I took night duty a couple nights to give her family a break. Though dementia is different than brain cancer, there were enough similiarities to give me flashbacks. So many people had helped with Ed, and it was an honor to sit by her bed and remember her gift of hospitatlity and all the hours I spent in that same living room.

I love life. I'm grateful that God has given me a rich life with oppurtunities, friendships, harvests, and growing children. 

But this fall, in the middle of a busy schedule with weddings and celebrations and exuberate leaves - I wanted to sit by a death bed. Remembering. Grieving. 

Ecclesiastes says "it is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting" and "sorrow is better than laughter." (Ecc. 7:2-3) I'm not sure what those verses mean. Of course I wish there were never funerals to attend, but while weddings remind me of the dreams and future that I lost, funerals remind me of what I have - memories, a godly heritage, and the hope of the resurrection. 

The leaves have all fallen, and there is a new grave in a cemetery. It is a season to settle into winter, to become comfortable with lament, before turning to thankgiving and preparing for the Lord's return. 

"The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart;" Psalms 34:18

The old cemetery I pass on my walk.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Motherhood Magazine Issue 3


I was thrilled to open a box of the newest issue of Motherhood magazine this afternoon. Since spring, I've been working on this issue as part of the editorial team, and it is a delight to hold the final product in my hands.

Today is a gray rainy day, the last day of October, a day when darkness is celebrated. Though I love fall, and this year has included an oustsoundingly brilliant leaf display, this fall has held reminders of the hard things. Maybe I'll write more later about the last months, but for now, I want to share a resource that aims to bring the light of Christ to your home. 

Since we planned for Issue 3 of Motherhood to be released in the fall, we chose to focus on the theme of "Light" for this issue. 

Twenty ladies of all ages who live in various countries around the world, shared articles, stories, and poetry sharing their journey of walking in God's light. Some are hard stories, such as the mom who mourns the loss of her eyesight or the mother who buried a baby. Other moms share how God's light shone in their lives, bringing repentance and a desire to walk in truth. Women wrote about opening up their hearts and homes to let their light shine to others. Older moms share a vision for walking in light all the days of their life, even when their children are grown.

Some of the articles share on practical topics such as hospitality and ideas to bring physical light into our homes. A tutorial gives ideas on using Mason jars for organization, decoration, and a children's party.

This issue is a perfect gift for your mom friend of any age. The beautiful photos and artwork make the pages a delightful rest for the eyes and mind. My prayer is that each word and splash of color can be a blessing to other women as it blessed me.

To get you own copy, go to the Motherhood website. Or email Kerra at stan.kerra2012@ . The price per issue is $12. A one dollar discount per issue is available for sets of ten copies so combine your order with a friend or get extras for gifts.

If you live close to me and want a discount on shipping, I have copies of all three issues available for pick up at my house. 

If you want to be included on an email list to get updates on every issue of Motherhood magazine as well as get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of some of the women who write and design the magazine, sign up for the Motherhood email list.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Sisters' Summer Reading Challenge

Since Charity's wedding was this summer, we purposely kept the challenges this summer light and fun. And we both enjoyed our reading very much! 

This post includes affiliate links.

 1. Reread a classic you enjoyed as a teen. 

Charity- Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery

Anne and Gilbert's first year or two of marriage are described in this beautiful novel. I listened to it the month after my husband and I got married and loved the sweetness of their story while enjoying the sweetness of our own start of life together. Montgomery combines the usual lively fun and laughter with a hint of sadness and also an unexpected plot twist.

Gina - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Though I read this book as a teen, I had forgotten most of the plot. I enjoyed the story, but was so annoyed at the manipulative male characters that I nearly threw the book across the room. I find it fascinating that a book with such strong religious content was hugely popular when it was published in the 1800s. But the gothic-style of the Bronte writers just isn't my favorite; I'll return to Jane Austin.

2. Read a portion of a book of essays or poetry.

Charity - The Works of G.K. Chesteron

This was a perfect excuse to dabble in Chesterton's poetry. Though I didn't read the entire book, I enjoyed various poems and his longer poem "The Balland of the White Horse." Chesterton was a lover of old England and in this poem I enjoyed his delight in a past time.

Gina - A Passion for Books edited by Harold Rabinowitz

I picked this book up at a used book store while on vacation last year. This collection of essays, quotes, and lists is the perfect bedside companion for a book lover. The collection spans many years and includes a variety of authors and topics but all focus on a love of books.

3. Read a book with a beautiful cover. 

Charity - Pilgrims Progress Part 1 by John Bunyan

I love old copies of books. It might be almost an obsession. My beautiful book has a dusty blue cover with gold flowers and leaves on the spine with an intricate gold title. Doesn't it sound breathtaking! I wasn't able to read the entire book, but part one was wonderful. I grew up knowing the story from a children's abridged edition, but I had never read the unabridged version. Hopefully I can soon read part two.

Gina - This Beautiful Truth by Sarah Clarkson

I don't usually choose a book by the cover, but this book had a lovely cover, beautiful writing, and "beautiful" in the title. I didn't agree with all the author's theology, but her account of struggling through severe mental illness and the people who walked with her, inspired me to be the hands of Jesus to the hurting people around me.

4. Read a book by an author you've enjoyed.

Charity- Let Me Be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot

I consider Elliot to be one of the most influential authors in my life. One reason is because she greatfly influenced two of my older sisters who I admire very much. This particular book is a collection of letters that Elliot wrote to her daughter before her marriage. The month before my own wedding found me gleaning her wisdom, but this book is for woman at any stage of life who want to grasp what being a woman of God means.

Gina - Lila by Marilynne Robinson

I have this crazy problem of saving books. Lila has been on my shelf for a while, saving for - I'm not sure what. Robinson's writing always blows me away, though her style probably isn't for everyone. Lila, the main character, has grown up as a drifter, but when she walks into a small town and steps into a church to get out of the rain, she meets an elderly pastor who changes her life. This is the third book in the Gilead series, but is set a few years before the first two books and could be read in any order. Since each book in the series is narrated by a different character, the reader sees the town and its inhabitants in a new way with each book.

5. Read a book about someone on a journey.

Charity - A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

This light novel is the story of the journey of Emily Price from a whirwind romance to living in Italy. It is also a journey of growth as Emily learns that some things she can't fix. Though a little more sappy than I generally read, I loved that the book was a clean, fun easy read.

Gina - The Greater Journey by David McCullough

I started this book months ago and worked through its many pages slowly. I wrote recently about the author's skill as a historian and author. In this book I followed Americans in the 1800s as they traveled across the Atlantic to Paris. Some were searching for medical training, others for inspiration in the great art museums, still others were representing the US government. Each one met people and saw things that changed their lives. Though the information didn't feel relevant or useful to my life, it was fun and mind-stretching to journey with this book.

6. Read a love story.

Charity - Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon

I am a huge Mitford fan. This book was an easy reread as I waded through the last wedding planning and furniture buying! Karon writes about the biggest wedding in the Mitford series being planned and all the normal stress with a few surprises for everyone. As usual, Karon makes you fall in love with her quirky and hilarious characters.

Gina - Yours Cheerfully by A. J. Pearce

I've looked forward to a sequel to Dear Mrs. Bird ever since I read it and fell in love with Emmy. This was the perfect audio to listen to as I ran errands in the days before Charity's wedding. The story set in World War 2 London was SOOO much fun, though the plot was a bit predictable. I learned about wartime weddings and female workers in British munition factories, but the author's historical research didn't slow down the story. 

7. Choose a Psalm and read it every day for a month (or as often as possible.) 

Charity - Psalm 63

Psalm 63 is a beautiful psalm of praise, longing, and satisfaction. I loved reading the same words every morning, until now, a month later, I can almost quote it. I hope I can say with David, "God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you."

Gina - Psalm 121

I printed off this psalm and hung it on the kitchen wall. Every morning for a week, we read the first verse at breakfast. The next week we added verse two. Each week we added another verse until last week we were reading (or quoting) the whole psalm. Not only was it a way to teach my children Scripture, but it was good for me to remember where my help is found.

8. Take a photo of a book you are reading.

Charity- That gorgeous book I told you about earlier, well, of course I took a picture of it! Books, flowers, and my own little kitchen table have been some of my joys of the past two months.

Gina - I realized that I take a lot of photos of books. When a friend asks for a book recommendation or I'm excited to share the book I'm reading - I snap a photo. I looked through the photos on my phone and had to laugh at how many book photos I found. Two books I read this summer, and took photos of to share, were Beyond the Darkness by Clarissa Moll and Why Bad Things Happen by Michael S. Martin. Both addressed grief in ways that were powerful and life-giving to me, and I'm guessing I'll be buying copies of both to share.

How was your reading life this summer? Does your summer schedule mean that you read less or more?  Do you change the type of book you read in the summer?

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Sisters' Fall Reading Challenge

I had so much fun reading in this summer. We had purposely kept the challenges lighter because our summer was intense, but now both Charity and I are ready to give a bit of challenge to our reading life. 

The goal of our fall challenges is to stretch ourselves a bit beyond our bookshelves. I can't wait to meet some new book friends. 

Sisters' Fall Reading Challenges 

1. Read a book that intimidates you.

The book could intimidate you because of its length or its topic or genre or author. More than once, when I've pushed myself to read a book that intimidates me, I've found a treasure. I think I'm going to choose a Dicken's book for this challenge.

2. Read a book about a founder of a ministry or nonprofit organization. 

If you don't have a book in mind, check your libraries nonfiction shelf. There are many books that would fit this category. It could be a missionary such as Amy Carnichael or Hudson Taylor or a humitarian organization founder like Clara Barton. Choose someone who lived years ago like William Booth or a still alive today like Joni Erickson Tada.

3. Read a book published in your birth year. 

This might be one of the most challenging because we don't typically categorize books by their publication date. One idea to find a book on your birth year is check out the Newberry or Pultizer prize winners. (You may have to check the year after your birth since the awards are usually given the year after.)

4. Read a book that others have raved about.

You can interpret this as you wish. It could be a book that got a lot of publicity on a best seller list. Or maybe a book that your mom or your brother or you friend keeps talking about.

5. Read a book set in your state or province.

This too may be challenging, at least I don't have a book immediately in mind for this challenge. Your local library may have a section devoted to local books. 

If you don't live in the United States or Canada, feel free to interpret this challenge as you wish. You may choose a book set in your country.

6. Read a book that addresses an area you want to grow in. 

Sometimes I gravitate toward books on my favorite topics, so here is a chance to read a book about a topic that I'm weak in.

7. Look up the definition of a word that you read in a book.

I usually just guess a word's meaning from the context, but I want to challenge myself to ocasionally look up the definition.

8. Carry a physical book with you.

When I unexpectantly have a few extra minutes, I usually reach for my phone because I always have it with me. I'm going to intentionally try to keep a book with me more often so that I reach for a book instead of my phone. So if you see me in the Walmart line this fall, I just might have my nose in a book. 

I might even try to keep a book on my kitchen counter, so that a book, not my phone, is the closest thing at hand.

I'd love to hear what you intend to read this fall. If you need any book suggestions for any of these challenges, just ask. We love to talk books!

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

A Tribute to David McCullough

Earlier this month, David McCullough, author and historian, died. 

My first thought was that I'd never again say, "McCullough has a new book out!" At age 89, certainly his death was no surprise, but he had been a prolific author, even in his elderly years.

A few months ago, I had gathered my reading lists from various places, some written in notebooks or the back of planners, others on sheets of notebook paper, and combined them all into one notebook. I found that I had lists of the books I read back to 2007. I also had several book lists that Ed had read from around that 2007 as well. 

Looking through my reading lists brought a flood of memories. Many of the book titles I can remember where I read them and what was happening in my life. Books that we listened to on vacation or I read while feeding a baby. Books that I still think about today.

So when I heard of McCullough's death, I pulled out those reading lists and looked for his name. I began to consider the influence that McCullough's books had on my life. McCullough was a masterful storyteller and a meticulous historican, but it wasn't the content so much as the fact that I chose to read his books that mattered.

I've enjoyed reading from the time that Dick and Jane were my compaions, but in my twenties I struggled with knowing what to read. Was fiction a waste of time? What did a married woman read? What was the purpose of reading? 

I don't have a record of the books I read when I first married, but I know I didn't read a lot. Ed and I enjoyed reading several classics together out loud, which was such fun. But I mostly read nonfiction on topics that I wanted to learn about such as gardening, bread baking, and parenting.

Then I began to read some blogs written by homeschool moms who were voracious readers. They exposed me to many more books. I started going to used book sales, searching for titles they mentioned. 

The first time I remember David McCullough's name mentioned was in a blog post where a busy homeschool mom said she was listening to Mornings on Horseback while she took walks. I told Ed about it, thinking that it would be a book he'd enjoy. He had listened to another book by David McCullough the year before, The Great Bridge. He listened to Morning on Horseback and then started looking for other audio books by McCullough at the library. 

About that time, I read a rave review on McCullough's book, John Adams and picked it up at a used book sale. I don't think I had ever attempted to read a 600-page book. I still wonder what possessed me to start that book. I had three small children, ages 3, 2, and newborn. I would put the children down for a nap, then curl up on my own bed with this huge book. I could only read a few pages at a time, and it took me months to finish. 

Then I immediately started Truman, an even longer book, almost 1,000 pages. Again, it took me months of naptimes to complete it. 

I'm not sure why I chose McCullough's two longest books to read. Ed, meanwhile was working through most his other books and would tell me what he was learning. Between the two of us, we read all of his books that were printed at that time. 

I look back on my decision to read John Adams and see it as the turning point in my reading life. Before that I read for information and occasionally pleasure. But now I was choosing to read a huge book that I didn't need to read. I wasn't a history scholar. I didn't need the information the book contained. It wasn't a fluffy book, but neither was it doctrinal or inspirational or pertinant to my life. I think that is when I changed from being a person who read books to being a reader.  

Maybe there isn't a difference, but I think there is. A reader reads books because they love words, not just to gain information. A reader reads books that aren't necessary for their life, because reading is what they do. In many ways, a reader can't not read books. It isn't a matter of will I read but what will I read. When I'm asked how I find time to read, I'm bewildered because reading is what I do, like eating or showering. It simply fits in my day by default. Sometimes I can only catch brief snatches, like the days I eat on the run. Other days I have time to linger long (over a meal or a book.) But skipping either for too many hours just isn't optional.

I didn't know it when I read them (I barely knew the term), but Truman and John Adams were both Pulitzer prize-winning books, in 1993 and 2002 respectively. Both took years of research. I enjoyed this old NYT article about McCullough that shares about his writing process including the fact that he typed his books on a typewriter. He also stated that he read each page aloud to his wife and she read it back to him, so his ear could catch what his eyes couldn't. His attention to detail is probably why one NYT critic said that McCullough was "incapable of writing a page of bad prose." 

David McCullough was born in western Pennsylvania and was a magazine writer for years before he wrote his first book, The Johnstown Flood, about an event near where he had grown up. After the success of that book, he became a full-time writer of books on American history. 

I'm going to list each of his books and share a bit about each. I'm not saying you should read them or want to read them, there are so many books in the world to choose, but if you read even one of McCullough's books, I'm guessing you will know far more than you did in your highschool American history class.

I'll include the Amazon affiliate links, but these books are easy to find at used books stores.

The Johnstown Flood (1968)

This is one of McCullough's shortest books and a great introduction to his work. Ed and I enjoyed reading this book with our book club and a few years ago, we listened to it as a family while on a trip. McCullough actually interviewed some people who had experienced the Johnstown Flood.

The Great Bridge (1972)

Ed told me so many fascnating stories from this account of building the Brooklyn Bridge while reading this book. 

The Path Between the Seas (1977)

This book takes place mostly off American soil, in Panama. I remember Ed being appalled at the lost of lives in the building of the canal.

Mornings on Horseback (1981)

This book shares the early years of Theodore Roosevelt, both as a child and then a young man, and the hardships he overcame.

Brave Companions (1991)

Brave Companions is a compilation of essays and speeches. If you want to dabble a toe into McCullough's writings, this would be a good choice.

Truman (1992)

Many consider this McCullough's masterpiece. This detailed biography on President Truman taught me so much about the early 1900s, including the Great Depression, the close of World War 2, and the Cold War. 

John Adams (2001)

Through the life of John Adams, McCullough describes the founding of the United States. I learned much about the birth of the Constitution.

1776 (2005)

When Ed read this book, covering only one year, he was amazed at how McCullough captured the drama of this time. Those living in 1776, on both sides of the Atlantic, didn't know if the Americans would win their independence.

The Greater Journey (2011)

I had not read a McCullough book for years but picked this one up this spring. Like usual for his books, it took me months to read it. McCullough follows Americans who traveled to Paris in the 1800s. This included medical students, artists, inventors, and ambassadors. Some have critized this book for not having a strong narrative theme through the book and I did find the large number of people it followed to feel rather random, but I enjoyed it.

The Wright Brothers (2015)

We listened to this book on a family trip. I thought I knew a lot about the Wright brothers, but this book didn't just talk about their famous invention of a flying machine, but followed them to Europe and covered their later years.

The American Spirit (2017)

McCullough was often asked to speak and this is a compilation of speeches that I have not yet read.

The Pioneers (2019)

I have not yet read McCullough's latest book which describes the settling of the Northwest territory after the Revolutionary War. If you are from Ohio, this is the story of the pioneers who carved homes in wilderness of this area.

There is a quote that says, "Five years from today, you will be the same person that you are today, except for the books you read and the people you meet." (credited to Charlie Jones) I'm not sure that is entirely accurate, as many life circumstances affect our lives, but the fact remains that books can be influential. I've enjoyed looking back and considering the influence that an American historian and author had on an exhausted young mom.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Lead Us, O Father (With Wedding Photos!)

I'd apologize for taking such a long blogging break, but I know you all have plenty to do and read without my words. 

I haven't known how to distill the events of this summer into words. These weeks have contained enough heights and lows to give emotional whiplash. I can honestly say that it has been good, which I hope means that I've been carried by grace, not that I'm in denial or too busy to process. 

Here is an overview of June and July.

The summer began with attending a writers' conference in Virginia the first week of June. It had been canceled for two years and when I walked in the building, I could feel the excitement in the room. I love connecting with old friends and new who love words, and I wanted to bask in the conversations and energy of the conference.

But it also ranks up as one of the most terrifying public speaking experiences of my life. The fact that I had been pumped up and prepared two years ago, in March 2020, then the event was canceled thanks to a virus, and then canceled again in 2021, probably meant that I had far too much anticipation built up. But I survived without fainting.

In the month of June, we hosted another TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) class. I love hanging out with passionate youth and I enjoy cooking food for groups, so this was simply fun. So many people offered to help with food and lodging, and it is great to see a community work together to host this event. 

If you or someone you know has an interest in teaching English, contact me for more information for next June's class. The teacher is excellent (and so is the food), and maybe some year I'll pretend to be a nineteen and participate in the class.

In June, Ed's neice ended her years of suffering poor health. Her sister had died soon after Ed three years ago; both had a rare auto-immune disorder. I left my children behind and traveled to North Carolina for the funeral with another van load so had time to think and process grief. To see her three-year-old watch the filling of her mother's grave and walk down the row of young gravestones was heart breaking. So much grief. 

The week after the funeral, Ed's mom's house was sold. It has been hard to watch her mental decline the past few years and last winter the decision was made that she could no longer live alone. She seems happy in her new quarters and I know she would never move back home, but still the sale of her house and the dispersal of her belongings feels so permanent. 

I took my girls over to her house to play with her toys and feed the fish one last time. I was surprised that it felt so hard to me to see my mother-in-law move. Maybe because that house held the memories of Ed and I dating, and with Ed gone, I want to hold on to every shred of memory. But time moves on and there is no holding on to the past, and everyone in the family is relieved that the big job of emptying her house is now over.

But on top and over all the other events of June was preparing for my youngest sister Charity's wedding. Family weddings are such fun and Charity's was extra special. Charity had only been three when I married, but the past couple years we have built a friendship that we never really had before. When my other sisters married, I was deep into babies, but this time I hoped to actually be present and helpful. 

Weddings are a lot of work, especially if the family is making the food, and especially when an outdoor wedding is planned. But we had so many offers to help, and it was such fun to see the details come together. 

All week the forecast said it would rain on Saturday. They had a tent for the reception, but the ceremony was planned to be held up on the hill in the hayfield. By Friday, the threat of rain was lessening, and the decision was made to try to hold the wedding on the hill. 

The wedding day dawned bright and hot. Not a cloud was in sight which meant we cooked in the sun, but at least it didn't rain. The setting was beautiful. 

But weddings are not really about the beauty or the setting or the decorations or the food. That may be the things we talk about after a wedding, but the real joy is seeing two people who love the Lord and are serious about serving Him, join their lives. 

The nine of us siblings

As the oldest in my family, I have worried about my younger siblings. What if they make poor choices? What if they bring someone awful into the family?

But I'm delighted to have Carson as a brother-in-law. I knew his parents when they were dating and have always thought highly of them. I've seen Carson grow into a man of high conviction. I'm so glad that Charity has a husband like him. 

Another blessing was that my dad, who continues treatment for his colon cancer, was feeling well at the wedding. He was able to postpone his next surgery until the week after the wedding. 

After June, July couldn't possibly feel as busy. There is work in my neglected garden and afternoons spent at the pool with friends. It has contained scary discussions on purchasing cars for my teenage drivers and the sober celebration of what would have been our twentieth wedding anniversary. Life is rich and full and terrifying and rewarding and wistful and delightful.

The hymn I have propped on my dresser this month is "Lead Us, O Father." Peace. Truth. Righteousnss. Rest. This is my prayer - and maybe yours too.

Lead Us, O Father, In the Paths of Peace
by William H. Burleigh

Lead us, O Father, in the paths of peace;
Without Thy guiding hand we go astray,
And doubts appall, and sorrows still increase:
Lead us thru Christ the true and living way.

Lead us, O Father, in the paths of truth;
Unhelped by Thee, in error's maze we grope,
While passion stains, and folly dims our youth,
And age comes on, uncheered by faith and hope.

Lead us, O Father, in the paths of right;
Blindly we stumble when we walk alone,
Involved in shadows of a darksome night,
Only with Thee we journey safely on.

Lead us, O Father, to Thy heavenly rest,
However rough and steep the path may be,
Thru joy or sorrow, as Thou deemest best,
Until our lives are perfected in Thee.


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