New Year

One of the best things about living in South Africa is that the country virtually shuts down during the Christmas season. Not only is it the holidays, but it is also our big summer vacation. Many people are off for the three-four weeks, including us at Growing the Church. For Americans, who struggle to get off for two weeks during the year, a month-long holiday is a treasure.

I thoroughly enjoyed my leave. I spent most of the time reading and sleeping, two of my favourite things. We had such a hectic year; the rest did me wonders.

I love to read, and I read these books over the break:

  • The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. A new friend recommended this book to me, andcircle-maker it was a godsend, giving me a fresh new look on prayer. I highly recommend it to anyone who needs new energy breathed into his/ her prayer life.
  • The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. It was the second time I read this book, and I loved it, depressing as it was. Yes, I still love my classics. The nerd is still in me.
  • Spring Torrents by Ivan Turgenev. I love the Russians, but I have never before read Turgenev. I will definitely be reading him again.
  • Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. I had to get in at least one Dickens’ novel. This was little-dorritsuch a good book, and I did shed some tears while reading it. If you don’t feel like reading the tome (although I would recommend it), the BBC produced a wonderful version of the book a few years ago. It stars Claire Foy, who is getting a lot of recognition for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in Netflix’s The Crown. Check out the book and the movie at Amazon. And if you haven’t watched The Crown, start that series today.

So, we’re back at work. It’s a new year and a new start. Come on 2017!


Reading Time

I can’t remember my life without books. Reading has always been a huge part of me, and I have my dad to thank for that. When I was little, Dad always read to me. Even though I had books of my own, he would take me to the library each week so that I could pick out new books and get used to the smells, stacks and system of the library. I loved our weekly adventure.

Poky PuppyBefore reading a storybook to me, Dad would read me a Bible story. I didn’t like them that much. I found the stories boring, but I would bide my time so that we could get on to the old lady with the house full of rabbits, to The Poky Little Puppy, to Danny the Dinosaur, or to any of the Richard Scary stories. I was patient back then.

But there is one Bible story that I vividly remember; it was about the four friends who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing (Mark 2:1–12). I remember the blue-striped robe Jesus was wearing, the smile on his face, the four friends digging through the thatched roof to get to Jesus, and the happy faces of all the friends, especially of the one who was healed.

I don’t really know why this story touched me or why I remember it so well. I think in my child’s mind, it was the first time I had an idea of who this Jesus was—he was a happy and caring man. I could go to him; I could take my friends to him. I liked the friends who were so determined and the digging through the roof. This story has always made me happy, and it still does today. Thanks, Dad.

For the Love of Dickens

For the past three weeks, I have been intentional about carving out more rest and relaxation in my life. I feel as though God is calling me into a season of abiding, into a time of slowing down, spending more time with him, focusing on relationships, and engaging in things I enjoy most.

I have rediscovered my love of Henry Purcell and have been listening to him every day. I have been watching episodes of my favourite show, I Love Lucy, and laughing all over again at the shenanigans and antics of Lucy and Ethel. (Last week, when I was battling a nasty sinus infection, I wish I had a bottle of Vitameatavegamin to “spoon my way back to health.”)

And I have been reading and reading.

For some time, I have been thinking about the book David Copperfield, and I decided to read it again. Years ago, when I first read David Copperfield, I loved it. This time it’s like I’m in the middle of the story, living it out. I know many people may groan over Dickens, perhaps not having not-so-good memories of him in high school or college; but I think Dickens is one of those timeless authors who totally captures the human experience and who deals with social justice issues that are still relevant to us today.

young Charles Dickens
Young Charles

I could feel little David’s loneliness, fear, and lack of love and being wanted when he was left an orphan at an early age. (Maybe since I live in a society that has thousands of orphans, many of whom feel unloved and rejected, I can relate more to David’s experience.) My heart ached for him when he was shipped off to an awful boarding school and was regularly beaten. My heart leapt for joy when his aunt took him in and offered him her love and protection. I laughed out loud when David, as a young man, fell in love for the first time, living and breathing in his darling Dora, whom he “loved to distraction.” (Yes, our first love is always like that!)

Charles Dickens famously said that out of all the books he had written, David Copperfield was his favourite son; and I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

An Evening with the Sisters

Rockin the FroI don’t really celebrate Halloween; but I wanted to dress up this year, so I did. When a friend invited me to attend the Vigil of All Saints at the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia, I wanted to go; so I went, although that meant canceling a previous commitment.

I’m so glad I went to the vigil. After getting over my initial surprise about how young the nuns were (most looked my age or younger) and over the newness of the liturgy, I settled into the service and began to listen to what was being spoken and sung. Two things really struck me. One was the priest’s homily, in which he talked about only one thing being needed in our lives—realizing and accepting that God gave his son for us and responding in love. The other thing that struck me was the sisters’ chanting of the litany of the saints, which for me has shed new light on the meaning of Hebrews 12:1.

Today is All Saints’ Day, and I tend to think of this holy day in three ways—remembering the saints of old, acknowledging the everyday saints of today, and remembering my friends and family members who have died. I never really think of the saints (whether extraordinary or ordinary) who have died as being living saints, but I find it interesting that the writer of Hebrews uses the present tense: “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1a, NRSV). The saints who have gone before us are a living and breathing cloud of witnesses.

As I continue to think about this scripture, I’m challenged to think about my identity. Over the past few months, I have been struggling consciously and subconsciously about my identity. In two weeks, I will be leaving my job at The Upper Room. I will no longer be able to refer to myself as an editor. I fought hard not to tie up my identity with my line of work, but I did. That’s what we do as Americans. But the other night, when a friend was helping me sort out my clothes, I realized that I had also tied up my identity in my clothes, my shoes, my books, and all manner of stuff. As I’m scaling down my material possessions, stripping down to the bare necessities, I believe God is also stripping down the trappings of my soul, the clutter of my heart.

Who am I, truly? Beyond all the clutter, trappings, and labels, I think I would find God’s beloved daughter and a member of this great cloud of witnesses of ordinary and extraordinary saints.  As the hymn goes, “I sing the song of the saints of God . . . and I mean to be one too.”

*This post is dedicated to two friends and two saints in my life, Stuart and Gina.

No-Go Books

As I have mentioned several times, my books are going to be the hardest thing for me to part with; but upon a quick glance-through, there are some I definitely plan to leave behind.

Top-10 Books I Won’t Be Taking with Meno-go books

10. Moby Dick by Herman Meville (I never liked this book. I don’t know why.)

9. Henry IV, Part One (only because it has a big rip through the cover)

 8. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (I have two copies. I’ll be taking the hardback with me. Had you fooled, right? Doctor Zhivago is one of my top-three favorite books of all times.)

 7. Ernest Hemingway’s short story “In Our Time” (I’ll be taking the complete Hemingway short stories with me.)

 6. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (I didn’t like it.)

 5. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (It’s full of helpful information but dry and boring as dust. Plus, it has no chapters!)

 4. Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke (same as above)

two of my three bookcases, not including spill-over books in corners

3. The Stuart Constitution (I was never into parliamentary history.)

 2. Tennessee: A University Portrait (Why on earth do I have this book in the first place? Someone please tell me.)

1. John Calvin: Selections from His Writings (Oh, my, the writings of Calvin. Enough said.)