Favorite Books

I have a lifelong love affair with reading. Reading expands my mind in ways little else does, teaches me empathy, helps me to think through problems and provides context and a platform from which to expand into new territories of thought. In no particular order, here are some books I enjoyed which greatly affected the way I think:

  • Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkhin

Fabulous. Not only is it a particularly interesting story told from the fascinating viewpoint of the boy who grows to become a fine healer, with a troubled secret. He becomes a “holy fool” and…oh, I’m not doing it justice.  Trust me. Read this book. This helped explain some of the mind and heart of Orthodoxy, and to understand Russians in some small way.

  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Though I haven’t read this in years, I remember the feeling, the utter pain in and beauty of the story. My heart still squeezes tight at the ending. I cannot forget. This book fuels my courage when it is faint, and inspires me to small acts of self-sacrifice, and a longing to be the kind of person who would make great sacrifices should the need and opportunity arise.

  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson

I highly recommend the first two trilogies in this series. There is a third, but I could not get into it at all. These series are very dark, and Thomas Covenant is an anti-hero, reluctant, horribly flawed…yet this series taught me the value of pain. Having dealt with fibromyalgia for twenty-four years, this series helped me greatly to accept that pain has a vital purpose in our lives.  This is not a light read.

  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein

This is the edition that I own, though I also have this volume on my Kindle.

For a frightened child wanting to be brave, Bilbo delighted me. From the opening pages I wanted to be brave enough to head off on adventures, but how I longed for a Hobbit hole with a perfectly round green door with a brass knob right in the middle. Tolkein’s wonderful descriptions of places and peoples, his characters, some of whom drip with goodness, some with evil, there is an innocence that is surprisingly sophisticated, a sophistication that loves the simple in an honest, non-mocking way that is soothing in the midst of our derisive, contemptuous media.

  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

This is the edition that I own, though I also have this volume on my Kindle and am currently listening to this on Audible. In Audible, make sure you get the unabridged versions.  why on earth would you bother with anything else?

I can’t say enough about these books. Adventure, courage, salvation, loss, self-sacrifice, friendship, treachery…I’ve read these and “The Hobbit” more times than I can count, and am currently listening to this in an Audible (unabridged) version. Though the movies are great, the books are rich and worthy of reading again and again and again.

  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

I’m not stepping out on a great limb here to praise these books. To this day, many of my friends will occasionally repeat Lewis’s assertion that Aslan is not a tame lion, but he is good. This theological understanding of God is rather profound and has influenced me and many others. Lewis was such a deep thinker, it is no wonder that his books breath his understanding of life and faith, but in a form that delights children and adults alike.

  • Longitude by Dava Sobel

A friend recommended this to me, and it has inspired a fascination with the men and women of science who labored long and hard amidst great difficulty to solve problems. Their solutions seem commonplace today, but Sobel guides the reader through the need for these advances through rich story-telling that brings the past alive. Because of this book I see science and scientists in a new way.

  • Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father : Being the Narratives Compiled by the Servant of God Alexander Concerning His Spiritual Father, translated by Vera Bouteneff

  • Father George Calciu: Interviews, Talks, and Homilies by Father George Calciu

In the same way that we collectively gasped hearing the story of Jim Elliott and his fellow missionaries killed in Ecuador, these stories of faith, courage, suffering, endurance and of God’s faithfulness and miraculous presence will challenge you, will open your eyes, and for me, encouraged me greatly in my faith. You may ask why men can be so awful to other men, but these two will have you asking how can a man be good in the face of such evil.

  • The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun

Another story of courage and faith amid some of the darkest adversity known to man. Such beauty! Such suffering!

So…this is a long-enough list for today, don’t you think?  There are so many more books to read and to write about.  Share your list with me!

 

 

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Logging Roads

The car would fight it’s way over boulders, gullies where the rains washed part of the road away, a gnarled root protruding across the way. As I recall, we took Toyota station wagons, VW bugs, a Honda or two…over the years, whatever vehicle we had, it likely found it’s way past Taylor Reservoir heading for our spot.

Looking back, it doesn’t seem like those cars should have made that trek, should have surmounted the obstacles to get us to the end of the logging road to the start of our backpacking path. There wasn’t a single four-wheel drive among them, no raised suspensions, just normal ordinary cars, but they made it. Granted, some of that is due to the skill of the driver, but a good portion of that is due to the vehicles themselves.  They were simply capable of more than people give them credit for. I certainly won’t question that there may have been a great deal of divine intervention in those trips, but I believe there is divine intervention all over the place in our every-day lives.

A young acquaintance of mine lives every day on her own logging road. Each day it seems there is a new boulder or gully or downed tree in her path, but she and her family press on. It is a financial struggle from day to day, an emotional struggle as she deals with the seemingly endless physical difficulties she and two of her children have had to endure. Add those health struggles and financial struggles to the ordinary struggles we all go through, and those boulders get big and the gullies get deep.  Some families would fail in the midst of all of this, much as the Reliant K car I once had would likely do. It was fine for paved city streets and highways, but it would have hung up on the first rocky obstacle. But this family? They are holding together.  Granted, the mom and dad driving this particular family through this are ordinary, but they aren’t ordinary street cars, they have far more to them than is obvious on the outside. And now that I’ve stretched that metaphor as far as it can go, and further than I should have…

Many of us have our own logging roads, our own boulders to climb, down trees to drag from our paths, and gullies to cross. Some of us need a push now and again, and that is where we come in. This family needs not just financial help, but the encouragement that that help provides. But we can do much to ease their burdens, and to help push that car over some boulders. They are on a rocky path, not of their own choosing, but they are facing it with grace and courage. Help them here.  Read more of their story here.  

 

Consolation

The day dawns bright and fair. I tip-toe so as not to wake my sleeping boy, though the bedroom door squeaks so loudly I don’t know how he sleeps on. He’s laying asleep on the couch, covered in an afghan made with these two hands and my heart skips a beat, the love so intense, the joy so full at seeing him, here, in our home. The dog is happy to see him again, too. She is not an exuberant dog, but the signs are unmistakable. She lit up when her boy came in the door. She snuggles with him on the couch, so happy to have her boy with us.

I wonder if she hopes to go away with him when he leaves.

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My boy

At least this time, he needs a ride to the airport.  This time he won’t be able to just grab his bags and leave without a warning as he is wont to do. This time my heart isn’t in my throat every day, all day, as I’m at work, wondering if he will be there when I get home. He’s different, my boy. Hilariously funny, but his humor is dry, and sparing, like his words. Few, his words, he drops them like gold, which I eagerly gather and hold to my heart.

I’ve seen glimpses of him everywhere for months now. Each time my heart skips a beat as I see his walk, his shape, someone wearing his “uniform”. And each time I’ve been disappointed to realize it isn’t him, but here he is, and I’ve forgotten to thank God for this delight.  I pray St. Philaret’s prayer, “…”I do not know what to beg of Thee…to ask for either a cross or for consolation.” Ah, my soul, He has provided consolation to me and I am so, so thankful.

Emoting is not my thing, but I could probably write songs about my love for my son, but who would sing them? Who would want to hear them? I love that face.  I love that walk, honed in years of marching band. I love (and hate) his silence. I love how he watches TV (when he watches it) as he selects the most interesting things. I love that he reads books that are deep, interesting, weighty things. I love that he quietly, and without ever saying a word, has been supporting children through Compassion for years. I love how diligently (and quietly) he goes on seeking work, interviewing here and there and everywhere, seeking possibilities that others might ignore. I love how he pushed himself through high school, determined to be the “good child” and then pushed himself through college, earning a prestigious degree all on his own. What a marvel of independence he is. He seems to know no fear.

Not a day goes by when I don’t think of my children, when my heart doesn’t ache to see them, when I’m not bursting with pride over them. To have one here makes my heart sing.

Coming Fast

Today is the second day of Cheesefare week, when we use up the dairy products we have left in preparation for the long Lenten fast.  Each year I have approached this with dread, but this year I feel almost relieved. It is simpler, even though it is difficult. This means that a sweet potato can be considered a meal, that homemade vegetable soup will soon be cooking on the stove top. It means I pull out my recipes for white bean vegetarian chili.

It simplifies my choices for grabbing a quick meal out if I need it.  Black Bean Soup at Panera?  Yes, please. Veggie Burrito Bowl at Chipotle?  Oh my, yes.  No need to analyze the full menu. Look for the vegan option and be done with it.

I come to the beginning of Lent weary: mentally, physically, and emotionally.  I find it kind of amusing that my month off will be smack dab in the middle of Lent and encompass Holy Week.

Or rather…now that I’ve checked with the financial aid office at school I’ve found that I don’t have a month off at all.  I will get to move while taking a class!  Yea me!

Note: to those who have expressed concern about my reference to moving.  Our lease is up in April.  We are not renewing. Meeting this rent has been just too much over the past difficult year, and they are raising it again. 

Sick

What does illness teach us?  I have no idea.  But I watched Diane Sawyer interview the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, on 60 Minutes, and I think he explained how to handle it. He said that the point of boxing isn’t who can throw the hardest hit, but who can take the most and keep going. Isn’t that life?

So it is with school and illness. I feel the testing of my endurance each semester in different ways. Often it is emotional and mental stress, sometimes it is physical, such as pushing through illness to get it done, and sometimes it is a combination. I wanted to quit again this weekend, but I didn’t. I can’t foresee a future in which I quit. I pray, I work, I pray some more, and I push through. I’m not proud of my work right now, as I want to be brilliant and say something meaningful, but what I’m discovering depresses me.

I struggle that my strength is not greater, that I can’t get by on less sleep, that I can’t “pull an all-nighter”, but I know some of my limitations. One of them is that I cannot be sleep deprived. It messes with me physically, mentally, and emotionally. So as I lay down to take a nap this weekend, I felt conflicted. I wanted to keep working, but knew that my body needed rest and that I would be able to work better after resting.

Missing church for illness (I could not stop this annoying, choking, rasping cough and did not want to disrupt the service) makes me feel off. I miss it. I hold in my head, heart and spirit a sense of that holy place that I cannot put into proper words. Things have happened there that cannot be explained rationally. Thinking of it now, I have a sense of something profoundly mysterious and holy. This is the place I go to pray. In this place there are moments when the veil between this world and something other are lifted for a moment. Sweetness fills the place with a scent like roses.

I am not seeking the experience, but it is a grace that was given to me, so undeserving. This grace makes me aware of something holy, mysterious, both known and unknown. I fear to call it a miracle, for who am I to make such a claim? But it was without explanation. And it was beautiful.

This is one of the things that helps me endure, to keep going when I feel like quitting. It’s strange that this endurance is such a challenge. I’ve never in my life felt like quitting so often and so greatly, yet in pressing on, there is a sense that I’m winning battles in a war with my own self.

Prayer of St. Philaret

 

My Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee.
Thou and Thou alone knowest my needs.
Thou lovest me more than I am able to love Thee.
O Father, grant unto me, Thy servant, all which I cannot ask.
For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation;
I dare only to stand in Thy presence.
My heart is open to Thee.
Thou seest my needs of which I myself am unaware.
Behold and lift me up!
In Thy presence I stand,
awed and silenced by Thy will and Thy judgments,
into which my mind cannot penetrate.
To Thee I offer myself as a sacrifice.
No other desire is mine but to fulfill Thy will.
Teach me how to pray.
Do Thyself pray within me.
Amen.

from: http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/prayers/philaret.html

This prayer came to me, I did not come to it.  I was looking for something else, but this prayer kept coming up in my search, not the one I sought. The words, ah, the words.  How my heart and soul reacted to the words: I know not what I ought to ask of Thee. Oh, Amen. Thou and Thou alone knowest my needs.  Ah, yes.  This is so true.  Thou seest my needs of which I myself am unaware. This prayer sounds in my spirit like a deeply resounding gong calling me to peace. I find myself praying this prayer throughout the day, again and again.

Thou lovest me more than I am able to love Thee.  I love you more, God is saying to my heart.

Steve often says, “I love you more.” To which I respond, “I know.” It’s a little joke of ours, but sometimes I wonder if it’s true. I wonder if my heart is so damaged that I cannot love this man as much as he loves me. That makes me want to try harder, to be kinder, to love him as he should be loved, but then my Father is saying to me, “Love you more” and I can only say, “Thank you. I didn’t remember.”

 

Love you more.