Valentine’s Day & Procuring Books

I enjoy researching the origin of holidays we celebrate as Americans! I knew that Saint Valentine is known as the patron saint of lovers, but apparently, the two historical Christians known by the name Valentine had nothing to do with hearts, lovers, or anything of the kind! They were, however, both murdered for their faith on February 14th ,269 AD by Roman Emperor Claudius.

The Loyola Treasury of the Saints is one of my newer additions to the book hoard. This beautifully illustrated hardback treasury is a compilation of short descriptions of Christian saints. It is broken up by historical periods and would make a great read-aloud for children. I have enjoyed reading through this treasury myself because I didn’t learn about the saints growing up in an Evangelical denomination. I purchased this book used, and honestly forgot about it until today, when I decided to look up St. Valentine.

 This is the 9-step process I subconsciously follow for procuring books…

  • hear/read about an interesting book
  • add it to my digital to-read shelf on Goodreads
  • check online to see if the public library has a copy (they never have the books I want!)
  • hunt for an affordable used copy
  • order it (even though I should be saving that money!)
  • add it to my “to-be-read-mountain”
  • forget about it
  • …sometime later… remembering the purchase and… experience the excitement of “finding” a new book on the mountain pile
  • finally read it 😊   

Flash Fiction

I wrote the following piece of flash fiction using the prompt “new beginnings” with a word limit of 300. I’m challenging myself to write 1 piece of flash fiction each month to practice my short story skills.

She jolts awake, the sound of heavy rain pounding on the window of the rental house. The traumatic memories of a similar night come flooding back and the shudders begin. Her husband wakes groggy beside her. He wraps one arm around her, the comforting grip of one who was there too. 

***

 Two years ago to the day they fell into a different bed contentedly, late after the guests were gone and dishes were washed. A celebration of new beginnings, a housewarming party for the newlyweds. Outside, the unseasonably warm breeze rustles the branches of the great oak shading the backyard. A soft rain begins to fall on the roof shingles, lulling the couple into a deep sleep. 

***

Hours later, the couple wakes suddenly to an ear-splitting howl. The furry companion looms over the bed, nervously dripping saliva. She screams as the ushing wind shatters the window, showering the room with splintered glass. Wood cracks, streetlights explode, the wall creaks. The couple instinctively yanks the blanket over their heads as the great oak crashes through, stopping just above their heads. Torrential rain floods the bedroom from the opening above. As quickly as it began, now all is still. The three free themselves from the looming branches. The unexpected tornado has made a centennial pass through their town, leaving behind untold damage. 

***

The aftermath: the tragedy, the months of work, the time of uncertainty are now a blur, but that night replays clearly in her mind every time the wind rages. She won’t be able to sleep until the rain ceases, but the shudders stop as she rests in her husband’s arms. She breathes a prayer of thanksgiving for the new beginning in a borrowed home.

Gratitude

I have been sick for the last two weeks, and the gloomy winter weather does not entice me to feel better. I am in the third trimester with my first child, and being sick at the same time is no fun! I ache to return to routine! Despite the rough last two weeks, one word has been quietly circulating in my mind: gratitude. Every day I have continually thanked God for my blessings without consciously thinking. I am grateful for many things, but three in particular: my sickness could have been worse, my child is safe, I have a wonderful husband and family to take care of me! 

I have never considered myself an ungrateful person, but I am more conscious of my blessings now than I ever used to be. The fact that I did not have to fight off depression and selfishness by actively striving to find things to be grateful for means I have come a long way! The last four years have brought me much joy as well as trials. However, I do not worry as much as I used to. God is the ultimate provider and comforter! I often struggle to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” But having faith means I follow Jesus as He leads towards the light instead of trusting my frail human perspective. It’s humbling and inspirational when I listen to stories of the struggles other people face while maintaining a grateful spirit. The weight of my problems seems light by comparison. 

When you are facing a difficult situation, the last thing you want to hear is “count your blessings,” “look on the bright side,” or “it could always be worse.” Maybe you have received this advice at an inappropriate time or in a dismissive manner? I know I have. I have also been guilty of delivering this well-meaning advice improperly. We must be careful how we deliver messages of hope to those who are hurting. However, the message is true no matter how imperfect the method of delivery is: gratitude is an antidoteJames 1:7 ESV says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” I often forget that none of us deserve the blessings we have. As I remember this, my perspective shifts from one of complaining to one of gratitude.   

Scripture has so much to say about worry, anxiety, and thankfulness! Here are a few of my favorites:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness…” James 1:2-3 ESV

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 ESV

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1 ESV

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV

This hymn is one I grew up singing in church. I am grateful that my current church still makes room for old hymns alongside contemporary worship music. 

Count Your Blessings by Johnson Oatman

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done…

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, ev’ry doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by…

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high…

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end…

Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done…

Houseplant Appreciation Day!

Happy Monday friends!

It’s apparently National Houseplant Appreciation Day! I took a moment to pause and appreciate the living greenery scattered through my home and snapped a few pictures. I long for the vibrancy of a summer garden on this cold day in January!

Currently, I own a peace lily (which I nearly killed but it’s now recovering), several varieties of succulents (including aloe and cactus), a hosta, an Africa violet, and an orchid. I look forward to adding to my collection in the future! I am interested in purchasing larger houseplants that will work well to improve air quality.

I would love to know if any of my readers keep houseplants and any tips on helping them thrive in low light…

Israel Trip 2018

My Protestant Pilgrimage

It is thrilling to stand on the soil of another continent, to visit a place you have only read about. With internet access, anyone can watch videos about a desired location or people group. Although this is awesome- it’s not the same as actually being there. My feet ached to travel but resigned themselves to tread the home soil for the foreseeable future. I had no idea an opportunity would come sooner than anticipated! 

I always desired to visit Israel and was a point in my life where I had some additional savings and was yearning for a new experience. I had been out of high school for 5 years and lived with my family, working long hours to pay my way through college. I also stayed busy volunteering at my church. My schedule was too full, but it was the best way I had to cope with loneliness. A local church posted on Facebook that they were getting a group together for a 10-day Holy Land tour hosted by Friends Tours and Travels.  This was the opportunity I had been waiting for!   

It was going to be an expensive trip! I paid my deposit and had about half the funds already saved. I would not have been able to raise the remainder without the generous support of my family and church members! I am beyond blessed because I could not have accomplished it without them!  The trip was planned well in advance of March 2018, so I had time to prepare. I had no idea that in November of 2017 I would meet my first boyfriend and future husband! (It was so hard to leave him behind!)  

When I refer to my 2018 Israel Trip, I call it my Protestant Pilgrimage. Pilgrimage seems to be an antiquated concept. According to the dictionary, the definition is simply: “a journey to a sacred place.”  A pilgrimage is not necessary to be an obedient Christian. We are not mandated to visit holy places regularly for the merit of our salvation. It is not about touching a holy relic for a blessing. It is about taking time to journey to the real places where the real events of the Bible took place. It is amazing to stand inside a church that was built hundreds of years ago which was placed on top of a site that can be traced back to the early church or even further back to Old Testament times. 


When I first divulged my destination, I received two questions frequently: “why would you want to go there?” and “is it safe?” 

  • I wanted to see places where Biblical events happened. I was interested in archaeology and history from a young age.  Walking in the literal footsteps of Jesus’s while He was on earth is amazing! The Bible really does come to life when you can stand on the soil where some of the most important events happened! Even if you are not of a Judeo- Christian background, you must acknowledge there is something significant to this area that is home to the only three monotheistic religions of the world: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  Evangelical Christianity in America often overlooks the Jewish foundation of our faith. I could fill pages more about why I wanted to go! People also asked if I was doing this for school credit because I was pursuing a theology degree. Unfortunately, I could not count it as college credit- but some of the most influential experiences in my life never “counted for credit!”  
  • Because of the constant unrest in the Middle East, many people are afraid of going to Israel because they feel unsafe. Everyone I’ve met who has toured or worked in Israel says they feel safer there than in their hometown in the USA. I agreed with them once I was there also. There is something special about a tiny country not much bigger than the state of New Jersey thriving despite being surrounded by countries that yearn for their annihilation. Of course, there is always risk when you travel, but it’s incomparable to the risk taken every day driving a car to work. I am not a reckless person, but I won’t live in fear of the “what if?” 

Christmas Books

My goal for 2022 is to post a review of 1 book per month that I have read. As you can tell from my Goodreads feed… I always have several books going at once! Here is the link to my goodreads profile to see my reading archives https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/20534143-j

I thoroughly enjoy children’s literature as my “fluff” reading and I read non-fiction consistently. I am teaching British Literature at a homeschool co-op this school year, so I am revisiting some classics I read in high school.

For this first post of January, I want to give my thoughts on 4 books I read over December. I enjoy seasonal stories, and every Christmas I seek out new titles. Starting sometime in middle school, I made a goal to read “A Christmas Carol” every December (I kept this goal for a long time!) I’m not sure why I never branched out to other Christmas-themed books!

The Christmas Pig: J.K. Rowling (audiobook)

Our local Wal-Mart rearranged everything (for the umpteenth time!) and now the book section is located at the back of the store by the layaway and back bathrooms. I found this book while perusing this section while waiting for my brother to get out of the bathroom during a November shopping trip. I was intrigued but didn’t want to pay full price for a newly published hardcover. I went home and got the full-cast audiobook version with a free credit! I enjoyed this book way more than I thought I would! This delightful Christmas story reminded me of Toy Story/Velveteen Rabbit/Babes in Toyland/Winnie the Pooh. It was an entertaining adventure about a boy who loses his beloved toy pig and travels to the “land of the lost” to find him guided by other toys who magically come to life only on Christmas. (The land of lost things concept reminded me of the Winnie the pooh show about the hidden land under Christopher Robin’s bed where lost toys get eaten by the monster!) I was surprised that this story realistically engaged difficult themes like divorce, death, coping with the unknown, and children’s athletic performance pressure.  Rowling also addresses themes like recycling, the disposable nature of modern products, moral principles, forgiveness, and loving sacrifice without being preachy.  Children and adults alike can enjoy this story. There are some frightening elements of this story that might scare a very young child but are realistic and add to the adventure stakes. My ramblings do not do justice to this story, and I will be buying the hardcopy to reside in my personal library!

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding & Hercule Poirot’s Christmas: Agatha Christie

These are the first Hercule Poirot stories that I have read. My first experience reading Agatha Christie (forever ago) was The Secret Adversary. I love Agatha Christie, but mystery tends to be my least favorite genre to read. I prefer to watch them! I decided to read this only because it showed up on a list of Christmas-themed stories and I thought “why not?!” I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading these mysteries.  When I went on Amazon prime later to watch these same stories played out on screen- I was disappointed because they cut so many characters due to time. Understandable, and it was my fault for thinking the movie would be comparable! Funny how I prefer to watch the mystery, but if I’ve already read it, I’ll often be disappointed! The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding was my favorite because it’s a full-length Poirot: an exciting whodunit with an old-fashioned English Christmas theme. I love that Poirot is hesitant at first to take the case because he would prefer the modern radiator that heats his apartment to a drafty old country estate! Poirot is an eccentric, fastidious Belgium, but I can identify with his hatred of cold winters! Poirot’s Christmas was an enjoyable compilation of short stories (and contains a Miss Marple mystery as well.) 

A Thanksgiving Memory/A Christmas Visitor: Truman Capote

               I enjoyed this collection of childhood memoirs from southern-born Truman Capote, author of the well-known Breakfast at Tiffany’s. After reading the stories I did a quick search about Capote’s life (I had never heard of him before-even though he’s a famous American author.) He had a rough childhood and quite a sad life despite his literary success. These holiday stories take place in the early 1930s; a snapshot into the simple, tragedy-stained life of a young boy in the rural south. I have a feeling his lifestyle was not unique to the culture or time.