2016 in Books 

Happy New Year, everyone!

It may very well be that I only started this blog so I could write annual book wrap-up posts.  I love them.

2016 was an intense reading year for me.  I wrestled with a lot, challenged some long-held beliefs and assumptions and refined my understanding of what it means to be a human being created in God’s image.  Here are some of the highlights (asterisks refer to the number of times I’ve read something, if it was a re-read):

Favorite Family Read-Aloud

A Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne   51srx2kzbjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

A dreamy combination of New England country living and vivid Greek mythology, this book is an AO Free Read, but I think it has fostered some of the most discussion, connections and spontaneous narrations of anything we read this past fall.  I relished the imagery and several passages made it into my commonplace.

Most Spiritually Impactful Read

the-broken-way-ann-voskampThe Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

I knew I definitely wanted to read this book when I got around to it, but one day in November I felt an almost overwhelming need to find a copy right away.  I was in a terrible mood, so it’s hard to say confidently that it was the Holy Spirit, who knows, but from the first page, it was an almost instant correction, call to repentance, call to something more, and the truths it preaches have gotten me through a very difficult holiday season.  I don’t usually ask my husband to read my favorite books, because we have very different tastes, but I’ve been begging him to read this one.

I’m also thinking this will become an annual read for me, a ritual I’ve never practiced before but often admired.

Biggest Reading Challenge

Norms and Nobility by David V. Hicks

This book 6b9b5b4270c1d2a6fc8d19ccff9a5b2ajust required such slow, careful, researched reading, but it was worth the time and effort.  The chapter on Christian paideia cleared up some significant questions I’ve had for the last three years about the Christian classical education movement.

Honorable Mention: America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis (this one I labeled a challenge because it addresses some very painful issues in our country that are much easier not to acknowledge, but I found it a very helpful, clarifying read when I pushed through the discomfort).

Most Pleasurable Re-Read

wind-in-the-willows-kenneth-grahame-ernest-h-shepardThe Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame***

This book came alive for me in a big way the third time through, and I absolutely loved reading along with the Close Reads podcast and discussing further on Facebook–one of my comments even got mentioned in an episode!  I developed a new admiration and affection for Mole this time.

  • Honorable Mention: The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis** (I read this immediately after finishing a year-long study of Revelation with BSF…a perfect conclusion)

Favorite Fiction

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson**housekeeping

I’m SUCH a Marilynne Robinson groupie and am moving on to her essays in 2017.  This is her first novel, published way back in 1980, long before she breathed life into the inhabitants of Gilead, Iowa (aka, my family…I think they will be in heaven…just kidding, but possibly?).  Anyway, Housekeeping is difficult (I read it twice in a row) and haunting, and it speaks deep truths about the homelessness all humans feel in this life on earth.

  • Honorable Mention: Lila by Marilynne Robinson (the third of the Gilead novels, also about home, homelessness and transience)

The Rest of the Books of 2016

Novels: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and Barrows, Doc and Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell, Possession by A.S. Byatt, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen***, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Short Stories: “Fidelity” by Wendell Berry, “Revelation,” “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and “Parker’s Back” by Flannery O’Connor, “The Chief Mourner of Marne” by G.K. Chesterton

Epic Poetry: Dante’s Inferno

Nonfiction: Generous Justice by Tim Keller, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie, Minds More Awake by Anne White, Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins

AO Years 1/2 (with Ellary): Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney, Tree In the Trail by Holling C. Holling, Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling**, The Door In the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli, Pocahontas, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Buffalo Bill and George Washington by the d’Aulaires

AO Year 11 (for my own education): Ezekiel, II Corinthians, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff,  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (on audio). 

 

Coming Soon…my reading plans for 2017!

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Living Cruciform

Last week my husband was out of town, and I watched myself follow the curve of the groove, right down into deep frustration, fatigue and very poor mothering.  “This is just how I am when Kevin’s gone, I guess.”  But in the midst of all the election fall-out, my ears have been a bit more tuned in than normal, and I sensed that this was no longer an acceptable response to my sin.  I can’t tell you why, but I got it in my head that I needed to read Ann Voskamp’s new book ASAP, so we made an uncharacteristic trip to Barnes and Noble.

{I liked hearing Mystie’s recent thoughts on 1000 Gifts and chuckled, because I am also someone who widely recommends Ann’s work, but always with a warning about her writing style.  It takes some serious getting used to, and is more like poetry than prose–grammar police, beware.  However, I will say that she is worth listening to on audio.  When Ann herself is reading her words, the writing comes off more like a lovely dramatic monologue.}

I am only four chapters in, but this book, The Broken Way, is radically correcting my thinking.

In chapter 3, Ann quotes Martin Luther at length, the basic thesis being that unity with Christ, “living cruciform” as she calls it, is a foundational element of the Christian life and a main purpose of the sacrament of Communion/Eucharist.  “[T]here is no physical body of Christ here on earth but ours. […] You are part of a body always.  There’s a cross that is your backbone, and all you have to do is reach out your arms.”

I don’t think these quotes are going to do the book justice, but I’ll still share them.

Martin Luther:

Faith unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom.  From such a marriage, as St. Paul says, it follows that Christ and the soul become one body–so that they hold all things in common, whether for better or worse.  This means that what Christ possesses belongs to the believing soul, and what the soul possesses belongs to Christ…Christ possesses all good things and holiness; these now belong to the soul.  The soul possesses lots of vices and sin; these now belong to Christ…Christ, the rich, noble, and holy bridegroom, takes in marriage this poor, contemptible, and sinful little prostitute, takes away all her evil, and bestows all His goodness upon her!  It is no longer possible for sin to overwhelm her, for she is now found in Christ.

Christ redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all His goodness.  Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by Him.*

Ann:

Can I incarnate being broken and given in thanks to Christ? […] [T]he Last Supper embodies the fullest DNA of the body of Christ, of the church.  Giving thanks–then breaking and giving.  The doxology, then discipleship.  The eucharisteo [thanksgiving], then koinonia [fellowship].

This hit me like a ton of bricks this morning when I was confronting my youngest daughter on deliberate disobedience.  It finally broke through to me that I am Christ to her, and when I rub her back as she cries and hold her till she’s ready repent, I am living out that Communion in the flesh.  Not just thinking about it, but actually living it.

Rubber met road, I think.

WWW ladydusk

More words at Ladydusk.

*I wasn’t able to figure out from Ann’s notes exactly which quote came from which of Luther’s writings, because they came from some compilations.  Sorry…

The Hard Road

The main theme behind this blog is wisdom-driven action–the places where the rubber of grand principles meets the road of my daily life, decisions and priorities.

With this in mind, I have to go ahead and dive into what is absolutely the hardest “road” for me to take these tires too.

It’s the road toward racial reconciliation* and acknowledgement of white privilege, both in my neighborhood, in my church and in my homeschool.

More About Me

I grew up in a suburb of Detroit and then lived in Ann Arbor (an extremely nice middle class college town with everything a nice white girl could want) for twelve years as an adult.  I went to school, got a job, got married and had two babies there.

I grew up with an awareness of and fondness for the city of Detroit, attending games at the old Tiger Stadium with my dad and brother, volunteering at the Rescue Mission and going to concerts downtown.  My dad was a suburban pastor who had gone out of his way to build relationships with several black pastors in the area.  Our church had built an incredible relationship with a church in Russia that was trying to rebuild after the fall of Communism, and I traveled there with my parents when I was 10.  Later, when I was 15, my family spent three weeks in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, interacting with Christians from a wildly different background than mine.  Two of my cousins are multi-racial, and I have participated in several bi-racial weddings.  My husband grew up in Flint, MI (now of water-crisis fame) and was, ironically, bullied in elementary school because he was white.  Nevertheless, some of his best friends were/are black, and his parents placed a high priority on building relationships across ethnic lines.

When my husband and I moved into Detroit proper in 2013 as part of a campus church plant team, I knew I’d have a lot to learn and that I’d probably be a little uncomfortable.

Here’s the thing: despite what some might consider a decently balanced cultural upbringing, probably devoid of most racism, I knew nothing.

Nothing of the truth about what it is like to be a person of color, particularly black, in America.  Nothing about how I got to be where I am.  Nothing about my own deep underlying prejudices.  Nothing about my own fear and shame about my own ethnic background.

The last three years in Detroit have called for a steep learning curve.  We have been loved and accepted by our black neighbors.  We have been accused explicitly of racism by strangers.  People smile, wave and chat with us; others glare or even yell.  Most of my white friends in the city are light years ahead of me in terms of understanding this issue.  A whole multi-racial group of Christians in our neighborhood meet regularly to dialogue openly, pray and seek healing.  I’ve read some books.

I could get away with engaging half-heartedly on this topic.  I don’t know how long we will live here, and the next place we live may not be an epicenter of racial fracture.  If I’m honest, I don’t want to engage all that much, because I am scared.  But I know that of all the things God has been teaching me–about Himself, about my children, about Charlotte Mason and homeschooling, about our nation–the one thing I would most regret not acting on is what I’ve learned about racism and God’s call to healing and reconciliation.

Still On the Fence About This Blog?

This humble spot on the internet is in its infancy.  It exists as a processing space for me, but I also desire readers.  When I think about my potential audience, I think about homeschooling moms, because you are the people I interact with most online and with whom I share so much in common.  I think about those who homeschool classically and/or according to Charlotte Mason’s guidance.  Are you interested in this topic, or is it a little too outside the box for a homeschool blog?  Are you skeptical? Maybe I am someone who swims downstream of the culture, only talking about this because it’s what everyone is talking about on social media?

I’m asking these questions of myself.  But I’m also asking:

  • Are there people out there who have already found all the living books about people of color or about the dark underbelly of our nation’s history?
  • On that note, how do I teach my girls about that dark underbelly without moralizing?
  • Am I perpetuating white privilege by keeping my daughters at home, isolated from the kids in our neighborhood?  (The only Charlotte Mason school in the state of Michigan is four miles from our home and is beautifully diverse).
  • Might God put some under-served kids in my path whom I could welcome into my own homeschool?
  • Who else is talking about this in the online homeschooling world?  Do people believe it is an issue at all?
  • Why does it seem like some homeschoolers are patriotic and political to the extreme?  This is a genuine interest.  I really want to understand.

These are not the only questions and topics I want to write and dialogue about in this space, but it is a major area where I need to take action.  So it fits.  I hope other people are out there, homeschoolers or not, who want to take action with me.

*I recently learned that the term “racial reconciliation” is received by some as an offensive white construct, but I have yet to hear a term that is more appropriate as well as universally understood.  Racial implies that white and black are different races or species, which perpetuates racism.  A better term would be ethnic/ethnicity.  Reconciliation implies that there is a relationship to be healed, when for many, no relationship ever existed in the first place.

 

 

 

 

Answers

This poem has been getting to me lately.

Answers

If I envy anyone it must be
My grandmother in a long ago
Green summer, who hurried
Between kitchen and orchard on small
Uneducated feet, and took easily
All shining fruits into her eager hands.

That summer I hurried too, wakened
To books and music and circling philosophies.
I sat in the kitchen sorting through volumes of answers
That could not solve the mystery of the trees.

My grandmother stood among her kettles and ladles.
Smiling, in faulty grammar,
She praised my fortune and urged my lofty career.
So to please her I studied—but I will remember always
How she poured confusion out, how she cooled and labeled
All the wild sauces of the brimming year.

-Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, v. 1

Sacred Canopy: Reflections on The Abolition of Man

abolition of man

Last year, I had the privilege of contributing to Jennifer Dow’s Summer Classical Reading series.  Here’s an excerpt:

My mom and I had a conversation a few weeks ago that surprised me.  We’re very close, but I’ve been busy with little ones, and let’s be honest, pretty self-absorbed.  So I was genuinely surprised when she told me she’s been struggling for at least three years with significant doubts about the existence of God, a true “dark night of the soul.”  It began for her when my paternal grandmother, a life-long atheist, died without any indication that she had ever changed her mind about God.  It took the wind out of the sails of my mom’s Christian faith and forced her to confront what she termed “the siren’s call of atheism.”

To read the full post about how C.S. Lewis has given me historical perspective, visit Expanding Wisdom.

They won’t let me read.

“You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers.  You will have to live them out–perhaps a little at a time.”

“And how long is that going to take?”

“I don’t know.  As long as you live, perhaps.”

“That could be a long time.”

“I will tell you a further mystery,” he said.  “It may take longer.”

Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

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I have a vivid image of myself, sitting in the comfy blue striped chair in the kitchen, reading voraciously with highlighters and pencil in hand.  The table to my left holds a stack of books and my steaming coffee.  I am in my element.

My two-year-old finishes breakfast and climbs into my lap.  She’s squirmy and loud.  She may have a book for me to read to her, or she may just want to climb on me.  “Let me finish this section,” I say, not that she cares about my agenda for the morning.  There’s no way I can write notes anymore, and drinking my coffee is awkward and probably dangerous, but I trudge forward and my irritability starts to heat up.  I just want to grasp something new, tuck away an insight for future study.  The odds are good that it’s a book on educational philosophy or a Bible study.  Just a little more quiet time to think!

How many times has this scene closed with a sturdy plunking of the toddler on the floor and an enraged stalking from the room, because THEY JUST WON’T LET ME READ?!

The ridiculous irony here is that I was absolutely reading something that could teach me to be a better mother, if I’d let it.  But letting it involves putting it down and putting it into practice.  Finding out if my fine-sounding rubber can handle the reality of my road.  The only way I can test out any of these questions is to live them.

“Will God give me the energy I need to love my children today?” Put the book down, look your children in the eyes, and PRAY.

“Does narration really work?  Will Ellary make her own connections if I read living books to her?”  Turn off the podcast, turn off the cartoons and read to her.

“Does God want to use me to encourage others?” Exit the blog, stop thinking about exactly what to say and say something.  

Stop avoiding life.  Move toward relationships.  Be uncomfortable.  Choose and act.  These are the words my heart is speaking to my mind.