Friday, December 29, 2006

Resolved to Read. . . or. . . 2006: the Year of the Book

As the year winds down, I look back and reflect on my resolutions from the beginning of this year. I can't believe all that has changed -- how I have grown in my relationship with my Creator, my husband, friends, new and old. Of course, I have been blessed with wonderful memories to reflect upon, but in this post I'd like to reflect on the reading I've done.

You see, this year, I actually kept a New Year's Resolution all year long. I read 100 new books. That is, books I'd never read before. It wasn't that hard, really, because I love to read so much; it was more of an excercise in being intentional in my reading choices and sometimes sacrificing other little pleasures (at the start of 2006, that would have been Sodoku, at the end, it is blogging) when I was tempted to lay down my book. I tried to read a variety, and I only chose to read things that I knew I could (would?) finish. That means no dabbling in reading parts of interesting historical or theological books. Only titles I could read cover to cover. I made lists, each month. And now it's the end of the year. . . and I'm done.

I have made some of my favorites into links, so if you are interested, you can check them out, too. I thought it would be tedious to read reviews for each one, so I've spared you that! I also gave some awards to the best of the bunch. I am sure most of you will read this list and say "What? You've never read THAT before?" But, no. I haven't. These books are all new to me. There are probably another dozen or so that I reread this year, but they don't count. Here is my list (in no particular order):

1.Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (I'll be honest, I listened to this one on Audio Book -- 36 hours!!) This is the winner of the
"Best New Fiction Award"
2. Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper winner of the "Inspired Me the Most Award"
3. 1776 by David McCullough winner of "Best Non-Fiction Award" ~Pictured: we see the famous Fort Ticonderoga that I read about in 1776~
4. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
5. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
6. The Hound of Baskerville by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
7. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (not a fan, so much)
8. Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
9. The Giver by Lois Lowry
10. Dancing Through Fire by Kathryn Lasky
11. The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delany
12. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne Winner of the "Make me Laugh Out Loud Humor Award"
13. Be Still my Soul by Elisabeth Elliot
14. Two Hearts Praying as One by Dennis Rainey
15. Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
16. The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townely
17. Coraline by Neil Gaiman (recommended to me by Mary Coffman)
18. The Power of Reading by Stephen D. Krashen
19. Let Me Be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot
20. Redwall by Brian Jacques
21. Mossflower by " "
22. Mattimeo by " "
23. Mariel of Redwall by " "
24. Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright Winner of the Gretchen Neisler Award for Excellence in Children's Literature
25. Return to Gone-Away Lake by " "
26. Thimble Summer by " "
27. Instead of Three Wishes by Megan Whalen Turner
28. Boys and Girls Forever by Alison Lurie (big disapointment!)
29. God's Guidence, Finding God's Will for Your Life by Elisabeth Elliot
30. Jess by Mary Casanova
31. Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo Winner of the "Most Recommended to Others Award"
32. Small Steps by Louis Sachar
33. The Witches by Roald Dahl Gretchen Neisler Excellence in Children's Literature Honor Book
34. End of the Spear by Steve Saint
35.Created to Be His Helpmeet by Debi Pearl Winner of the "Surprise, I liked it!" Award (recommended to me by my friend Christen)
36. The Shaping of a Christian Family by Elisabeth Elliot
37. The Stolen Sapphire by Sarah Masters Buckley
38. Secrets in the Hills by Kathleen Ernst
39. Criss Cross by Lynn Rae Perkins
40. Peril at Kings Creek by Elizabeth McDavid Jones
41. Homeschooling for Excellence by David Colfax
42. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall tied for "Best New Children's Book Award"
43. Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles tied for "Best New Children's Book Award"
44. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
45. Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God by Noel Piper
46. Manhunt, the 12 Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson
47. Secure in the Everlasting Arms Winner of the "New Favorite from a Favorite Author Award"
48. Among the Free by Margaret Peterson Haddix
49. Minuk, Ashes in the Pathway by Kirpatrick Hill
50. Bone, Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith (the only graphic novel I'm counting, there were several others, but they weren't this long)
51. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (2 thumbs down)
52. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens Winner of the "Best Classic Award" read my review from an earlier blog
53. Caddy Ever After by Hillary McKay
54. Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry
55. Pirates! by Celia Rees
56. Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper
57. A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot
58. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
59. A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller
60. A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers
61. An Echo of Darkness by " "
62. As Sure as the Dawn by " "
63. In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham
64. Understanding Muslim Teachings and Traditions by Phil Parshall
65. Sold! by Patricia McCormick
66. In My Father's Houseby Corrie Ten Boom
67. Tramp for the Lord by " " (I get such waves of summer memories when I just think about these books!!)
68. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
69. The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith Winner of the "Most Contriversial Award" . . . but I LOVED it.
70. The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward
71. Horns and Wrinkles by Joseph Helgerson
72. Parables of the Cross by Lillias Trotter
73. Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper
74 - 84. Lemony Snicket #2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13 Read about my Evening of Unfortunate Events
85. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne Winner of the "You Got Me with that Ending!" Award
86. Parables of the Christian Life by Lillias Trotter
87. Discipline, the Glad Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot winner of the "Sure to Step on Your Toes Award" :)
88. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
89. Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis
90. The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susannah Clarke
91. Dorie, the Girl Nobody Loved by Doris Van Stone (recommended to me by G-Knee)
92. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
93. The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis
94. The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Frank E Basilweiler by E.L. Koningsburg
95. Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller
96. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
97. Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell
98. Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
99. Mimosa by Amy Charmichael
100. Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Family Christmases #4 -- Wilkinson Family

My mom's family gets together on Christmas day. Several years ago, because so many of us came from out of town, we started having our Christmas celebration at the hotel we stay at. That sounds pretty cold and impersonal, I know, but it actually works out great. They have a kitchen that we can use and the hotel blocks off the large lobby area for us. There are couches, tables, a fireplace, two televisions and a kitchen. We're all set!

My Grammy and Grandad proudly hold the first great-grandchild in the family. Grandad has always loved babies, so it was cute to see him with one -- it's been awhile!

My Uncle Matt gave everyone a really cool gift -- CDs with my grandad's WWII army pictures on them. Here Josh, Anna and Emily are examining the proofs closely.

My creativ
e Aunt Donna (on the right -- she's an artist who has worked designing greeting cards for as long as I remember. I think that is such a cool job!) had another fun idea this year. She had everyone in the family help to paint a canvas to hang up at Grammy and Grandad's house. The design was based on Sudoku, with each number being replaced by a symbol/color. Here Josh begins the painting with yellow dots, as interested family members look on.

My cousin Rob adds some red diamonds -- and even my little niecelet Schmader gets in on the action. Unfortunately, when you are a mere 8 months old, it is a bit difficult to know if you are painting a canvas or your daddy's shirt. Janet is laughing here, but this shot is just seconds after she wisked away the brush!

Emily and I get in on the action by addin
g pink hearts. (Meanwhile Nathan's shirt is being unsuccessfully scrubbed in the kitchen). Might I add that this was such a fun party idea?!

Here is the finished result. I think it looks a bit like an amish quilt pattern (of which my Grammy is enormously fond!). It's sort of a "frien
dship painting", not unlike the friendship quilts of old, where everyone adds a square. It is so cute and fun, and it will look fantastic framed and on the wall at the Wilkinson home.

Family Christmases #3 -- Benzing Family

My dad has a huge family, and their tradition is to get together on Christmas eve (this dates back to prehistoric days, I believe, when the Guffs still ruled over Horseshoe Bend). Of course, not everyone in such a large family can all come every year, but whoever can, does, and this year we had quite a crowd all snug together in my Grandma and Grandpa's house. I think it's amazing that my dad's parents still live in the house in which he and his 8 brothers and sisters grew up.

Here's a shot of some of the girl cousins: Emily, Abby, Me, Sarah and Caroline (others playing in the background, I guess they are less "cheesy").

I pose with my Aunt Pat (we discovered at this visit that she and Josh share a favorite author) who is always a
trusty attendant at the Christmas Eve festivities, and my Aunt Deb (who drove with my Uncle Matt and 4 kids all the way from New York to Cincinnati!).

This precious child brightened up the evening for everyone! "Little Abby" hopped, skipped and jumped around all night showing her presents, playing like she was a variety of animals and munching on tomatoes. I hope I have a little one this good someday!

I am so blessed to still have all of my grandparents. Here I am wi
th my Grandma: Anna Mae Benzing. She is quite a classy lady, ready to shine in her Christmas Eve attire. I appreciate the heritage of godliness in the Benzing family. There is an affectionate bond when you gather with family members who share a common history, but an even stronger bond when those members also share a common future.

Family Christmases #2 -- Immediate Benzing Family

My immediate family always gathers to exchange gifts about a week before Christmas (to allow for everyone's travel). This year was notably special with the first little grandchild in the family (niece to me)! Here is a picture of "Schmader-cakes" opening her first gift from me (books, what else??).

My sister Emily waits pensively for the free-for all to begin. Just kidding. The fire was so lovely that I tried to capture the glow in the room, but I fear it looks a bit blurred.

Mom was REALL
Y surprised by her gift from the girls: an American Girl doll! She has wanted a Molly doll since I got my Kirsten doll 19 years ago. We decided we wanted to treat Marjalo with a big gift because she has gone through so much this year. She cried when she opened it -- I think we did a good job!!

Family Christmases #1 -- Neisler Family

Josh and I were so blessed this year to be able to travel around and see EVERYBODY some time during this Christmas season. Here is a little photo journal of each "Family Christmas" and when and where we went:

First, Neisler Family Christmas in Ohio. Here Lukas shows his favorite gift (from me), a Dwight Schrute bobble-head doll (from The Office).

Josh is rather excited to open this lovely box from J. Crew -- most likely because his sissy Laura purchased some rather nice apparel for him.

And I love my Rachel Ray inspired shirt from Josh's mom. EVOO is "delish"!

Below, Kari shows her Christma
s spirit with a classic Kari grin. OH-kay!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wise Little Children

Last night as Josh read Luke 10 out loud to me, I was struck by verse 21 which says:
In that same hour, he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said "I thank you, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth that you have hidden these things from the wise
and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for that was your gracious will."

Wow, I thought. I could have said that! How many times have I been teaching my little class or small group and been ministered to by their true and blessed insight? I have had such a precious privilege to work with sweet children in many areas at church and work, so I thought I would share some examples here.

Tonight in my small group, we were counting our offering money that we have been collecting to buy goats for an AIDS orphan (each small group has a Christmas offering goal for the AIDS orphans). I had secretly dropped in a $20 bill from my Christmas bonus, to get the kids excited, thinking I was being generous. We started to count, when in walked Logan with $43!! He is six. It was his own money! Talk about the widow's mite. . . I felt like the rich young ruler. Of course everybody was overjoyed! We are thinking we might be able to do more than just two goats. . . Might I add that if you want to check out the website I've linked above you will be surprised to see that you can sponser an orphan for $12 a month. This organization employs the most practical grass-roots methods to bringing aid to the most needy people on earth.

Then, as we prayed over our offering, thanking the Lord for its abundance, Rachel prayed "Lord, may this offering we give to the AIDS orphan be a token to him of You! May he see that You are the best gift he could have, way better than these goats." I was blessed that she had made that connection. I hadn't thought of the goats being from God, Who gives all good gifts. I had not thought of them being a symbol of His bounty and Self-Sufficiency. I was so blessed by that prayer, and the reminder it was to me that WE had not done a thing, but God has provided in all things.

Here is a precious story from last spring. I was teaching my 1st and 2nd graders the "The ABC's of God" which is great curriculum about the perfections of God. We had just learned about His righteousness (which is that anything He does is Right, because He values what is Supremely Valuable). The next week our lesson was His wrath, and the lesson called for you to set up a scene where you scarily act out Jesus in the temple, throwing over a table and lashing a whip. Then we discussed, "was that right for Jesus to do?" (Do we not, as adults, constantly call into question God's righteousness by demanding He do what we want?) "Yes!" they said "Everything Jesus does is right!" Emily asked "did He whip the animals or the people?" We relooked at the text. "It was the people" I said "Jesus whipped the people with his whip. And that was RIGHT to do, wasn't it?" "Yes," they all agreed, "the people deserved to be whipped!" Then Delani (who is a spiritually sensitive child, often thinking deep thoughts about the Lord) quietly said something I will never forget: "He can whip me if He wants to." I teared up. I was humbled. She was able to see herself in that story, the one who deserves to be whipped. That was His gracious will -- to reveal that to Delani, and then to me.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been taught by the wisdom of little children, things that the Holy Spirit has revealed to them. Post your "lessons" and share them with us!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Unveiling the Motives

Right now we are visiting Josh's family for Neisler family Christmas. It has been lots of fun, of course, but I have been humbled as one by one, my own insecurities (which I thought no longer existed), materialism and altogether self-centeredness have been unveiled to me.

See, I tend to enter these big family events with a motivation to prove that I am totally into the family and sort of shine as a big helper and buddy for everyone. I don't WANT to be like that, I don't set out on the trip intending to be this way. I just slip into this "character" like I slip into jeans that are ill-fitting and unflattering. I hate the way I look the whole time, yet bothering to go change into something more appropriate is too hard.

Apparently I love to be a martyr. This is what happened today. We were having a surprise party for Josh's dad this morning (he turned 50) so we all had to get up early and get to the grocery and make all the food and have the party set up by a certain time. So I let everyone else get a shower first, and consequently didn't get to get one myself. After the party, I was flying around cleaning, organizing, carrying out all presents and leftovers (thinking in the back of my mind how hardworking I am). When we arrived home (Josh's mom and I arrived first) I washed up all the dishes, helped Josh's mom make up our list for tonight, cleaning, organzing, and wishing I could just go get a shower real quick (and starting to feel envious of all the clean tidy people around me). Well, you might imgaine the rest of the story. I kept busy helping and being on everybody's team and trying to make everybody have fun. That is not so restful. You cannot rest if you are always looking for a chance to shine. By the end of the evening, I had really worked up the martyr mindset. We played Bingo with prizes (annual tradition), and I didn't win once, even though everyone else won multiple times. But I, the good model-daughter/sister-in-law did not complain, and cheered for everyone, even though I had in the back of my mind the ugly thought that I wished they would let me win because I had been so nice all day, and I was everybody's favorite in the family. I also snapped a couple of times at Josh's siblings (all grown-ups) because I was irritated or offended that they were not thinking of me as the model sissy-in-law.

Where do these self-centered thoughts come from? I have longed to be centered on Christ in my thinking and affections this Advent season, but all it takes is one long day of celebration, and my hidden desires spring forth. I am ashamed. I wish I could rewind the Holiday and just worship Jesus and not myself.

So I am sharing this because I don't feel it is too late! I am going to read and read and read my Bible tonight, and talk to my Sweet Jesus and ask Him to forgive me for showing off at His birthday party like a five-year-old younger sister who is jealous of their sibling getting all the gifts. Don't let this be you! A holiday is unfulfilling if anything besides Jesus is our focus. Don't let it be gifts. Don't let it be food. Don't let it be decorations. Don't let it be Christmas movies. Don't even let it be your kids, your significant other, your mother, your favorite Christmas songs. Ask the Babe in the manger to show you how you might kneel humbly before Him and give Him a precious gift like the Magi: your attention.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Long Winter's Nap . . . and Two Thumbs Up for the Nativity

A fun event every Christmas comes when the tree is up and blazing in its splendor, and we anticipate several consecutive days of no guests. Then Josh and I pull out the air mattress, cover it in quilts, and sleep by the Christmas tree. I have always thought that sounded fun, and the first year we got married, we were like kids (HEY! We can do whatever we want -- the perpetual slumber party!) and decided to sleep by the tree. Now it is tradition. It is precious curl up in the golden glow of the tree lights, reading to ourselves, or one another, and falling asleep with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. :)

Part two: Last night we went to see "The Nativity" movie. It was great! If you don't live in an area that has an awesome Bethlehem Marketplace like my friend Donette, then it is worth seeing just for the picturesque landscapes that New Line is famous for (like Lord of the Rings). I also thought the acting was quite good, especially Joseph and Elizabeth. Mary was not my favorite because she was a bit pouty, as if young women back then went through the "rebellious teenage years" like they are supposed to now. The only thing that was explicitly unbiblical was the vision of Zechariah (no angel, just some speaking smoke in the temple). And of course, you can question the arrival of the wise men just hours after the Messiah was born (but the wise men were my favorite part, giving a bit of comic relief). Otherwise, I loved it, especially the masterful weaving together of regional music with popular Christmas carols (strains of Away in a Manger play as Mary places Jesus in the Manger). I think th
e movie did a great job boldly proclaiming Jesus Christ to be God. The wise men give their gifts with lines like "Gold . . . for the King above all kings". Wow! I am thrilled that this movie was made to try to capture the wonder of in Incarnation.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Happy Birthday, Jack

As for traditions of reading aloud to one's friends, here are a couple pictures from last night's annual birthday party celebrating C.S. Lewis. A handful of friends who are all willing to be enchanted together gather at my apartment, fix a British dinner, and enjoy the rest of the evening sipping gallons of tea and reading aloud portions of our favorite Lewis books to each other.

We branched out a bit this year in our cooking. Our menu consisted of cheeses, jams, crackers and sun dried tomatoes for hors d'ouvres, fish and chips (traditional, unassuming and yummy), Yorkshire pudding (pictured below -- kind of bland) with Welsh Rarebit (a sort of plainish cheese sauce of little excitement), cranberry scones and clotted cream. And tea, n

Pictured right is my husband Josh reading from The Weight of Glory. We also heard portions of The Four Loves, Prince Caspian, The Silver Chair, The Screwtape Letters, Surprised by Joy, The Narnian, The World's Last Night, and a modernized version of Malory's Morte d'Arthur (which was one of Lewis's favorite books). It was a nice variety of humor, inspiration, magic and human interest.

Please note to the left, the lamppost in the background. I am rather partial to all things Narnian.

What a delightful time! How peaceful and lovely to hear a kindred spirit read from the eloquent pages of Lewis. How precious to respond together to the written word. It caused me to think, why do I not do this with God's word more often? I would love to have friendly gatherings in which we celebrate, say, the book of John, or the Pauline Epistles. Wouldn't that be splendid? It may be a bit more difficult to create a menu around those themes!