Monday, December 31, 2007

A Word on Reading Goals

Last Year, 2006, I completed an exciting reading goal -- 100 new books. This year, I accomplished a different reading goal -- something I've never done before -- I read through the Bible in a year. I have read through the whole Bible before, but never consecutively, and all in one year's time. My fear was that I would read as quickly as I could so that I could just check it off my list, which of course, is a temptation. But I found my time sitting at Jesus' feet quite precious, and often I would slowly read the passages, and take time to meditate on them, and record my reflections in my journal.

For 2008, I am going to read through the Bible again, this time using the M'Cheyne Bible Reading Chart and use For the Love of God by D.A. Carson as a companion for the daily readings. Each calendar date is assigned 4 Old and New Testament passages to read, as well as a devotional that corresponds with one of the passages. I am excited about a new adventure in God's Word! Reading through the whole Bible has helped me to see the whole council of God, and to better understand the big picture.

May I encourage you to have a reading goal? I loathe to call it a "New Year's Resolution" -- aren't those made just to be broken? And even if they are kept, isn't it likely that we are the ones who get the credit ("I kept a resolution -- aren't I good at bettering myself!?)? But it is wise to take account of your days, to look down the year, and to make a plan. Here are some tips on making a reading goal -- a Bible reading goal or otherwise:

1. Don't aim low just so you know you can attain it. I just cringe when I see things like this, which just seems to communicate "I'm doing the absolute least I can". Why not aim high? Even if you fall a bit short, you will likely read quite a bit more than if you had not aimed at all.

2. Look through the books you know you want to read, and plot them out for the year. I make lists in a notebook. That way, if there is something I really want to read, but I know I won't have time quite yet, I plan to read it next month, or two months from now. I enjoy reading seasonally (for instance, about the Passover near Easter), so I plan to read that in March or April. I know I'd forget about many books if I did not keep my lists!

3. Do take recommendations. Sometimes I feel like "I can't take any more recommendations! I have too much to read already!" You can always add those recommendations to your list, and try them later.

4. Stay balanced with variety. Sometimes I get on kicks with certain authors or subjects, but I try to have a mix of fiction and non-fiction, books that will encourage my Christian growth, and books for fun, long books and shorter ones. It's good to plan this out, as well.

Happy reading!

Saturday, December 29, 2007


It's that time of year for cleaning out the shelves and cupboards to make room for new Christmas items. If you're like me, the somewhat topsy-turvy condition of the house makes you go nuts after just a couple days, perhaps you'll be thrilled with this option for cleaning out your bookshelves -- BookMooch.

I did a little test run on this site so that I could give a good report on how it works, and I've been pretty happy, overall. Once you join, you create an inventory of the titles you are willing to give away (prepare yourself for a great relief -- getting rid of stuff!). Making an inventory is super fast, just type in the ISBN and it will pull up all the info for you, including an image of the cover. You get 1 point for every 10
books you list. The night I made my inventory, I instantly had 3 or so points to spend (every book costs one point). Before the day was over, another 12 points had been added to my total, because I had so many people mooch my books. Now, I had to send out all those books to whoever mooched them from me, but using media mail, the cost was not too much, and since the books are free, you don't need to worry about fancy packing material. I used quite a few of my points to mooch books I wanted from other people (it's super easy to search -- by title, author, ISBN). I've gotten books from the United Kingdom, Finland, all over! (Check out the Finnish newspaper that was wrapped around my book!)

Some of you undoubtedly do E-Bay or Amazon, and that's cool, but I've been burned by both of those before. BookMooch is nice because it's free, so the pressure is off, somewhat. And you feel like you are actually getting your books into the hands of people who really want them (for instance, I've sent out Josh's old textbooks, and academic books neither of us will ever read). In return you get the exact books you want right now -- and when you're reading them, they somehow doesn't seem to take up as much room on the shelf.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas with the Neislers

A cozy Christmas in the new living room furniture

This is how many times Kari won at Bingo . . .

This is how many times I won at Bingo (I shared my prizes with Josh)

At church with Laura, Max and Kari

Baby Santa (Max) was awfully tired after delivering gifts all night.

Christmas with the Benzings

Smithers in her cute footy pajamas!

All my sisters, sister-in-law and neice!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Scenes of the Season

We've been enjoying our Christmas here in Louisville. It is a cozy Christmas in our little apartment here on campus. I wasn't able to pull out all the stops with decorating like I have in the past (my sister Anna has huge totes full of Christmas decorations in her basement that I didn't use), but a bit of candles here and some lovely music there have been making us feel quite festive in Fuller 2__. I set up this table to be my wrapping station and then enjoyed an evening wrapping and enjoying this gift from the GirlTalk gang. Let me encourage you to do the same! May your joy be full as you contemplate the i

Sunday night, Josh and I spent a lovely evening caroling in a large group of 40 adults and children around the Crescent Hill neighborhood. My friend Tara Beth, whose husband is an elder at our church, had been wanting to host a caroling party like this, because they used to do that when they were at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. Following that format, 5 small groups from Clifton joined together and tramped about belting out the gospel in song and leaving a letter with a "For Your Joy" tract at each house. It truly was some of the greatest fun I've had in a good long time. It was chilly, but so truly fun to make merry with one's brothers and sisters in Christ. Forever in my mind is the memory of the children and grown-ups singing with mouths wide open, noses red, hearts full of cheer. Afterward, we went back to the Townsends and feasted and chatted. It was a noisy, clamoring mix of old and young, lots of hot drinks and good snacks. I know it was a bit of effort on Tara Beth's part (side note: I arrived an hour early to help her get ready and found the house in darkness. Taking naps perhaps? No, no. Power out. Trays of cold pigs-in-a-blanket sat on the countertop waiting to be baked. Poor Townsends! Nothing could dampen their spirits, however, and we cheerfully pressed on by candlelight, hopes high that the power would return. It did, of course, with plenty of time to spare before the party.), but I trust that the Lord used our merriment to further His kingdom in our neighborhood.

(Sidenote #2 -- this is a very cute child at our church that I LOVE). I talked to it all night as much as I could.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Night of the Giver

My cousin Elizabeth and her husband Paul have an original and intriguing tradition they've observed for the past 11 Christmases, which I asked if I could share here as a part of my series on the Benzing family. I also thought it would be a timely post for parents who might be concerned about the greed they see in their children at Christmas (it's there all year, right? Just more obvious now!). They came up with The Night of the Giver for 2 reasons: "First, we wanted to exalt Christ and give him the spotlight on Christmas morning. Second, we wanted our children to learn the joy of giving and to practically experience the joy of giving."

The Dziadul family has 5 children, so they celebrate for 7 nights -- each family member getting their own night to be "the giver". When it is your night to be the giver, you plan and pay for the activities for your family and give your gifts, while receiving nothing yourself except the joy of giving. Sometimes they go out to eat, to a movie, ice skating, caroling to shut-ins -- whatever the giver plans on his or her night.

Paul and Elizabeth give out their gifts on their nights as well, and Christmas morning is the time to consider Christ's great gift to us. They "
sit around the tree, read the Advent account in scripture, sing carols & thank God for his indescribable gift in Christ."

How does that strike you? Perhaps this idea could be adapted and embraced with your family!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Benzing Art

My first feature on the Benzing family is my cousin Geoff Benzing. He's an artist, a very good one, I might add, whose art you can view, and even buy here. I'm not an artist, but I love art! I was so thrilled when Geoff's sister Corrie (who I saw this week at Grandma's funeral) told me about BenzingArt where I could look at Geoff's works. I'm a big fan. I especially love his watercolor works like this one on the right, and his acrylics and oils, like the owl at the bottom (I love owls!). His site has contact information if you are interested in purchasing his work.

When we were little, Geoff had cancer. In fact, most of my childhood included praying for Geoff every time we prayed. My uncle Gene, Geoff's dad, died of cancer when I was a little girl, so praying for Geoff was very important to us. Uncle Gene was my dad's younger brother and best friend. I remember him as a funny uncle who used to pretend my ponytails were motorcycle handlebars (a game I've often played since with little girls).

Geoff has been in remission for 17 years, which is amazing. As a child, I often thought of his healing when I heard people speak about God answering prayers. I don't know that there is anyone else I've more consistently prayed for for healing! Maybe as you look at Geoff's artwork, you will consider praying for someone in your life that you feel like you've been praying for a long time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

ETS Sale

Let me take a pause here and put on my bookstore sales-girl hat and announce a surprise sale at the bookstore where I work:

Today we got in 2 pallets of books leftover from the Evangelical Theological Society which met in San Diego last month. The books are all at least 50% off, and all from Crossway or Banner of Truth, mainly academic books, commentaries, Puritan works, but also a load of ESV Bibles and John Piper books.

Just in time for Christmas! If you live around here, the sale starts tomorrow (as soon as we unpack everything -- which we will probably still be doing as we open). If not, I'd be happy to take phone orders from faraway friends like I did for the Jesus Storybook Bible. You can find the bookstore's phone # on the SBTS website.

I wish I could give you a list of the inventory but it would be ridiculously long. I will point out a couple things of note that you might like -- but quantities are very limited, so let me know ASAP if you want me to pull something for you! Then you can call the store at your convenience!

1. The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever only $4.97

2. ESV Journaling Bibles -- prices vary, but about 50% off each (this plum one is pretty, I think)

3. Several Audio Books like this one starting at $5.97 (This one is only $16.97 )

4. The newest book from Desiring God conference

5. The Children's ESV Bible for $11.97

6. This wonderful book by Susannah Spurgeon which I got last year at the ETS sale (not sure the price, but it is a little paperback -- probably around $5)

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Up the Sunbeam to the Sun

Yesterday at Grandma's funeral, I was thinking:

I am so blessed. This is true. So blessed to be surrounded by believing family, joining together in song, scripture and worship -- the tie that binds us being Christ, not just Grandma. So blessed to know where Grandma is, and that Grandpa is well taken care of (by his family, and His heavenly Father). So blessed to talk with fascinating people who are related to me: even though I hardly know them, I can love them easily. *

And that is just one moment -- one day. Heap upon that days and days of blessing, provision, good gifts, kind words, precious people, plentiful food, friends, fun. We are so blessed. A warm cup of tea and a good book ought to be enough to keep you singing all day long, and that just a tiny drop of water in the ocean.

How do I respond to all these blessings? Consider this from C.S. Lewis:

“Pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility….I have tried…to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I meant something different…Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun….If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline. But it is worth some labour.” (as quoted in, When I Don’t Desire God, by John Piper).

Chew on that this Christmas season. More than just gratitude. And while you're chewing, check out these outstanding and practical suggestions for focusing on Christ at Christmas.

*In light of "rediscovering" some of my family members, I decided to do a series of posts in which I'll focus on or interview a member of the large, wide-spread Benzing family.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

In Grandma's Honor

Thank you all for your kind and encouraging words concerning my Grandma's passing. Josh and I are taking off for her funeral in Cincinnati tomorrow. Please pray that God will be our portion, and Christ will continue to be more sweet and precious than ever. I am looking forward to seeing an assembly of the large Benzing family -- please pray that we will be a great source of encouragement. It is amazing how much more dear Christ has been to me this week. Any thought of Him -- His incarnation, atonement, resurrection, etc. -- has nearly brought me to tears. In a way, as sad as I have been, it has been a sort of holy week for me, meditating on the goodness of God.

Here are a few links and words in honor of my grandma:

  • My Cousin Elise's fine words: "I am always in awe to be part of this family. God is so merciful, so gracious, and has blessed so abundantly. ... it thrills me to sit and think of my Grandmother in Heaven, even as I cry and recognize how time has passed and everyone - my own parents, myself - has gotten older. But to think! Heaven!"

  • The incredible words of C.S. Lewis at the conclusion of The Last Battle:

"Have you not guessed?" said Aslan.

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

"There was a real railway accident," said Aslan softly. "Your father and mother and all of you are -- as you used to call it in the Shadowlands -- dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."

And as he spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. Al their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Anna Mae

My grandma, Anna Mae Benzing, passed away this evening. I had been waiting several days to hear it was so, as she had been suffering from poor health for quite some time, and just recently she was worse. I know I am so blessed to live 29 1/2 years with all 4 grandparents still living in their own homes quite the same as they had all during my childhood.

Grandma is my dad's mom, and he is the middle of 9 children. The Benzing family is huge. All my aunts and uncles have children, and some of them quite a lot of children, some of which have children as well (understandably, there are several cousins named Anna, including my sister). The last time I saw
the majority of these family members was at my cousin Sarah's wedding in 2004 which coincided with my grandparent's 65th wedding anniversary. It was amazing to see all these people, some of whom I knew dearly while others were perfect strangers -- strangers that looked alike and amazingly had a great deal in common. This is my grandma's legacy. True, life was not easy for her and my grandfather with their 9 children, but the Biblical instruction that they invested in those children has multiplied a great deal more than 9-fold. The overwhelming majority of people in the extended Benzing family are believers. What a common bond! We share Christ! How blessed we are!

These past days I've been rather sad, thinking and remembering my grandma. I always remember how glamorous she was, usually decked out with sequins or sparkles when the family gathered for Christmas eve. She was such a fun and funny grandma, whose sense of humor could rival any gathered there (which is saying a great deal, if you've ever been in the presence of my dad/cousins/aunts and uncles). I remember talking to her as a young adult and her telling me how proud she was of me, and encouraging me to serve Christ.

My dad told me that she passed peacefully, like falling asleep and not waking up. That is a comforting thought, of course. But even more comforting is the thrill in my soul when I think of her as I Corinthians 13 tells us "face to face" . . . with Christ. There is hope in the gospel, my dear, big wild and crazy Benzing family! There is precious hope! The hope of someday and eternity, "being an ingredient in the Divine Happiness" and receiving the crushing "weight of glory" from Christ Himself!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Golden Evening of Read-Aloud -- the 3rd Annual Birthday Party for C.S. Lewis

When our friends Kevin and Micah heard about the parties Josh and I have had in the past, they insisted that we have a reprise this year at their house. I felt rather like Mrs. Beaver, bustling about with the fish and chips beforehand, and the menu was much more subdued than in the past, but it was a golden time nonetheless, complete with crackers, toasting, scones, and "gallons of tea".

My favorite part, of course, is the read-aloud. We heard selections from Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy, Perelandra, The Weight of Glory, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Horse and His Boy,
Reflections on the Psalms and Josh capped it off with this hilarious short piece on Christmas.

I'm so happy to have met these new friends this year (excluding Kevin, whom we've known since college) to enjoy such an evening with.
This girl is Carrie, who is friends with Kevin and Micah and works with me at the book store (yay!). She has rather Lucy-ish hair with the little barrette, so that is keeping with the theme, and of course Josh and I dressed appropriately with knee-socks and elbow-patch sweaters. I had to tell Micah he was not allowed to wear shorts and a t-shirt for the party (sigh!), but otherwise, I've not known boys more willing to be enchanted. Kevin convinced us all to give Lewis' science fiction series a try (again) with his lengthy but wonderful reading from Perelandra, while Micah was known to give standing ovations for particularly stirring readings of Shasta and the unwelcome Fellow Traveler (by Gretchen).

Emma, Misty and Shea, you were all missed, of course, but I'm sure you were sipping a cup to dear ol' Jack wherever you are!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Thoughts on Advent

"Advent is not just pre-Christmas". I saw this quote on a Catholic website while I was looking online for ideas for Advent Calendars. That website had it more right than any of the other ideas I found for "helping your child wait until Santa comes!" I saw one idea that was called an Advent collage (which initially appealed to me as a fun art idea), but the collage was of things the child wanted for Christmas presents. Every day you had your children look for another present they wanted to add to their collage.

I am so sad that this is what Advent has become to us. I'm not passing judgment on families who celebrate Santa Claus -- I certainly wouldn't do that. I'm wondering how a Christian whose heart beats for Christ alone can begin to teach their children that Christ is the Treasure, the Center and the Gift while at the same time tempting our children with the sin of greed, and laying down idols for his heart to rejoice in far more than the Babe in the manger. Considering this has caused me to think through everything I am doing this season. I know my own tendency toward materialism, worldliness and idolatry, which Carolyn Mahaney sums up so well here:

"Take the Christmas season, for instance. Every holiday I can be drawn to all things Christmassy--the shopping, buying gifts, wrapping presents, decorating the tree, baking holiday treats, attending parties and celebrations. Of course these things are not wrong in and of themselves. They can be delightful gifts from God. But I can be tempted to desire them more than the most important thing--regardless of the season: sitting at the Lord’s feet (Luke 10:38-41). And then I wonder why my heart feels so dull come December 26th."

Is that you, too? Maybe you will say with Carolyn: "This holiday I don’t want my soul stuffed only with decorations, shopping, and Christmas cookies. I want to make every effort to drink deeply of God’s presence so my soul will be truly satisfied."

My friend, I could not agree with you more. Can I encourage you to celebrate Advent with your family? If you want to do a "count down" method with your kids, today is the first day (more ideas for that later), but tomorrow is technically the first Sunday in Advent. I don't pretend to know how everything is done according to the Liturgical calendar, but I can tell you what Josh and I do (taken largely from suggestions by Noel Piper in her book Treasuring God in Our Traditions). We put 4 candles by our Nativity set, one for each Sunday of Advent. On the first, you light one candle, and we sit down together and read aloud a Scripture passage (or several passages) about Christ's coming. They are usually a mix of Old and New Testament passages, and they may focus on Christ's first coming or his second coming. You can find an idea of what to read here. We may sing a song, as well. Each Sunday you light more and more and it grows brighter and brighter as it gets closer to Christ's arrival.

I have one of Noel Piper's Advent Calendar's which sadly Desiring God has stopped making for now. I wanted to reproduce her idea for the families who came to my story hour yesterday, and it turned out well, so I wanted to pass the idea on to you to adapt for your own. First, I used the lovely letters provided by Martha Stewart for this craft (rats, my secret's out -- I use this for EVERYTHING). I cut out and copied the letters to spell out "MY GREATEST TREASURE IS JESUS", which happens to have 25 letters. On the back of each letter, I put a little picture (google image search) from the Nativity scene -- M=Star, Y=Angel, G=sheep, R=goat, E=Shepherd and so on. I laid them all out on a posterboard so that the letter with Jesus on the back ends up in the middle (the middle "S" in Jesus) and put a sticker on the letter to remind me that that one was to be flipped over last of all. So every day, the child can flip over one letter, and you are re-reading your calendar all the time, constantly reminding your family that the greatest treasure is Jesus! I know it's simple, but I guess I was hoping that the simplicity in it can help instruct children in loving Christ supremely. I have a few extra copies of the letters with the pictures on the back (this is honestly what took me the longest) if you would like me to send them to you. Just leave me a comment saying so (first come first serve!). I laminated the letters and attached velcro to each side as well as the posterboard. Maybe I can put up a picture before too long.

I think I'll be writing more on Advent in the future. Here is a book of ideas that might be helpful to your family: Celebrating a Christ-Centered Christmas Ideas from A to Z. Let me know what your traditions are for keeping Christ at the center of it all.