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I got sucked in again today. Lured into tapping a headline on my phone and reading a news report on a horrifying event from across the world. Problem is, just knowing the facts—enough to know how to pray and how to help—was not enough. Before I roused myself from my stupor and set down my phone, waaay too much time had passed.

I wish I had a record of how many minutes I waste like that. How many Pins I save on Pinterest (that I will never look at again). How many news stories I get distracted by. How much time I waste on Facebook just . . . surfing.

And yet . . .  if I knew how much time I wasted, would it shock me enough to do something about it? To reclaim those wasted minutes and invest in my life? In those people and pursuits that matter? Would I know how? Would I have the strength?

Because when I thoughtlessly lift my phone, find myself swiping, stroking my Precious with my finger, it’s more than habit. More, even, than trying to fill my boredom. Somehow, when I reach for that little black rectangle, I am seeking to improve my imperfections. Fulfill my dreams. I am longing to be complete. 

Truth is, I rarely find peace there. The emotions most likely to come over me are jealousy, anxiety, discontent. Yet I keep reaching. It’s clear who’s master here.

The emotions most likely to come over me are jealousy, anxiety, discontent. Yet I keep reaching.

I’m tired of the virtual living that has come along with my smartphone. Tired of comparing the worst of me to the best of everyone else. That friend who runs marathons. The one who’s a gourmet cook. The one who’s house could feature in a magazine. The one who’s always doing crafts with her kids. The one who’s career has been such a success. The one who’s traveling to Venice . . . again.

I’m tired of comparing the worst of me to the best of everyone else.

As if I could be the best at everything. As if that’s the standard I should be aiming for. As if even if I could, I’d be happy. As if impressing all these people–strangers and friends alike–is what matters most. But it wouldn’t (make me happy). And it’s not (what matters most).

My aim in life is to love, know, and bring joy to my Creator. And to love, know, and bring joy to those in my life (strangers, enemies, and friends alike). Yes, sometimes that can be done in cyber world. Reading an encouraging email from a friend can change your day. There are some amazing blogs and helpful resources out there that can certainly make life easier (as my son said, “Mummy’s phone is named Google, and Google knows everything.”). Even YouTube has a lot to offer if you know what to look for–(I’ve been using my phone to plug into the husky voice and uplifting words of Lauren Daigle like an IV of late). But if I am not using my phone or computer to feed or be fed, why am I even there?

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I’d love to live more old-fashioned. More like the way things used to be, when instead of having the world at our fingertips, we lifted our fingertips out to the world.

 . . . instead of having the world at our fingertips, we lifted our fingertips out to the world. 

I’ve become so dependent on my phone that making such a change seems overwhelming. But change is necessary. Not simply because of the time a phone wastes, but because the images and information it bombards me with can make it oh-so-difficult to master my thoughts. Master my goals. Master my life. Inspiration should come only from the sources that I choose. These are three ways I’m trying to start living more purposefully. More old-fashioned.

  1. Talking. You know, to people. In real life. Face-to-face. Eye-to-eye. No emojis in sight. Turning “We’ll have to have you guys over sometime,” (which doesn’t happen) into “Are you free this Friday?” or “What are you doing after church?” Building relationships with those lovely, wise people who feed my soul. And taking time for others–those who for one reason or another could use a hot meal, a flesh-and-blood smile, and a listening ear that isn’t in a rush.
  2. Nature. Somehow, getting myself out the door seems harder than when we lived in Scotland. There, the misty green hills that surrounded our village pulled me out as if in a trance. But the beauty of creation dazzles the world over, and once I step out, I never regret it. I know for certain that spending time on my porch listing to birds sing and watching squirrels perform impressive acrobatics is anything but a waste of time. Or trying to do a thing called take a walk. Just putting one foot in front of the other–around the block, through a park, down a country lane  . . . soaking in all that sunshine and green. Talking with the people I love. Letting my thoughts have time to digest. It rarely leaves one feeling depressed.
  3. Reading. Those things called books. The ones made of paper and ink. Reading the Scriptures. A classic novel. The words of the wise. Maybe even jotting down my favorite quote in a notebook. Snuggling on the sofa to read a favorite book to my boys. Reading the funny bits out loud to my husband till one of us (usually me) starts to laugh. Oh, what joy compared to sitting side by side mindlessly scrolling through our phones.

In what ways do you struggle with over-use of your phone? In what ways have you had success with putting it down? In what ways do you use your phone for good? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Blessings for a beauty-filled weekend!

Avonlea x

 

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Darkness is easy felt this time of year. Not just the short hours of daylight that leave too soon and come too late of a bitter cold morning when you’re rushing to get out the door. Not just the darkness caused by dryer lint grey skies that hang low and cast their shadows on our gritty, salt-covered world. This place where we move stiffly, feeling half the selves we were when sunlight bathed us on late July afternoons.

All of us who live in these hemispheres feel it in some way.

Some feel it a little bit more.

Because somehow the darkness is not just external. Somehow it makes its way in. Inside our hearts and our souls, and it can hurt. Physically hurt. Hurt like something trapped there in our hearts, trying to burst out.

It can be a joy-stealer, this darkness. A joy-stealer, and a hope-stealer, too. And often we can feel that it’s a bit of an identity-stealer, too. And you can look in the mirror and hardly recognize the face staring back at you..

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That’s how I found myself feeling just days ago. I sat here in this old brick house, my own tiny Downton Abbey, my own little Green Gables (isn’t a house like this what I’ve dreamed of?), and I’ve stared at the woodwork. The chandeliers. The hardwood floors. I played with my little men. Looked deep into their rounded eyes. Pressed their chubby hands. Kissed the softness of their necks (they’re growing fast, but they are still young). . . and felt almost nothing. Nothing of the joy I thought I should be feeling with gifts such as these.

Darkness is often like that–often takes even the things we love best, even those blessings our minds tell us should make us happy, and coats them in a shade of grey.

Darkness from the grey of winter. Darkness from the stresses of life.

Like moving house, and Christmas, and three birthdays, and feeling guilty that homeschooling has not only been on the back burner, but right off the cooker, and feeling not quite right physically, so tired you feel drugged.

I wrestle with God in the darkness. I question his methods. His goodness, even. His love. I lay prostrate before Him, confessing my lack of faith. Pleading He will help my unbelief.

I once again pour out before Him those longings that I have laid at His feet for decades now. Those things I do not understand. And I breathe a sigh of peace as I recall the many, many other prayers He has answered. How tenderly He has always dealt with me. And I pull my shoulders back and declare, “the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Isaiah 50:7

My face like flint, pointed right at the Light of the World, and feeling shadows fade away. Opening my eyes and seeing three new blessings to light my path.

  1. Fire! Now you may not have a gas or wood-burning fire (we have one here in the new/old house, but it’s not working yet), BUT for those of you who have Netflix or even YouTube, an image of a crackling, glowing, slow-burning fire can fill your TV or computer screen and give your room a cozy glow. For Netflix, try searching for Fireplace for Your Home. Now you can snuggle up with a cup of tea and favorite book and embrace the winter, and the chance it gives you to reflect.
  2. More fire! But in a candle form, this time. A new friend who recently joined our church small group invited the other mums for tea last week. She took out her pretty china, lit candles, and put on classical music. It was delightful, and I was reminded of how very healing and important it can be to take a break for the routines of life and sit and laugh with friends.
  3. Still more fire–God, the consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), the Light of the World (John 8:12). I have often tried to memorize scripture, but not since I was eight years old have I tried to memorize an entire chapter. I am now. And those times I’d swipe through Pinterest or my Facebook feed–things that usually leave me feeling a little more grey–I am filling my mind with truth and turning to my Bible App as I work on memorizing the book I’ve chosen, 1 Peter 1.

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Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

I pray that in these lights, you too may feel the darkness slip away.

Avonlea x

 

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A castle is where I’d end up on days like today when we lived in Scotland. Days when the luminescent green earth called me outside for an adventure. Out to where pink-blossomed trees quivered in a gentle breeze and white fluffy clouds danced across a seamless blue sky.

As we’re sadly lacking for castles in Midwestern USA, I buckled the General, Waddlesworth, and Little Bear into the car, handed an apple to each of them, and headed off for a country drive through woods and rolling farmland in search of some Estate or Barn Sales. And did I find any? Certainly did.

I came home in possession of a light-up globe attached to a table. Some vintage curtains dotted with fishing, golf, and other manly pursuits, which I hope will one day become cushions or even a bean bag for my boys’ rooms. And books. Always books.

With my dose of sunshine and newly found treasures, and a day off from homeschooling due to my eldest being at a friend’s house, life looks good. I feel happy. Blessed.

Not so a fortnight or so ago, when I found myself tangled at the bottom of a slippery, murky, gnarly pit. 

While my morning routines got my days started and gave me focus, by afternoon my positive, cheery mummy reserves were running dangerously low. After a long school day I wanted nothing more than to curl up with a mug of chai and watch Fixer Upper. Not face the whole make dinner/eat dinner/clean up after dinner/wrestle the kids to bed routine.

But my  lack of motivation and feelings of despair came more from simply the exhaustion of raising four squirrelly little boys. It was more than the challenges of homeschooling. More than the difficulty of doing so much of it on my own since John has been working unusually long hours of late.

while I battled within the walls of my own home . . . it felt like the world around us was crumbling to pieces.

The problem was that while I battled within the walls of my own home, trying to give my children knowledge, feed them healthy meals, help them grow in faith, it felt like the world around us was crumbling to pieces. And what could a tired out mummy do about all that?

What was the point, really, in trying to make up my mind which shade of grey to paint the dining room, or doing anything else to bring loveliness to our home? Why search Pinterest for sugar-free dessert recipes? Why invest the energy in teaching the Professor about the injustices of segregation?

What, really, was the point of all my efforts, what with wars being raged, the American political scene making us all cringe (or cry!), and craziness like the recent Target bathroom/dressing room controversy leaving people up in arms.

What was happening to the world I would one day send my boys out into? 

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I was overtaken by a Spirit of Fear that left me nearly useless to the people in my life. And so one night, sitting in my bed with my pink and white polka-dot clad phone, I began to search for what God’s Word might have to say about all that.

What I found has changed my outlook 100%.

I read

 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesions 2:10

And that has made all the difference.

As I Christian, I believe that God created me, his daughter, with great forethought and care. That He chose the date and place of my birth, this exact time in history, for a reason. That He gave me these sons to raise up and prepare for the good works He has for them to do. That he gave me this husband to be my partner in life, that we can be a mutual blessing and “spur one another on to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). That he gave me this home to be a haven for my family and all who enter here.

And so you see, the daily work I do with my sons, with my home, with the people I seek to care for in my community and across the globe, they are not meaningless at all. They are vitally important to those whose lives I touch. Important in eternal ways I may never see.

Our world may seem to be spinning into chaos. Our current political candidates may not seem worthy of the title of President. But our God in control. And he IS worthy in every way. He is all-wise, all-loving, all-powerful, and always present.

And He has good works for me to do.

Avonlea x

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I woke smiling. Basking in the sunlight I could feel on my eyelids and in the merry sound of a little bird’s song.

The snow had melted, the sky was blue. Surely we’d put the days of cold and darkness behind us and spring was here. But, oh, not so! Winter is putting up a terrific final fight here in Midwestern USA, and we are living in a snow globe once again.

But I haven’t lost heart, for it will at last be defeated, and until it does, I have every excuse to boil the kettle, slip my feet into my slippers, and curl up with my book.

I’m back in Mitford, do you know it? Have you met Cynthia and Father Tim? They seem real enough that I feel I should introduce them, but then I do have a subconscious way of disbelieving that many of my favourite characters were, in fact, made up. Fictional. Didn’t ever actually exist.

I find myself wondering if they could still be alive . . . or their children or grandchildren at the very least. Maybe a few more greats in there if you’re talking Elizabeth Bennet or Jane Eyre. But Anne Shirley, yes, she and Gilbert could easily have some grandchildren still living. Maybe even children, at a push. I think Rilla was in her early teens during the first World War.

But anyway, back to Jan Karon’s Mitford series and the people living there. What to say of them? What to say to convince you that if you haven’t ever visited them then you really, really should?

I was disbelieving myself, in the beginning. Had a hard time thinking I could ever so adore a book whose hero was a 60-something-year-old Episcopalian priest. But I’ve grown to love him. Him, and the woman he woos, and the people they love and live out life with in their little mountain town.

In the lives of these individuals you will find most of the tragedy and pain you would encounter almost anywhere in this world. There, written across the pages in black and white. And yet the characters are not left abandoned to a cold and self-seeking world. They have each other. And through the actions and words of Father Tim–keen gardener, Wordsworth quoter, reluctant jogger–they are reminded that they also have God.

There are days I’d like to stop by the rectory. Sit by the fire. Ask Cynthia to see her latest watercolor. Rest my body and soul as I sip a cup of sweet Southern iced tea.

I’d like to see these two in action. These two love-birds who go on picnics, and surprise each other with presents, and go walking in the rain. These two who pray together–the prayer that never fails–and though they may themselves be struggling, still seek to shine light into each other’s lives time and time again.

And I’d like to hear her say it. Hear Cynthia tell Father Tim what she loves. And hear him ask back, “What don’t you love?” Because she’s ever so good at saying it. Ever so good at NOT complaining, but instead putting into words her delight in every good and perfect gift, no matter how small. Rain on a summer evening. Sleeping an extra three minutes. An unexpected email from a friend. Why not give thanks for it all?

Complaints come tumbling out so easily, spreading discouragement to all those who hear. So I’m trying to remember to say it–to give thanks out loud for every gift, every glimpse of beauty, no matter how small. 

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Indignant is the word to describe how I felt back in 2005 upon hearing that another version of Jane’s Austen’s beloved novel, Pride and Prejudice, was to be released in the cinema, this time starring English actress Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet. The very existence of this new intruder version felt like an insult to those who had played in the 1995 BBC adaptation of the book. Like utter disloyalty to Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, who, in my mind, actually were Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Why make another when perfection had already been reached?

But of course when the time came for the film to appear in our one local cinema in Inverness, Scotland, where we were living at the time, I went along to see it. And slowly, as I sat with my sweet popcorn and mini tub of ice cream, I felt my arched brow of skepticism slowly fade into a soft smile. For even with the simplified script, the overacting, and that awful brown dress Kiera Knightly dons for the majority of the film, it cannot be denied that with all the talented cinematography that captures the breathtaking Darbyshire scenery and the gorgeous film score by Dario Marianelli, the film is a veritable feast for the eyes and ears. And I decided that perhaps seeing what other artists had to offer was, after all, a good thing. 

I like to put it on in the background sometimes, if I’m, say, folding laundry or working on my scrapbook. But Keira Knightley will never, ever be Elizabeth Bennet, just as the 2005 version will never be to me the haven of coziness, inspiration, and nostalgia that the 1995 version is. 

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And so it will be with this newest adaptation of the novel Anne of Green Gables by Canadian Author Lucy Maude Montgomery, which will air in February 2016. This version was created by Breakthrough Entertainment , and stars young actress Ella Ballentine as the red-headed orphan Anne Shirley, and Martin Sheen as Matthew Cuthbert, the Bachelor who, along with his spinster sister Marilla, ends up adopting the feisty, talented, kindhearted Anne.

Canada’s CBC-TV also has plans to run a series, simply titled “Anne,” which is set to air in 2017, and which CBC says will follow Montgomery’s story line, but will also “chart new territory.” Writer Moira Walley-Beckett say she had adapted Anne’s story and that Anne’s issues are really contemporary ones like feminism, prejudice, and bullying.  

I will watch both versions. And if the trailer for the made-for-TV film is any indication, that adaptation will be charming and entertaining, if nothing else.

But I’m a little concerned that the series will modernize Anne too much, throw Anne’s catch phrases about in a way that becomes obnoxious, make the story into something Montgomery never intended it to be.

 So yes, I’ll watch them, but at the possible risk of having to go back on my word, I’m quite sure that these will not be the versions I go back to–again, and again, and again. Because Megan Follows who starred as Anne in the Sullivan Entertainment   version simply is Anne Shirley, just as Colleen Dewhurst is Marilla, and Jonathan Crombie is Gilbert Blythe.

I was practically introduced to Anne’s world from birth when my mother named me Avonlea, and it was to Sullivan’s 1985 version that I was first introduced. It was these actors whose faces I had in mind as I read the books, these faces I felt uplifted and encouraged by on those days when I, too, felt “in the depths of despair,” or had “a Jonah Day,” or could say of God’s working in my life, “He knew.” They are as much like friends to me as any fictional characters could ever be.

Another chance to view what is probably my favourite story on earth? Yes, please. Perhaps Breakthrough will even go on to make other Anne films based on Montgomery’s books,and stay a little closer to the stories than Sullivan did with their second Anne film. But just as I’m quite sure that a rose called a thistle or a skunk cabbage wouldn’t smell the same, an Anne by any other name could just never be as sweet. 

 

 

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Six fingernails. Only six. That’s how many I had time to cut that day, into short, blunt squares. The other four were left long and ladylike for a few days longer, until I noticed, and remembered that I’d been interrupted, called away from my task to see to the needs of one of my wee men.

And that’s how life’s been since the arrival of Little Bear, my fourth son. A sprinkle of time here, a sprinkle there, and not much more, for all the little extra things I love.

Those non-essentials that relax me and that I really enjoy, but that somehow don’t seem as pressing as cleaning up the raspberries someone smashed all over the kitchen floor, or icing a bleeding lip, or stopping someone from over-cuddling the baby.

Those non-essentials

like exfoliating with Dead Sea salt scrub.

Or watching a new version of Jane Eyre.

Or reading my Bible.

You know, extra, non-essential things like that.

And where can I possibly fit them into to my hectic life, when there isn’t even time for the essentials?

Like sleeping.

Or taking a trip to the bathroom.

Or drinking enough water.

How can I possibly find the time?

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Four months, we’ve been back from our visit to Scotland. Four months, which is the same length of time we spent back there. And I meant to keep you abreast of it all, every visit, every city, every castle that we saw.

But the arrival of Little Bear, and traversing up and down the country, and the jumble that went on inside my own head made it difficult. But there are things, there are moments, I remember. And I’ll tell them, I’ll tell them to you, if you’ll stay with me and you’ll wait.

Because they’re worth the telling.

Like what I spotted in the new mud room at my friend Katie’s.

When we lived in Scotland I’d set aside time nearly every week to visit with Katie and a few other treasured friends at one or other of our houses.  And they were sanity for me, those times, as I sat across from their smiling faces, corralling crumbs from my oat biscuit into a pile on the table top while I sipped my tea and we talked about life—children, husbands, our walk with God.

And I was there again at Katie’s house this winter. Sat at her table. Heard her laugh. Sipped my milky tea.

And yes, saw the new mudroom, with its tidy place for Wellington boots, jackets, mittens, and hats. And it was all quite something, but it wasn’t that which made me smile. Pause.

In a corner beneath a window, where the sun could lay a beam of light, sat a chair. A chair, and a little shelf in the wall just the size for a Bible, and a picture frame on the wall with this:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

2 Peter 1:5-8

A place made in her home just for this. Just for reading God’s word, and speaking and listening to Him.

A place for making every effort.

Not a casual squeezing it in every few weeks when there’s a sprinkle of time, but a place. A purposeful seeking after Him. Every effort.

Because reading my Bible, knowing God, is not a non-essential after all. Not if I want to be like Christ.  Not if I want to be for my family a refreshing stream, instead of the dried up desert that I so often feel.

His delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

Psalm 1:2-3

I don’t have time aplenty. Not the luxurious hours to read and ponder that I once did. But if I’m to make the most of the time with my family, if I’m to help lead them in the everlasting way, then I must find the time to be in God’s Word, and find even a simple line of truth and goodness on which to meditate throughout my busy day.

Finding time will be a challenge. But my soul is dry, and I feel it. I feel it, and it shows. I feel it, and it’s worse, even, than only six short fingernails.

Make every effort.

I’ll start today.

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How do you make time to be in the word? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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I went out grudgingly.

Would have rather stayed in to clean the bathrooms.

Do some scrapbooking.

Get a batch of muffins in the oven.

All the important things I wanted to do today.

But the fractiousness of little boys after a week of April showers forced me out.

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Out into the garden.

Warmth and sunshine washing over.

The almost green of our snow-flattened grass.

And birdsong.

Birdsong, and I’m Mary Lennox, chasing a robin over a garden gate.

Birdsong, and I’m Jane Eyre with her rooks, exploring Thornfield Hall on her very first morn.

Birdsong, and time is lost,

and I’m myself fifteen years past, discovering a walled garden of my very own.

Scotland.

Pussy willows and crocuses.

Blackbirds and brick.

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Birdsong today, and the magic of viewing the world

upside-down

from a swing.

And it’s springtime,

and doesn’t your heart ache with the glory of it?

Of life,

new beginnings,

winter’s end?

And I’m thankful,

wildly thankful in a way I could never express,

for the possibility of all things,

me included,

being turned upside down,

made new.

And I wonder at the sun’s warmth,

and that He calls Himself that,

our Sun and our Shield.

Our Shield,

for don’t we need protecting

from many things,

even ourselves?

Our Sun,

for don’t we revel in the light and the heat?

Don’t we thrive?

Get life?

Doesn’t He give us life

eternally?

Spring.

It has come upon us.

Find a tree stump.

A picnic table.

A bench.

Wait for birdsong.

And just breathe.

Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10

Listen…

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