One of my writing projects is the story of my grandparents, told through my grandfather’s artwork. One thing I’ve discovered in researching for this book is that context is essential. If you are writing any memoir set in the present or near past, most readers will have the information they need to understand the times, the culture, and the details about everyday life. However, when you are writing a historical memoir, you must include specifics about the culture and lifestyles since much, if not all, of it is alien to your reader.
For instance, in the book about Victor and Estelle, things like clothing, music, transportation, communication, and more differ greatly from our experience today. Women were occasionally wearing trousers, but rarely. They wore hats and gloves and always looked “smart” when they left the house. Men wore suits, ties, and hats more often than not. Music was jazz, big band, and classical. Rock music hadn’t been invented yet.
Radio and newspapers were the main forms of communication. Long-distance phone calls were pricey, so people generally used telephones for local calls. Television sets had been invented but were not commercially available until the late 1930s; most people had a radio in their home for news and entertainment. Since email did not yet exist, letters were the main form of personal communication, both locally and long distance.
In the early 1930s, almost half of American households owned cars, and the highway system was being developed. However, for long-distance travel, trains were most often used. Air travel was still rare.
As you can see, much has changed in America since the 1930s. I have had to delve into history books from that time period to recall what life was like back then. Including those facts and connecting them to the pictures in the envelopes as well as our experience today will help make the stories more appealing and relevant.
Historical research is a key component to writing any historic piece, whether that be historical narrative, memoir, or historical fiction. As a result, you will want to develop your skills as a researcher to frame your story well.
Once New Year’s is over and January sets in, I spend more time thinking, musing, and meditating. Winter seems to be more conducive to slowing down and pondering ideas. I wonder if it’s because the cold drives us indoors to cuddle under a warm woolen blanket with a cozy sweater and a hot drink. Burrowing into a pile of warmth leads to more time alone with myself, which is the perfect opportunity to think about all the things I’ve been avoiding or not able to set aside time to deal with in busier times.
I consider my yearly goals at the very beginning of January, as many others do, but then I move on to more profound thoughts. In the early morning when it’s still dark outside, and no one is awake except me and the cat, I have the silence and solitude to meditate. Snuggled in a quilt and woolly robe, I read my Bible and devotional books, jotting down thoughts and contemplating what the author is saying. Sometimes another book I’ve been reading catches my attention in a richer way than mere entertainment so I focus on making sense of its deeper meaning.
I think about and pray for my friends and family in those dark hours before dawn, giving the Holy Spirit room to bring certain people to my attention for prayer. I allow my mind to drift and make connections between the things I’m studying and my everyday life at home and work. Meditation allows me to pick up on strings of logic and networks of relationship that I might otherwise miss. Burying myself in thoughts and prayers allows the Lord to speak truth into my heart that I might not hear if I was living at a shallower level or surrounded by noise, real and virtual.
Winter is my reflective season, which produces seeds of wisdom and truth that will yield a harvest for the rest of the year.
Do you find winter to be a good time to reflect and meditate? I’d love to hear about your meditations in the comments!
In my devotional yesterday, I read the exhortation by David Clarkson in the photo above.
I took his advice while doing my morning study in James and started meditating on this verse:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. James 1:5
I read it in several versions and was struck by the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) version, where the translators used the word ungrudgingly in place of without reproach.
When I had first thought about the verse, I focused on the generosity of God, but after reading the CSB version, I focused instead on the manner in which God gives to us–ungrudgingly. No matter how often we ask, no matter how many times we beseech Him for wisdom or any other good thing, our Heavenly Father never begrudges us our requests.
How unlike me, I thought. My husband or my children ask me for something and while I may choose to give to them or do something for them, in my heart I begrudge the time or effort it takes. At work also, I may begrudge helping someone who needs my assistance because they interrupted a project or because I felt weary at the end of the day. I even begrudge my cat’s need to play sometimes when I have an agenda that doesn’t include that time. On the other hand, our God never begrudges giving to us. He never gets tired or grumpy when asked for the umpteenth time to give as I often do. I suspect the same is true for many of my readers.
So, how do we learn to give without grudging as the Lord gives to us? We ask Him for grace and mercy and strength to have a cheerful heart while giving, whether it is giving to another person or serving God Himself. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8:
But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
God will make all grace abound towards us and give us a sufficiency so we have an abundance for every good work He has given us to do. Whether I have work for His kingdom or a work of devotion and prayer, an errand for my husband or a listening ear for my sons, a helping hand for a friend or even energy to care for my kitten, the Lord gives me an abundance so I might give cheerfully and ungrudgingly, and He does the same for you.
Will you join me in striving to give generously and without reproach this week, knowing that we have the overflowing riches of our Heavenly Father from which to draw?
Every year I look forward to seeing a snapshot of my reading year in Goodreads. I don’t add every book I read to my Goodreads account, but I add most of them. I always begin the year with good intentions about what I’m going to read, and I like to see how close I get to my starting goals.
In 2019, I set a goal to read 80 books, and I recorded 85 books read as of December 31, 2019. 69 of those books were fiction and 16 nonfiction or poetry. Eight were children’s books and only one was on audio. 34% of the books were rereads, which is a higher percentage than usual.
It was not quite as rich a reading year as 2018, but there are several titles that stand out as well worth my reading time
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner – I read this for my book club, but I had wanted to read it ever since finishing Crossing to Safety last year. This is the book that Stegner won the Pulitzer for and I can see why he did. Stegner tells the story of an artistic young woman who marries a mining engineer and moves to California and other western locations with him. At its heart is the story of a marriage, and I was fascinated by how this couple dealt with all of the difficulties they faced. Apparently they were real people and Stegner used family papers to tell their story in this excellent historical novel.
The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth – I picked this up on a whim and enjoyed reading the story of a woman and her relationship with her mother-in-law. When it began, I thought the author was going to take it in a typical direction, but I was wrong and the end result was excellent. A thriller with a meaty twist.
I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos – A feel good novel about a difficult topic. Modern Mrs. Darcy suggested this as part of her 2018 Summer Reading. I never regret reading her suggestions, even the ones that I’m not sure are my type of books.
Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict – I’ve enjoyed the many books about lesser known women in history that I have come out over the last several years. This book about Clementine Churchill helped me better understand Prime Minister Winston Churchill and was a interesting look at their marriage and how much stronger the two of them were together than either of them were on their own.
Kindred by Octavia Butler – another book group read and one I’ve had on my to-read list for several years. Butler uses time travel as a medium for a modern African American woman to go back to pre-Civil War Maryland. It was a horrifying look at slavery and the system that she had only read about in history books. I’m glad I read it although I had to put it down a few times to recover from the events in the book. I recommend this for anyone who wants to have a better idea of what slavery was really like for many people in this country.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – I’m a sucker for books written in letters and this hilarious book tells the story of Bernadette, an anti-social wife and mother in Seattle, who disappears and how her teen daughter tracks her down through her emails and texts she left behind. It was fun book that kept me up far too late because I wanted to know where Bernadette had gone and why she did what she did.
Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher – I’ve had this on my shelf since my mother’s death (it was her copy), but I kept putting it off because once I read it, I would have read all of Pilcher’s major novels, which I loved. However, after listening to a respected author recommend it, I picked it up to read this Christmas, and it did not disappoint. Wonderful characters, lovely domestic descriptions, and an uplifting but not saccharine story of second chances at love. Each of Pilcher’s major books goes with a season in my mind although I don’t know if she meant for that to be true. This one is obviously a winter book and I know I will pull it out again in the next couple of years to read on a snowy week.
My top two nonfiction reads are by the same author, Christie Purifoy: Roots and Sky and Placemaker. I don’t remember how I first heard of Roots and Sky but I read it last winter and fell in love with the author’s beautiful prose. I found her blog and podcast soon after and they tided me over until her second book came out last spring. She writes about making a home, no matter what your job or sex or time of life as well as discussing gardens, books, and more. I love her books and recommend them to anyone who wants to read beautiful prose about beauty, plants, and community.
I reread Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin for the fourth time as part of a women’s study last summer and in preparation to teaching a Bible study in 2020. What a convicting, inspiring, helpful book. Every Christian woman should try to pick this book up to learn the reasons why we should be studying God’s Word as part of our daily lives.
Finding God in the Ordinary by Pierce Taylor Hibbs is a book of essays about how theology and God can be seen in the most ordinary of daily happenings.
Last, but not least, are two children’s books that I loved and recommend. Last summer I had the privilege of hearing Supreme Court Justice Sonja Sotomayor speak at a library conference. Like many of us, I had heard many things about Justice Sotomayor but didn’t have any idea what she was really like. Well, she was amazing—smart, funny, wise, and loving. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing her speak and went right back home to start reading her books. I started with her children’s books, Turning Pages and Just Ask, both of which are worth reading. I plan to read her adult memoir this year to find out more about this interesting woman.
What great books did you read in 2019? Was it a good reading year for you or less than your best? Tell me about it in the comments!
Everything acts according to its nature. Maple trees put down roots, grow pointed leaves that turn red in autumn, and drop their leaves every year because that is what they were made to do. Kittens play, eat numerous times a day, and purr in your lap because that is their nature. People also act according to their nature. Without Christ, they do as they please because sin thwarts their ability to live a righteous life. However, those of us in Christ have regenerated hearts and have the ability, by the power of the Spirit of God, to act according to our new natures, obeying God with gratitude and joy.
Have you ever watched a small child play with a shape sorter? She tries to put a cube into a round hole and gets frustrated. Then she tries to put the star in the square hole, and that doesn’t work either. But when she finds the sphere that fits the hole, she crows with joy because she matched the right shape with the right hole.
So it is with us. Our joy comes in matching our nature with our actions. When we act against our new nature in Christ, we only find sorrow and disappointment. We are no longer content with the things of this world because they don’t fulfill our needs. We are made for eternal things now.
In the letter to the Colossians, Paul tells us to put off the old man and instead follow our new nature in Christ:
But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, (Colossians 3:8-10).
Is Paul just being a killjoy here? No, he is stating the truth–we have new natures and our only joy will be in following who we are in Christ. Our old nature enjoyed the fleeting pleasures of this world and wanted its own way, but those things don’t fit our new nature. It’s like taking a shower and putting on the dirty clothes we shed before getting clean. Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote,
We are told to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and to make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof (Rom. 13:14). In other words, our old Adamic nature is compared to a dirty garment which we are to lay aside as we would lay aside any soiled clothing, and we are to put on the new man as we would put on clean, fresh linen.
Barnhouse, D. G. (1963). God’s Heirs: Romans 8:1–39 (p. 18). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Do you want to feel joy in your life? Find it in obeying Christ. I once heard a pastor say that we often have at least one thing that we should be doing and aren’t or that we shouldn’t be doing and are. Think of that thing, and do it or stop doing it. At first, it may be hard and maybe you won’t feel happy about it. Eventually, however, joy will bubble up in your heart as a result of the Holy Spirit working, and in Him, you will find fullness of joy.
When my boys were young, they would bring me “junk” books on our weekly library trips. It wasn’t that the books were that bad, but especially during the school year, I wanted them to read better books. I would tell them that just as our bodies grow and remain healthy with good, nutritious food and just a little bit of “junk”, so our minds grow and remain healthy with well-written, edifying books and a small side of light reading (mostly comic books and thriller type books). We added those type of books in sparingly, and the boys soon learned to read them occasionally rather than regularly. A steady diet of “junk”, whether mental or physical, leaves us feeling sluggish and unhealthy. With so many choices of reading (and listening) on the internet, I’ve started instituting the same rule for my online reading.
To help keep your mind and heart full of enriching words, here are some articles and a podcast I found helpful this week:
Whether you are studying the Bible on your own, in a small group, or teaching it to others, listen to this podcast. Lane Tipton and Nancy Guthrie discuss the importance of teaching and studying the Bible in the context of the big themes God has given us in His Word.
For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land? Psalm 137:1-4 (NKJV)
In my last post, I talked about how singing can help in hard times. However, sometimes singing seems impossible—our eyes are full of tears, our throats are choked with sorrow, our emotions are so fragile that even a word will cause us to break.
The Israelites faced a similar situation. In 586 B.C., the Babylonians broke down the walls of Jerusalem, burned the city, destroyed the Temple, and carried away most of the Israelites to Babylon to live. The sorrow of the Israelite captives overwhelmed them. Jeremiah wrote:
For these things I weep;
My eye, my eye overflows with water;
Because the comforter, who should restore my life,
Is far from me.
My children are desolate
Because the enemy prevailed. Lamentations 1:16 (NKJV)
How could they sing when they were in a foreign land and most would never see their homeland again? So they hung up their harps and did not sing. Notice that they did not break their harps or throw them away. Even in the darkness of their despair, they put their instruments carefully away so they could use them again.
We see just a flicker of hope in the preservation of their harps. Perhaps they couldn’t sing today, but one day, when they returned to Zion, they could sing again. They kept their harps for that future day when the Lord relieved their hardship.
We can also have hope that our songs of lament or even silence in the night will again turn to songs of joy. Yes, today is full of sorrow, so much so we cannot sing, we cannot rejoice, we cannot even speak without crying. But it will not always be that way. Even if in this life we never reach the point of singing joyfully again, just as some Israelites died in Babylon and never saw Jerusalem again, we know that one day, we will sing again in the New Jerusalem, when we are with the Lord. Then we will join with the saints in songs of praise to our God, our Deliverer, our Savior and King.
The Lord knows our hearts. He knows that we are frail children of dust, as the hymn writer said, and if we are too full of sadness to do more than groan, the Holy Spirit will speak for us, will sing for us, before the throne of God. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Romans 8:26(NKJV)
What a merciful God to provide even words for us when we have none for ourselves. He never leaves us by those willows by ourselves but meets us there. Jesus was there Himself in Gethsemane, and He knows firsthand our sorrow and our pain. The fact that the Lord has endured the most crushing pain of all and has been victorious gives us hope.
Paul wrote, We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed 2 Corinthians 4:8-9(NKJV). When our strength is gone, He will intervene, and the gospel will shine through as we trust in Him in our darkest days.
If you are in a time when you cannot sing, do not despair. Put your harp carefully away, knowing that you will pick it up again when the storm has passed, when your exile is over, when you can once again sing praise to the Lord in the storm’s midst. Do not fear that He will abandon you if you cannot sing right now. Our Lord is tender towards us and will be gentle with our weakness. Isaiah wrote,
A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. 4 He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law. Isaiah 42:3-4(NKJV)
He will deliver you out of this difficult time just as He delivered Israel out of exile and brought them back, singing, to Jerusalem:
So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 51:11 (NKJV)