Reading and Listening – October Edition

Here is just a sampling of what I’ve been reading and listening to this past month.

Reading

I love the idea of a bullet journal, and I do use the method for my book journal. However, I like having a planner with all of my goals built in, a journal for books and reading, a notebook for notes, and a journal for quotes, prayers, thoughts, processing, etc. It works better for me. So many people love the bullet journal method that I may try again one of these years. Here are two articles on Bullet Journaling that came up in my reading this month for those of you who want to give it a try. If you do, I’d love to hear how it goes.

Can Bullet Journaling Save You

Anne Bogel’s experience with her bullet journal

I enjoy reading Cal Newport’s work, and this is his take on how to carve out time for creative work:

Getting Creative Things Done: How to Fit Hard Thinking into a Busy Schedule

I love Agatha Christie’s novels and thought I had read them all until I found this list recently. If I had ever read The Mystery of the Blue Train, I didn’t remember it at all. Are there any titles on the list that you want to try?

Agatha Christie’s Top 20 Novels

This article reminded me of the discussions I used to have with my children about the importance of what they read and watched. The things we take in eventually come out in our living, our words, and our actions as well as in our writing and artistic pursuits. What are you taking into your mind and heart these days?

Shoveling Mulch onto the Leaf Mold of the Mind

Listening:

I love mysteries and some of my favorite titles are in the Inspector Gamanche series by Louise Penny. It was a joy to hear some of my favorite podcasters talk about how much they love them, too.

Episode 96 of Out of the Ordinary

Rarely does a week go by when I don’t listen to a podcast or lecture on theology or the Bible. One of my favorites apps is from Ligonier.org because of all of the great content. Recently, I’ve been listening to Dr. Derek Thomas’s series on Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s not my first time listening to it and it won’t be my last, but every time I listen, I learn something new about Scripture, about Bunyan, and about our God. It’s a bit pricy, but you can watch the first lecture for free on the site and then wait for the series to go on sale. I always get the audio download so I can listen on my app on the go, but there is also a CD and DVD.

The Pilgrim’s Progress: A Guided Tour

I appreciate Karen Swallow Prior’s books and after reading On Reading Well, I sometimes wished I could take a literature class with her. While that’s not a possibility, I found a way to listen to her wise insights when she was a guest host on a literature podcast I enjoy, Close Reads. She and two other literature lovers and teachers walked through Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. If you don’t like Jane Austen, try one of the other books they’ve read through together. I’ve discovered some new favorites, and I bet you will, too. Here’s a link to the first episode:

Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments, if you found any of these links interesting or helpful.

Writing in Difficult Times

A journal with paper that doesn’t allow the ink to bleed through and a roller ball pen are my tools of choice when writing by hand.

Like most of you reading this, I have been home a good deal over the last several months, in order to help keep my loved ones and other people in my circles healthy and safe. You would think that with all of this extra time at home (no commute!), I would have been writing up a storm. Alas, it seems that the same conditions that are keeping me at home also seem to be stopping up my creativity.

However, I have been writing and hanging out with writers long enough to know that creativity is not something that always strikes like lightning. Instead, thoughts and ideas come when you cultivate the right conditions for them. What are these conditions? Here are a few that I found help me create a conducive atmosphere for writing:

Noticing
A good writer notices things—the color of the sky, the sound of a dog barking in the street, the conversation in a restaurant, the way a girl skips home, the feel of a fuzzy kiwi in your hand, etc. Writers also notice the way the world works with all of its contradictions, surprises, ruts, pleasure, and pain. They then take these noticings and turn them into ideas for stories, essays, poems, and more.

Recording ideas
No matter how much noticing you do and how many ideas rise to the surface, unless you record them somehow, they could slip through your fingers and be lost. Find a good way to record your ideas and the things you notice. I use several methods to retain ideas. I have a notebook with a pen clipped to it. It’s small enough to keep with me most of the time so I can always jot down a thought as it occurs. I also use the notes app on my smart phone for the times when I don’t have my notebook handy. In a pinch (usually when I’m driving, which seems to be a great time for writing blog posts in my head), I have resorted to talking into my phone and recording my thoughts or the ideas taking shape. Then I can work with them when I get home.

Routines
A good writer develops routines. Writing only happens when you sit down in the chair on a regular basis and put something on paper. Find the time and place that works for you and make it part of your everyday life. The following quote says it all:

Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over time they discover that routine is a better friend than inspiration.

Ralph Keyes

Transition Rituals
Oftentimes, writing requires changing gears from your daily tasks to reaching down into your mind and soul to transform your ideas and thoughts and noticings into something new. This can be a hard transition, and oftentimes a little ritual of some sort can help. Lighting a candle, brewing a cup of something hot, putting on certain music, or picking up a favorite pen can all be signals to your brain that writing time has begun.

Planning
While some writers don’t need plans to write, others find that planning is the key to bridging the gap between ideas and words on a page. I fall into that camp. If I sit down to write without any plan at all, I sometimes will merely stare at a blank page or produce only garbage. Planning seems to be an essential part of writing for me. This is not true for every writer, but if you are having difficulty getting words on paper, try brainstorming several ideas and then sit down and work on an idea a day. Just having something in mind going into your writing session can be the difference between a blank page and a rough draft.

Tools
Choose your tools wisely. If you prefer paper and pen, choose smooth paper that feels good and a pen that doesn’t make your hand hurt or smear on the paper. If you choose digital, feel comfortable with your keyboard and make sure your computer or tablet or phone has the space to contain what you want to write. If you’re writing outdoors or off the grid, make sure your device is fully charged. Having enough light helps as does having a comfortable chair and sturdy desk or table.

Focus
Finally, good focus makes a difference. We live in an age of increasing distraction, but successful writing requires the ability to focus for substantial amounts of time, using deep thought and hard work. A book that I have found helpful in re-teaching myself how to focus well is Cal Newport’s Deep Work. He doesn’t have any easy answers. Work is still work, but Newport does give you the tools and practical frameworks for learning to focus for longer and longer periods of time, which can make or break your writing routines.

I hope these ideas are helpful with inspiring you to create words and articles and books and poems. Do you have any tips for creativity? Please share them in the comments.

Interesting Articles and Podcasts

Each week, I send articles to a website that sends me a collection of articles to read in a single document for my kindle. This helps prevent me from falling down “rabbit holes” when I should be doing something productive but allows me to keep reading interesting things from around the web. Here are a few of the articles I’ve read this past month:

Jen Wilkin lists nine things to help in studying the Bible: https://www.crossway.org/articles/9-tips-for-making-the-most-of-your-bible-study/

Many of us are still working from home, which can make the work/home lines bleed together a bit too much at times. This article is a helpful look at the benefits of unplugging from work and other online pursuits: http://lauraearnest.com/unplugging/

While we are able to get out and about more these days, spending a couple of hours in a coffee shop may not be optimal or even possible. Here are ways to duplicate that experience of writing (or working) in a coffee shop: https://thewritelife.com/recreate-coffee-shop-experience-from-home/

Although I’ve been a Christian for many years, prayer is still difficult for me at times. Lectio Divina has been one way, through two prayer apps a friend suggested, to focus on the Lord each morning: https://www.24-7prayer.com/ancientprayerrhythms

My garden has never looked better since I’ve had more time at home to tend it. There’s something wonderfully healing about being outside in nature without a phone or other electronic device and dig: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/08/24/the-therapeutic-power-of-gardening

Reading has been a daily habit of mine for decades. However, I’m always reading articles and books on how to cram more reading time into my life. This article was great. https://psyche.co/guides/how-to-make-a-daily-habit-of-reading-more-books

I subscribe to several podcasts, some of which I listen to every single episode and some of which I dip into once in a while when the episode sounds applicable to my life or I want to know more. Here are some episodes I found particularly useful or interesting this past month:

Sarah from theshubox.com has started a new planner/planning podcast, which I love. Here’s her take on building a planning system: https://bestlaidplans.libsyn.com/rss

I just found the Redeeming Productivity podcast this summer and am slowly working my way through the back episodes. This recent episode was helpful in thinking about how contentment doesn’t have to interfere with ambition and productivity: https://www.redeemingproductivity.com/feed/podcast

I have loved all of the episodes of Help Me Teach the Bible with Nancy Guthrie, but I found this one especially fascinating as she talked to Andrew Sach about Elijah and Elisha and their foreshadowing of the New Testament: https://feeds.simplecast.com/TtKQNBCJ

Cal Newport, author of one of my favorite productivity books, Deep Work, started a new podcast this year. This is his kickoff episode. Don’t let the length scare you. He addresses multiple questions in each episode, which means you can listen for 10-20 minutes and then leave it until the next time without losing the thread of a discussion. I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to do focused knowledge work for their job or personal projects. His humor is a bit nerdy, which adds to the fun: https://feeds.buzzsprout.com/1121972.rss

When I’m trying to focus on work or writing, sometimes I need silence and sometimes background music helps. Eric Nordhoff is an artist I discovered recently, whose music is uplifting and great for focusing:

https://open.spotify.com/album/6co8Pt2GpcnqNa17Mbr77C?si=RagH7JKOTuibDTaX5kyeKQ

What are you reading and/or listening to this month?

A Month of Sundays

That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. 12 For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; – Leviticus 25:11-12a

This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their wordly employments and recreations,[38] but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. – Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 21.VIII

Our culture, which had become increasingly busy over the last few decades, suddenly came to a screeching halt because of the virus roaming the world. Many people started working from home rather than commuting or traveling. Shopping became a thing of necessity rather than recreation. Family meals, which were often interrupted or even non-existent due to school and recreation activities, became the norm rather than the exception

Everything slowed down and it gave us an opportunity to catch our breath, to regroup, to think about what matters to God, to us, to our friends and family. It has given us time to ask questions: What is the most important thing in my life? How do I spend my time? Are all of these activities and commitments even necessary?

In the Old Testament, the Lord not only set up one day in every seven for rest and worship, the Sabbath, He also set up an entire year, the year of Jubilee, a year in which slaves were freed, property was restored to its original owner, and the land was left to rest from the planting of crops. While the original Hebrew word, yobhel, referred to the ram’s horn used to proclaim the year of Jubilee, the meaning altered through the centuries to come to mean rejoicing. Rejoice that you are free. Rejoice that your property is restored. Rejoice that you can rest. Rejoice that more time has been freed up for worship.

In the 17th century, a group of men created the Westminster Confession of Faith, a document systemizing the theology of the Scripture for the church in England during the reign of James I. In that confession, these men wrote about the Sabbath as a time to rest from ordinary activities each week and turn hearts and minds to worship and rest.

This time of staying at home, of withdrawing from normal activity, of becoming more aware of what is important and what is not, has seemed like a jubilee or Sabbath. While I have been working from home every day, I have had much more time to think, time to take regular walks in the fresh air, time to reflect on what is important, time to see patterns in my life that weren’t always edifying, time to be rather than do.

Instead of only one day of the week, Sunday, to regroup, reset, take a nap, plan ahead, all of my days have had an extra cushion of time in which to rest my mind and heart and body. I have had the time to consider what is most important: to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”, “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”.

The news continues to be sobering, people are still suffering, and all many of us can do is to stay at home or socially distance in order to keep those around us safe. However, we can use the extra time for reflecting, for freeing ourselves from activities that have become a burden, for giving the soil of our hearts and minds a rest from its usual things, for resetting our schedules, and for rejoicing in God and His goodness in the midst of this difficult time.

As our communities begin to open up again more fully and work, commitments, and activities all begin to require more of our time and energy again, let’s make sure that we have built in the rest we’ve discovered during the past several months. Let’s reset our expectations for ourselves and for others. Let’s turn to the Lord for wisdom and discernment as we add back in only those things that help us to seek His kingdom first. And let’s rejoice that His sovereign will is perfect, trusting that all of these difficulties will bring Him glory and us good.

Winter Reflection

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.

Image by janbrokes from Pixabay

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. 

Current devotional reading

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!

We Are What We Read

Ochoa 5

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:

Busyness and Rest

Jesus knew the difference between urgent and important. He understood that all the good things He could do were not necessarily the things He ought to do.

Suggested Reading List

If you’re like me and are always looking to dive deeper into various aspects of Biblical and Systematic Theology, this list will keep you reading for a long time.

Don’t Let ‘VeggieTales’ Drive You to Neglect Imperatives

It’s so easy to throw out morals when we seek to avoid moralism. Michael Kruger writes about how to see those morals in the frame of the gospel. Great reading!

On Daughters and Dating: How to Intimidate Suitors

Great article on raising strong daughters. I shared it with my boys with the advice that strong young women with good “walls” are the ones they should seek as wives.

Countering Structural Lie #4: What Does ‘Keeping the Sabbath’ Mean?

True rest isn’t found in “doing,” but in “being” – with the lover of our souls in that intimate, sacred place of communion and surrender.

7 Ways To Make Your Next Vacation More Soul-Nourishing

I plan to incorporate these ideas in my upcoming vacation time.

When Regret Knocks

With only a few weeks left of summer, don’t let regret rob you of savoring those moments you do have.

Lane Tipton on Anchoring our Teaching in the Central Themes of the Bible

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.

 

 

 

What Does Your Business Card Say?

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I’ve been making my way through the backlist of the Out of the Ordinary podcasts. After listening to Episode 6 last week, I created a “business” card to take with me to a writers’ conference I will attend this month.

In the podcast, Lisa-Jo Baker and Christie Purifoy discussed how we need to be careful about how we identify ourselves since our roles may change because of life’s circumstances. At the end of the podcast, they suggested that you write a “business” card for yourself, starting with your name and title, Beloved Child of God. Then you can add whatever roles you have underneath, remembering always that first you are God’s beloved child and that everything else flows from your identity in Christ.

When I thought about what to write on my new business card, I started with the idea that my life is hidden in Christ, I am His child, and He has given me all of the things I do each day. Then I wrote these words to describe my current roles outside of my full-time job:

Writer, Thinker, Researcher

What would you write on your “business” card?

Stand and Stare

October 18, 2018 at 0807AM - God_s majesty in today_s sunrise. I marveled all the way to work.

Sunrise over the Rappahannock River

Life is so busy, isn’t it? We run here and there—work, home, school, children, errands, entertainment, church. There is always something that needs attention. Or we need to catch up with our friends and followers on social media. Or catch the latest movie. Or make sure to tidy the garden before the first frost. Or the million other things we need or want to do.

So many times I run like a hamster on a wheel to do everything required. Between my responsibilities at work and home, there is little or no breathing space left in the schedule. Mail and newspapers alone can get out of control quickly. I need to cut back plants and weed the garden, as well as run errands and help my husband with needed paperwork.  Then there are the untidy closets and drawers, beckoning for me to come and sort things out, to donate and discard, and to tidy them so that we don’t wasting precious minutes, wading through junk.

I want time to read for fun or edification so I try to carve out time for reading every day. Creating a new blog post or working on a book I’m trying to write also take time. I’d like to get back to knitting and sewing and make curtains for the bare windows in my book room.

I spend precious time in the kitchen, cooking meals for the family, baking food for them and others in need, and endless cleaning up after those many meals and snacks.

If I do everything I need to do, never mind want to do, I notice I’m running myself ragged, like a piece of rope, frayed until worn to only the merest thread holding it together. I feel like that piece of rope all too often, and I know why I do. It’s because, in all of my to-do lists and musts, I have forgotten to stand and stare.

Have you read Leisure by William Henry Davies?  I don’t remember when I first read it, but it resonated so strongly that I have never forgotten it.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Do we make time to stand and stare? Do we make time to:

  • look at the beauty of a sunrise or sunset instead of fleetingly glancing out our car windows as we rush off to the next appointment
  •  pause by a rose bush and touch the pale pink petals while inhaling the sweet scent of a newly opened bud
  • walk through the dew-drenched grass in the early morning and listen to the birdsong echoing all around us, praising the God who made the world
  •  sit on the porch during a thunderstorm and watch the lightning and streaming rain from a place of safety, but open to the wind and sound
  • look at the sunlight streaming in the windows over a table with a stack of books and a teacup, full of hot tea, waiting for us to stop and take a sip, then another and another while inhaling the steam and cradling the warm bowl of the cup in our hands
  • sit quietly in the evening with a glass of wine or water, meditating on the past day and thinking about all the little things for which we are grateful
  •  spend a few moments every day in thanksgiving for the simple pleasures, which are all around us and so easy to find if we choose to look

Do you take time to stand and stare?  Or do you, like I, forget that life is so much more than busyness and obligations and duties and shoulds and oughts? How many times do we forget that sometimes it is our business is to be quiet, to wait, to wonder, to meditate, and to think great thoughts? Let’s not spend this precious life merely racing from day to day without standing and staring and noticing our surroundings.

How do we make the time though? With so many people needing us and tasks set before us, how do we turn away from the neediness of our worlds?

I don’t have all the answers but I think that if we want to meet the needs of those around us, we will do it better if we have a regular time to stand, to think, to plan, to wonder, to understand the whys of what we do rather than just throw ourselves headlong, to meditate on the truths of what we believe so that we can more fully follow through on those beliefs.

It is easier, for sure, to rush through life without thinking. But join me in rebelling against that hamster-wheel type existence. Stand. Stare. Look. Think. Enjoy.

Life will be richer and more full of joy and wonder if you and I take the time each day, if only for a moment or two, to stand and stare.