Giving myself a second chance with the classics

I was the little girl with her nose in a book.

There were girls with Barbies, girls with ponies, girls with sparkly pens and girls with sticker collections. But I was the girl with a book. My mom says I started reading just shy of my third birthday, and some of my most cherished childhood friends were creations of the fantastic world of fiction.

No one was more surprised than me, then, to discover that I did not enjoy English literature at school. Thinking perhaps high school lackluster lessons were to blame, I signed up for English Lit in my first year at college. I lasted one semester, and called it quits.

This raised confusing questions. If I loved reading books, why did I not love the literature that was supposed to be the “best” the English language had to offer? Why, when I heard something described as a “classic”, did I immediately write it off? “I love to immerse myself in reading,” I explained to others. “I just don’t like analyzing it to death. It takes the fun out of it.”

And so it was that I decided against reading any more of the classics. I found the characters distasteful , and (with the exception of Jane Austen), the stories unenjoyable. Why read those anymore if I didn’t have to?

But then, a few weeks ago, everything changed when I found myself immersed in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior’s combination of beautiful memoir and masterful literature review.

– See more at: http://modernmrsdarcy.com/2014/03/giving-myself-second-chance-classics/#sthash.MgxaXIxM.dpufI was the little girl with her nose in a book.

There were girls with Barbies, girls with ponies, girls with sparkly pens and girls with sticker collections. But I was the girl with a book. My mom says I started reading just shy of my third birthday, and some of my most cherished childhood friends were creations of the fantastic world of fiction.

No one was more surprised than me, then, to discover that I did not enjoy English literature at school. Thinking perhaps high school lackluster lessons were to blame, I signed up for English Lit in my first year at college. I lasted one semester, and called it quits.

This raised confusing questions. If I loved reading books, why did I not love the literature that was supposed to be the “best” the English language had to offer? Why, when I heard something described as a “classic”, did I immediately write it off? “I love to immerse myself in reading,” I explained to others. “I just don’t like analyzing it to death. It takes the fun out of it.”

And so it was that I decided against reading any more of the classics. I found the characters distasteful , and (with the exception of Jane Austen), the stories unenjoyable. Why read those anymore if I didn’t have to?

But then, a few weeks ago, everything changed when I found myself immersed in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior’s combination of beautiful memoir and masterful literature review.

– See more at: http://modernmrsdarcy.com/2014/03/giving-myself-second-chance-classics/#sthash.MgxaXIxM.dpuf

I was the little girl with her nose in a book.

This week I was thrilled to be a guest over at Modern Mrs Darcy’s blog.

second-chance-classics

I was the little girl with her nose in a book.

There were girls with Barbies, girls with ponies, girls with sparkly pens and girls with sticker collections. But I was the girl with a book. My mom says I started reading just shy of my third birthday, and some of my most cherished childhood friends were creations of the fantastic world of fiction.

No one was more surprised than me, then, to discover that I did not enjoy English literature at school. Thinking perhaps high school lackluster lessons were to blame, I signed up for English Lit in my first year at college. I lasted one semester, and called it quits.

This raised confusing questions. If I loved reading books, why did I not love the literature that was supposed to be the “best” the English language had to offer? Why, when I heard something described as a “classic”, did I immediately write it off? “I love to immerse myself in reading,” I explained to others. “I just don’t like analyzing it to death. It takes the fun out of it.”

And so it was that I decided against reading any more of the classics. I found the characters distasteful , and (with the exception of Jane Austen), the stories unenjoyable. Why read those anymore if I didn’t have to?

But then, a few weeks ago, everything changed when I found myself immersed in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior’s combination of beautiful memoir and masterful literature review…. Continue reading here.

Moses in Red Heels

I am loving the ‘Words that Changed my World‘ series so much! Today’s guest is Aleah Marsden: a gem of a writer who I count as a true friend. This is a story I’ve been waiting to share with you!

626px-Red_shoes

I do not recall the exact words of the conversation, just the echoes of her question remains. Something to the effect of: why load your future family down with the debt of an expensive degree you don’t really need to do what you’re supposed to do—be a stay at home mom?

Apparently my teenage self was too preoccupied to take in the weight of that moment. Too distracted by the twinkling engagement ring on my left hand, hinting at a new and shiny future, to notice the heavy stone that had just been dropped into the pool of my soul.

I have looked back on this moment often, almost unable to recognize the girl who smiled and nodded away her hopeful ambitions with almost no second thought. I was told the path of following Christ was that of sacrifice. Even if the sacrifice was my very self I would willingly give it. So, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, I laid down my plans for the “big picture.”

It would be four kids and the better part of ten years before I would begin to realize the cost of my unquestioning commitment to the idealism dropped into to my open hands. Countless tears shed in frustration and bearing the guilt of always feeling like a square peg with a round purpose. Always praying for contentment but unable to shake the feeling I was swimming against a great current; unable to escape the pull of the vortex of the dream for my life I still felt swirling inside.

Then came the words I will never forget.

I had spent years praying God would send me a Moses; someone to help lead me out of the Egypt of my own design. My Moses stepped into the scene wearing sassy red heels. She was the mother of a college student I had been mentoring. Jenn is many things I am not: tall, outspoken, truthful, and direct. She would be intimidating were it not for her boisterous easy laugh, quick wit, and giant smile.

We were sitting on my kid-stained couch on a sunny Friday morning and I had just poured out the angst that had been pooling inside for so long. She looked into my eyes blurry with unshed tears and said, “Have you ever considered writing?” One small new question that crushed the stronghold the former question had held for so many years.

In that moment, in the sunshine of spring, watered by my own tears and nourished by my mentor’s wisdom, the seed of my dreams buried for so long beneath dry soil—sprouted. And from what I thought was death new life flourishes.

profile picAleah Marsden is a stay at home mom of four who wakes up at 5am to study the Bible and write because she discovered physical exhaustion is more manageable than emotional exhaustion (i.e. consumes copious amounts of coffee). She blogs about life, faith, and studying the Bible at DepthOfTheRiches.com. Member of Redbud Writers Guild. Connect with her on Twitter: @marsdenmom

Words that changed my world – Kelly’s Gift

I’m thrilled to introduce a new series on my blog: Words that changed my world.

I’ve been stewing on this idea for quite some time: the notion of telling the stories of little words which changed our trajectory.

As I think back on my own life – there have been a few conversations where someone said something which changed everything. Often their words were just a casual part of the conversation: they have no recollection of having said something significant or profound, but I remember it as being one of those illuminated-signboard-moments as they gave an answer, an insight, a grace, a perspective which I had desperately needed at the time. Like Alan’s casual question: “Have you ever considered going to bible college?” which was the final signpost in a series of little nudges towards seminary. Or Kelly’s off-the-cuff words which began the slow work of rebuilding my teen-damaged self-esteem…. read on to find out what they were.

Of course Alan and Kelly have no recollection of those conversations. But I remember. Their words were so important: I treasured their investment in me. We have great power to do good with the words we say to one another: words of encouragement and care sometimes mean more than you could possibly know. I was stunned, after my 20 year high school reunion and the flurry of facebook (re)connections that brought, to have two classmates tell me that something I had said at high school had made a significant impact on them. I was amazed. Humbled. And more convinced than ever that these are stories we should tell: stories of acknowledgement and thanks to those who spoke kindly to us, stories of encouragement that we should continue to speak good things to each other. Because you just never know which of your thousands of words could be used to change someone’s world.

These are stories I want to tell. And they are stories I want to read– so this is an invitation to submit a story of something someone said which changed your world. It can be a story about how you chose a career, how you came to faith, the little something that made you decide to get married. It can be about how you started a hobby, or forgave a friend, or had an a-ha moment which has brought you great joy. Please, share your story. I’d love to hear it. (Check out the Be My Guest page for more details on how to contribute!)

Old typewriter keys. ©Robin Nelson

So, without further ado – I’ll kick off with the first of this new series: Words that changed my world.

Kelly’s Gift

It was my second year of college and I sat, boyfriendless, with my friend Kelly as she prepared to go on a date. I watched her put on mascara, aware of the pillow I had self-consciously pulled towards my stomach in an effort to hide it. She looked glamorous. I felt gormless. We chatted about this and that: she combed, I coveted. The intercom crackled to life: “Kelly, you have a gentleman visitor.”

“Thank you,” she sang. I took my cue to leave, releasing the pillow I’d been kneading. I said my goodbyes, and was already out the door when her voice came from behind me: “Bron, I don’t know why you don’t have a boyfriend,” she said. “You’re quite lovely, you know.”

I think the world must have stopped spinning for a second. Decades later, I can still remember noticing the checkered black and white floors beneath my feet as I heard those quick, parting words. They changed my world.

black and white floor

Despite years of constant love and encouragement from my parents, despite self-esteem building classes from guidance counselors and accolades-on-paper… the fact that I, in my second year of college, had yet to attract the attention of even one guy I liked, had left me feeling there was something intrinsically wrong with me. If I was prettier, more attractive, less snarky, thinner, more damsel-in-distressish, more smart, less smart… anything other than what I was – surely someone would have been interested in me?

No one was interested. I assumed it was me.

Until that day in the hallway with the black-and-white floors – where a kind friend, who (unlike my mother) did not have to say nice things to me – made an off-the-cuff remark which made me think for the first time that perhaps, just perhaps, there wasn’t something fundamentally unattractive or unlovable about me. Perhaps it wasn’t that I wasn’t the right person, perhaps it was just that it wasn’t the right time. Because if Kelly, who was wearing mascara and a swishy skirt and going on a date, couldn’t see anything wrong with me – and more than that, could use the word lovely to describe me – perhaps I was being a little too hard on myself.

I look back on my 18 year old self now and know that there is no way, looking from the outside, that people might have known how unlovely and unlovable I felt. I worked hard to come across as confident and smart: I wore assertiveness as armor, all the while hoping someone would be brave enough to like the person within. Kelly’s words were a gift: a kindness to a friend who may have made snarky remarks about the dating scene, but could not confess how very victimized I felt by it.

Almost twenty years have passed. When I look at college students now, I wonder how many of them wear the armor I wore: confidence masking crippling self-doubt, snarkiness veiling vulnerability. To those women, especially to those young women who seem to “have it all together” and “have an answer for everything”, I want to leave a sprinkling of kind words affirming that they are quite lovely as they are. I want to give them Kelly’s gift.

photo credit: fiadda.it

Fear Not!

I am thrilled to introduce my friend and fellow Redbud writer Dorothy Greco to you. I love Dorothy’s thoughtful and thought-provoking writing, and her photos are just… well…. breath-taking. She is a regular contributor at Gifted for Leadership, and her work has appeared at RELEVANT, Christianity Today, Abingdon Women and more . You can visit her online at dorothygreco.com, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

angel fear not

Americans generally don’t associate fear with Christmas. We tend to sanitize and commercialize the holiday, throwing in omniscient Santas and schmaltzy music for good measure. Even when we dramatize the Nativity, it’s safe and tidy with the generous magi showing up like long forgotten uncles. But there’s more to this narrative–and that more is far from safe.

The back story could easily earn an R rating and instill fear in the most courageous of souls: angelic visitations, high risk pregnancies, a last minute escape, a jealous king, and the infanticide of baby boys. Mary, Joseph, and Zechariah were not the only ones who needed to hear, Gabriel’s word, “Do not be afraid!”

Two things strike me about the angel’s exhortation. First, God understands humanity’s innate tendency to gravitate toward fear. And second, there’s an unspoken implication that choosing not to fear is an actual option.

I haven’t always felt like I’ve had a choice in this matter. Raised in a home with an alcoholic parent, there was a notable lack of predictability which left me grasping for control. As a coping mechanism, I developed the sensitivity of a deer grazing in broad daylight–ever poised to retreat at the slightest indication of a coming storm. Eventually, that hyper-vigilance became as much a part of me as my dimples and brown hair.

Regardless of our upbringing, few of us have entered adulthood without witnessing or experiencing at least a few frightening events. Accidents, health crises, and large scale tragedies (such as 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombing), all leave fault lines. For some of us, fear gets normalized due to years spent living in crime-ridden neighborhoods or being in abusive relationships.

Though each of us has unique histories with fear, our bodies respond in a similar fashion. Adrenaline surges, the heart goes into overdrive, muscles contract, body temperature drops, and organs deemed unnecessary for fight or flight (like the stomach) essentially shut down. And if fear persists, it impacts far more than our adrenal systems; it seeps into our souls and conditions our expectations. For some veterans, the simple sound of a car’s backfire can send them into a reflexive drop and roll.

So, was Gabriel onto something? Do we have a choice or is fear simply a chemical chain reaction–a byproduct of evolution–and therefore beyond our control? Based on my own life experiences and my understanding of Scripture, I think we can actually take back some of the territory lost to fear.

We first have to learn to recognize what fear looks like in our lives. For most of us, fear is connected to everyday worries. In contrast, many of the 40 million American adults who suffer from diagnosed anxiety disorders can recognize fear with their eyes closed because the anxiety they experience is far more acute. Understandably, some of these individuals organize their days to keep a safe distance from their personal cliffs.

But fear has many manifestations, some of which are difficult to identify. Sometimes it’s connected to a specific place (the dentist’s office) or activity (flying), but not always. In our current culture, most of us unreflectively say we’re “stressed” without piecing together that stress is little more than a euphemism for fear. In my own life, I’ve done some risky things (like sleeping under a highway overpass with runaway teens) and regularly enjoy the #1 fear on most people’s lists: public speaking. However, I continue to do hand to hand combat with fear on a routine basis.

Take last summer’s vacation. While in Zion National Park, our sons wanted to do the Angel’s Landing hike which has multiple dire warnings; “Not recommended for anyone fearful of heights. This hike has sheer drop offs.” My fear based imagination envisioned a sudden gust of wind pushing them over the edge. I tried to dissuade them but when that failed, I prayed non-stop until they re-appeared over the ridge.

This tendency to catastrophize, to expect the worst case scenario, has been with me as long as I can remember. While it’s impossible to discern exactly where it came from, I am convinced it has spiritual dimensions. It’s as if the enemy notices my moments of vulnerability, sidles up to me, and tries to convince me that my Father is not who He claims to be and is therefore, not to be trusted. Isn’t this the same tactic Satan took with Adam and Eve?

Paul wrote, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” For us to walk in that power, love, and self-discipline, we need to ruthlessly part company with fear. In my own life, this has meant confessing any and all faulty theology. If I begin to doubt God’s advocacy or love for me, I recall Jesus’s willingness to come to earth and die on my behalf. If the fear persists, I’ll address it directly; “In Jesus name, I rebuke you spirit of fear. Go to the cross.”(It’s counter cultural and won’t necessarily endear you to the random person standing next to you in the elevator, but trust me, it’s effective.)

While we all need some measure of healthy fear to keep us from stepping in front of a moving train, I believe that God wants us to appropriate Christ’s resurrection power whenever we feel limited or constrained by fear. If that’s the case, Gabriel’s exhortation to “Fear not!” is just as relevant–and comforting–for us today as it was for Joseph, Mary, and Zechariah two thousand years ago.

Please Note: For those of you who have diagnosed anxiety disorders, this does not mean that battling in the spiritual realm will erase the valid benefits you receive from your therapeutic work and/or prescribed medications.

When it isn’t the toddler throwing the tantrum – Guest post

Today’s guest post is by Aleah Marsden, my new friend and buddy at the Redbud Writers Guild. I love Aleah’s fun and faith, and her faith-filled down-to-earth writing: I think you will too. Aleah blogs at Depth of The Riches.

I could blame it on being tired. Six hours of sleep a night is just not enough to fuel my grueling sprint through my day. I could blame it on hormones, always a convenient excuse for a woman no matter what time of the month it is. It could have been because I was already overwhelmed and hearing that another new productivity plan I had implemented for my day was failing (which deep inside I already knew) was the straw that sent this camel crashing.

Regardless, it doesn’t change the fact that I threw an all-out, angry, sobbing, fists clenched tantrum.

Let it out!

I could call it a ‘lament’ to sound more spiritual, but I’ve been a mom to four little ones long enough to recognize a tantrum when I see it. All the signs leading up to it are obvious in hindsight: lack of sleep, frustration with not being able to control my environment, and just a general spirit of crankiness and dissatisfaction that I have been battling for some time.

It all came to a head last night in the kitchen. I sobbed and pounded my fists and I was MAD at God for the way He made me. I questioned His plans, I doubted His love. In the strongest language I could dare to muster I called Him unkind. I said He was mean and that He had given me gifts that were useless for my practical life and then abandoned me.

I wondered how “the God who sees me” would handle this situation. Would He scold me for my complete lack of faith, shake me and tell me to get it together? Does He subscribe to the “cry it out” method and take a step back and let me wear myself out? Was He going to wrap His arms of comfort around me… but I just wasn’t in the mood for a hug and wasn’t going to take a pacifier.
Much like with one of my kids I eventually wore myself out. My eyes stung, my head ached, and my pride bristled. I fell asleep while my husband (who had valiantly attempted to encourage me) was praying for me, as I refused to be comforted, feeling unrepentant and a bit rebellious.

I awoke to my 5am alarm. This is the time I have set aside to meet with my Father before diving into the deep end of my crazy days. I approached Him sheepishly. With an awkward, I’m not sure what to say about last night, I mumbled an invitation for Him to join me in my study this morning– not really sure if He would. Maybe this was the time I had pushed Him too far.
Yet again, in His grace-full way He opened my eyes to exactly the right words I needed for this morning. A servant who questioned Him, the blessing of having someone to encourage you when you can’t see the promises for yourself, and God’s long-suffering nature that has patience with people who don’t deserve it.

I still have a lingering emotional hangover this morning. I’m not sure if what I was shown was a shake, a step back, or a hug. I’m suspicious that it may have been all three. Nothing miraculously changed in my circumstances. But the anger has burned off leaving me to sit in the ashes of shame and repentance. I cannot call Him mean and He showed me that I have certainly not been abandoned.

Maybe that’s all the grace I can stomach today.