A Quote Off My Shelf

“I am looking for friends. What does that mean — tame?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.” 

“To establish ties?” 

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….

Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Little Prince

(The Little Prince did not much charm me the first read-through, I must admit. The beginning bored me and I had a hard time grasping what the point of it all was. It struck me as a deeply cynical book–always disparaging of “grown-ups” and their ways. But when I made a second pass through the book–a skim read, to jot down my favorite quotes–the book worked its quiet magic on me. This quote thrills me.)

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The Soul You Loved

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“I know a man in Hell now.” That’s what the Preacher should have said if he were honest. But no one wanted an honest preacher today. Instead he talked of the good parts of the man’s life, how generous, and kind and caring he was, and what a shame it was he died young–all the things everyone wanted to hear. Old women daubed their eyes and a young lady softly whimpered.

The funeral home was unbearably warm, the small room packed. The preacher loosened his neck tie for the third time and talked of heaven and angels, hoping no one noticed the abrupt transition. He didn’t say the man was there, exactly, but he didn’t say he wasn’t there either. Best to let people think he might be.

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To Imitate the Strains I Love

THE REDBREAST AND THE SPARROW

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As a Redbreast was singing on a tree by the side of a rural cottage, a Sparrow, perched upon the thatch, took occasion thus to reprimand him: “And dost thou,” said he, “with thy dull autumnal note, presume to emulate the birds of spring? Can thy weak warblings pretend to vie with the sprightly accent of the thrush and the blackbird, with the various melody of the lark or nightingale, whom other birds, far thy superiors, have been long content to admire in silence.” “Judge with candor, at least,” replied the Robin, “nor impute those efforts to ambition solely which may sometimes flow from love of the art. I reverence, indeed, but by no means envy the birds whose fame has stood the test of ages. Their songs have charmed both hill and dale, but their season is past and their throats are silent. I feel not, however, the ambition to surpass or equal them; my efforts are of a much humbler nature; and I may surely hope for pardon, while I endeavor to cheer those forsaken valleys by an attempt to imitate the strains I love.”

Long before I had the desire to write well I had the desire to sing well. I wanted desperately to sing with an enchanting, ethereal, soprano voice that soothed, uplifted, and inspired all who heard. No other activity made my heart swell like singing.

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I received many compliments on my voice as a child. Certain it was a gift, I sang confidently and with gusto whenever asked. But when I grew a little older I came into contact with girls who sang better than me. Girls in my church’s children’s choir. Women on the radio. As I began to understand music theory and vocal control my own inadequacies were revealed to me as I’d never seen them before. Suddenly my “gift” seemed a lot less extraordinary.

I looked around me at all the world’s talent and a tightness crept into my throat. I became cripplingly self-conscious about my voice. I demurred when someone asked me to sing and squeaked an off-key tune if I gave in. Compliments unnerved me because I felt them to be either ignorant of the true talent there is in the world or else to be insincere, the kind of compliments people feel obliged to give when someone has presented some trinket they’ve made. I cycled through emotions of jealousy, discontent, shame, and a “why-bother?” attitude. I had swallowed without knowing, the lie that the gift that is not great is no gift at all.

The reproofs of the Sparrow are not unknown to us. We are spurred on by ourselves and our self-centered culture to gain a step ahead of the rest whenever we can. We are bombarded by comparisons on social media–an unspoken, sometimes even spoken, contest for who is the prettiest, the hottest, the sexiest, the smartest, the wittiest, the most pious, the coolest, the nerdiest, the craziest, the most sold-out for God. And it’s a contest, no matter how hard we try, that we are always losing. It doesn’t matter how much you are these things, there’s always somebody out there who possesses them more.

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Reading “The Hidden Art of Homemaking” by Edith Schaeffer helped open my eyes to the beauty hidden in small gifts, expressed in unassuming ways.

“…be satisfied” she writes, “with the fact that although your art or talent may never be accepted by the world as anything ‘great’, and may never be your career, it can be used to enrich your day by day life: enrich it for you, and for the people with whom you live.” (pg. 48)

“Even as the edelweiss which grows unseen by human eyes beside some distant mountain rock, or the violet under a fern at the edge of the wood, is unappreciated by any human being because it remains unseen, yet still has purpose because the living God sees and appreciates each blade of grass and each flower as well as every sparrow; so the lovingly prepared meal which may not seem to find any response or appreciation from any human being is being shared by Him in a very real way.” (pg. 127)

“…one does not need a degree, nor even a tremendous talent, to enjoy and bring enjoyment to others through gardening.” (pg. 85)

“If you feel you have an unrecognized talent for writing, or if you simply love to write and want to do it, my advice is write. But write without ambitious pride, which makes you feel it is a ‘waste’ to write what will never be published.” (pg. 136)

Pursue excellence, be the very best you can be, but remember our standard is not notoriety, power, or wealth. Our standard is not entrance into the Guinness Book of World Records. We can and should admire those of spectacular gifting but not to covet them. Let efforts of excellence be not for “ambition solely” but “flow from love of the art.”

My daddy didn’t have to be born with the eloquence of Apollos to become a Pastor. He doesn’t have to be the next Martin Luther or Charles Spurgeon to craft sermons every week to feed the sheep entrusted to his care, sermons rooted deep in the springs of the Word, enriched by his study in the stream of historical orthodoxy and by his love and understanding of metaphor and story, weaving a message I am on the edge of my seat every week to hear and drink from that fountain of grace.

My mama didn’t have to have to be uniquely innovative or revolutionary in her methods of education to homeschool me and my five siblings. She didn’t (and doesn’t) have to be the next Charlotte Mason or Susan Wise Bauer to give me and my siblings a rich childhood full of memories of cardboard igloos and log cabins in the dining room, hotel-room forts where we did our school in between a move, spontaneous raccoon dissections, endless read-alouds and field trips, a love of stories, a love of discussion, a love of learning, a love of God.

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I don’t have to be the next Norman Rockwell to illustrate fun taxonomy flash cards to help my siblings and I learn about the marvelous creatures God has made.

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I don’t have to be the next Rachel Ray to give my mom a break from cooking now and then or labor alongside her to prepare a meal that is both flavorful and nutritious, a facilitator of memories and meaningful conversation.

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I don’t have to be the next Carol Klein to cultivate a small butterfly garden to delight my younger siblings and my family’s guests.

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I don’t have to be the next Martha Stewart to upcycle glass bottles and jars into works of art to make a sick friend smile.

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I don’t have to be the next Shakespeare or Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald to write reviews and stoems that are beautiful and useful to my friends and family.

I don’t have to be the next Robin Williams to kindle a love for stories in my younger siblings by reading aloud to them with the couple of voices and accents I have taught myself over the years.

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I don’t have to be the next Shin’ichi Suzuki to teach children the basics of piano and instill in them a love for music.

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I don’t have to be the next Steve McCurry to capture through film the little joys that make up my family’s memories and the life of our church–moments, that if I waited for greater talent to come along wouldn’t be captured at all.

I don’t have to be the next Alison Krauss to sing a lullaby to sooth a crying infant or help teach my younger siblings to sing praises to their Creator or join my voice in harmony with my church congregation.

I don’t have to be the best the world has known and neither do you. We just have to find a way to use the measure of gifting God has given each of us. Stop trying to determine how great your gift is and instead, use it greatly. Even a small gift is still a gift, a gift to give as well as receive. Will you join me in saying with the Robin of Aesop’s Fable, “I feel not…the ambition to surpass or equal [the great singers]; my efforts are of a much humbler nature…I endeavor to cheer…forsaken valleys by an attempt to imitate the strains I love.”

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Miss the previous posts? Catch up here:

An Introduction to Aesop’s Fables

The Man and the Lion – Revisionism and Reductionism

The Snail and the Statue – The Injudicious Eye

Wisdom, Virtue, and Reputation – The Guardians of Reputation

Reviewer’s Digest//Fantasy and Sci-Fi

The Book of Dragons, selected and illustrated by Michael Hague

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Read August 24th-31st

This collection features several delightful dragon stories I’d never heard before or heard only in part. My one critique is that the illustrations didn’t always fit, the dragons often being more cartoonish and whimsical than fierce and magnificent as the stories describe them.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson (Wordsworth Classics)

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Read from October 20th-27th

The featured and famous short story “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is refreshingly Calvinistic in its eloquent and provocative portrait of human depravity. I give it five stars. The other short stories in this collection range from 1 star to 4. One crossed the line into useless and awful horror for its own sake (“Thrawn Janet”), several were dull and dragged, lacking the refinement of Stevenson’s later mastery of the short story form but still containing several lines worth underlining, and two stories, “The Merry Men” and “Markheim”, I found almost as riveting and intellectually stimulating as “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.”

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton

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Read November 6th-8th
5 Stars

The story opens and moves with the kind of childish silliness that makes you purse your lips, roll your eyes, shake your head, then smile despite yourself. Despite my grown-up sensibilities I caught myself laughing at wandering mangrove trees, giant poison-tongued tortoises that drop out of willow trees on unsuspecting victims, an imaginative girl determined to save the world (from–whatever it needs saving from!), a 12-year-old King who works to tears the citizens of the Island-At-The- Center-Of-Everything to provide a steady supply of pepper to satisfy his inordinate appetite for the spice, a man so long accustomed to shrinking from danger that his body has begun to shrink inside his now-oversized clothes and–of course, at a giant that is asleep under the island and may at any point wake up. Especially if the Leafeaters keep digging around his toes.

But underneath the ridiculous is a current of serious thought that will take you by surprise. You never stop laughing but somewhere along the way, so subtly that you don’t know quite when it began, you start thinking as well. You think about bigness and smallness. Of fear and adventure. Of strength and weakness. Of mystery and life’s frailty.

Life is both more terrifying and wonderful than we realize. It is “a mess and a miracle. So pick up a broom and dance.”

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

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Read October 30th
The first couple chapters were exciting. I loved the style of narration and was immediately draw into the unfolding story. But in the end, the story left me burdened by the sadness dystopias always bring me.

I am increasingly leery of the dystopian craze among my own peers. I think that the occasional dystopian novel is helpful to the Christian because of its unique ability to explore the implications of secular worldviews in a way abstract arguments can’t. Instead of telling you that communism is a dead- end road, they make you feel the oppression, ride the roller-coaster, and recoil in horror as the oppressed pigs of Animal Farm come to take on the likeness and behaviors of the Farmers they overthrew; instead of telling you that Darwinian evolution offers a hopeless future, they make you feel the coldness, the despair, and the emptiness of a godless universe deep down in your bones.

I need these reminders now and then, of just how hopeless the world is without Christ, of just how hopeless the espoused beliefs of many of my neighbors are. But I also think that if this kind of literature and film becomes our main staple and dominates our minds and affections, despite our cognitive disagreement with the worldview presented, the coldness and darkness of it will still subconsciously creep into our own worldview. We’ll begin to accept their view of reality as congruent with our own. I see it in young people of my generation manifested in a profound skepticism that there is hope for the world on the horizon, forgetting that Hope has arrived and He’s coming back and that that has profound implications for humanity. The future we face is neither dark nor cold nor uncertain and we need to be reminded of the hopefulness of our faith at least as often as we are reminded of the hopelessness of all others.

Other Fantasy and Sci-Fi books read in the second half of 2014: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, the Harry Potter books 1-4, The Hobbit (again)
Other General Fiction books read in the second half of 2014: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (click for review)

Gratitude and Ann Voskamp

With the holidays rolling around again, especially Thanksgiving, the topic of gratitude is a hot topic. My Facebook feed is already flooded by posts and book recommendations on gratitude. One book in particular took the market by storm three years ago and its author has continued to hold a steady and devout following ever since. That book is “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. I published a review of it here before my blog went public and I thought it would be an appropriate time to repost it.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0310321913/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0310321913&linkCode=as2&tag=livinheassha-20

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Songs of Asaph: Mountains on the Ocean Floor (Andrew Peterson)

#12. MOUNTAINS ON THE OCEAN FLOOR
Andrew Peterson

Oftentimes our own sins or the sins of others seem too deep and all signs of change invisible to our mortal eyes, but for those of us in Christ we cling in faith to the promise “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” even when we can’t see Him working. And for those outside of Christ we are given hope too for “the Spirit moves where it wills”. We often our unable to see the working of the Holy Spirit, it’s like “mountains on the ocean floor”–one day we’ll see the fruit but for now, “only God can see it grow”.

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Songs of Asaph: Mystery of Mercy (Andrew Peterson)

#11. MYSTERY OF MERCY
Andrew Peterson

I love Andrew Peterson’s identification with key characters in the Bible in this song and his flipping the cry of Jesus “my God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” into the cry of the believer “my God, my God, why has thou accepted me?”, emphasizing and contrasting the parallel between the two.

“Rejected so I could be accepted.
Scorned so I could be cherished.
Exposed so I could be clothed.
Bound so I could be free.
Oh, Love which makes the lover ugly, to make the loved lovely.”

Why were we chosen for salvation and not others? It’s not based on works or merit or anything else we do, it’s a beautiful Mystery of Mercy.

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