(I’m gratefully stealing this idea from Scribo:Girl.)

This summer has been a wonderful season in literature (and letters!) for me, so here are pictures from the last few months with some highlights from my reading….



“This has been a wonderful day!” said he, as the Rat shoved off and took to the sculls again. “Do you know, I’ve never been in a boat before in all my life.”  

“What?” cried the Rat, open-mouthed: “Never been in a—you never—well I—what have you been doing, then?”

(from The Wind in the Willows  by Kenneth Grahame)


As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod,
Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God:
I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies
In the freedom that fills all the space ’twixt the marsh and the skies:
By so many roots as the marsh-grass sends in the sod
I will heartily lay me a-hold on the greatness of God:
Oh, like to the greatness of God is the greatness within
The range of the marshes, the liberal marshes of Glynn.

(from the poem The Marshes of Glynn by Sidney Lanier)

IMG_0020 2.jpg

Having my identity in an eternal Father gave me the freedom to explore better how to love best…  Often it is messy but that’s okay.  Abundance tends to look that way.

“Your education here has included your conversion, or, put better, your conversion has marked the beginning of your real education.  Your time here has not only honed your intellect, but hopefully it has contributed to the shaping of your spirit, so that as you now walk off your ‘ledge of familiarity’, you will also be able to walk with those you meet every day….. People assume that our dignity only lies in our choices, in what we think we so powerfully will and wield.  But it can reside in our reactions, too, in our decisions about how to respond.”

(from Surprised by Oxford by Caroline Weber)


The humblest and at the same time most balanced and capacious minds praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least… Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.

(C.S. Lewis as quoted in Bandersnatch by Diana Pavlac Glyer)


 “Your daughter is a very superior person,” he told dad. “Most of the girls nowadays are all tops and no taters…”
Jane liked Uncle Tombstone too. In fact, nothing in her new life amazed her more than the ease with which she liked people. It seemed as if everyone she met was sealed of her tribe. She did not realize that the change was in herself. She was no longer rebuffed, frightened, awkward because she was frightened. Her foot was on her native heath and her name was Jane.

 “Does your Pa put live people in his stories?” asked Penny.
“No.” said Jane.
“Everybody round here says he does. Everybody’s scared he’ll put them in. He’d better not put us in if he doesn’t want his snoot busted. I’m the toughest boy in Lantern Hill.”
“Do you think you are interesting enough to put in a story?” said Jane.
Penny was a little scared of her after that.

(from Jane of Lantern Hill, by L.M. Montgomery)



“We learn to do things by doing the things we are learning to do.”

(Aristotle, as quoted in a letter from R.)


The effort to say freshly is a way of seeing freshly. The effort to say strikingly is a way of seeing strikingly. The effort to say beautifully is a way of seeing beauty…. The effort to put the excellencies into worthy words is a way of seeing the worth of the excellencies. The effort to say more about the glory than you have ever said is a way of seeing more than you have ever seen.

(from Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully by John Piper)


“Stand still. In a moment I will blow. But first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart, and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.”

( from The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis, as quoted in a letter from S.)



“Long after the final i-gadget has been discovered, we’ll still yearn for hugs, kisses and personal conversations.  When we’ve traveled to the last exotic place and finished participating in the last recreational or entertainment venue on our list, we will want a haven and we will call it home.”

(Joel Salatin, as quoted in a letter from A.)


I live to shew his power, who once did bring
My joyes to weep, and now my griefs to sing.

(from the poem Joseph’s Coat by George Herbert)




Beauty in the Commonplace

“Mitford would simply like to be the pause that refreshes.”
— Jan Karon


I grew up seeing the Mitford books line the shelves of my dear grandmother’s little brick house.  The collection expanded as the latest one came out.  I remember staring at the covers before I learned to read, which seemed to take a painfully long time, but then when I did learn, I was going to read everything, and Mitford was surely on the map.  Then I became a snob.

I was all about the classics those days and scorned best-sellers. If everyone read it, well then, it couldn’t be for me.  Then one day a preacher- a Christian man of culture, wisdom and experience- made a side comment about the wonderful Jan Karon and the highly recommended Mitford Series.

To use one of her own quotes- I “turned away for a moment, smacked by the beauty of complete surprise.”

And so I was chastened and began to read them, and have been a frequent visitor to Mitford ever since.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Mitford is a small fictional town in North Carolina. The Anglican minister, Father Tim, is the central character of the stories, but the characters in the periphery pop-up so frequently that you can almost forget it at times.  You age with them, and their stories unfold softly, just like in real life.

I consider Jan Karon the ultimate “gentle fiction” author.  She is good for you- good for your heart and eyes and weary head.  It’s in a joke well told, tears well spent, common lives worth the living.  I can pick up any Mitford novel, flip to any page, and have a wonderful time and experience the blessed kinship of knowing that thousands of other people feel the same way.  They are the best books to read and carry for random conversation, at least in my circle (which is the waiting room at the doctor’s office, the mid-day grocery store line and generally people over 60- but hey : D )

Autumn had come to the mountains at last…. Avis Packard put a banner over the green awning of The Local:  Fresh Valley Hams Now, Collards Coming.
Dora Pugh laid on a new window at the hardware store featuring leaf rakes, bicycle pumps, live rabbits, and iron skillets.  “What’s th’ theme of your window?” someone asked.  “Life.” replied Dora.
– from These High, Green Hills

Perhaps why I love these books so much is because it is my world.  She captures a hundred common things I fail to see the glory of, or the irony in, or just simply fail to appreciate the realness of. The misprints in the local paper, what everybody had for lunch, the new car on the street, the eccentricities of relationships… not much to write of, right?   I wouldn’t bet on it.

Around noon, I swung into Blowing Rock and dropped by to see friends who were mountain natives and Main Street store owners.
“Had lunch yet?” I asked.
“Yep, did you?”
“Yep.  Two packs of Nabs.”
Two packs?”
“Two packs.”
“Hon, did you hear that?”
“What’s that?”
“She had two packs.”
“Two packs of what?”
“Well, I’ll say.  Two packs.  How about that.”
“My, my.  Two packs.”
“Nabs.” Long, pondering silence. “I declare!”
This exchange invoked a kind of reverie that felt slightly akin to being wrapped in swaddling clothes…..  What the above conversation was all about was perfectly clear to me.  It was about passing time, and relishing even the smallest of pleasures- as one might savor the minuscule sweetness of a single currant in a scone…. It doesn’t take much for me, as my sister-in-law often says.  What she actually says is, “You can make more out of nothing than anybody I know.”

– Jan Karon from the Mitford Bedside Companion

Thinking of these things reminded me of a John Piper quote about C.S. Lewis, an author who had a profound effect on him (and me as well!).  He said:  “Lewis gave me an intense sense of the ‘realness’ of things.  The preciousness of this is hard to communicate.  To wake up in the morning and be aware of the firmness of the mattress, the warmth of the sun’s rays, the sound of the clock ticking, the sheer being of things (‘quiddity’ as he calls it).  He helped me become alive to life.   He helped me to see what is there in this world- things that, if we didn’t have, we would pay a million dollars to have, but having them, ignore.”   ( John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life)

This is what Jan Karon has done for me.  I can’t tell you how many times I have been again smacked by the beauty of complete surprise, when, in some common scene, I realize that the dialogue I overhear is delightfully interesting and profound.  Familiarity breeds contempt, I have heard it said to my sorrow, and found it all too often to be true.  Sometimes what we need is a visit to another place to open our eyes to what is before us and Mitford is the perfect spot for such a purpose.

So go and read!  I would start at the beginning, though I admit I haven’t read the whole series myself.
My favorites are At Home in Mitford (#1),  A Common Life (#6), Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good  (#10) and the Mitford Cookbook.  Also the Mitford Bedside Companion is wonderful for a little dose of comfort, and I do not blush to confess that my copy really is on the night-stand.

“Uncle Billy stood as straight as he was able, holding on to his cane and looking soberly at the little throng, who gave forth a murmur of coughing and throat-clearing…
“Wellsir, this old feller an’ ‘is wife was setting’ on th’ porch, an’ she said, ‘Guess what I’d like t’ have?’
“He said,’What’s that?’
“She said,  ‘A great big bowl of vaniller ice cream with choc’late sauce and nuts on top!’
“He says, ‘Boys howdy, that’s be good.  I’ll go down to th’ store and git us some.’
“Wife said, ‘Now, that’s vaniller  ice cream with choc’late sauce and nuts.  Better write it down.’
“He said, ‘Don’t need t’ write it down, I can remember.’
“Little while later, he come back.  Had two ham san’wiches.  Give one t’her. She looked at that sandwich, lifted th’ top off, said, ‘You mulehead, I told you t’write it down, I wanted mustard on mine!’ ”

-from A New Song


Taking a Little Joy

May I present to you Elizabeth Goudge?

…he did not believe in capricious fortune, but in a carefully woven pattern where every tightly stretched warp thread of pain laid the foundation for a woof thread of joy.

–  Gentian Hill


It is hard to believe that I have only known of Goudge a short time- could it really be just a year? The notes in my journal tell me I have read 6 of her novels in that time. Her stories and her characters tend to repeat themselves, leaving me with a somewhat cloudy remembrance of the individual book plot details with many of the characters blending together, but even so (or perhaps consequently so?) I have a clear picture, a firm trust and strong liking for Goudge herself.

She is predictable. She is dependable. She will always concentrate on the power of place, on the glory of humility, the grace of sacrifice, the effectiveness of prayer and the taking of joy, and all of this in a very believable, fallible context. She uses all of these to build a belief in the reader- a conviction of hope.

I have heard it said that writers, directors and artists in general are just professional manipulators, trying to sell you on something.  If that’s true, Elizabeth Goudge peddles Hope, and suckers me in every time.

“The element of the miraculous has come into your life. You are being offered a second chance.”
the Rosemary Tree

She never knew what put it into her head that she, unloved, should love.
the Dean’s Watch

Three aspects of her craft deserve special attention.

The power of place, as I called it, is, I think, the most unusual and unique aspect of her writings. The place, usually the home, but sometimes the church or city, is pulsing with meaning, history and the haunting, healing stories of individuals. It is as if the place itself is given power by God to change the people. Usually there is a quiet secret or lesson from some fellow sufferer who went before, who still speaks, in the tradition of righteous Abel, through the loved spot. I have known this encouragement on my own land, formerly loved by a Mr. Shade and his wife, Abby.  I often find their things laying around, from the early 1900s to 1950s, and walk the same ground they walked and perhaps it’s just my powerful imagination that makes me feel like they are my kindred and I have a inheritance, also, from them. This may be one of those things that can’t be understood until it’s experienced. In our transient, temporal culture, characterization of place and the abiding hold of history is strange to us, and harder still are the bounds and laws that living in such a close-knit context brings. Wherever you may be in life, I guarantee Goudge will make you lovesick for home- to stay in your place, to return to your place, to find your place- whatever it may be.

“Visitors to Damerosehay, had they but known it, could have told just how much the children liked them by the particular spot at which they were met upon arrival. If the visitor was definitely disliked, the children paid no attention to him until Ellen had forcibly thrust them into their best clothes and pushed them through the drawing-room door about the hour of five; when they extended limp paws in salutation, replied in polite monosyllables to inquiries as to their well-being, and then stood in a depressed row staring at the carpet, beautiful to behold but no more alive than three Delia Robbia cherubs modeled out of plaster. If, on the other hand, they tolerated the visitor, they would go so far as to meet him at the front door and ask if he had brought them anything. If they liked him they would go to the gate at the end of the wood and wave encouragingly as he came towards them. But if they loved him, if he was one of the inner circle, they would go right through the village, taking the dogs with them, and along the coast road to the corner by the cornfield, and when they saw the beloved approaching they would yell like all the fiends of hell let loose for the afternoon.”
the Bird in the Tree

Joy-taking is that simple enjoyment in life that God loves to see in His people. It is common for a Goudge protagonist to come to the shocking realization in the story that God is glad when they are glad. It is amazing to see the joy coming, like the sun to the character’s darkness. It is God’s gladness that makes this joy different than worldly pleasure. There is a clear sense of the smile of God- His favor. This joy rekindles that hope I mentioned earlier. As Goudge beautifully illustrates, sometimes joy comes as a surprise and sometimes taking joy is an act of the will. Either way it is truly astounding what a little pure joy can do for the battered heart. I never get tired of reading about it.

“Though most natural,” said Miss Montague. “With so many burdens to bear on your shoulders, it must have been difficult to look about you. But now you must, for you’ve not much longer to gratify heaven by taking a little joy. I have discovered, Mr. Dean, that in old age God seems to delight in giving us what our youth longed for and was denied. You know what that was in your case.”
“And so do you, I expect,” said the Dean, smiling at her. “Sometimes, ma’am, I think that you know everything.”
“Certainly not,” she said a little tartly.
the Dean’s Watch

They worked now in companionable silence, broken by an occasional word or two, which between two who are as attached to the work they do together as they are to each other is one of the most satisfactory things in life. Love of the work strengthened the love of each other. Love of each other enriched the work. This is good, thought Job. There will never be anything better than this. 

the Dean’s Watch

And finally, the very real, fallible and broken nature of her themes and characters are most notable. There are difficult and teetering marriages, discontent women, angry men, disobedient children, hard feelings and in short, everything darkly real about this fallen world. Yet, even in this, Goudge is to be trusted. She does not justify sin and neither does she hurt the reader unduly. I think she is one of the best examples in literature of the redeeming nature and benefit of grief and pain. She is the only writer who has made me want to be the crippled spinster confined to her bedroom! This seeming dichotomy- the broken and beautiful- is something every Christian tries to communicate, to explain how the valleys could be raised and the mountains be made low, how things are not as they seem, how Christ came to save sinners. Elizabeth Goudge gets this and typifies it, telling us the story we need to hear over and over again.

“The God who had thrust him through in the darkness with probings of dread and shame was the same God who now held out the sword and shield.”
The Rosemary Tree

“I had not known before that love is obedience. You want to love, and you can’t, and you hate yourself because you can’t, and all the time love is not some marvelous thing that you feel but some hard thing that you do. And this in a way is easier because with God’s help you can command your will when you can’t command your feelings. With us, feelings seem to be important, but He doesn’t appear to agree with us.”
The Scent of Water

Of course, Goudge is not perfect. She tends to over-romanticize childhood. She has a Catholic flavor sometimes and occasionally throws in a vagrant theology. She is hardly sympathetic to Cromwell!  But even being a dyed-in-the-wool Presbyterian, I found these things easy to overlook -even humorous- and certainly not offensive, not in light of so much goodness. And, as I said before, you might feel like she is repeating herself with characters and themes. As the quotable Wodehouse said in his wit: “A certain critic—for such men, I regret to say, do exist—made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained ‘all the old Wodehouse characters under different names’. He has probably now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have outgeneralled this man by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.”

And, so, with Goudge. Once you hit upon the true and beautiful (or the comical, in Wodehouse’s case)- Why move on?

So: Go and read!  I would recommend starting with the Dean’s Watch, as it is still my favorite and does not belong to a series.

“There were still children in the world, and while there were children, men and women would not abandon the struggle to make safe homes to put them in, and while they struggled there was hope.”
Pilgrim’s Inn


The Veriest School



A Garden is a lovesome thing,

God wot!

Rose plot,

Fringed pool,

Fern’d grot

The veriest school

Of peace; and yet the fool

Contends that God is not

Not God!  In gardens!  When the eve is cool?

Nay, but I have a sign;

‘Tis a very sure God walks in mine.

~ Thomas Edward Brown (1830-1897)


In the Falling Leaf


I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb’d too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall—the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

Christina Rossetti