The Practice of Pondering (by Jean Fleming)

The following full-length article first appeared in Discipleship Journal (a discontinued publication of NavPress). You’ll find a condensed version of this article (with Ann Voskamp’s excellent photography) at Ann’s place today. Don’t miss it!

Giuseppe Momos' double helix spiral staircase in the Vatican
by Jean Fleming

Have you ever sunballousa-ed? If not, you should try it. Our Lord’s mother, Mary, did. It characterized her life.

The word sunballousa is Greek for “placing together for comparison.” In Lk. 2:19, the word is translated “pondered.” The Amplified Bible translates Lk. 2:19 this way: “But Mary was keeping within herself all these things (sayings), weighing and pondering them in her heart.” Later in that chapter, Luke says that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart” (v. 51, emphasis mine).

What things? The words of the angel Gabriel. The words of her cousin Elizabeth. The words of the shepherds. The words of the Old Testament about the coming of the Messiah. Every developing event, every new word, might yield more light to this astonishing unfolding. So she kept adding to her treasure store. She held all that was happening in a precious bundle. Over and over again, she unpacked it and spread it out on the table of her heart. Each time she would arrange the pieces anew, placing the various elements in fresh configurations. Continue reading

Book Review/Response: Praying the Bible, by Donald S. Whitney

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Because I had already read and reread Don Whitney’s Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, which always guides a healthy look into my inner life and relationship with God, I suspected that his new book, Praying the Bible, would guide me into a healthier prayer life.

My favorite way to learn anything—whether cooking, drumming, parenting, or bathing an infant—is by observation and emulation. In Praying the Bible, Whitney lets me “watch” how he prays through a psalm, a New Testament letter, a narrative, or any other passage in the Bible. Then, in straightforward and friendly language, he gives me the opportunity to try praying the Bible myself.

You are reading this book because you want a richer, more satisfying experience with God in prayer, right? But this book won’t help you unless you apply its teaching to your prayer life. And that’s what I’m asking you to do right now—not someday, but now—to apply what you’ve learned by praying through a psalm. So if you haven’t already done so, select a psalm now.

– Don Whitney, Praying the Bible, page 64

Learning to pray the Bible doesn’t stop with the reader. At the end of Praying the Bible, Whitney gives easy-to-implement guidance on how to help another praying, Bible-reading friend pray the Bible as well. Appendix 2 is about praying the Bible with a group.

If you ever teach these things to a group of believers, be sure you do two things.

First and most importantly, give your listeners an opportunity to try praying through a passage of Scripture right then. In other words, don’t teach them how to pray the Bible in one session and then wait to have them try it in the next day’s or the next week’s session. . . .

Second, immediately after the prayer exercise, ask for some feedback. I’ve always found that as people report their experience, their excitement becomes contagious. And not only will the participants encourage one another through their testimonies, but also each of their comments will provide you with an occasion to respond with additional insights into the practice, just as I’ve illustrated above.

– Whitney, page 78

I needed a guide to praying Scripture—someone who didn’t assume my knowledge was already at a certain minimum, but who also graciously and humbly showed me, by example and with generous encouragement, how to take steps forward.

More reading and listening on Don Whitney’s Praying the Bible:

Interview with BibleGateway

Interview with Justin Taylor (via The Gospel Coalition)

Six Reasons to Pray the Bible

Video Series Illustrating How to Pray the Bible
(five videos, each 3 to 5 minutes long)

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BOOK GIVEAWAY
I would be happy to get this book into somebody else’s hands! If you would like a chance at a free copy, leave a comment below. I will randomly choose a winner (please, with an address in the U.S., Canada, or Mexico) on September 8, 2015. For additional entries, click to tweet the following:

Tweet: Read this book review/response and #giveaway of @DonWhitney’s #PrayingtheBible (@crossway) –> http://ctt.ec/t3Pfc+ via @monicasharman

Best of Community: When Your “Yes” Holds You Back

Positive Thoughts, Mr Glen

Several years ago a mentor told me, “Potential does not equal calling.”

“It doesn’t?” I replied, puzzled. Because if I’m not supposed to take on a new task, why did God give me the ability? Why all these golden opportunities if I’m just supposed to say no?

She then gave Jesus as an example . . .

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This week marks the last week for many editors at The High Calling. Many thanks to them for their excellent work in making community and connections over the years. I am honored that they chose one of my articles as part of their “Best of Community” highlights. Read the full article at The High Calling: When Your “Yes” Holds You Back.

Photo credit: Glen Scott, via Flickr Creative Commons

5 Reasons to Go to Storytime (even if you don’t have children)

Preschool Storytime at Tully

The librarians did it. You could say they’re the reason I became a writer. Every Friday morning at 10:30, I took my infant son to the Rockrimmon library for storytime. The sweet red-headed Laura was my favorite children’s librarian, but I considered them all genius-fairies who knew everything about books and children and could protect my child the rest of his life from all possible disasters and minor scrapes.

But really, they simply knew how to choose good picture books and read them out loud to half a dozen or a few dozen children and their mothers sitting cross-legged on the carpet. . . .

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I’m delighted and honored to be a guest contributor for Charity Singleton Craig’s column “How to Bring Words to Life.” Please continue reading How to Bring Words to Life: 5 Reasons to Go Storytime (even if you don’t have children). Hope to see you there!

Photo credit via the article at Charity Singleton Craig: How to Bring Words to Life (scroll to bottom)

Cold Shoulder / Silent Treatment

Giving the lens the cold shoulder

I know how to give the most vicious, wicked “cold shoulder” and “silent treatment” (CS/ST). I activate CS/ST when someone does something to upset me. Sometimes, the people on the receiving end are caught off guard because they have no clue why I am upset with them. This bewilderment makes CS/ST especially effective in its caustic damage. Also, CS/ST makes me feel powerful. I indulge in a crazed, cruel pleasure in hurting people.

The above paragraph is a confession. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). I’m confessing to you and every person with access to the World Wide Web how malicious I have been and still can be.

***

I have many job titles: teacher, editor, budget manager, house cleaner. Chauffeur is one of my favorite titles. I don’t consider driving my sons to their various activities a tedious chore but a pleasure. I actually like taking them to art school or the library or track practice.

“Don’t worry if practice runs late,” I tell my son. “I always have a book with me, so I’ll read in the car.” I have even dropped him off at an hour-long event and stayed there, taking advantage of a full hour of reading or writing time, instead of going home.

But in one case, I gave him 12:15 as a firm pick-up time. He misunderstood and thought I meant I’d be there at 12:15 but, as in other cases, would read a book and wait if he ran late.

Not only did I have no book, but my other son was with me, and we had other errands to run in a short time. At 12:45, after waiting and working myself up to a fuming (but silent) rage, I went into the building to get him.

He had no idea.

I activated my CS/ST at full throttle.

He tried pleasantly chatting about his time with the teachers at the event. I answered curtly: “Oh.”

We went to drop off recycles. I opened the door to get the recycles out of the trunk, and he said, “Do you want me to help?”

I pretended not to hear him and shut the car door without reply. Silent treatment. Caustic.

Next stop: Goodwill, to discard unwanted books and clothes. The same thing happened there: “Should I get out and help?” he asked.

Cold shoulder. Icy silence.

Final stop: pick up Dad after his soccer game at the park. The game was not yet over when we arrived, so the poor kid was trapped in close quarters with his mother emanating shock waves of malice. I am an expert in CS/ST tactics.

How could I have been so cruel to my own child? If he were two or three years old instead of a high school senior, he would have been traumatized and in need of counseling. Not until hours later did I explain why I was angry. Not until days later did I finally apologize and repent.

When my husband and I married, we spoke our own vows in addition to the traditional ones (for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health). One of our custom vows: “To be honest and open with one another in an attitude of love and humility.”

In other words, don’t hold grudges. Talk it through instead.

Ann Kroeker recently offered her readers 6 Questions to Ask Yourself. Question #3 is “How do I need to change?”

I need to change by shedding my CS/ST habit and the deranged satisfaction I get from the “power” it gives me. There is far more power in love and humility.

What is the opposite of Cold Shoulder? Leaning toward the person in conflict. Pressing past cruelty’s false sense of superiority and control. Asking myself, as a friend advised, “What’s really important here?” Putting the relationship before my selfishness.

What is the opposite of Silent Treatment? Quick communication about what’s bothering me. Being honest and open, with an attitude of love and humility.

God, help me to change.

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Click to tweet: There is far more power in love and humility.

For The High Calling community writing theme: Reconciliation at Work. UPDATE: This post was featured at The High Calling.

Also, don’t miss Glynn Young’s perspective on Change at The High Calling.

Photo credit: Juhan Sonin via Flickr Creative Commons

Letter-Writing Day (for The High Calling theme: Live Happy)

When my son makes a birthday card, he doesn’t just write “Happy Birthday.” He writes “Happy” over and over again—the same number of times as the birthday person’s number of years. Last year I got “Happy” on my birthday card 42 times.

He picked up this habit from his Great Granddad.

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My husband declared the first Sunday of every month Letter-Writing Day so our three sons would grow up knowing how to write letters—the pen-on-paper, stamp-on-envelope, delivered-by-postal-carrier kind. Our sons write to anyone they choose. Often, the letter is for the person who wrote back last time.

Great Granddad, my husband’s paternal grandfather, was a favorite choice. He wrote back with “original art” on the stationery: a smiling head drawn at the bottom, next to “Love, Great Granddad.” The head, representing himself, had a single curly hair on top, Charlie Brown–like. He wrote in print, not cursive, and put a distinctive curl at the beginning or ending of some letter strokes. The downward mini-flourish at the end of his ‘s’ was most memorable to me.

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Great Granddad’s letters often included a joke. (Why did the golfer throw away his socks? Because he had a hole in one.) My sons sometimes replied with jokes of their own. Even without the jokes, his sense of humor came through. When telling us of an accident in the house which resulted in his falling, he wrote that his daughter, who lives with him, “suggested that I draw one of my original art pictures to show me flying through the room, but my limited ability cannot do justice to the situation.”

Great Granddad also told stories of his growing-up days. In one letter, he told of the farm where he grew up:

Our farm of about 50 acres included 10 acres of woodland. We had 1 cow, 1 heifer, 1 or 2 horses, 4 pigs, + at least a hundred chickens. My mother had to milk the cow twice a day—in the morning and in the evening. My father was a school teacher. We had coal oil lanterns for light until we got electricity, when I was 3 or 4 or 5 years old. We had a coal stove in the kitchen which met our cooking and heating needs. I will try to tell you more about my childhood in future letters.

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When Great Granddad was a child, they grew strawberries on that farm. Now it is a Christmas-tree farm. Though no Sharman has lived there for many years, the subsequent owners kept “The Sharman Homestead” painted on the barn wall.

A commissioned painting of the barn hangs in our dinette. It is to be handed down to the oldest son, generation after generation.

Our sons also learned about Great Granddad’s day-to-day life:

On Sundays we go to church about two miles from here. It is the church in which I was baptized when a baby and confirmed when I was 15 . . . About 1 day a week we visit friends and go to places in the Amish country; then we return to their house and play Rummeyo.

Sometimes his letters contrasted his childhood with theirs:

You mentioned that you went skiing at Black Canyon. When I was a boy I had skis which had straps to hold your feet onto the skis. Sometimes I fell painfully. Today you have better ways to hold the feet.

There’s his dry humor again.

My sons’ relationships (and joke exchanges) with older generations make me happy. Letter-writing day makes me happy. Growing older makes me happy. And, according to my son’s birthday cards, the older I get, the happier I am.

Live Happy

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For The High Calling community theme: Live Happy. Visit The High Calling for more posts on what makes you happy—or what keeps you from happiness.

Book Response: The Water Hole, by Graeme Base

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I feel thirsty for something, so I go to The Water Hole. I have been here many times before, whether in drought or just after a heavy, refreshing rainfall, and at this water hole I always find and drink the something I was searching for.

The first thing I notice when I turn the page is not the astounding art on the right-hand page, though the artist-author’s work draws me strongly to look there. I first notice the big number “1” on the verso. Under the number I read:

One Rhino
drinking at the water hole.

“Snort, splosh!”
(Mmm, delicious!)

The “1” is big enough for me to see that Graeme Base has painted a rhino skin on it. I feel a fullness in the sparsity of words. I turn the glossy page.

The big “2” wears tiger stripes. I read the words, and the fullness now comes with anticipation. Something is going to happen. Something is already happening.

2

Two Tigers
lapping at the water hole.

“Grrrrrr!”
(Goodness gracious, how very delectable!)

I feel comfort in the repetition, friendliness in the pattern, winsome humor in the “translation” of the animals’ talk. Before I turn to the page with the big “3” I am expectant, because I know what to expect.

There will be a big number. There will be that many animals in the painting on the recto, and one simple sentence fragment. Below that, the animal sounds, and then in parentheses, the “translation.” Like this:

3

Three [Animals]
[verb ending in -ing] at the water hole.

“[appropriate animal sound]!”
([some clever line from the animals’ conversation])

Graeme Base is witty. He makes me laugh, and I like him for it. (You should hear the goofy moose on the “5” page, and what the 8 businesslike ladybugs say while they are “meeting at the water hole.”)

I once read a book on writing that mentioned “the economy of words,” and I marvel at how, in four lines, Graeme (pronounced gray-em, by the way) is able to build a plot. He incorporates a full-fledged story arc in a counting book, a simple picture book about animals he saw on his safaris in Kenya and Tanzania. Genius.

The water hole shrinks with every page turn, for the drought is coming. Graeme Base takes the comfortable, exciting pattern he introduced in the beginning—and breaks it. “Ten Kangaroos looking at the water hole. There was nothing to say. The water was all gone.”

I am thirsty again, and beginning to panic. Where is the water I came for? Suddenly I have “cotton mouth” and my throat is parched. Do you want to know what animals he features on the next double-page spread?

The extinct ones. Ten of them, including Dodo, Passenger Pigeon, Great Auk. These extinct animals are not drawn directly; the artist forms them from the voids in a painting of a land parched like my throat, with withered trees and dull color.

Then a shadow fell across the sun.
Clouds began to gather.

A single drop of rain fell.

And the water hole returns, and all the animals came back.

I did not even mention the strip of ten animal silhouettes lining the top and bottom of every page; those same animals cleverly hidden in the main painting, creating a kind of scavenger hunt that would delight and challenge a reader of any age; the little frogs wearing aloha-shirts, also hiding. Even his signature is fun to look for on each illustration. I did not mention every aspect of Graeme Base’s The Water Hole that captivates the senses. Maybe, like the animals, I will come back and do that next time.

Building Toys for Language and Creativity Development (article at Tweetspeak)

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Playing with blocks—plain wooden manipulatives—improves vocabulary. But how can a toy that has no words or letters increase a child’s use of words? The conclusion may seem counterintuitive. Or maybe it makes sense, for four reasons (and probably more).

In my latest Tweetspeak article, I draw from the research of Dr. Dimitri Christakis and others. Please read the article and join the conversation in the comment box.

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Photo via Tweetspeak Poetry (see bottom of this post for photo credit).

Book Review: Safe, by Jill Case Brown

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I crave fiction. A good novel makes an internal connection with me and gives me characters I care about. A good novel gives me phrases or single words so delightful that I smile on the spot. A good novel gives me a story I can live in and live through. Safe satisfies this craving.

Jill Case Brown textures this story with details, then brings those details back around in a way that anchors the characters while giving the story momentum. (Wait till you see the different ways “WD-40” comes up.) She builds a suspense around the characters that makes me want to skip to the end and see how these people and their relationships turn out. But at the same time, a delightful phrase makes me want to linger on a page and read that part again.

The relationships in Safe draw from me a depth of response that carries over to my own relationships. They remind me to do the hard work of leaning into instead of backing away from relational conflict (“Hearing the first stir in his voice, I braced myself. . . . I wanted to back away from it. Instead, I made myself go over and sit on the sofa across from him.”). They remind me to listen (“Fork in hand, she considered. One of the things I liked about my mom was how seriously she took what other people asked or said.”). They remind me of myself (“Then, one after another, in a sort of mental stutter, the details came clear.”). The person I was at page one was not the person I grew into by the last page.

Safe takes me into an unknown wilderness—then invites me to see if there might be some way to navigate through the desert to find an oasis or two. Author Flannery O’Connor said, “Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t write fiction.” The book Safe isn’t afraid to get dusty, but it shows the reader how beauty can come from ashes and hope can be found in the wilderness.

Book Review: Fierce Convictions, by Karen Swallow Prior

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It’s a shame I had never heard of Hannah More before I read Fierce Convictions, but I’m glad Karen Swallow Prior was the one to introduce her to me.

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We learn from her acknowledgments that Dr. Prior’s doctoral dissertation was the seed for this book—and the careful research is obvious in every chapter.

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Yet she has also made Hannah More’s story accessible to readers (like me) who don’t read history easily. This book is not just a biography; it is a page-turning, good story for a wide range of readers.

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Fierce Convictions can challenge the scholar already knowledgeable about the abolition of Great Britain’s slave trade, and it can engage a 9-year-old girl reading through the book with her mother. (And both scholar and 9-year-old can learn more than a few vocabulary words along the way!)

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Taking in More’s story for the first time has not only taught me about a little-known heroine’s immeasurable sway on her nation’s and the world’s history, but it has also opened my eyes even more to the creative ways a single person can influence his or her community.

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I was especially impressed at how More used her writing and poetry for cultural impact.

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I also appreciate how Dr. Prior gives me More’s story unsanitized …

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… which inspires me all the more to live as one who, with all my imperfections, can still powerfully influence the world for good.

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For more, visit the book’s website. (All images above are from the “Media” page.)

Invitation to Facebook Page: Monica Sharman, Editor & Author

Monica Sharman Editing - 200x300

Perhaps you’ve already seen my editing page, right here at the top of my blog. I also created a new Facebook page:

Monica Sharman, Editor & Author

What posts and updates can you expect from my Facebook page?

  • occasional announcements and updates on my personal writing and editing life
  • editing and self-editing ideas
  • quotes and links to other people’s editing and writing insights
  • whatever else I can’t foresee

Mostly, I plan to use it the way I use Twitter: share great content I come across, on writing and editing. Also, I hope to make the first announcement soon.

You’re invited. Want to come?

If you have a Facebook account, find
Monica Sharman, Editor & Author, and “Like.”

Hope to see you there.