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

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.

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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:

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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

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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.

Sunkist Oranges

that's right..Cara Cara Oranges!

Oranges were on sale,
Cara Cara variety, Sunkist brand.

I picked up the red plastic mesh bag—
three pounds of brightness—

and set it gently in the shopping cart.
I first tasted Cara Cara oranges

in a California farmers’ market,
generous samples sliced, openly displaying

its distinctive interior, deep red flesh
attracting passersby, free for the taking,

for those who would receive their benefit.
Almost as dark as blood oranges

but intensely sweeter, Cara Cara,
strengthened by Pacific-coast sun,

leaves its flavor lingering long
after it is gone. Sunkist Cara Cara.

Son-kissed . . . Kara . . . Kara.

***

Cynthia Bezek wrote in one of her Lenten devotionals, “It’s Sunday again—another mini-Easter”—a mini–Resurrection Day. Last Sunday, Kara Tippetts had her own resurrection day. Read Kara’s “Letter to my readers upon my death” to learn how you can continue to show love and support to the Tippetts family.

Photo credit: luvjnx, via Flickr Creative Commons.

Rocket to the Moon

This post is for The High Calling | Share Your Story: Spiritual Disciplines. Visit The High Calling for other community posts on Spiritual Disciplines.

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People don’t buy quarter-inch drill bits. They buy quarter-inch holes so they can hang their children’s pictures.

– Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Made to Stick, page 179

The Saturn V is the rocket that took the Apollo 11 lunar module “Eagle” to the moon.

Having worked two summers as an undergraduate research fellow at JPL/NASA, I can imagine what it took to make the Saturn V (pronounced “Saturn five”) a reality. Rocket scientists pulling all-nighters. Precise calculations coming from years of education and research. Tests, failures, reworked designs, more tests and tests and tests.

I can imagine myself as one of the astronauts on my way to the moon. I have practiced and studied to understand the rocket that will take me there. I know how this spacecraft works, down to every knob and meter, every strap and latch. I train in it every day, becoming more familiar with its details and mechanisms. I want to set my boots on the moon.

I love getting to know the rocket. I ride in it and know the thrill of several G’s of pull on me during liftoff and, later, the rare exhilaration of weightless space travel. But after all my astronaut’s training in the rocket, I know I want more than the rocket itself. I want the moon.

Sometimes I leave the Bible on the kitchen table all day, open to where I can read the verses on that page every time I pass by.

My Bible reading is an alternating-day habit. Every other day, I read one day of a one-year Bible reading plan. In this way I read the whole Bible about every two years.

On alternate days, I do an in-depth study of whatever book of the Bible I choose (currently 1 Samuel), taking just a few verses each day in the “manuscript Bible study” method I learned at Campus by the Sea and in CCF Bible studies.

I memorize long sections of the Bible using a memorization aid: write the first letter of each word. Then I take that paper with me on my daily walk, thus combining a spiritual discipline with a physical discipline.

I sing lyrics that glorify God and edify His Body by downloading free lead sheets from my favorite songwriters.

The words of Scripture are wonderful and exalted.

”Open my eyes, that I may behold
Wonderful things from Your law.”
– Psalm 119:18

“You have exalted above all things your name and your word.”
– Psalm 138:2

But to maintain the spiritual discipline of daily Bible reading, I need to think of the Bible as the rocket. What I want even more is the moon.

My Bible reading happens before I even open the cover. How do I approach the Bible? With what heart attitude do I turn the pages? Do I read it only as an intellectual exercise and remain content with the increased head knowledge? If so, it’s just words on a page. That rocket goes nowhere.

Intimacy with God is the moon.

Another day passes. I awake at 2:30 a.m. and see the full moon out my bedroom window. I watch the moon’s descent until its smiling circumference kisses the mountain silhouette. I think of the moon as insomnia gives way to slumber, and I know that tomorrow again, I can open God’s Word. I’m not in it just for the ride—but what an awesome ride. The Word is a blast!

I want the moon, but I can’t get there without the rocket. So I turn the pages and read. The Eagle has landed.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.
– Psalm 130:5

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Top photo by Patricia Hunter.

Bottom photo: my son with the toy Saturn V he designed.

TheHighCalling.org Christian Blog Network

At The High Calling—Tithing: We Skimp for a Reason

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In 2009 my husband, Charles, quit his day job as a circuit design engineer to work full-time on a toy. When the toy was still in its design stages and we were living on savings, we invited a family over for dinner. My friend, also an engineer’s wife, said, “Monica, when the money starts rolling in from selling this toy, let’s talk. I’ll show you how to spend money.”

Read the rest of my article at The High Calling, where this week’s topic is tithing. Come join the discussion!

TheHighCalling.org Christian Blog Network

Featured image by SimplyDarlene

You’re Invited to a “Baby” Shower (and Giveaway)!

Diaper Cake

Last week, a blog was born. Welcome to the world, Jean Fleming: Live the Mystery!

To celebrate, I’m hosting a triple book giveaway. Three “baby shower” guests will receive one copy of a Jean Fleming book:

Pursue the Intentional Life
A Mother’s Heart
Feeding Your Soul

Thank you for coming! Enter the giveaway, and invite your friends. I can’t wait to get these books into the hands of three winners.

Click here to enter the giveaway!

For TWO EXTRA entries, subscribe to Jean Fleming: Live the Mystery (when you get there, click on the “Follow” tab on the lower right). After you’ve confirmed your e-mail subscription to Jean Fleming: Live the Mystery, let me know here in my comments and I’ll add two giveaway entries for you.

UPDATE: Congratulations to the three winners: MF, DJ, and CSR! Thanks to everyone for participating!

Baby shower cake photo credit: mnd.ctrl
via Flickr Creative Commons