Doors and Tigers and Reading to Children

DSC_0169 One thing about home school I despaired giving up was reading to my kids…until my husband reminded me it just might be possible to still read to them before bed every night.  I love reading to my kids maybe because I love reading.  I also love how good literature sparks conversations we might never have otherwise.

Like the time our home school curriculum told us to read The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli a month after we learned two of the families we were closest to would move…and we would stay.  The Door in the Wall is the tale of a crippled and abandoned boy rescued and taken in by a priest in the Middle Ages.  This boy with real suffering both emotional and physical must find a way.  The guidance from the priest?  “Thou has only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it.”

My kids, one in particular, looked at their future and saw a big wall.  Life as they’d known it would change and the future contained real challenges.  The encouragement to hope and to keep following the wall…to run your hand down the wall…to stay close to, even touch, the challenge, suffering, and pain while looking for a way through resounded inside us.   I had no good vocabulary to draw their hearts into the light of conversation about all this transition in our lives but this book provided the means to talk and I am grateful.  For the other child, the wall is what keeps us from God and the door is Jesus.  Needless to say, I recommend this book often.

After sitting on a shelf for a couple of years, my daughter recently discovered and devoured Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo.  Having received the book as a gift from a thoughtful friend, it sat on our adult bookshelf (by the way, what do you call places that you store things for adults but that are not profane…I really wonder this!) after I read and pondered it.  When she pulled it down and began raving and telling me to read it to her brothers I felt compelled to understand what touched her so deeply.

The first chapter describes a boy with tremendous loss in his life that he will not allow himself to grieve.  He stuffs his thoughts into an imaginary suitcase and mentally sits on them so they won’t escape.  He has every reason to cry buckets but not even the mean bullies at school can squeeze a tear out of him.  Hmmm.

As we continue to grieve losses, I see what my daughter sees.  It is the time in grief where it is tempting to just stuff in the sadness and pain and just not remember what Halloween was like last year and the year before that and the year before that.  It would be so easy to not talk about our old friends even as we make and deepen new friendships.  It seems it would be easier to not remember but the need to avoid the pain begins to need something bigger and fiercer to keep all of it in.

In a way, we all as a family need these books to talk about the doors and the walls and the memories and the tigers in our lives.  The books mediate our conversation better sometimes than a one-on-one coffee date.  Something about dialoguing our struggles through the lens of someone else brings up what’s underneath in a way my efforts at direct assault fail.

So, we keep reading and we keep talking.  I don’t know what my kids will treasure about their childhood but this is one aspect I will treasure.

Reading Elisabeth Elliot

I remember hearing Elisabeth Elliot speak in college.  The packed room filled with women and a few men as I sat towards the back with a few friends.  Passion and Purity ranked high among the must-reads of my college crowd at the time.  I thought it a strange book…a bit over the top.  Now, she stood telling me she thought girls should wear skirts.  I’m sure I smirked.

Now, 16 years later I still hold to a different view on skirts but I sit more and more often at the literary feet of Elisabeth Elliot.  I liken her to a spiritual grandmother, a little old-fashioned in some areas but consistently delivering piercing truth.  Truth pierces the heart and draws me into closer fellowship with the Lord…when I listen well…I, the young granddaughter of the faith.

These Strange Ashes, A Chance to Die, and now The Path of Loneliness rank at the tops of my list for the beginning Elisabeth Elliot mentee.  Meat for the soul I call them.

These Strange Ashes recounts Elisabeth’s first year on the field and it still speaks to what one can expect the first year on the field.  I lend my copy out and make it clear I expect it back!

A Chance to Die takes a thorough look at the life of Amy Carmichael.  Elisabeth doesn’t shy away from Amy’s strengths and weaknesses.  Wrestling with the complexity of Amy’s character and her service give me great hope for what the Lord can do through me with all my “complexity.”

DSC_0241The Path of Loneliness required me to choke down a destructive mental barrier as I saw it on a friend’s shelf this past week pondering what book to borrow.  I don’t like to tell people when I am lonely.  I even wanted to hide this book while I read it instead of leaving it on my side table!  Ahh…pride!  Today I finished the book and I just might start at the front and read it again copying down favorite passages.  I might end up copying the whole book.  I do plan to buy a copy… plus a few to give away as I feel led.

Passion and Purity…well…I still need to go back and pick that one up again and rethink it.

I read Elisabeth Elliot now expecting to feel the rub and pull involved in taking a vigorous hike towards greater trust and obedience to the Lord.

As with any hike, the anticipation and joy of the summit compels more strongly the farther I get on the hike.

What author or book challenged you lately?

Me and Marius

I weep every time I see Les Miserables but the part I cry harder in than any other is when Marius remembers his fallen friends. He stands and sings of empty chairs and empty tables. Empty chairs. Empty tables. I’m choking up even as I recall the song.

Too many empty chairs and empty tables. Chairs and tables where friends once sat, where we talked, laughed, dreamed, ate, played games, argued, reconciled. My friends did not die, but many have moved which is a kind of death. It is death to daily life together. Death to easy conversation. Death to a kind of friendship even though the friendship itself is not dead. Death to seeing their faces practically whenever I felt like it.

I feel like Marius these days. A little war torn…the one left and not knowing why. So, so many people come and go in our lives. When I count them, I move from fingers, then to toes, and then I run out of digits to help me. Why us? Why are we left? I know it is not because we are better, more fluent, more adjusted, more spiritual, more capable. No, no, those are not the reason we are still here.

Going back to the café is so hard. Remembering my friends. Remembering the good times. Remembering even the hard times, those times when we did not get along as well as I wanted or they wanted. Times when we disappointed each other. The times we sinned against each other. And also the times when we did it good. When we stood by each other and offered a shoulder to cry on, a heartfelt word of encouragement, a meal, forgiveness, grace. My life is full because of my friendships forged in the heat of battle.  I wouldn’t give it up even as I cry the tears of missing them.

My tears begin to dry up when Marius comes to the part where he talks of the futility of his friends’ deaths. I gulp back my choking and depart from his line of thought. While futility is a part of life, it is not part of the battle I pursue. It is not in vain that we put our lives out there for the miserables of the world. We strived to look down and that is close to God’s heart. It is not futile even if my eye does not see as much progress as I hoped. The cause is worth it. I am not giving my life for nothing.

It is the season of departures and this year they start early and go late.  So, here, now I revisit the café of friendships and cry my tears as I remember times gone by with the hope, too, of good times yet to come.