Do you have favorite spots in your house? Spots where you sit that evoke certain emotions or tasks? The chair closest to the window where you sip coffee and welcome in the morning sun? The corner of the couch where you read or watch a movie in the evenings, complete with your favorite soft blanket and the dog curled up at your feet? A place designated as your spot for journaling, reflection, reading Scripture? Well, I have such spots in our modest townhome. When you give certain rooms their own distinct purpose/personality, it makes the place feel more like home. Whether you're in the same house for thirty years, or in a transitional apartment for a matter of months, anywhere you are can feel like home. That has been one of my intentions during this season. For however much longer we are here, I want this townhome to be a place of comfort and rest. I want this place to feel like our home.
I have my favorite spot on the couch where I drink my morning coffee, bleary-eyed as I catch up on the morning news show. I have a spot just two feet away in the corner of the other couch where I crochet by lamplight (usually watching my favorite chic flick while I work the hook). The dining room table sometimes serves as my craft table, and I love it most when there is an abundance of sunshine and I can open the blinds. Something about the warmth of the sun pouring in through the window makes my soul happy. When I think of a place to read, to write, to pray and reflect, there is no other place I would rather be than upstairs in our bed. Since I was a young girl, my bedroom was a place of respite away from people and noise, a quiet haven with no distractions around. I've carried that into adulthood, and still savor the late-night hours as my time to spend with the Lord, studying, reading or writing.
In these years following seminary (it's still strange to me that I can measure the time in years now), that desire in me to always be a student has been renewed. Not only do I want to continue learning, but I want to take full advantage of the time I have been afforded to soak up and reflect on all I am learning and reading. I'm still working on renewing the discipline of journaling (and I am a believer that it is a discipline - a good discipline, but a discipline nonetheless), but I think that will come with more time and commitment. I have always been a voracious reader and writer, and I am thankful for the opportunity to dive back into all of that. Seminary certainly taught me that just because you are reading ten books at one time by no means ensures that your heart and mind are taking it all in. I have almost had to re-learn how to read for personal challenge and edification. Another benefit of now being out of the seminary context is that I am no longer pressured to read something to have it completed by a certain due date. While it would have been wonderful to glean encouragement and thorough instruction from all of the fantastic books I was tasked with reading for my masters degree, it just was not possible on most occasions.
Some people read one book at a time, while others read several spread out over a longer span. I have adopted a method of reading that allows for a variety of genres, but not one that is overwhelming. I make room for always reading something in three main categories: fiction, instruction/teaching, and reflection/devotion. All three are good for the soul, and having something to read in these areas is more important than the number of books I am reading. (I gave up being concerned with the number awhile ago, after I realized I was more focused on marking things off a list than gleaning anything of real value from what I was reading.) Having those three areas represented gives me more freedom to read just one book, or four, all depending on what I feel I am needing (or lacking) during a particular day or week. With that said, here are the books currently taking up residence on my bedside table:
Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal ~ Dr. Eric L. Johnson
I hold a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling. The Christian psychology school of thought has some overlaps to that of biblical counseling, and Southern has professors who hold to both views. While studying, I was surrounded by students and faculty alike who strongly encouraged the biblical counseling method, yet I am now in a local church where Christian psychology is the more widely held perspective. I find it important familiarize myself with Christian psychology, not only as a challenge, but as a means of knowing the different views more thoroughly, knowing where they both differ and overlap, and to be better equipped in engaging others in conversation.
Emma ~ Jane Austen
Oh, Jane Austen, how do I love thee! One of these days I will be able to articulate why Jane Austen, and authors of similar style, are good for a woman's soul. More broadly speaking, fiction is good for the soul, expanding not only our imaginations, but broadening our minds to the beauty and glory of God. In very particular ways, authors of fiction reveal to us the dynamics of relationships, allow us to see life through the eyes of different characters, and expand our perspective on nobility, honor, family, and beauty. Novels can be an effective and unique means of pointing us to right versus wrong, displaying how good ultimately prevails over evil. The magic and wonder of fiction is welcomed into my heart and mind as it points me to the Creator of all things good and beautiful in this world.
A Severe Mercy - With 18 Letters by C.S. Lewis ~ Sheldon Vanauken
We have so very much to learn from the lives of others. Whether written from a personal account, or by an author who has done ample research for a biographical piece, I firmly believe that we have so much to learn from those who have gone before us. This is a book I have been eyeing on our bookshelf for a few years now. Vanauken knew C.S. Lewis personally, and the two gentlemen communicated during what was perhaps the darkest season in both of their lives. Both men knew true conversion, pierced by the irresistible grace of the Savior. Both also knew the great loss of their wives, women who embodied such joy in their life journeys. Reading of the life and loss, joy and tragedy, of others is a crucial reminder that "hope is the constant companion of perseverance" (E. Welch).
Depression: A Stubborn Darkness--A Light for the Path ~ Edward T. Welch
"Hope is the constant companion of perseverance." We were assigned this book to read during one of my courses at Southern, and I wanted to read back through it for personal reflection. At some point in life, every Christian will struggle with one form or another of depression. Whether from great suffering or loss, difficulty coping with an event or season in life, struggling for faith during a time of uncertainty or confusion, the struggle with depression is almost assuredly inevitable. If it weren't so, I don't think we would have so many psalms and passages of lament in Scripture. How often do we read of David asking the Lord to cleanse and examine his heart? Can we fathom those moments when Job cried out after everything was removed from his life, and in all of his questioning never sinned? What is good for us is to acknowledge that the struggle will come; doubt, confusion, anxiety, and fear will rear their ugly heads. Where will we turn when there is no end in sight, when we find ourselves in the valley of shadow? Welch first establishes that there are many causes of depression, one of which can be related to real medical issues. Once he has established that, he then devotes the rest of the book to what we would consider spiritual depression. He deals with both the internal and external factors that can cause us to find ourselves in this very real battle for the soul.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)