How to fall back in love with reading

books 2

It’s the middle of finals week. I’m trying to review the notes I’ve taken on the literal thousands of pages I’ve read over the semester. By 9:00 at night, my brain is crammed. I watch half an episode on Netflix, turn off the lights, and tell myself that I’ll never be able to read a book for pleasure, ever again.

Of course, a little over a month after this scenario took place, I’ve changed my mind. Now that I no longer have three or four hundred pages assigned reading each week, I’ve been relearning the art of reading for relaxation. It’s glorious.

Because I absolutely love the books I’ve been reading, I’ll offer you a five-step program to fall back in love with reading after a stressful school year. The exact titles are negotiable, but if you’re in need of some good book ideas, I heartily recommend these. So, the five-step program (aka a review of the five books I’ve been reading).

1. As soon as you finish throwing away your history notes (and packing your few favorite pages in your overflowing suitcase), grab that book that you picked up somewhere during the school year, the one that reminded you of the good old days when you compiled your own reading list. The best genre for the job? Mystery, preferably by Agatha Christie. Hercule Poirot’s last mystery, Curtain, was a captivating read. Just the right mixture of suspense and humor to keep me coming back. And finish it on the plane ride home.

2. When that mystery is finished, go through your Kindle and pick out the most intriguing book out of the 95 you’ve downloaded for free over the last few months. For me, that was Dee Henderson’s Danger in the Shadows. I’d never read Dee Henderson’s books before, but I was impressed with her writing. (Sometimes Christian novels can be, well, a little lacking in their use of unpredictable storylines.) The romance between a woman hiding from her childhood kidnapper and a famous football star was maybe a bit far-fetched, but quite enjoyable. A mind recovering from finals is pretty easy to please.

3. The book title for the third step is absolutely non-negotiable, because everyone needs to read Dear Mr. Knightley. I may or may not have gushed about it repeatedly to my family. At least my gushing did convince my mom to read it, and I know for a fact that she stayed up late at least one night just to finish it. Sam, the college student who constantly quotes Austen and never seems to do anything just right, is such a sympathetic character. Even though her background as a foster child is far different than mine, I could echo many of both her frustrations and interests. One of the signs of a good author is when she puts you in her protagonist’s shoes, and that certainly happened to me in Dear Mr. Knightley. If you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh, cry, and understand yourself better, go read it.

4. This fourth step is an effort to steer you away from modern, easy-to-read novels, back to the classic books you used to love dearly. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell was the perfect bridge for me. I’ve seen the movie version of this book more than any other, thanks to a couple of my friends who always suggested this movie at slumber parties (ahem, Rebekah and Theresa!). The story has grown on me over the years, and after our wing watched it together during the spring semester (and everyone fell in love all over again with Mr. Thornton), I decided I needed to read the book. It’s just as good, if not better, than the movie. Sometimes, if I’ve grown up watching the movie and read the book years later, the book disappoints me. But I loved reading more details about Margaret and Thornton and discovering conversations that the movie left out, all the while still picturing the faces of Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage. Every Gaskell book I read further convinces me to place her books even higher than Jane Austen’s. And that’s saying something.

5. By the fifth step, you should be ready for anything. Even a book that—gasp!—might be assigned in a literature class. I couldn’t resist reading one of my free Kindle books, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. I read The Great Gatsby in high school, and I enjoyed getting to experience his engaging writing style once again. I actually liked it even better than The Great Gatsby because I could sympathize with a lot of Amory Blaine’s egoist struggles (unfortunately, self-centeredness is something I’ve always struggled with!). To tell you the truth, I saw it recommended on Facebook, of all places. But when someone you respect says that a book is their favorite ever (even if it is said on Facebook), and it’s written by one of the most famous American authors of the 20th century, you are basically obligated to read it. It is quite charming and slightly scandalous if you read as if you were Fitzgerald’s original audience. I love reading books by brilliant authors, and Fitzgerald is one of the greats.

Now I am starting my gift book pile—books from my birthday and Christmas that I am dreadfully excited to read. I’m eighty pages into The Book Thief, and I absolutely adore it so far. Again, incredible writing. I am beginning to think it will be one of the classics of our century. I’ve watched the movie trailer at least three times, and after I finish the book I plan to spend the $1.50 to rent the movie from our town’s one and only grocery store. You’ll probably be hearing more about it—it’s just that good.

So there you have it: five simple steps to help you fall back in love with reading. I’m sure I’ll have to revisit these steps after every school year, but for now I am securely back in love with books. So far that I sometimes walk from room to room with a book or my Kindle in hand, telling my brother about the scary encounters in Dee Henderson’s novel or sighing over Mr. Thornton until my brother rolls his eyes.

I just have to leave you with a few This Side of Paradise quotes:

“Why don’t you tell me that ‘if the girl had been worth having she’d have waited for you’? No sir, the girl really worth having won’t wait for anybody.” (I agree with this quote in one sense, disagree in another. So don’t think I’m advocating something really bad, because that’s the sense in which I don’t agree with it. Smile)

“’I know myself,’ he cried, ‘but that is all.’”

“Often through life you will really be at your worst when you seem to think best of yourself.”

“Beware of trying to classify people too definitely into types; you will find that all through their youth they will persist annoyingly in jumping from class to class….”

“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.”

“…So he let himself go, discussed books by the dozens—books he had read, read about, books he had never heard of, rattling off lists of titles.”—This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald

The return of the college student (namely, me)

Edited Laptop Pic

It’s strange how quickly a school year can pass. While papers and reading assignments can seem to stretch on forever, after they’re finished, they never seem as difficult as I originally thought.

I’d click on my blog every once in awhile this past year, thinking how I really should write something. But when a ten-page paper lies waiting to be edited, it’s hard to justify spending yet more time writing.

Often, my brain was so exhausted after finishing my homework that all I could do was let my eyes glaze over as I skimmed Facebook posts and read emails from family. My roommates and I often laughed over how we couldn’t even express coherent thoughts to each other during particularly stressful weeks.

And the homework never ended. Even if I was a week ahead on all my reading (which was a rare occurrence!), I still could be more ahead and getting more accomplished. So certain things—like writing blog posts—had to be put aside for the semester.

But now the semester’s ended and—gasp!—I actually miss writing. The fact that this break is longer than three weeks still hasn’t sunk in.

These last few weeks have been perfectly carefree and enjoyable. I’m already on my fourth book since coming home, and I’ve watched more Netflix than is good for me. Although trying to recover from a brand new cold on top of my lingering cough leftover from school helps excuse the Netflix away. Smile  I’m also loving spending time in the gorgeous sunshine weeding flowerbeds and mowing lawns. It’s pretty near Heaven for a tired college student.

Summarizing a whole year of school is impossible. But I’ll try to give you little glimpses into my typical schedule as a freshman.

Since I had experience taking college classes and juggling a variety of responsibilities in high school, entering college wasn’t as difficult a transition for me as it often is for other freshmen. Yes, going to a school with notably rigorous academics is extremely challenging, but with God, good time management, and plenty of sleep, I was able to get into a fairly successful routine. I quickly discovered that any studying past 9:00 at night was virtually useless, so I learned to arrange my schedule to get most necessary studying done earlier in the day.

I’ve learned that sometimes I have to just stop working on assignments and turn them in, even if I know I could do just a little bit better.

I’ve learned that I’m not superwoman. I can’t do all my assignments, go to every single social function, and keep healthy at the same time (as the aforementioned cough at the end of the spring semester taught me!).

IMG_2787 edited

I’ve learned that being an introvert on a college campus means that you have to take advantage of the few rare moments you get to yourself. It’s easy to become burnt out when you live on a campus where you know basically everyone and live in a room with three other (very wonderful and amazing) people. All the deep, meaningful relationships you build are incredible blessings, but you have to work harder to cultivate your relationship with God and find recharging time.

I’ve learned that a campus full of people who are chasing after God is beautiful and inspiring. I wouldn’t change schools for the world. It’s truly one of a kind. Yes, we can be quirky. Yes, we get into more debates than we should. But we also spend time each day either with the entire student body or with our individual wings praising and seeking God.

Even though I love my school and my classmates, I am so thankful to be home. My body has been crying out for rest and an escape from the stress of constant homework. I am soaking in the quiet of home like a cat soaking in the sunshine. (Or some other metaphor like that.)

IMG_2641

Blessings from my freshman year:

–learning history in ways I’d never learned before

–laying out in the soccer field under the stars and singing worship songs with my roommates

–watching either superhero or Jane Austen movies with my wing (we have well-rounded movie tastes)

–going to my first dance (yes, it was really my first)

–waking up early in the morning to sing in chorale

–playing the piano for chapel

–meaningful dining hall conversations

–prolonged laughing/giggling fits with my roommates

 

I am excited to be a quarter of the way through with college. But I know if the next three years go by as quickly as this first one, I’ll be graduating before I know it. So I’m going to try to enjoy each moment of these next three years, whether it’s summer break or finals week. Because this season of my life will last for only four years, and I can never come back.

Happy June, everyone! And I do plan on writing a bit more frequently these next few months. I’m grateful to have an audience that doesn’t give my writing a letter grade. Winking smile

missing Haiti

I’ve been home two and a half weeks now. These last few weeks haven’t been at all like I had planned. I leave soon for college, and I had hoped to spend lots of time with family and friends, doing fun summer things like swimming, picking berries, and enjoying the sunshine. But a sixteen-days-and-counting cold and the pain of a ruptured eardrum have greatly limited my planned activities (swimming completely knocked off the list, unfortunately).

One blessing of being more housebound is that I haven’t had very bad reverse culture shock. I’ve been able to do things on my own time, like reaching the point of wanting to go shopping. I’ve discovered the “trigger words” that make me cringe are “dirty” and “broken.” In America, we call a floor filthy that would be considered clean in Haiti. When someone says things like “that’s broken” or “that’s useless,” I can’t help but think how precious that same object would be to a Haitian.

I’m also missing my kids more and more as the days go by, because I know they are growing up and changing without me. I may or may not stalk the orphanage’s Facebook page to look for new pictures of my kids.

????????

When I see a picture of Bella, I can smell her baby scent.

????????

When I see a picture of Spunky, my angel with Downs, I can hear her throaty laugh, the one that makes everyone else laugh with her.

????????

When I see a picture of Mr. Cuddles, I can feel his hands gently stroking my hair.

????????

When I see a picture of Sweetheart, I can see her smile ever so slowly spread across her face.

Then sometimes I’ll start to imagine what it would be like if I had brought one of my kids home with me. I’ll randomly wonder how they would react to certain things and if they would like this or that food.

????????

I can imagine Buddy walking through our house for the first time. He would want me to carry him on my hip, of course, but I think when he saw our dog through the window, he would get down and walk over to talk to her. Then if she barked, he’d come running back to me. He would love exploring our house, I know.

????????

I can imagine Princess being scared with all the new things around her, but I think a good snack or two would make her happy. She’d soon find some toys and make them part of her domain.

????????

I can imagine taking Dolly to church with me. She would cling to me for dear life, sitting on my lap and taking in the whole experience with her beautiful brown eyes. Everyone would fall in love with her immediately, and she’d gradually come out of her shell and start smiling at people.

877ca706_l

I can imagine holding Smiley all the time, cooking with him in the kitchen and cuddling with him in the living room. He would practice sitting up, grunting from the hard work but still managing to give me a couple of his smiles. He would melt the heart of every person we would meet.

Oh how I wish any one of these imaginations could come true, that I could bring one of my babies here, even just to visit for a few weeks. I know it’s not possible, but somehow imagining it helps me feel closer to them.

People often say to me, “It must have been so hard to leave those kids” or “You must miss them a lot.” Yes, I do. More than I can say.

Sometimes during a conversation completely unrelated to Haiti, I’ll start thinking of my kids. I may not talk about them all the time, but I do still miss them.

When I try to describe their personalities to other people, I often find myself at a loss for words. To paraphrase Mr. Knightley in Emma, if I loved them less, maybe I could talk about them more.

So I write about them instead.

belong

????????

It takes thirty days to make a habit.

We lived in Haiti for 35 days.

One of the missionaries told us we stayed for the perfect amount of time. Long enough to grow accustomed and connected to the culture, but short enough to avoid getting burned out or homesick.

We felt like we belonged. Of course our skin was a different color–no amount of tanning could change the fact that we were still very “blanc,” as the Haitian guys liked to call out. We couldn’t understand their language, although we learned enough to communicate with the kids and express our needs to the Haitian staff. Technically speaking, we should have felt out of place.

But there was something in the way the passersby softly greeted us with “bonjou” in the mornings, the way the neighbor kids smiled at us shyly, the way the babies–completely trusting us to take care of them–nestled their heads on our shoulders, that told us we belonged.

We didn’t belong because we fit in. We belonged because God had placed us there.

After five weeks in Haiti, we grew into the routines, such as walking a mile through trash-filled, rocky Haitian roads each morning, taking freezing cold showers every other night, and answering to the name “mama.”

Now we’re home. I have to remind myself to speak to kids in English instead of Creole. I can’t bring myself to waste clean drinking water. I turn whenever I hear someone say “mama.”

I’m reminding myself that for this next season of my life, I belong here, in America. But ultimately, I don’t belong in Haiti or the United States or any other country; Heaven is my home.

And until I get there, the center of God’s will is where I truly belong.

Written for Lisa-Jo’s Five-Minute Friday: Belong

how do you say goodbye?

IMG_1199

How do you say goodbye to a country God placed on your heart six years ago, a beautiful country of banana trees and dirt roads that you’ve fallen in love with?

The country where one in three kids are able to go to school, where mothers walk up to you and ask you if they can leave one of their five children at the orphanage because they’re too poor to provide for them.

IMG_1350

How do you say goodbye to over 120 kids, ages newborn to thirteen, whose eyes light up every time they see you, and whose smiles melt your own heart?

The older kids who call you “Jess-ee-kah,” the younger ones who call you “Mama.” The kids who soak up every bit of attention and affection you give them.

IMG_1439

How do you say goodbye to a toddler room full of children who hang on to you every time you come in, crying “Mama! Mama!” and sobbing if you don’t take them with you?

They said we would get used to the endless crying you hear in the orphanage after supper; we didn’t think that would happen, but sure enough, when a newcomer commented that all the crying was “heartbreaking,” it took a moment to understand what she meant.

We’ve gotten used to the fact that this is an orphanage, not a home. It’s one of the best in Haiti, but it can never take the place of a family to these kids. Even though we’ve grown accustomed to it all, it won’t make it any easier to leave, knowing how desperately these kids crave our love.

IMG_1694

How do you say goodbye to eight precious babies who were assigned to you, who spend an hour each day with you, who cuddle with you, laugh with you, and give you slobbery kisses?

Our responsibility as volunteers is to lavish the kids with our love. We aren’t supposed to take care of their physical needs—the nannies do that. Our job is to love them—as if we were their mamas—for that daily hour on the balcony.

We’ve invested in them with our love, and now our hearts will always be connected with theirs, even if they don’t remember us. We don’t have anything tangible to show for our time here—no school buildings built, no walls painted, nothing like that. But the countless kisses, cuddles, and giggles we’ve shared with them? They weren’t wasted.

When adoptive parents tell you, with tears in their eyes, how much they appreciated knowing their children had people like us to spend one-on-one time with them before they could come home, you know it was worth it. Our love has eternal value.

How do you say goodbye? With tears. Trying to forget the fact that you may never see these babies again. Trusting that God has great plans for these precious little ones.

Knowing that a part of your heart will always and forever belong to Haiti.

IMG_1136

A Walk to Remember

IMG_1517 

I thought I’d share with you some pictures from our daily walk between the orphanages. We walk about a mile downhill each morning, on some pretty rough roads (although a few hundred feet got paved the last week!). Going downhill is pretty easy, although one day I slipped on a particularly rough part of it.

 IMG_1519

Going downhill is pretty easy, although one day I slipped on a particularly rough part of it. As I picked myself back up, I was saying, “I’m okay!”One of the Haitian guys walking by said, “No, you’re not okay! You fell!” Definitely one of my most embarrassing moments.

IMG_1522

 

IMG_1523

 

IMG_1524

People ride 3-4 persons per motorcycle around here, including little kids. It’s so funny the things that would be horrible in the U.S. are completely normal here.

IMG_1053

One of the churches we walked past. Abbie and I attended a different church a few Sundays ago, and it was such an amazing experience. Even though we couldn’t understand a word of it, the people helped us find the right songs in the hymnbooks. It’s so cool to see how passionate they are about Jesus.

IMG_1043

We’re in the richest part of Haiti, but there’s still trash everywhere.

IMG_1054

I’ll always remember our morning walks to the orphanage.

I’ll remember the quiet “bonjous” people say as we pass them in the road.

IMG_1526

I’ll remember the guy who asked “Can I give you a ride home with me?” as he drove by on his motorcycle (we ignored him).

I’ll remember the smell of the garbage and the feel of the rocks through my shoes.

IMG_1527

I’ll remember the girl who came running after me, asking me to take her picture.

I’ll remember the cars that only give you a few feet of room even if the rest of the road is empty.

IMG_1052

I’ll remember the walks home in the afternoons, when kids try their English and sing out “good morning!” and we don’t have the heart to correct them.

 IMG_1101

Most of all, I’ll always remember how peaceful and happy I feel on our walks through the streets of Haiti. Maybe it’s because the Haitian people exude peace and happiness, even amidst their poverty.

some of the kings and queens in Haiti

IMG_1007

Little hands, shoeless feet,

Lonely eyes looking back at me.

Will we leave behind the innocent to grieve?

On their own, on the run when their lives have only begun

These could be our daughters and our sons.

IMG_0701

And just like a drum I can hear their hearts beating

I know my God won’t let them be defeated

Every child has a dream to belong and be loved.

IMG_0883

Boys become kings, girls will be queens

Wrapped in Your majesty

When we love, when we love the least of these.

IMG_1031

Then they will be brave and free

Shout your name in victory

When we love when we love the least of these

When we love the least of these.

IMG_0891

Break our hearts once again

Help us to remember when

We were only children hoping for a friend

Won’t you look around these are the lives that the world has forgotten

Waiting for doors of our hearts and our homes to open

IMG_0703

If not us who will be like Jesus

To the least of these

If not us tell me who will be like Jesus

Like Jesus to the least of these

IMG_0713

Boys become kings, girls will be queens

Wrapped in your majesty

When we love, when we love the least of these.

–lyrics to “Kings and Queens” by Audio Adrenaline, via newreleasetuesday.com

Previous Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.