Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Treasures Encountered

It's been a long time since I've written on this blog, and I've had a long list of posts that I've wanted and intended to write.  This one has been brewing for over a year now, and it keeps getting longer and longer.  I have felt so incredibly blessed by some beautiful treasures that we have encountered over the last year and a half!  I have shared bits and pieces but have wanted to share more fully.  Really, the impetus for finally just getting something written, even though it doesn't come close to doing justice to these things, is that I have the wonderful opportunity this week to attend a conference at which several of these people will be sharing in some form.  I have never been one terribly impressed by "celebrity," so this isn't really about me getting to meet well-known people.  These people and the things they have made, written, shared, sung, and curated have truly had a radical impact on my life and journey over this last season and have shaped me and my family in a way for which I cannot possibly adequately express gratitude.

I am certainly not the one to have discovered these things, which is why I phrase it as treasures encountered.  I have personally encountered these stories, songs, and resources over the last couple of years, and they have changed me.  All have been absolutely incredible sources of beauty, truth, and life that have nourished my soul.  The start of my encounters with these things was a really challenging season for me and my family, and even through the challenges of that season, I remember very clearly having the sense of being totally and utterly overwhelmed by the beauty that God had been just pouring over me as I encountered more and more of these things.

So, even though I am sharing things that might just seem like a list of favorites or recommendations, it feels like sharing my personal journey and story over the last couple of years in a very meaningful way, as each of these things truly is a part of my story now.

I think that the reason that I have waited so very long to write about these things is that they feel so deeply personal to me, and any words I could possibly express seem so inadequate to describe them and express their significance to me.  I still feel no confidence in doing so, but I just feel compelled to share and will keep it to a brief(ish) description to finally put something out there.

Without further ado, I'll dive in.

It all started with reading one little book called Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie.  It is a wonderful book that challenged me and started me rethinking my approach to school and life with my boys.  It created in me a longing for deeper things in my own soul and in our family and school life together.  It’s a wonderful book.  But, it’s more than that.  It is the source that started me on a path of discovering all of these other things.  I was so drawn to the deeper pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty that I dove into uncovering more. 

I joined Sarah’s Read-Aloud Revival (RAR) Membership site, and that is where the uncovering took off for me.  I listened to wonderful classes given there and was introduced to people like Andrew Pudewa, Julie Bogart, Heidi Scovel, and Adam Andrews.  I caught up on episodes of Sarah’s podcast.  I was new to podcasts and couldn’t quite handle listening at first, reading the show notes instead.  But, as Sarah’s voice began to feel like a friend’s rather than a stranger’s, I enjoyed listening to the episodes as well.  I’ve ended up with countless encounters with lovely people and delightful book recommendations through RAR, and I am inexpressibly grateful to Sarah for her own writing and for inviting me and many others into such a delightful realm.

The first book I tried from RAR recommendations was The Green Ember by S. D. Smith.  I cannot possibly begin to express what this book means to me.  It’s an absolutely wonderful story, but I cannot possibly even begin to be objective in describing it because it became a critical part of OUR story.  In the midst of a hard season, it was a beacon of hope and truly began a journey of healing for my son in his battles with fear and anxiety post-earthquake.  I genuinely get teary-eyed any time that I try to talk about this book and what it means to us.  Sam has a true gift to tell stories and speak hope and life through them, but I also believe that he is humble and faithful to just put stories out there for God to use as He will, and I know firsthand that He has used them powerfully!  The sequel came nearly a year after we read the first one, and in terms of a story and the writing, it is even better than the first.  Nothing holds the place for us that the first one does, but Ember Falls (the sequel) was so skillfully written and is such a beautiful story.  It is the middle of the story, so it is hard.  We genuinely grieved over it, but that was a healing part of our journey as well—to sit with the hard things, to grieve and to acknowledge the hurt and brokenness around us and in us, but to look with hope for the truth and beauty that is still there and for what is yet to come! 
“Let us be who we truly are, friends.  When the Green Ember rises—and may it happen soon—let us live so that when the Mended Wood comes, we will not be strangers to its charms.”  The Green Ember
“But it’s better to live as you will want to have lived, rather than spend your time worrying about the end.  You are right here in your story.  Don’t skip ahead.”  Ember Falls

We next encountered The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton.  It is quirky and funny and yet so insightful.  I will try to avoid spoilers here, but there is a point in the book in which Trafton’s words felt like they cut deep to my heart and expressed things I didn't know I hadn’t already processed or even needed to process with our own personal experience surrounding the earthquake.  “What did ordinary things matter now that they knew such an extraordinary thing could happen—and might happen again?” 
Followed, a bit later by…
“Yet she was surrounded by people—unstomped, unsmashed, uncrushed, unbroken, unruined—miraculously, wonderfully whole.”
There is also a poem that expresses so beautifully the meeting of weeping and rejoicing!  It was a profound experience for me.
The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson absolutely wrecked me in the very best possible way.  I wept through much of the book—tears of loss, tears of healing, tears of overwhelm at beauty and hope.  The story pulled my heart wide open, raw at times, to process things from my past, my present, and my future.  It challenged me in ways I desperately needed but could not possibly have received in a way as profound had it not come through such a powerful story. 
My son also loved these stories.  As The Green Ember had started for him, this series continued a journey of courage and healing.  It also holds a special place in my heart as I watched his reading take off.  I knew he could read well for his age, but he had never read anything aloud beyond very early chapter books.  One day he looked up and asked me if he could try reading a chapter aloud…and he did!  The way we bonded through this series was and is really precious to me.  He could not wait for our read-aloud time, and he would often get chapters ahead of me, but that became a fun bond between us for me to prioritize catching up with him for my evening and then getting to talk with him to connect about what we had read. 
This series is at the top of my all-time favorite books!  I literally reread several of the chapters and sections dozens of times over the next few months after finishing the series.  I mourned when the series was over and could not quite connect to anything else for awhile.

Because of enjoying Andrew’s writing, I also started listening to some of his music, which I had only minimally encountered before that.  It was one evening listening to his music that I had the moment I described earlier of starting to cry because of feeling utterly overwhelmed at the beauty that God was pouring out to me!  I truly felt that I could hardly even handle and most assuredly did not deserve such a flood of beauty and goodness!

My son dove into The Wildering Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers after that.  I thoroughly enjoyed starting the series with him.  It was a brilliantly crafted story inspired by the story of David from the Bible.  While I was enjoying it, my son’s reading had taken off to a point that I could not keep up with him!  He read much of the series completely on his own, and while it was a moment that had a mix of emotions for me, one significant feeling welled up in my heart to be so incredibly grateful to have discovered some wise and lovely sources and guides that I deeply trusted to be part of my son’s own journey as he branched off from me in a newfound confidence and level of independence.

There have been and continue to be so many more treasures.  The Rabbit Room and Story Warren have been groups of people that continue to blow me away with the incredible thoughts, writing, artistry, and goodness they are creating, curating, sharing.  The journey has led us to a place with homeschooling that I never expected…and absolutely love!  I have encountered kindred spirits all around the globe and beautiful people putting out beautiful, true, and good things!  I hope to share more about many of them, but these few represent a core of a journey for me and for my boys.  It was a season of transformation that set us on a path of finding things that continue to overwhelm me with their beauty.