That Sounds Fun

It’s now been over a year since we were introduced to the infamous Corona virus, the dreaded Covid-19. The global menace of 2020. We’ve had time to reflect, contest, converse and contemplate all that we hold dear and special. Toilet paper notwithstanding. Annie F. Downs is no exception to those things, either. In her latest book, That Sounds Fun, she, too, reflects on her past experiences in light of the mix of her new experiences. What then, does it all mean in God’s plan? It’s a delightful compilation of thoughts and experiences from Downs’ life. Although this thirty-some-thing-single-Tennessee-gal is “embarrassingly easy to find” on the internet, she’s new to me. She currently hosts a podcast called “That Sounds Fun” and her book is an extention of that work. Now that I have read this book, I am eager to get a hold of her “100 Days to Brave”…especially in light of my #wordoftheyear. Downs also has her first children’s book due out in fall 2021. But let’s get back to the current. Here’s her little promotional to wet your appetite:

via YOUTUBE

Much like mittonmusings.com, Annie’s book is a collection of thoughts, gathered under three general premises: The Joys of Being an Amateur, The Power of Falling in Love, and Why you Need a Hobby. Her writing is witty, and well, “fun”, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Dotted throughout the book are lists of what her fans also think is “fun” and truly reflect what the world began to hold dear in this global pandemic: visits with friends, teaching and mentoring the younger generation, learning from the older, travel and family. These are the things that Downs calls our “return to Eden” moments. The pieces of our heart that are shaped by God’s perfect plan and what He originally intended for us as humans… connection and meaningful relationships, including bringing Glory to God through our actions and experiences.

Annie is openly personal in her conversations, and shares both her joys and sorrows. I was particularly touched by her story about Helen. If you know me, and read the book, you’ll see why. She shares her struggles about being single, her allergies, and I love how she has named the places she has lived. What would you name the place you are currently living in? Mine might just have to be the Castle of Chaos. She reminises about times spent on her grandma’s porch snapping beans… her little moment of childhood Eden. Country girl, indeed.

Originally, I picked this book for my bookshelf based on my thoughts about “fun”. My ideas of fun are vastly different from the thoughts my husband has, different from what my children find fun, and different from what many of my friends deem “fun”. I was looking to validate my own activities, and to trust that God made me special. In some ways, she does. God’s plans for Annie F. Downs are not the same for me. They are not the same for you, either. Does God want us to have some “fun” along the way? Of course. Maybe we could sum it up in this quote near the end of the book:

“So chase the fun, friend. Go after it. Find what sounds fun to you, and you will find what you are really looking for. Maybe you will find it in the places where you are an amateur (aren’t you glad to be an amateur!) maybe you will find it in love (I hope you are in love); or maybe you’ll find it that hobby you just found or returned to.”

Annie F. Downs in “That Sounds Fun” p.223-224

Have fun today, my friends.

From the Bookshelf

Do you remember back in high school when you dreamed about being someone else? That movie star with a perfect smile and all the right proportions? Or you flipped through teen magazines and wanted hair like that, or lip gloss that shined just like that? Fine, maybe I am dating myself reminiscing about Seventeen Magazine, but I think every girl dreams of “fixing” a flaw they see in themselves. I am happy to report that I have grown out of those superficial desires and have gradually learned to love myself… just the way I am. Am I perfect? Far from it. Am I still learning and growing and moving forward in the journey for joy? You betcha. Which brings me to this week’s muse: A couple of words on two books I’ve recently finished up.

The first is “The Powerful Purpose of Introverts” by Holley Gerth, (in)Courage member, best selling author and fellow introvert. When I first got my hands on this one, I was secretly excited, hoping that Gerth would impart great wisdom on how to upgrade my A game in a world of crazy extroverts (I’m married to one, too, so that throws a glitch in the system). The book does do this, to some extent, but is a much broader look at the idea of what an introvert is and how to function well as one.

Very similar to other personality type studies, Holley looks at brain function, responses to stimuli and coping mechanisms. Anecdotal stories are punctuated throughout the book, helping illustrate the power behind “introvert-ism”. Designed as a small group study (there are chapter questions at the back for discussion), I’m thinking this would be perfect for a young mom’s club. The author gently encourages (as all good introverts do- insert wink here- ) that no matter where you think you are, God’s plans and purposes for you are always perfect, and that all of us, introvert or extrovert, have roles to play in His plan!

I was thankful for some of the reminders Gerth highlights as “needs” for my half of the population: things like dedicated quiet (strategic solitude), special connections and silent empathy. These are strengths that we hold dear. The strengths that help us live out our purpose in God’s plan! Even if you write a weekly blog about your seemingly boring life and dream of going viral someday.

Which brings us around to the second book: “Joyful Surrender: 7 Disciplines for the Believer’s Life” by Elizabeth Elliot. This pillar of the faith (she died in 2015) is known for a variety of writing, but most notably by her husband’s story. Jim Elliot was one of theĀ five young missionaries who were savagely killed while trying to establish communication with the Auca Indians of Ecuador. She tells his story (and consequently her own) in her book “Through the Gates of Splendor”. She is one of those people you want to be like — Brave and able to trust fully in God’s plan, even in the midst of unspeakable grief.

Our church’s ladies group just completed this book as our winter study. Our crazy Zoom discussions were sparked by topics such as the discipline of the Body, of the Mind, our feelings and how we spend our time. We found Elliot to be a no-nonsense kind of woman who tells it like it is, and lays out her discussions of discipline with all the confidence of a well seasoned Christian. We appreciated her biblical insights and wisdom, obviously gained through her own daily walk with Jesus, and years of service. Interestingly, her choice of title (“joyful surrender”) is indication that even seasoned missionaries have to choose joy in the journey sometimes! Yes, grace is sufficient, but practical faith takes some work! I think I can speak for the rest of my “spiritual sisters” in saying that Elliot’s book was challenging and insightful.

So, there you have it, my friends, a couple of new books for you to sink your teeth into during lockdown. They won’t be like Seventeen magazine … but they just might encourage you to take a second glance at your own self… and go beyond lip-gloss and banana hair clips, and take a good, introspective look at who God made you to be… and how He made you to fit just perfectly for His plan for your future!

Set the Stars Alight

Art made from old pocket watch parts

I recently discovered an artist who makes tiny sculptures out of the tiny moving parts of ancient clocks. (Check out my Pinterest boards for more pictures). Fascinating. So many miniscule workings all blended together, each with their own purpose, yet fully connected to the whole. Much like that of the crew of a tall ship, each proud of their position, allowing for individual roles to work with the other so there is always smooth sailing as they say. Or the great, vast universe. We, mere humans, can only see a tiny glimpse of the stars. And we imagine their roles in something much, much bigger. I tell my kindergarteners that different groups of people tell different stories about the “pictures in the stars”. It’s our attempt to make sense of the world. The Big Dipper. The Great Bear. The Twins. Can you picture the constellations?

So why do I bring up these subjects? They are each uniquely a part of Amanda Dykes’ novel, “Set the Stars Alight”, a delightful book that I just finished reading this past week. Technically, it’s classified as “a romance”… but it is subtle enough to be tolerable (ya’ll know how much I love sappy romances….not!) True, it’s a boy meets girl story, but their relationship is based on friendship, respect, and the ultimate quest for knowledge… not how cute the other looks. I found the novel started a bit slow, but as the story moves between its contemporary setting in modern England, and the early nineteenth century, the twists and turns beautifully align by the end of the book in a unique blending of belonging and hope.

The tale begins with Lucy, the watchmaker’s daughter. Her fascination with the legendary lost ship, The Jubilee, and it’s unlikely crew, sends her searching for answers. Her grown up adventure has her reconnected (and not by accident) to Dashel Green, the little lost neighbour who adopts himself into the watchmaker’s family. Drawn in by the watchmaker’s fable-stories, Dash grows up exploring the stars in search of unknown mysteries. Together they eventually find that hope and sacrifice (and a little love) end up healing many a wound.

The novel jumps between Lucy and Dashel’s story to the story of Frederick Handford, the son of an admiral who ends up in a series of his own adventures, leading us to follow his tales of good, bad and ugly. He learns kindness and sacrifice through hardship and tragedy. I tried to discover if the Jubilee and Handford were based on a true legend, but I didn’t find any information, so I assume they were figments of Dykes’ imagination, but please correct me if I am wrong…English history is not my forte.

Yet, I found by the end of my read, I had discovered more than just some romance with some history thrown in. Dykes blends her own version of Hope and Light into her story. She describes it in her author’s note:

“….this world can be a dark place. I don’t need to expound. We all know it. We see it every day. We feel the heaviness of it descend when we turn on the news. But there is something else in this world, too. And it is light. Hope. Truth. Wonder.”

Amanda Dykes about “Set the Stars Alight”
What do You see in the stars?? (Photo by Adrian Lang on Pexels.com)

Like I tell my students, there is something bigger in the stars, or in the tiny workings of microscopic creatures, there is a story to tell of a Designer who created all the interconnections.

” ‘We keep the stories.’ He said we pass them on — it is our duty…and our honour. In a world as dark as this, people forget how to see the light, so we need to remind them by telling the truth. Paying attention… setting the stars alight.”

Lucy, said of her watchmaker father’s stories, in “Set the Stars Alight”, pg. 332-333

So true. So true. Especially in this 2020 year where Corona has set our entire world on end. How much more do we need to see that every good and perfect gift is from above? Oh friends, whether you are interested in this book or not, I wish you its story of hope, sacrifice and a little love thrown in. Be Blessed.