My Reading Bucket List

Starting in 2006, I began compiling several reading lists that I wanted to challenge myself to complete. In part, this came about because although I had been a huge reader since childhood, I became aware that my reading diet was Vitamin C deficient. That is, I felt like I had not included enough Classics throughout that time spent in the pages of various books. I had decided that one way to remedy that was to read all the Pulitzer Prize Winners, so that was one of the first lists that I put in my bucket. Around that time as well the book 1001 Books to Read Before You Die was published. Even with such a daunting title I decided to toss that one in as well. During my time at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, I took a class in Children’s Literature. This spurred me to add the winners of the Caldecott Medal Award and the Newbery Medal Award. The bucket was beginning to get quite heavy, but I didn’t stop there. Along the way I came across other compiled lists and award designations that interested me as well. In addition, my interest in both history and politics merged together in the great idea to read at least one biography of each of the presidents of the United States of America.

The result is that I now have a total of 1,491 unique titles (I use that designation because in some cases short stories are included on some of the lists) in my Reading Bucket. As of this writing, I have read 108 of the titles on all the combined lists – a mere 7% of the total. Considering I have only been averaging reading 20 books a year for the past several years and still have 1,383 titles left to read, I only need 69 years to complete all the lists. The only problem with that is that at the age of 46 I am quite sure I can not count on living for 69 more years. So, I guess I am going to have to accelerate my pace of reading. Regardless of whether I actually complete this challenge in its entirety, it has been an interesting journey over the past several years. I have read books and authors that I probably never would have encountered otherwise. It would be dishonest to say I have enjoyed every one of the books; in fact, some I had to kind of view as the un-desired vegetable on my dinner plate – the item I had to make myself consume so that I could have my dessert after the meal. But for the most part it has been enlightening, educational, and personally satisfying to make my way through this and I look forward to the other surprises that lie ahead for me.

Here is a link to my Reading Bucket List. I am currently in the process of creating page links to each individual list that highlights my current progress in each one. Check them out, and perhaps you may want to add a couple to your own bucket.

Just Another Voice in the Crowd, Take 2

So, I can safely say my New Years Resolution from the first of the year can be chalked up in the Fail Column on my scorecard of life. I had promised to get back to writing on this blog and doing a better job of updating my reading list, writing book reviews and other things hopefully to be of interest to someone. It is 7 months later and I am just now writing my second post of the year. It is not because I have been lazy. Well, okay some of those days did include me being lazy – but not all of them. I have been doing quite a bit of reading, so there are many potential book reviews that I can (and should and certainly hope to) get around to writing. I have made quite a bit of progress on my personal Reading List Challenges. Yes, challenges as in plural. More to come about those lists in my next post, which I do hope will not take me 7 months to write.

Please read my post from January to get a sense of what I hope to accomplish with this site. And please forgive me for failing as I work on forgiving myself for failing in my prior attempt. Though the reviews will not be included right away, browse around the links to my reading list if you are in search of some books to read. Hopefully, you will find something there to whet your appetite. To see other people’s reviews and conversations about one that looks interesting, I suggest checking  LibraryThing. It is my favorite book-related social media site.

Don’t give up on me yet, as I have not yet given up on my dream of sharing my thoughts, ideas, and views with others. I may never write anything that is life-changing and profound, but I may say something or steer you to some book that may inspire you to your own personal “aha” moment that is life-changing for you. If that happens, then I can put a check mark in the Success Column on my scorecard of life.

Just Another Voice in the Crowd

One of my resolutions for the year 2016 includes trying to revive this stagnant blog. I knew it had been awhile since I had worked with it; but even so, I was surprised to find it had been since 2012 when I last did anything with it. During that period, there were many times I thought about returning to it, but for various reasons never did. However, my biggest stumbling block was the self-doubt that would creep in every time the consideration rose to the forefront of my mind. A little voice in my head would always question, “And what worthwhile thoughts do you think you have to contribute to the world? There are many people out there who possess much more intelligence and insight than you do. Why would anybody want to read what you have to say?”

Why indeed? I am not sure I can answer that question fully. I do know I have a handful of family and friends who are occasionally interested in my point of view on things of import. So, perhaps a few of them will drop in every once in awhile to see what I am talking about. If for no other reason than to make sure I am not talking about them in any insidious manner. Other than that, what do I have to offer a stranger who may stumble into my little corner of the world? Well, as the title of this post states all I have to offer is just another voice in the crowd.

I readily admit I am not the smartest, most well-read, most educated, thoughtful person around. So if you want expert opinions on any of the matters I hope to write about then you should seek out professionals in that particular field. All I have is a love of reading, a desire to write, and a mind that seeks to understand and make sense of this crazy thing called life. If you want to follow me on that journey, then I welcome you aboard. And if you promise to keep things civil I am also eager to hear your voice in the crowd via the comments section.

Changing Views

Many people have a particular season of the year that is their favorite. What I love and appreciate the most is the transitions from one season to the next. By the time fall is nearing I am usually ready for the cooler temperatures it promises. Likewise, when spring begins knocking on the door I am ready to shed the blankets and coats and bask in the more natural warmth provided by the sun. As dry brittle leaves of various shapes and sizes and hues continue to litter my lawn, my focus is less on where they have fallen and instead is looking where they have fallen from. A standing army of skinny skeletal tree limbs stands guard around my home. As I sit working at my desk I can look left out the window and be rewarded with a glimpse of the pond that rests beyond those wooden sentries. As I sit in my living room peering out the back window, I find myself slightly amazed to be visually reminded at how sharp the rise of the hill is that sits on the other side of the creek trickling at the bottom of the small hill that shapes the end of my back yard property.

Of course, both the pond and hill have been in their same place all summer. Yet, I am not afforded a view of either due to the heavy vegetative growth during the summer that shields them from my sight. Part of what I enjoy about fall and winter is this change in scenery that I see as I gaze out my windows. The landscape itself has not changed, instead previously hidden areas have been revealed by the curtain of leaves that has been removed.

My spiritual formation within my Christian faith has its own parallel aspects regarding transitive seasons. Here too, there are periods of beauty and greenery that inspire thoughts of life, vitality, and growth. But, I have also experienced fall-like moments where everything appears bleak, dark, and dying. What was once blooming promises of God’s grace, mercy, and love begin to fall into heaps of dry brittle remnants on the ground where I tread grimly through the days.

It is at these times I have to remind myself to not look down and focus on the things that have fallen. But instead to look up to where they have fallen from. God’s landscape has not changed. Everything that was there before is still there now. His means of renewal and regeneration are not always easily grasped. God does not cause the bleakness and darkness in my life. Yet, he uses these periods for his own good as either a lesson to be learned or a reminder of where our reliance should reside. It is up to me to take something from this varied perspective and changing view.

Soon, I will tire of the view of the pond and hill outside my windows and will be longing for some color to brighten the lay of the land. Fortunately, but not accidentally, this usually occurs around spring time when the world of nature is beginning to awake from its winter’s slumber.

Lessons From The Falls

One of the hardest things watching my Rusty-Pup age has been to see him change from a vibrant young pup who loved to chase rabbits, tennis balls, and his canine friends for hours on end into a doddering old dog who stumbles and falls more frequently every day.  Despite my every effort to accomodate his increasing feebleness – portable steps for the car and ramps for the porch – I too often find myslef cringing as his little spaniel legs give way and he tumbles to the ground.  Yet, what I’ve also found is that even as he nears the end of his time here, this faithful companion who has helped me discover many life lessons throughout his sixteen years still has things to teach me. Observing his ever evolving attitude and reaction to his falls has challenged me to re-examine how I react to my own stumbles along life’s pathway.

Many months ago, when he initally began falling his immediate reaction was to begin flailing around in a desperate attempt to upright himself as quickly as possible.  This desperation seemed to arise from a combination of shock, fear, and shame. Most of the time he was more than capable of pulling himself back up on all four legs.  There were times, though, when he required a little help, a little push from me to help give him some leverage.  As he has aged those times of needing my assistance have become more the norm than the exception.  At the same time, a notable change has taken place in how he handles himself now after he falls.

For one, he has learned how to roll with the falls. He seems to know in an instant whether a particular stumble will result in a full tumble or just a minor trip-up.  When he realizes he is not going to recover he resolutely accepts his fate, and instead of fighting the inevitable he simply goes with it and accepts it with as much grace and ease as he can muster.  Second, once on the ground he no longer flails around trying to immediately get up. Instead, he takes a deep breath and appears to mentally assess his situation.  More often than not he does not even attempt to stand by himself, he has accepted that his little legs are just to weak to recover on their own anymore after such a shock.  So, he lies there patient and content with full faith and knowledge that I am nearby to give him the necessary assistance his predicament requires.  Working together, we get him back on his feet and once again moving toward whatever is his momentary goal.

Fortunately, I am not plagued with the frequent misfortunes of physical falls and tumbles. Less fortunately, I am prone to mental and/or emotional stumbles as I tread my way through life.  There have been a few major falls in my life that have been akin to falling into a large pit, requiring quite a bit of climbing and clawing to get myself back on solid ground with stable legs.  In addition, there have been countless minor ones that still trip me up but from which I find it easier to recover from.

Like Rusty, in the past I reacted to finding myself being down for the count with shock, fear, and even shame.  I too would flail around looking and hoping for the quick fix to bring me back to my feet as fast as possible.  As he has discovered, and I am discovering, this is not always the optimal strategy. It often accomplishes little and at times only aggravates and makes things worse.  The wiser course of action is to take a deep breath, assess where you are, and map out a plan to steadily get back on track. The shock is inevitable.  So too, in many cases, is the fear.  The shame, however, can and should be banished.  I have to remind myself I’m not the first, the last, or the only one to ever encounter such a mishap.  There is no shame in experiencing a malady that is ever present in and among the human collective.

Perhaps the most important lesson I can take from my canine friend and companion is to learn how to rely on others.  When he is able he handles it on his own.  Yet, he has learned to welcome the helping hand when it is necessary.  He allows me the privilege to love him enough to be there to help him at his time of need.  I prefer doing what I can on my own when possible.  That is not inherently a bad position to take at times.  We gain strength of mind and character when we attain some dreams and goals on our own.  Yet, there is also strength in being able to acknowledge when you need help from others.  We have to allow others the opportunity and the privilege to love us enough to help us through our own trials and times of need.

Stepping Out on Faith

Following is a link to the copy of the Sunday morning message I delivered on April 29, 2012 at Reeps Grove United Methodist Church in my role as a Lay Speaker filling in for our pastor.

Stepping Out on Faith

My Waltz Lesson

Saturday night was spent with family and friends at a little place called Sims Barbecue which provides an all-you-can-eat buffet and a night of great bluegrass music complete with plenty of dancing space.  In between the band sessions, they play a few line dances and the ubiqitous Chicken Dance for the children.  Although, from my experience it seems that the adults enjoy the Chicken Dance way more than the children do.  They may say they are only out there showing the little ‘uns how it’s done, but I think that secretly they are just glad to have them for cover and as an excuse to look crazy.

I am not and have never been much of a dancer.  As a child, I quit dance lessons after one class.  It may have been because I saw pictures of other little girls in tutus and decided to get out before anyone decided to wrangle one of those things on me.  I shudder now, thinking how close I came to maybe wearing one of those things.  Subsequently, throughout my pre-teen and teen years I was exposed to short term dancing lessons in various forms.  I learned a little clogging and some square dancing moves along the way.  In my early twenties I danced a few line dances at times when out with friends.  However, by and large if there was a dance floor involved I was usually hugging the sidelines, not unhappily, watching other people dance.

When it comes to rhythm, I can spell it a hundred times better and with much more fluidity than I can produce it. Tending to the shy and introverted spectrum of human nature, I just find it difficult to free myself up to move around without constantly worrying about looking like an idiot.  I know I shouldn’t care about how I look because those on the sidelines watching probably are in the same boat I am and would empathize with me, and those on the dance floor are too busy enjoying themselves to care what kind of moves I have (or more truthfully, don’t have).

So, I was shocked at point to find myself out on the dance floor at one point dancing with a very pleasant and polite, unknown to me, older gentleman.  The band had struck up a waltz and I had pushed mom and dad out on the floor, knowing they can (and often do) dance together.  When first asked by the gentleman to dance I politely declined saying I wasn’t much of a dancer.  But, for some reason as soon as I said it, I felt like that was the wrong answer.  Even more, I felt like that was not the answer God wanted me to give.  So, I relented and told the man, if he would lead the way and show me what to do I would try it.

Was it a disaster?  Yes and No.  Yes, because I kept missing steps, especially when I would try to talk while I danced.  I’m just glad I wasn’t trying to chew a piece of gum as well, who knows what would have happened then.  No, because what did it matter that I kept missing steps? I didn’t hear anyone booing me off the dance floor.  I didn’t hear anyone saying you aren’t good enough to be out here.  I didn’t see anyone laughing and pointing at me.  Even if they had been, I was too focused on the task at hand to notice.  What I did hear is the voice of an experienced, older, wiser dancer calmly say “it’s okay”.  What I did see was his smile when he said it.  What I did feel was him gently taking the lead and helping me find my steps again.

Thank goodness I do not have to see a replay of that dance, because I know I would cringe.  I know it was far from pretty and graceful.  But it was fun and it was enjoyable.  And most important, I was reminded that I don’t have to be perfect at something to take part in it.  I don’t even have to be as good as those around me.  All I have to do is take a step off the sidelines and onto the dance floor and give it a whirl.  Life isn’t always pretty and graceful.  And my attempts to live out my Christian faith are not always pretty and graceful and I often get out of step.  Fortunately for me though, God is holding my hand and leading the dance.  If I focus hard enough on the task at hand I can ignore the naysayers and see and hear and feel only Him.  Smiling, saying “it’s okay,” and gently leading me back into the rhythm that He wants me to follow.