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One of my earliest memories takes place in Jasper, NY at a little log cabin, built by my father. My family is sitting around the living room and Mama is reading. I don’t know the book, just the sound of her voice and the way it rises and falls. She’s falling asleep and her words are drawing out further and further. I’m pressed up close beside her, running my fingers up and down her arm. I stop and tap her. “Mama,” I say, “Mama!” She blinks her eyes at me and one of the boys states, “You were sleeping, Mama.” The book lifts again and she begins reading but we all know it will only last a few minutes.
Some mamas read their babies to sleep, but our demand for books and stories was never sated and it was always Mama who slept first.
I was three when I realized letters on a page made words. I was four when I could read simple sentences and by the time I hit first grade my appetite for books was greater than my appetite for food. I remember curling into a corner anywhere I could find (the bathroom if need be) where I could read uninterrupted.
When I hit fifth grade and my mama battled her first war with cancer, my parents made the decision to place me in school after several years of homeschooling. I was so excited when I realized all I needed to do was write a one-page book report for each book read and I would receive a star on the book review chart. Enough stars and prizes could be won. Oh, how happy I was.
Until, of course, my teacher accused me of lying about the number of books I read. She sent me off to the principal’s office and I cried my good-little-girl eyes out. I blubbered and sobbed and explained to the principal that I really, truly, honestly had read that many books. At that point I was wolfing down 2-3 short chapter books a day. He just turned his head and stared out the window for several minutes before glancing at me and saying quietly, “Go on back to class now, Natasha.” Looking back, I’m rather convinced he had been trying to keep from laughing.
When my teacher caught me reading during math time, I received my first (and only) detention.
I was horrified until the detention time actually arrived. That particular teacher allowed all the students to sit quietly at their desks for 30 minutes after school. No talking. No making noise.
Oh, good gracious. This was heavenly. I pulled out my book and read, uninterrupted for thirty minutes. No mother calling my name. No brothers pestering me. I wished I could have detention every day of the week.
I finished my book just as the teacher dismissed us.
Between the community library and the church library I finally grabbed onto longer chapter books that required more than an hour of reading to complete. By the time I reached seventh grade I stumbled upon missionary biographies. A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot was dogeared and worn. Then I found Jungle Pilot by Russell T Hitt and Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman by Anne Ortlund.
Through Elisabeth Elliot’s description of Amy Carmichael and her growing up years and the world-wide impact she made through her writing, I found the example of who I wanted to be.
“The night I sailed for China, March 3, 1893, my life, on the human side, was broken, and it never was mended again. But He has been enough.” -Amy Carmichael, A Chance to Die
Through Anne Ortlund’s entertaining and encouragingly practical suggestions, I found out how to be what I longed to be.
“So set aside time each day; have your notebook and pencil ready. Begin with one book or one section, probably something in the New Testament if it’s new to you. Note the key thoughts, key words; how the passage fits what’s before and after; what you don’t understand, to ask somebody; how it can help your life that very day. Dig in!” –Anne Ortlund, Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman
And through Russell Hitt’s well-written biography of Nate Saint, I found a description of the type of man I wanted to marry, one whose thoughts and goals were centered on Jesus Christ.
“When life’s flight is over, and we unload our cargo at the other end, the fellow who got rid of the unnecessary weight will have the most valuable cargo to present to the Lord. Not only that. There’s another secret. Two airplanes may look alike, but one may be able to life twice the load into the air. The difference is the horsepower of the engine. Bible reading is the power of Christian life. Dead weight doesn’t do you any good and a big plane with little horsepower doesn’t go anywhere.” –Nate Saint, Jungle Pilot
By the time I was in high school, I was devouring heavier books– skimming over what I didn’t understand and sating myself with the nuggets of truth and life that fed my appetite for more.
Through The Journals of Jim Elliot I was encouraged to journal more, better. To leave behind my daily repertoire of, “I wonder if I’ll marry him? I had chicken for dinner. Basketball practice went late tonight.” And to begin writing down the things that matter, filling my journals with lasting things of value.
“I woke up this morning and was tempted to just leave my Bible and go on with my day but God so
clearly said to me, ‘Fill your mind with things of Me, Tasha, so full that every time you speak,
I pour out.’ And I realized that’s what I want. I want my ears to be opened to His voice,
my heart soft to His guidance, my mouth ready to speak His truth.” -my journal
I read In His Steps and felt the shaking revelation that living like Jesus really will change the world.
By the time I graduated I had moved on to Anne Ortlund’s Discipling One Another and once again felt her practical writing breath life into my understanding of Scripture and Community and what it truly means to disciple. I set down her book and realized, Yes. Yes. This is all doable. A way of life that I can actually live.
The Divine Conquest by A.W. Tozer shook me out of a season of complacency.
“…I wish there were some way to bring modern Christians into a deeper spiritual life painlessly by short easy lessons; but such wishes are vain. No short cut exists. God has not bowed to our nervous haste nor embraced the methods of our machine age. It is well that we accept the hard truth now: the man who would know God must give time to Him.” – A. W. Tozer, The Divine Conquest
Then I stumbled upon The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun and was thrust into an understanding of global Christianity. I read God’s Smuggler and Tortured for Christ. Run, Baby, Run and Soul Obsession by Nicky Cruz lined my bookshelves.
My reading slowed down after I married and battled through depression and infertility, fighting to find my faith. I went back to the Bible and sat there in the pages until it all began to make sense again and God’s voice grew stronger than the sound of my heart breaking.
When I managed to climb out and up, I read Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas and Why Holiness Matters by Tyler Braun. I pulled out Twelve Baskets of Crumbs and a friend sent me Finding Your Way Through Loneliness. Elisabeth Elliot’s words seemed to pour life back into my writing and my desire to read things of substance and weight.
Then God worked miracles and opened doors and a beautiful daughter came into our lives. One day I was sitting on the couch reading Gladys Aylward by Catherine Swift and found myself falling asleep when I heard her voice. “Mama!” Her hand shook my arm. “Mama! Wake up!”
I blinked open my eyes and looked down at the book that falling closed in my limp hand and couldn’t help but smile. “Where was I?” I questioned and she pointed to the page and I began reading again, praying that the stories I was pouring into her would give her a love for the written word but most of all, a love for the Giver-of-All-Good-Things.
You know, truthfully, I should have titled this essay, “Half a Lifetime of Reading Books” since I do hope my life of reading is not over. In fact, I hope it has just begun.