Back in 2004, I was researching Christian music when I came upon a little review on epinions.com. The reviewer, a delightfully humble woman, was describing music that her children had found enjoyable–an album that I had had when I was very young, but which had been destroyed through repeated run-ins with uncooperative FisherPrice tape players. Well, I enjoyed the review so much that I decided to buy the music–for old time’s sake, don’t you know?–and, I must say, I found the reviewer herself so beautiful in the Lord that I began checking Epinions daily for anything new she might have posted. I was going through some difficult external circumstances and seeing other Christians loving Jesus was a rare thing at that time, so I thought that reading this wonan’s writings was one of the most enriching experiences I could possibly hope to have. CindyJean, if you ever stumble upon this blog through some inexplicable series of circumstances, know that although I never got to know you personally, the Holy Spirit used you for two-and-a-half years to salve the lonely, aching heart of at least one person.
Well, following that exposure to Epinions, I began to wonder whether that community had other like-minded individuals, or brilliant writers on other subjects, or both. I did some digging and found countless reviews, essays, poems, recipes, and other snatches of joyful life. That community was home in 2004, when I first began investigating it–it was filled with heart and warmth and sincerity, all characteristics that I felt were lacking in my own life. I wanted to be a part of that community–I did!–but I tend to take life rather seriously, so I didn’t join until 2007. By then, I knew the site’s policies, culture, prominent members, and most popular or discussed reviews inside out. I had come up with a user ID months before even considering joining, and when it actually came time to set down my personal information, I was practically considering myself a member of the community.
One of the first things I had to do, of course, was to befriend all of those whose lovely writing I had come to know. In order to do this, I had to write some smashing pieces of my own. I loved books–the printed ones that fill a house with frgrance, but also the Books category–and I admired many of the more prolific reviewers in that category. The best way to hobnob with the elite was to read much of what they were reading. And so, I began to devour books I might never have read before. I developed a high awareness of invisible disabilities through various memoirs, devoured autobiographical sketches of adventurers who had experienced everything from deliberate homelessness to a horrible avalanch, and even tried my hand at reviewing a few best-sellers (at least at that time) like Lisa Genova’s STILL ALICE. I read about Laura Bridgman and Charles Dickens, studied the lives of great philosophers and thinkers, and contemplated the merits of nearly anything I could find on Project Gutenberg from THE ADVENTURES OF MAYA THE BEE to an obscure and much-outdated book of housekeeping hints. Then, too, because many of the reviewers whose acquaintance I wished to make were either teachers or well-read parents, there wasthe whole realm of children’s books to delve into. And did I ever! Schneider Family Book Awards, Newberry Awards, Young Readers’ Choice Awards–I read them all, as well as anything I could find that was entirely unrecognized but showed promise. Some of it I reviewed, the rest I just stored somewhere in my memory banks. Enrichment reading, I called it–not Christ-centered, per se, but certainly capable of expanding the mind.
Then, gradually, Epinions began to fade from my life. First, I ceased reviewingfor a bit; then, when I saw that circumstances would be more condusive to my blogging than to continued activity on Epinions, I wrote a message to my precious community explaining that I would be taking my writing elsewhere. And shortly after that, Epinions.com itself disabled all community activities. Yet, even after my review site had vanished, and with it the need to compose reviews, I continued in reading enrichment works. Oh, some of them disturbed me very much. Was it really necessary for the author of a memoir about exceptional memory strengths to use such invective? Could not the woman who wrote about children’s school lunches have been a bit more… reverent? or was it relevant to her work to insert entire paragraphs that mocked and denegrated the Christian faith? I didn’t see the correlation… And the books for young people, these days! Perhaps that makes me sound old-fashioned, but I could never quite conceive of how children were being taught from third grade on up some of the ideals that authors everywhere seemed to be instilling. It’s all right to lie if you don’t get caught? Keep your problems from parents and teachers? Tolerance may be embraced but true kindness is for whimps? The whole thing made me feel grieved, but I kept on–out of habbit, I suppose, and because lingering brokenness in my own heart kept me from seeing what I was doing. Day-by-day “enrichment” was something to do when I felt too terrified to face the Lord in prayer, or to sit in silence and contemplate His beauty–or when I simply felt too depressed and traumatizzed to do anything save retreat into myself.
Why this long, drawn-out introduction? Because a destination is always sweeter if you have to drive quite awhile to reach it. In other words, there is a point to this ramble, but we’re taking the scenic route today. As we travel along, may I take this opportunity to state most emphatically that the experiences I relate here are not intended to instruct or advise any of my readers, and that whatever you do is probably very rewarding in your own life–don’t stop. However, I have always been very sensitive to life and I have a specific calling, so what applies to me may not necessarily apply to you. Some are called to expand their minds in certain areas in order to relate to a specific group of people; if that is you, then please take everything I sy with a grain of salt.
Now then, back to the multi-part series I began several weeks ago and which I had temporarily abandoned. I left off with 8 May. The Lord had just promised to fill my heart with joy and restore to me all the joy, peace, and servant-hearted obedience I had lost during my eight-year struggle with a small but painful shard of spiritual anguish. I had accepted thse promises joyfully, but had stumbled almost immediately and had nearly decided to give up, feeling that NOW the Lord might never restore me. He had different plans…
The next day, Friday, 9 May, I put my plans to hide and return to a life of unhappiness into action–untentionally, ’tis true, but that is in essence what I did. A trip to the online library, some audiobook downloads, and my plan was well underway. I tore through recording after recording, and in-between those moments, I occupied myself with electronic literature. Many children’s books, a few memoirs, innumerable of bitter and angry words cascading down upon my cracked and weary heart, then swirling about me in a tumultuous whirlwind. It was like deliberately breaking a fast by eating a whole box of those little goldfish crackers.
Much later in the day, when scrap of half-read books lay around my mind in crumpled heaps, the Lord so very gently showed me what I had been doing. Book by book, I realized what I had been filling my mind with all day. And then, there was the most joyful conviction, the most necessary and tender and loving chastening from the Holy Spirit. Why, I had been wasting my time, when I could have been spending it in the Lord. I was running and hiding from Him, and that was not right. Then, too, He had created my memory to be extremely strong–did I not realize that this kind of reading had the potential to stay in my heart and affect me, not for a day or two, but for years to come? In those moments, I remembered a book I had read when I was eight–not evil, exactly, but very morbid–and how, eighteen years later, I had dreamed that I was one of the protagonists and had, in those few hours of sleep, remembered the full text of the 250-page book nearly from start to finish. What if I gave up enrichment reading for a prescribed amount of time–say, one month and ten days–and devoted that time to Him?
My heart fell to its knees in that moment, and I resolved to begin such a time the very net morning. Really, I wasnot expecting much–I knew only that I was to begin a time without enrichment reading and, by extension, without selfishness, anger, bitterness, or despair, inasmuch was humanly possible for me at that time, on 10 May. I would end said timeframe on the evening of 18 June. Such a wonderful groundwork laid, and then those glorious blessings began pouring in–as early as 11 May, to be exact. But that is a story for Part VI… Really, I don’t mean to be dragging this out, but there is so much to say, and it must be told with all the detail it deserves. Parts VI and VII are particularly special, though, so if you’ve been reading this entire series through, be on the lookout for them.
Addendum: From the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be”. I’ve always been blessed by the version on Christ for the Nation’s album OVERTAKEN.