Reading for Your Life

By Rachel Sircy

Well, this post will be interesting, I hope. It’s a combination of two posts: the first part touches on the physical ailments caused by chronic stress and the second part is a summer reading list. Sounds pretty far out, eh? The part about stress was my idea and my husband (who, as I’ve mentioned before, is an English teacher) recommended that I do a post offering a summer reading list. As it turns out, reading can alleviate the physical effects of stress according to a 2009 study done by the University of Sussex, so the two subjects would seem to fit together nicely.

Firstly, stress. According to the American Institute of Stress (yes, oddly enough there is such an institution) between 75 and 90% of all visits to American healthcare providers are the results of stress related disorders. Chronic stress (that is the persistent feeling that you cannot cope with all of the demands on your time and energy) can lead to increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections, ulcers, heart attacks, depression, anxiety, autoimmune disorders (remember if you have celiac disease, this is an autoimmune disorder!), ulcerative colitis, etc. And stress will worsen the symptoms and damage to your body from any other illness (whether acute, like a cold or chronic like diabetes). You can read more about the effects of stress at the American Institute of Stress’s website: https://www.stress.org/stress-effects/.

So, the major point here is that we want to avoid stress as much as possible. According to Dr. Mimi Guarneri of The Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, deep breathing is the best way to stop an acute stress response in its tracks. She recommends breathing in for a count of 5 seconds and out for a count of 5 seconds. These deep breaths will force your heartrate to slow and will cause many of the other automatic stress responses in the body to stop suddenly. Reading, too, can counteract the immediate physiological effects of stress according to that study I mentioned above conducted by the University of Sussex. According to their study, people who were exposed to rigorous physical activity to increase their muscle tension and heartrate experienced a 68% decrease in heartrate and muscle tension (these are two of the main physical effects that a person who is stressed will experience) after just 6 minutes of reading. Other relaxing activities such as taking a walk and listening to music did not produce the same kind of dramatic decrease in stress levels.

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See the article: http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/4245076.Reading_can_help_reduce_stress__according_to_University_of_Sussex_research/

Dr. Guarneri believes that spiritual health is crucial to both physical and mental health, and I completely agree with her. I can’t think of a better way to cut back on our chronic stress levels than to connect ourselves with Truth and know that all of our efforts really do count for something. I have shared my Christianity in the past and written blog posts about how both our body and soul are connected in God’s eyes. God sees us as whole people who need to care for both our spiritual and physical selves. So, my summer reading list is going to be a very short list of 3 books that I have felt both entertaining and spiritually challenging and/or uplifting. Keep in mind that these books may not be lining the bookshelves of Lifeway, but they have managed to engage me and challenge me spiritually.

  1. The Lord of the Rings Series: I think we all know that these are great fantasy adventures and that they are also inspiring stories. Despite not having any direct religious references, Tolkein’s deep Christian faith shines through every part of these novels.
  2. The Screwtape Letters: This imaginative novel written in a series of letters from an older, wiser demon to a younger, inexperienced demon on how to tempt a human soul is a great read. It is also a challenge for any Christian as C.S. Lewis picks apart “acceptable” sins that Christians sometimes wink at such as gluttony and selfishness.
  3. Girl Meets God: This memoir by Duke Divinity professor and Episcopal priest, Lauren Winner, is one of the best spiritual memoirs on the market today, in my opinion. It’s the story of Winner’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity, told with a deep love for both faiths and with a great deal of personal honesty. If you prefer non-fiction to fiction, I would recommend this book.

There are, of course, plenty of good reads out there, just waiting for you to put your hands on them. Frankly, I was pretty self-conscious about putting together a reading list. I’m not as avid a reader as I should be, and I’m definitely no critic, so I kept my book reviews to a minimum. I hope that this little list will be helpful for anyone looking to lower their stress level by escaping into the world of a good book!

Happy Reading!

Again…and again

By Stacy Thompson

So it’s more than 120 days until college football season…and watching pro baseball is mind-numbing, to say the least.  College basketball (men’s and women’s) is over as well…we do have the NBA playoffs and NHL playoffs to get excited about, but nonetheless, it’s a dead time around here for the most part.  I have no fantasy football roster to prepare, no tailgate food to organize and ready, and my next trip with Mom is several weeks away, so what’s a girl to do??? Well, I could binge-watch Friends yet again for the nine-hundreth time, could binge-watch another of the ‘critically acclaimed’ or ‘audience favorite’ series on cable TV or online….or, I could just re-read some of my favorite books.

Re-reading a book, to me, is akin to channel-surfing on a lazy Saturday and stumbling upon a John Hughes classic film (think Ferris Bueller’s Day off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, etc. etc.)—you’re going to experience a plot-line you know by heart and words that you either quote incessantly or live by daily, but you’re going to enjoy it nonetheless.  The list below is eclectic, mainstream, classic and personal, all rolled into one – when I read for pleasure (which isn’t often enough) I lean toward books and series that I can simply let wash over me—nothing too serious or too deep that I can’t pick it up and put it down but rarely want to do the latter.  For the most part I want a book that will entertain me while at the same time allowing me a chance to turn my mind off—but something that will make me laugh or cry without being a total bummer. Like many readers, I have several that I go back to time and time again – for the familiarity, the comfort and the pure joy of a well-written story.

So here are my choices for Books You Can Read Again and Again…and Again

  • To Kill ATo Kill A Mockingbird – yes, you probably had to read it in high school, but give this gem another chance and appreciate the message behind the story – I think Atticus Finch impacted my decision to go to law school more than any advisor ever could and his code of ethics are the barometer we should all strive to meet daily
  • The Stand – take the time to wade through Stephen King’s uncut version of this opus – it’s not a quick read, but extremely worthwhile, with characters on all sides of the ethical spectrum dealing with life-altering dilemmas – this book is, by far, one of King’s least horror-leaning books.  I’d also recommend two other King books, Mr. Mercedes (more recent) and Different Seasons (four short stories, one of which was made into the classic film Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me)
  • Gone With The Wind – I was ten years old when my fifth-grade teacher gave me her copy of this book and challenged me to read it – it’s a history lesson, guidebook on the old South, human-interest illustration and love story all rolled into one
  • The Harry Potter Series – I got into these late (why all the fuss? I asked at the time)harry potter – hadn’t read any until the fourth one was coming out, and then cursed JK Rowling for not getting the remaining volumes out quickly enough – yes, it’s a meant to be a tween novel series, but adults are sure to enjoy every page
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott manages to give every character a different character while weaving a most cohesive story
  • Little House on the Prairie – Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert may have brought these characters to life on the TV screen, but after reading the books, I wanted nothing more than to make maple syrup popsicle sticks in the snow and to churn my own butter
  • Hunger Games trilogy – once again a tween-read, but an entertaining read to the very end—we all would want any young girl in our life to have the strength of Katniss
  • The Great Gatsby – I’ll admit that I had to force-read this in school, but reading it again as an adult proved this timeless classic should be given a second chance…and a third chance…and (you get the picture)eat pray love
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed – if you’ve read my previous blogs, you know I love a good hike…what this woman did was above and beyond that, and her story is worth repeating
  • James Elliott – All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful…etc.
    After reading these books I was convinced I need to become a veterinarian –I settled instead on being a lawyer who takes in any and all furry creatures that cross my path
  • Eat, Pray, Love – see “Wild” above, but with much better food and more showers…for sure

Everyone has their go-to book, the one you would have to take with you on a desert island – I, of course, would skirt the desert island one-book minimum by insisting on a Kindle to house several dozen books!  Happy Reading everyone and enjoy this down time until football and tailgate season!!

God’s Way of Remaining Anonymous

By Mary Pat Baldauf

Every so often, I am reminded that there are no coincidences, just intriguing and earthly manifestations of God’s love. I got one such reminder this today, and I thought it would make for a timely blog post.

After an anxious Monday morning, while stopped at what has got to be Columbia’s longest traffic light, I did a quick search on my smart phone for books about faith and anxiety. One book in particular caught my eye, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World by Max Lucado. I decided at lunch that I’d check Amazon to take a closer look at it and the other options listed.

The morning got away from me, and as it turns out, at lunch, I was asked to drop something off at church. As long as I was there, I decided to look at our church library. I walked in to find the volunteer librarian, who asked if she could help me. When I told her I was looking or a faith-based book on anxiety, she said that she’d just checked one in and scurried away to find it.coincidencealbert-e1504531764133-680x330

Imagine my surprise when she handed me Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World. (And, wait, it gets better.) As I checked it out, she mentioned that there was a new small group starting to study the book. She gave me the details and promised to connect me with the group leader. Long story short, I’m now signed up for the small group. I have to miss the first class for an evening work event, but I’m going to read the first four chapters this week to be ready for next week’s class. (God is so awesome!)
Have you ever had a coincidence that you knew was really just God’s way of remaining anonymous? If so, and you’re the sharing type, please tell your story in the comments.

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

By: Ashley Whisonant

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Looking for a great book? I recently enjoyed reading “The Dry” by Jane Harper. Here’s a quick synopsis:

Aaron Falk has not returned to his hometown in Australia for over twenty years. After being run out of town as a teenager, Falk vowed to not return to the small farming community. Only after receiving a note in the mail did he find out that his childhood friend, Luke, was murdered.

Word spreads quickly through town of his arrival. From that moment on, incident after incident happens while he works to investigate who killed Luke, his wife, and young son. As you meet characters from all over town, it is hard to pin down exactly who killed the Hadler family. Could there be a connection to a death of young Ellie so many years ago? Ellie was part of a close group of friends that included both Luke and Aaron.

This page turner will keep you guessing! One second you think you have it figured out and then a curve ball gets thrown.

What are your favorite recent reads?

Fall Book Recommendations

By: Ashley Whisonant

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It’s getting chilly enough in South Carolina to begin thinking about hibernating. The thought of fuzzy socks, a warm fire, soup in the crockpot, and a great page turner make me ready for the cold. Here are two book recommendations to enjoy this Fall: 

 “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn

If you have read Gone Girl, this suspense novel follows a similarly twisted plot. The main character, Libby Day, is one of the only survivors after her mother and two sisters are murdered in their home. As a young girl, Libby is convinced that her brother committed the crimes. Many years later, Libby revisits that dark night to assure herself that her brother is the monster she believes him to be. With so many turns in the story, you question if you have the right killer named yourself. Once the truth is revealed at the end, even a close reader would be shocked.

“Results May Vary” by Bethany Chase

Caroline had the perfect life. An adoring husband and an amazing job as a museum curator – until she got a shocking revelation at an art show. After being together since their high school years, Caroline thought she knew every part of her husband. After his betrayal, she must come to terms with being an “I” instead of a “we.” Her sister, Ruby, and best friend, Jonathan, work to show Caroline that it is not too late to discover herself. Such a beautifully written debut novel for Bethany Chase. At the end we find out, is it too late for a happy ending?

What are are your favorite recent reads?