The greater part

One of many lovely sights on the grounds of Mount Vernon, Virginia, April 2010

One of many lovely sights on the grounds of Mount Vernon, Virginia, April 2010

“I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.  We carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us in our minds wherever we go. ”
Martha Washington

I don’t know when Martha Washington said or penned these oft-quoted words, but she certainly had reason to know firsthand of their truth.  Her story was one of wealth and privilege tempered by sorrow, hardship and uncertainty. During her remarkable life, she had the experience of losing two husbands and four children to death. She also endured wartime camp life, staying with her husband (at his request) throughout much of the Revolutionary War.

Accounts of her later years state that she found great comfort in her faith, and even spoke of anticipating death as “a pleasant journey.” The riverside home she shared with George Washington, where they both are buried, is a fitting tribute to her determination to remain serene. Strolling the grounds of Mount Vernon, with its colorful gardens and gorgeous view of the Potomac River, visitors are refreshed by the peace and beauty of this carefully preserved estate.

I’ve always found it inspiring to read the stories of people who lived in the past, whether they were well known or relatively obscure. We are fortunate to have countless diaries, journals and biographies, through which people who passed from this earth long ago may still speak to us, sharing their wisdom and strength. Whose life stories are among your favorites? Have you ever read a biography that left you feeling encouraged, enlightened or determined to learn from another person’s journey?

If you know of a book, online resource or blog post that features an inspiring story, feel free to share your thoughts and links in the comments. We all love to meet fascinating people, even if they are no longer here with us!

Today is my 300th daily post!  Thanks for being with me on this journey, which has lasted almost a year now. You have given me joy each day, and made the tough times bearable!



  1. Congrats ! 300 posts in so many days is just awesome ! Keep going, so that we get to read some wonderful stuff 🙂

    • Thank you! I am so happy to have your encouragement – thanks for visiting, and for your comment!

  2. Martin W. Tanner. “Mr Tanner was a singer from a town in theMidwest. . .” by Harry Chapin

    • Eric, Martin Tanner is a beautiful example of what William Faulkner meant when he said “The best fiction is far more true than any journalism.”
      For years I loved that song because Mr. Tanner reminded me so much of Jeff. Only in recent years did I realize that Mr. Tanner is also me, and quite a few other people I know. In that sense, Mr. Tanner is the “ideal reader” of this blog! Incidentally, “O Holy Night” has always been Jeff’s favorite Christmas song. Those unfamiliar with Mr. Tanner can meet him here.

  3. Honest mistake: I quoted “singer” instead of “cleaner”. Please see

    • Eric, Mr. Tanner would appreciate your “mistake” – which stands uncorrected. 🙂

  4. Susan

    Julia, I remember when I was a single mom with three young children growing up, just seeing the faithful little old white (or blue) haired ladies at church each Sunday gave me hope. Even though I knew none of their stories, I knew that they were here, and that some had survived situations much worse than anything I had ever yet gone through.. Knowing this just gave me comfort.
    Thank you for your 300 posts! You share light with the world!

    • Susan, thanks so much for being here, and for your comment. I too have fond memories of church ladies with white or blue hair, many of whom shaped my life in ways they never realized. I didn’t have to know all the details to see in their expressions, and in their bearing, the sort of dignified grace that only comes from enduring hardship without complaint. I am so happy you like the blog! I started it as sort of a survival strategy for myself, not knowing that the key to that survival would be the many ways readers gave back to me, sharing hope and strength from all over the world.

  5. HarryS

    When I came to this pivotal point in my life, this turning point nearing 27 years ago, a peculiar interior consciousness of mine made a decision to ‘pay attention to the wisdom of the ages’. Yes and it has come from countless sources including the written word, the spoken word, the appreciation of beauty, the spin or additional understanding of an idea or concept, sometimes feelings of great awe and wonder, love of God, others and yes, myself, etc.
    Yes, wisdom abounds and surrounds.

    The phenomenon of reading the same daily material on the same days of the calendar for these decades and continuing to find new meaning and insight even though the words have not changed certainly indicates and internal change and since I purposely dedicated my life and my will to the care of God as I understand him, it could only be for the best. It could only be in the realm of spiritual progress even when I don’t recognize it as such at the time.

    Love, tolerance and understanding of the varying dispositions in people of frequent contact is imbued with this unusual wisdom and yields many fruits.

    • Thank you Harry. The experience you describe sounds similar to Jeff’s daily practice of reading through the entire Bible every year (which he has done for over 40 years now, amazing to contemplate). Like you, he reads the same material on the same days each year, sticking to a pattern that has served him well his entire life, but has never played as pivotal a role as it does now. There is no doubt in my mind that it has yielded many fruits for him too, the most prominent one now being the fact that he has survived so much already. Tuesday at Bethesda, a doctor we had not previously met came in to see Jeff and said “Dr. Denton, I have heard so much about you, I am glad to finally meet you in person.” Apparently Jeff has become something of a local legend because of all the twists and turns his case has taken since his first emergency surgery on September 15-16 (it was an all-nighter) of last year. Thanks for underscoring the benefits of disciplined, purposeful reading and meditation on truth and wisdom. I am happy you are visiting here and sharing with others through this blog!

  6. Bobby Harris

    The quote you began with made me think of Paul’s “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” I have learned that I can choose to be cheerful, and I am so much better off when I do. Praying for you contentment and little pockets of joy throughout the day.

    • Thank you Bobby! “Little pockets of joy” — I love that! A perfect description of how “cheerfulness will keep breaking in.” I so appreciate the chance to stay in touch with you here. Love to you and Randall.

  7. Thanks for your blog. I don’t always comment but that doesn’t mean that I don’t look forward to reading it each day. Blessings.

    • Thanks so much, Marjorie! I appreciate your presence here, with or without comments! Blessings to you too!

  8. Jim Beavers

    Julia, congratulations on your 300th post. I am a daily reader and look forward to your posts. I pray often for you, Jeff, and Matt. You are an inspiration to me and I pray that you can continue to share your uplifting photos and comments.

    • Thank you, Jim. I am always so happy to hear from people who like the blog. With all that is going on in our lives, it sometimes feels a bit self-indulgent for me to make the time to read and write and go through my photographs to write these posts; it’s truly an island of sanity for me when things are bleak, and a reminder to give thanks in all situations, on good days and bad. So when others enjoy it or benefit from it, that helps me feel less selfish about doing it. We so appreciate your prayers. I have witnessed the power of prayer first hand all of my life, but have never seen such a sustained and remarkable demonstration of it as we have lived out this past year. Thanks for being part of that “cloud of witnesses” that helps us throw off what entangles, and run this race with perseverance! (Hebrews 12:1)

  9. Lynn

    300… And each has uplifted my day! Julia again I tell you how many times a quote you present hits me as something someone I know may wish to hear… And I send it along. (The Milne quote went out and about!). Thank you so much for your efforts in this blog!

    • Lynn, Pooh might say that Michelle’s racing bike is sometimes a Bike, and sometimes more of an Accident (if you can forgive me for making light of a very difficult situation) – I couldn’t help thinking of you two with that quote. I am so happy and honored to have you reading my blog. Having an attorney who is also a magazine columnist reading what I write is a bit intimidating, but it keeps me on my toes 🙂 and your encouragement is all the more valued for knowing what an accomplished woman you are yourself. Thanks so much for being here — and if these personal details are a bit too much to include, let me know and I’ll gladly edit them out!

  10. Stunning photos as always to accompany your thought-provoking words. The Dalai Lama expresses a similar sentiment: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” I try to remember that as I go about my life.

    • Wow, I love that quote! It’s one of those truths that we tend to immediately reject as just not possible, but the more we think of it, the more we understand it. In all things, we can be “more than conquerors” and though there are days when it’s hard to believe that, our efforts to put it into practice are always eventually rewarded.

      • So true. It’s mind over matter in many regards. It’s not always easy, but certainly a goal worth striving for every day.

        • And I think your work helps people to do that, by clearing away the things that don’t matter and making those that do matter more available and present to us! Thanks for being here.

          • Thanks, Julia. ‘Stuff’ really overwhelms people. It’s absence is positively liberating.

  11. PS Congratulations on your 300 post milestone.

    • Thank you! I have a lot of inspiring examples in the blogosphere, to keep me going. 🙂

  12. A life that immediately comes to mind is Dick Hoyt . . . a father whose love for his handicapped son is beyond comprehension to me. So reflective of the sacrifice of Christ for his children. Powerful life! One to emulate.

    Thank you once again for your inspiring posts. And congratulations on your 300th post. In 2011, I traveled the same road with my photos on FB, but with less text than you. Never envisioned myself as a writer then. 🙂 I was just doing what I felt led to do, and something that carried me through the final year of my mother’s life. A distraction, a gift from the Lord. That journey is what catapulted me in to this world of writing. I am such a newbie and still do not quite know what God is up to. In my 2011 posts it was awesome to see how God inspired daily. Posting daily is definitely a task that must be taken one day at a time. It is too overwhelming any other way….as is our life. Keep it up . . . you have much to say and say it beautifully.

    Prayers for you and your family. I hope Jeff and your son are doing well.

    Blessings, Starr

    • Wow, Starr, where to start? THANK YOU for everything, and today, especially, thank you for the link to that video. I had read of the Hoyts and am inspired by their story, but had never seen this beautiful video. While you and I have an appreciation of it that will be different from that of most others who see it, I still think it’s a “4-hankie warning” for anyone! And the song is so perfect. To be honest, I had never liked that song very much. When we sing it in church, there is something about it that just rings a bit false, and I think it’s because most of us who sing of looking forward to heaven still cling tightly not only to this life, but to all the trivialities connected with it. BUT this video gives the song a whole new dimension in my mind…now whenever I sing it, I will think of the Hoyts, and our son, and your daughter, and all of those who are lucky enough to be born with a one-way ticket to heaven. If you are like me you often dream of seeing our kids in heaven without their earthly limitations. Perhaps God sees us all exactly alike in that way; the differences between us must be miniscule indeed in the eyes of divine wisdom.

      Thanks so much for your prayers, your warm thoughts, your kind words, and your example to me as a writer. I am so thankful our paths crossed at BRMCWC! I often think that God’s plan for me at that conference consisted solely of putting me in touch with the people I met there, or saw again.

      I’m off to post that video on Facebook, and sent it out via email! I hope you and your family have a wonderful weekend!

      • You are so welcome. Thanks for your post which inspired digging it our of the archives of my mind. The lessons we learn from “the least of these” are what make our lives so rich. As parents we are truly blessed! God always knows what we need to open our eyes to his goodness and love.

  13. Sheila

    Julia, 300 times you’ve brightened my day, you’ve made me smile, we’ve shared a few tears, we’ve laughed, said “good bye” to our beloved pets, Pasha and Salty, and formed a true friendship that is special in so many ways. We have many days in our “rear view” here, and I look forward to sharing many more! Congratulations……Sheila

    • Sheila, thanks so much, for saying so well exactly what is in my heart. I thank God for your steadfast presence here, your sunny spirit, your joy of life and reverence for the holy. I dream of chatting with you someday about the tough times when Bill and Jeff were fighting for the “normal” life that was so easy for us to take for granted before. Thanks so much, for everything!

  14. Mike Bertoglio

    Congratulations Julia. That is another great quote and I think it was Barclay who said in a similar vein, “We can’t change the weather outside, but we can change our internal weather venue.” something like that.

    • Yes, and when it’s stormy or hot or humid or otherwise miserable, we need to keep reminding ourselves that there’s a thermostat at our disposal. Like our programmable home thermostat, there may be a learning curve that goes with it, but it’s well worth the effort!

  15. Thank you Julia. You are blessed to be a Blessing! I might delete a lot of stuff when I go through my emails but your blog I read every day! Your inspiration comes from deep within and is flowing from the love of God!

    • Thanks so much Renee – I was just thinking of you recently – it seems like FOREVER since we’ve had time to really talk! I hope that will happen soon. Good luck with all your upcoming events – wish I could be there! I’ll be praying all goes well and blesses many people. Thanks for all you do to keep people looking UP!

  16. In my life, I’ve realized that joy is found in believing… believing something real. I’m fascinated by the lives and times of people in the Bible, as well as stories of people like the one you shared.

    Congratulations on your 300th post!

    • Thank you! I agree, the lives of Bible characters are fascinating (so much so that I based my novel on some of them). There is great joy in believing, especially after that faith has been tested by fire and found sufficient. Thanks for being here, and for your comments!

  17. merry

    Wow! Beautiful picture and congratulations on your 300th post!
    Keeping you, Jeff and Matt in prayer. And baby Grady and parents.

    • Thanks so much, Merry – I was happy to be able to spend lots of time holding Grady tonight!


  1. Due gratitude and respect | Defeat Despair

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