A book of hope

This little side gate leads to the lovely back lawn of the Gables Guest House,
where I spent my first few days in Oxford, England, June 2017.

“Summers had a logic all their own and they always brought something out in me. Summer was supposed to be about freedom…possibilities and adventure and exploration. Summer was a book of hope. That’s why I loved and hated summers. Because they made me want to believe.” ― Benjamin Alire Sáenz

The past few weeks have been so hectic with the details of moving that I’ve scarcely noticed the summer, except as an occasional annoyance when the heat became intense. There have been a few magical evenings in the York back yard, tending plants and generally soaking up the greenery, but they have been all too rare this year.

Just a little over one year ago, when the grief of losing Jeff was raw and fresh, I kept a long-planned commitment to travel to Oxford, England to study C. S. Lewis. I remember being wracked with anxiety about going overseas, wondering whether I could handle so much travel alone (I was only with classmates for part of my two weeks away) and doubtful of whether I could manage the work load of my summer courses.

As it turned out, the trip to England was a jewel that glimmered in the darkness of a very dark night. The coursework was a fascinating and absorbing distraction, and by sheer coincidence (or maybe not?) two of my fellow students in the class of about 20 were recent widows very close to the same age as me. I will always treasure the memories of our walks and talks, finding understanding with each other that was all too rare in our everyday worlds. Even the subject of our study, C. S. Lewis, was famously bereaved, writing words that have become classics of comfort for people blindsided by the loss of someone very dear.

But above and beyond all of these consolations, the legendary beauty of the English countryside in summer was as therapeutic for me as any remedy could possibly have been. Indeed, I came home with starry-eyed plans of leasing a cottage in the Cotswolds for a few months in the not-too-distant future. Buying a new home has postponed that dream, but I’m still hanging onto it. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I am determined to find some time to get out and enjoy the flowering beauty of midsummer evenings, just before dark, or mornings before the heat has a chance to take hold. If you’ve been able to garden, or travel, or otherwise appreciate the summer, send me some inspiration! The past few years have given me a bit of a love/hate relationship with hope, but like Sáenz, I still want to believe. I’ll keep reading that book of hope, and I’ll welcome your comments on the chapters that mean the most to you.


  1. Chris

    Hi Julia,
    Well, summer is quite a different season here on the Emerald Coast (FL panhandle). It’s HOT and sticky! Early mornings are bearable, but even the late afternoons and evenings are sometimes too hot to enjoy the outdoors. As I say this, I imagine it’s all a matter of perspective. This is a great beach destination, so it can be great and not so great, depending upon your perspective.
    I guess I’ve overlooked earlier posts; I’m sure you’ve mentioned it. Where are you moving? Close, or out of state?
    When I was active duty, PCS’ing was my least favorite thing. I don’t enjoy packing and unpacking. I’m glad that Jeanne took care of most of that stuff.
    Have a wonderfully blessed week!

    • Hi Chris, I love the sound of “Emerald Coast.” From what little I’ve seen of the panhandle, it’s lovely. But you’re right, heat can definitely put a damper on the ability to enjoy a place. We experienced the same thing in San Antonio, where I LOVED living. I moved to the outer reaches of the DC area, in south Prince William County. I still have the York home, but have put the Alexandria townhouse up for sale. I was always the one who did most of the packing and unpacking, since Jeff was at work shortly after we arrived anywhere. I learned to pack what mattered to me rather than leave stuff to the movers, who weren’t always very skilled at protecting against breakage or other mishaps. I have a few moving horror stories, but this move (which was two-stage, with all of the stuff from Alexandria and some of the furniture from York being moved) went fairly smoothly. The worst of it for me was being blindsided by grief at going through the familiar, oft-repeated process without Jeff. I have a better understanding of PTSD now, having experience firsthand how seemingly benign circumstances can trigger deep emotions. Somehow I keep surviving. Thanks for being here, and I hope you are having a wonderful week.

  2. Monte Holland

    Very nice picture and interesting thoughts on recovering hope. I would like to converse with you by e-mail today if you are willing. I post on the Upper Room site.

    • Hi Monte, I didn’t get this comment on the day you wrote it, but I did email you back the next morning…did you get my message?

  3. MaryAnn Clontz

    My brother, Jack, bought a travel trailer for his wife whom he adores (married 49 years). Our son, Lance, has a motor home for about the same reason. Lance & his wife have been camping in their motor home for several years. When my brother said they were about to do their “maiden voyage”; Lance told him a practice run is necessary. The great news is Lance orchestrated a marvelous time at Camp Far West Reservoir, CA. My brother, his wife, their dog, Lance, his wife, our 2 grandsons, Paul & I were filled with love & joy for 3 days! We parked the 2 RV’s at water’s edge. Lance & Aaron jet-skied everyday, Tracy, Aaric & I were IN the water everyday! All pitched in w/ food prep & assorted chores, having fun while working in tandem. Jack, Lorna & Paul did a bunch of talking & minding the campsite. Now that I’m this far into my story, I feel I’ve shared this already, because I was thinking to add the blessing of the oldest grandson asking lots of questions about my daddy, his great grandfather. Those queries prompted lots of interaction among the generations! MEMORY forever!
    Sending much love as you look out your back window, with a cup of tea & see your creatures & vegetation God sends JUST FOR JULIA!

    • Mary Ann, thanks so much for sharing this story. It was almost like a visit with you (and yes, the kettle is on as I’m writing this, brewing my second cuppa). Your trip together sounds ideal. What a blessing to have your grandson able to talk with is great-grandfather! I wish my younger grandsons could have known my Daddy. I’m glad to know you are still the active go-getter you have always been! Matt and I send you our love and prayers always. ❤

  4. I’m visiting back home before traveling further south for a conference. The weather has been beautiful. I will have to email you some pictures. 😉

    • Jena, thanks for sending the gorgeous photos. Wow, Sitka is lovely! I saw only a very small part of Alaska when we took our cruise there, but I hope someday to see more.

  5. Harry Sims

    I love the occurrence of serendipity so that’s why I am so deeply by your mention of studying CS Lewis in England.
    I am currently watching a ten part series entitled Walking with CS Lewis narrated by Tony Ash on Amazon prime in which he discusses some of the books written by this noted apologist.
    So far I have watched a discussion on Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, both of which I read many years ago but plan on visiting again.
    I am eagerly anticipating video number three in this series.

    Some people leave a mark on us in the best sort of ways.

    I have many marks on me from all sorts of ways.


    • Harry, how on earth did I miss that series? I guess it’s because I literally never turn on the TV, but I certainly intend to watch this, especially since it’s available on Amazon Prime. Thanks so much for telling us about it!

  6. Selling one home, buying another are both very stressful on their own. I’m glad your good memories of England are carrying you through all of it. I like that summer is a like a book of hope. Wishing you and easy transition to this new experience. Moving can be cleansing in so many ways. Hugs, M

    • Thank you, Marlene. I agree that moving can be cleansing. One of the benefits of being a military family was that we were FORCED to clean out & organize all over again every 3-4 years. I was always amazed how much stuff accumulates in that short time. Now I’m gradually working through the accumulation at the York home, which we’ve had for 14 years…YIKES! So yes, the move is beneficial in a variety of ways, but still very stressful. Your virtual hugs are definite stress busters! Thanks for being here.

  7. Sheila

    Julia, these summer days are passing so quickly, scary quickly! I’m so glad you were able to travel to England last year and I’m sure you’re stronger and more hopeful for it. The little courtyard looks so welcoming and must have calmed your anxious moments upon your arrival there. Keep believing, my friend, and hoping! 🙏🏻 ♥️

    • Sheila, it really is scary, isn’t it? Or maybe “sobering” would be a better word. Definitely underscores the brevity of life. Thanks for joining me in being determined to stay hopeful and “walk on sunshine” as much as possible! Your friendship is such a blessing. ❤

  8. Ann

    It’s been very hot here in South Carolina so I have stayed indoors more than usual. Last summer, we took our third cruise to Alaska. It’s a wonderful place to visit. If you ever go, try for a small cruise ship. It will take you to small towns that are rarely visited and into beautiful fjords where the quiet and beauty are breathtaking.

    Another good summer time trip is to Seattle where you can rent a car and drive through the nearby national forest.

    Spring is a wonderful time for a river cruise in Europe. On these, you stop at fascinating cities and can wander at your leisure or take a planned excursion.

    Can you tell that I miss traveling? My arthritic knee and a new dog are keeping us home right now.

    Best wishes to you and Matt

    • Ann, I always love hearing travel recommendations and stories. Jeff and I went on an Alaska cruise for our 20th anniversary. Since nobody in our extended family was willing to stay with our (very sweet, well-behaved) sons to give us some time away for just the two of us, we took them along. Not as romantic, but still loads of fun, and we did splurge on separate cabins. 🙂 Jena (one of our Defeat Despair family) lives in Alaska and I hope very much to visit her there one day, and see that beautiful area again. We were on a large ship (the Holland America Volendam) so as you say, there were smaller towns we didn’t get to see, but we did rent a car and drive into the Yukon, which was our favorite part of the trip. We made the Seattle trip a couple of times and loved it each time. Once we took the Coast Starlight up and had a family car that took up the entire back of the train car, with four beds and windows on both sides. The boys loved it and so did we. I’m so glad you mentioned the river cruise in Europe…my sister and I have been talking about maybe doing that very thing this spring! Glad to know you recommend it.

      Yes, I know how it feels to miss traveling, but a new dog is a joy too. When I was first engaged and then married to Jeff, I had to give up my “wings” (unlimited free air travel through my Daddy’s job) because I was no longer a dependent of my parents. I can remember how hard it was to go NOWHERE during those years, but I knew that eventually the time would come when I could travel again. When Jeff got in the Air Force and shortly thereafter, I got an airline job of my own, my travel time was back! I hope that a healing knee and mature dog will soon make travel a possibility for you again. In the meantime, the memories are a blessing. Hope you are enjoying summer!

  9. raynard

    Julia, I just dug through my ” other email and seen this. Mary just got home from an overnight shift. We were supposed to go to NJ for a family cookout. But the skies are getting darker and darker. I have people talking about” Fall” already and stores are selling” Halloween candy”. We have our monthly small group coming up andI’m planning on baking a ” Checkboard Cake. Did you get the pictures I sent that you asked for? I got the August Birthdays of my daughters and oldest grandchildren to keep me busy. One of these days when” I go car shopping ” Cannonball Run/East Bound& Down here we come. 10 days in our 30-day weight challenge and” I’m down 5 pounds and ” don’t feel” Fattered'( is that a word? lol

    • Hey Raynard, thanks for the heads up. I will go hunting for the photos. Did you email or text them? Yep, already the stores are getting a jump on the fall sales season; back to school came already around here. Between end-of-summer and back-to-school, August can seem like the busiest month and having it be hot and humid does not help with the energy levels. WOW, 5 pounds in 10 days? That’s amazing! Good work! I have found out that even 5 pounds can make a huge difference in how tired I feel. Try carrying around a 5-pound hand weight for awhile and the reason comes into focus. If “fattered” is not a word, it should be. Much more descriptive than “fattened” since one can be “fatter” without being “fat” — so if you just coined a new word, readers can remember they saw it here first. 😀 Keep me posted on the car search. Fall is the perfect time to visit Virginia.

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