Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Closer Than a Sister, by Christina Fox

I seem to be on a major non-fiction kick these days. I've been doing quite a bit of thinking and processing lately as to what God might be asking of me in life. And honestly I hesitate even to confess this because it inevitably results in someone, (who thinks they know me), coming up to me while gleefully clapping their hands and taking the opportunity to tell me how they are "so happy" that God is changing me in some manner which they are a.) assuming and b.) feeling that I ought to change. Truly, I am always delighted to talk about the way that God is at work in my life and the life of my family but I do quickly become disgruntled in the conversation when a person hearing my story assumes that now I'll become the person they've always hoped I would be so as to suit them better. And I don't believe that's how God works. I think He delights in progress and delights when we delight in the process. Furthermore, I also think He delights in the fact that He has made such a splendid variety of people to live in fellowship with one another and to worship Him in unity. He doesn't expect us to all be the same. We expect it of each other but He has no intention of us looking anything alike. The beauty is in the differences and, really, that's what I'm taking note of more and more frequently.

Enter: Closer Than a Sister.

One of the great challenges of life is in fellowshipping with other believers. Can I get an 'amen'?! There are a wide variety of reasons for this, of course, and we could speculate as to what causes the greatest barrier to real relationships. The simple answer is that sin is the culprit but how that sin manifests itself varies by person and by congregations. I can know in my head that I'm designed to know and love my fellow Christian sisters but living out that love feels like a complete impossibility more often than not. The older I get and the more disagreements I "suffer" my way through, the more I find myself valuing true fellowship. But true fellowship isn't what I thought it had to be either. In fact, it's pretty much the total opposite of what I hoped it was. True fellowship isn't always being "like-minded" with those I worship alongside but it is being challenged by the differences and learning to extend both love and grace despite of that. Together we make up the Body of Christ. Alone we are arguably not a part of the Body at all. I don't know about you but when my time comes to meet the Lord face-to-face, I want to hear "well done" and I do strongly believe that that means being a part of The Body, or, The Bride of Christ. If He cares much about His bride than we probably should also. All difficulties aside, we really ought to strive to work and live together instead of apart.

The question is how to get along. Fun question, indeed.

My bloggy friend Melissa listed Closer Than a Sister as one of her upcoming reads for 2018 and seeing as how I've also been rethinking what it means to be a part of the church (local) and the Body (universal) I thought this title worth a read. And it is! In Closer Than a Sister, Christina Fox takes a pretty close look at what scriptures have to say about what the church local is called to be to one another. She touches on all topics such as rejoicing with one another, grieving with one another, exhorting, growing, learning, sharing and helping. She also talks a great deal about the challenges we face within our local community of believers. I might have found that section the most poignant for myself, personally.

Fox takes a truly Biblical approach to the topic and is constantly taking the reader to scriptures in order to understand what our calling is in Christ towards our sisters within the church. This is a role which modern believers seem to approach rather casually and even callously. Again, the reasons for this are many and she lists a big obvious such as the role of social media (i.e., Facebook, Instagram, etc.) in our modern lives. Fox goes back to the basics (Genesis!) in discussing how we were made for community with one another. One of my favorite verses which she focuses on right from the get-go is 1 Peter 2:9-10 which I will type up for you here:

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy."

Fox asks her readers to focus on the words in this verse which declare us having standing before the Lord not as individuals, (although that does exist too, obviously), but as a people designed to live and work together. Note the words race, priesthood, people. We've been called out to be together. We're designed for community. Not that that is always a fun thing, mind you, but it is the thing to be, like it or no.

So if we're called to live together then how do we do that when this sister over here works outside the home, and that one is sarcastic to beat the band, and that one is a perfectionists, and that one is controlling, and that one can't stand conflict of any sort, etc., etc.? There are lots of reasons why we shouldn't get along. But God. Incredibly, He makes us TO get along. It really doesn't make any sense sometimes, does it? Hey, I agree, it's bizarre! But we're called to it. And if God calls and bids you 'come and die' then you better get your last Will and Testament written and done with because He has a reason to call you out and use you in ways which you probably cannot even begin to fathom. He's good for that.

I'm here to say I struggle with this myself. I needed to read this book because I need my own understanding of how God uses people to stretch, challenge, and strengthen His church. In the past few weeks I've been challenged to lay aside prideful thoughts and feelings which operate more as a barrier to fellowship than a boon. It's hard! There are some people that I just flat out don't like and some people out there in this world who flat out don't like me! (It's true, if you can believe it!) Again, this is not an excuse so much as it is a challenge. If God called us to be united in Him, then we'd better work hard to figure out how to be united. How that looks will also vary from friendship to friendship and church to church. But the hard work must still be done.

What I've been learning is that the very people who I thought I didn't "mix well" with are the very people from whom I have already received some of the greatest blessings. I've been discovering that God has been "setting me up" to fail at my own expectations so that He can broaden my horizons and give me a new set of expectations. Godly ones. Lately everything I thought I knew to be true has proved false and everything I've doubted has proved a huge blessing. What I thought Christian fellowship needed to be has been turned on its head. I would argue it's being turned into a position where my relationships are facing THE Head of the Church (which is Christ) and that's what should have been happening all along. Is it pleasant? Not always, no. Does it feel nice in the end? Ohhhh my word! The freedom and the peace which comes when you deign to listen to God's plan instead of  your own are immeasurable.

I want to be honest about my own struggles because I think that honesty is more healing than not. Will some people misinterpret my words and my expressions? Yes, undoubtedly. And that'll have to be their problem which I won't be at liberty to fix. But I do trust what Fox also affirms: that after the struggles on earth we will find ourselves truly One with the Lord in Heaven. One day we will be united in spirit and in truth. Even if we do not experience this in our lifetime, the time is coming. That will be a glorious thing.

Would I recommend Closer Than A Sister? I think it's a good challenging read for pretty much every woman I know. Regular readers know that I don't normally go the devotional book route but at the conclusion of each chapter Fox includes 3-4 questions for the reader to consider. This probably goes down in history as my first book where I'd say the questions are thoughtful and poignant and worth spending a little extra time considering. All in all, I think this book is top notch and I'd happily recommend it.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Laugh it Up!, by Candace Payne

I purchased a copy of Laugh it Up! Embrace Freedom and Experience Defiant Joy, by Candace Payne on a whim. I had recently had a "game changing" conversation with a close friend of mine wherein I confessed that I have a very difficult time expressing deep joy, even when I can feel it. Somehow or another I feel trained to keep a straight face and a dignified look about me and move along with a prim and proper smile. Whether or not this is something that I was trained into (by myself or others?) or influenced into, I really couldn't say. Or is it my natural personality? I'm still asking myself these questions. At any rate, on the heels of this very insightful and interesting conversation, I was standing in a check out line and I saw a copy of this book on the shelf. Hmm. Well . . . what timing! Familiar with "Chewbacca Mom", (yes, I was among the millions who laughed), I figured I would pick this book up and give it a read. What could it hurt?

I opened Laugh it Up! with an open mind and I forced myself to keep it open straight through to the end. From what I can tell online, Payne's writing voice matches her speaking voice very well. This is not the most elegantly written book but it is written from her heart and it is an encouraging read. Payne writes about the pursuit of joy (are you catching the irony here?). It's not a Biblical treatise on the subject. No scriptures are referenced. If you're a theological-treatise lovin' reader this book is going to be a little on the difficult side for you (as it was for me) unless you make yourself read it because you know you need it.

In this book, Candace Payne shares her life story with all of the trials and triumphs combined. She has had moments of intense suffering and a bit of an unstable life from certain perspectives. She shares these parts of her with her reader because she wants the reader to know that despite tragedy and hardship, it is possible for a person to find and know true and abiding joy and to be able to express it so that others might come to know joy as well. (My quibbles rear their ugly head here and I feel compelled to point out that this book was published by Zondervan so it's weak on scriptural references and truths and is pretty vague on the point of where true joy can actually be found.) Payne is a Christian; that much is apparent. But there's not a Gospel message delivered within these pages. It's more of a motivational speech. I've decided to believe that this is okay. (See? I have to tell myself it is ok. I struggle still. I really would have liked a more meaty message but the pep-talk was good.)

Laugh it Up! is probably pure entertainment reading for some people and that is okay too. Some people will pick it up to read simply because it was written by "Chewbacca Mom" and they are curious to know more of her than her laugh (which is quite infectious). Some people will read her because they want to know how sorrow can be turned into joy (and I'm not totally sure that they will find the answer in this book, truth be told). I read it because I know of my black-and-white, legalistic-towards-everything-in-life tendencies and my deep, previously hidden desire to be able to relax and laugh (when something is genuinely funny, mind you, and not just silly). Heh. Dignity! Always dignity!

The truth is: I'm uptight. I don't know all of the reasons why. Perhaps it's the season of life. (Hello, mother-of-five!) Perhaps it's frustrations, or maybe it's just an intensely long To Do List which keeps me mentally preoccupied. It's hard for me to stop and catch my breath sometimes when there is so much to do. One thing that God has been revealing to me over the past few weeks in particular is that I need "silly people" in my life. By that I mean, people who make a regular habit of belly laughs and who aren't so concerned with their public appearance that they can't just relax and have a good time. I need people who maybe aren't so busy to remind me of the good things that can be born out of quiet. I need people around me who don't take everything as seriously as I take things (while still acknowledging that life has its serious moments and things.....we can't just dismiss that fact). I felt like Candace Payne is one of those people. Not that she can be in my life, mind you, but she understands that life is hard and that there is a To Do List and she makes sure she takes the time to find joy in the little things. Hearing her story prompts me to keep exploring and keep looking for God to surprise me and teach me things in ways which I am not currently expecting. He has already begun to do so which is heartening. I have a few stories already over which I can marvel about how He has been preparing the way for me to follow after Him more completely, giving way for all aspects of my personality to be used for His glory and my delight.

Honestly? I have a long way to go.

Some of you will catch this reference but I came home from talking with my friend and I felt like she was Reep and I was Eustace.

And now I feel like this is happening:

And then this will happen:

“Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.  You know — if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place.  It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . . .”

Personally, I've always been a fan of 'hurting like the billy-oh' when I know there's a plan for change. And believe you me, I KNOW there's a plan for change. So it's good. It's just long and somewhat bewildering and stupefying to me most of the time. But things are coming right for God is working. And as long as He is at work, I have nothing to fear.

This is probably one of my more personal posts because I'm talking about something that isn't resolved yet and I haven't figured out to any degree of certainty. I typically don't like to post things before I've settled on a conclusion but I'm left with little choice in this moment. This post is just where I'm at right now in this exact moment in time. It's what I'm thinking about these days and it is enough (for now). I am curious to see where this is headed. I'm sure it goes much deeper and further than Candace Payne but I'm grateful to hear her encouraging words. They weren't ones I probably would have sought out for myself but they were words I needed to hear all the same. So cheers to random check-out line encounters of the bookish kind! God can use anything He likes, whenever He likes.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Uncomfortable, by Brett McCracken

Where does one even begin? I don't feel remotely qualified to write a review of this book because it's on a topic that I struggle with myself. The subtitle of Uncomfortable is "The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community." Isn't that the truth!? Being a part of the Body of Christ is everything the title declares. There is no denying that joining one's self to a church is an absolutely mortifying thing sometimes. Yet, as Christians, we are called to be a part of it. That is also an unavoidable and undeniable truth. The church is something that Christians both long to be a part of and are simultaneously filled with dread about. There aren't many more things that I can think of as being a huge struggle in my Christian life than that being a church member. But I am one, I am one!

Uncomfortable is the sort of book that hits you between the eyes and challenges you to think outside of yourself and your personal preferences as to what any given church should look like. McCracken writes to challenge the Christian to think about their calling in Christ to be joined to the Body and to prepare to be uncomfortable with that calling. It's a book filled with scripture, history, quotes from Christian leaders, and tales of some of McCracken's personal experiences. He writes honestly, sharing his own struggles with the Body and how he has had to work to overcome various difficulties. He also writes with humor and sarcasm making him easy (for me) to read. He paints pictures of what the perfect church would look like to his way of thinking while acknowledging he isn't permitted to think of the church in terms of his preferences but in terms of God's design. There's a laugh and an "ouch" in this book and both are incredibly necessary.

I marinated in this book awhile. I read only a chapter or two a day at first, because I wanted to take it in slowly. I worked through the first half of the book at a reasonable pace and then, by the time I had arrived at Part II, I was struggling with my own feelings towards my own church home and family. You know how it feels when you are really focused on learning to be obedient unto the Lord and He's feeding you good things through some outlet and all of the sudden you start struggling with the very thing you are learning about? That was me and that was this book. For a few weeks I could barely read it because I felt I was in such a huge battle with my own beliefs. I hated Uncomfortable but I needed it, too.

The simple fact is that life within the church is not easy. Any way you slice it, it's imperfect. Yet miraculously it is Christ's bride (Ephesians 5: 25-27; Revelations 19:7-9)! I marked lots of passages within the pages of this book and I'll share some of them below, along with a few thoughts. I won't share everything I marked, because I marked quite a few spots as being impacting (to me, personally).

"If we always approach church through the lens of wishing that were different, or longing for a church that "gets me" or "meets me where I'm at," we'll never commit anywhere (or, Protestants that we are, we'll just start our own church). But church shouldn't be about being perfectly understood and met in our comfort zone; it should be about understanding God more, and meeting Him where He is. That is an uncomfortable but beautiful thing." (Introduction, page 24)

As you can see, that quote was in the Introduction and at that point I wasn't dealing with my own mental battles. I was just warming up to enjoy the ride.

"This book is about the comforting gospel of Jesus Christ that leads us to live uncomfortable lives for Him. It's about recovering a willingness to do hard things, to embrace hard truths, to do life with hard people for the sake and glory of the One who did the hardest thing." (Introduction, page 25-26)

That's a true thing, isn't it? Christ did the hardest thing and we think we have the hardest thing to do. "Yeah, but . . ." is such a stupid thing to say to God.  In the Garden of Gethsemane the Lord prayed that His people would be one just He and the Father are one. We are meant to be united. That's not an easy task. Show me the person who thinks its easy and I'm likely to think very little of that person's church experience. If being a part of the church is easy for you, then I'm inclined to think that something is seriously wrong within your particular church body or seriously wrong with you for not feeling the holy challenge. Being one with other Christians feels like the impossible dream sometimes. The hope is in knowing that all hard work is worth it because, in the end, we really will be one and the struggles we know now will be no more. Then we will worship the Lord in unity and in peace. Life on earth is a muddle. Eternity has already been sorted out and that's where the joy in the journey can be found right now.

We don't like to think that way though, do we? Humans seem to have a desire to want to believe that if something is hard then it's bad. They willingly ignore the fact that the cross symbolizes death-to-life. We must die to live. We must fight to breathe. We must struggle and bleed and die ourselves so that God's glory can be made manifest within us and through us so that others can know the love of God. That means death to self before those in our church and also death to self before the world who loves to mock and cajole us for our beliefs.

"There is a reverse correlation between the comfortability of Christianity and its vibrancy. When the Christian church is comfortable and cultural, she tends to be weak. When she is uncomfortable and countercultural, she tends to be strong. I believe the latter is how she was meant to be." (Chapter 1, Embrace the Uncomfortable, page 32)

Right now there is a huge struggle even between Christians who are embarrassed by the Gospel for a myriad of reasons and who want to appear more "relevant" to the culture. Hang Scripture! How can Scripture be helpful if it hurts people to apply it to their lives!? We demand answers. We resent the embarrassment that the Bible demands that we endure with obedience. We're in a perpetual state of face palm when we hear people who claim to be Christians speak out loud. Really, the Christian life seems to be too much, too often.

"Reflecting the truism that "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21), these martyrs lost their lives but also gained. And so it is for all people of the cross: visible loss for invisible gain, present suffering and future glory. This is the offense of the cross. Not only that a God would subject Himself to such weakness and death, but also that such a perceived folly would become the pride of His followers." (Chapter 2, The Uncomfortable Cross, page 46)

It's one thing to know in your head, with your mind, that we are to expect trials and tribulation on earth and count them only as "light momentary afflictions" (2 Cor. 4:17-18). It's an entirely different manner to actually be living with such affliction before a sneering public. The struggle is even harder when there are those within the Body itself who sneer with the world and chide you for being blind because you aren't following all of the political winds of the day. It's hard work to be a Christian and to remain committed to the church. This is to say nothing of staying committed to the cross. I've been spending more time on Twitter these days and the number of Christians who accept a watered down, more convenient truth could prove rather frighting. The masses are definitely running from the pews and they will continue to do so I am sure. The question is: will I stay in obedience to Scripture or will I run too? There would seem to be a lot of reasons to run. That doesn't excuse me to do so though. Scripture is clear about the fact that we are called to stay, even though we might not always identify with the church and/or struggle to fit in.

A charge delivered by non-Christians is one thing but it is infinitely more damaging and painful when a fellow Christian turns from the faith and the church and takes on the world's chatter. The common cry these days among just about everyone and for just about every reason is that the church and fellow believers are not to be trusted because they are hypocrites. McCracken addresses this issue as well and a stand out passage for me was this:

McCracken quotes Erik Thoennes, a professor at Biola University and elder at Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada, California.

"There's this idea that to live out of conformity with how I feel is hypocrisy; but that's a wrong definition of hypocrisy. To live out of conformity to what I believe is hypocrisy. To live in conformity with what I believe, in spite of what I feel, isn't hypocrisy; it's integrity."

Sticking with the church, showing up week after week when you just don't feel like it feels like a waste of time. It doesn't feel like we're going to get a lot out of the experience more often than not. But the idea that McCracken is promoting with this book is not that we seek out preferred experiences but that we join with a church to learn to be more like Christ. The way that we do that is to join to the Body and practice service, generosity, commitment and sacrificial love. It's not going to be easy and any honest person will testify to that. But anyone who believes that God means what He says in scripture about the church being His bride will continue on, believing that there's a hidden purpose and a good end in store.

Uncomfortable is a book that offers hard encouragement. There is no wiggle room for escape from the church within these pages so don't be looking for it. Our life with the church is a story of commitment, even when times get hard and, yes, even when it feels somewhat foolish to be a part of things.

"We've become so bored with our story, or just ignorant of it, and so naturally others have too. We're a bride who forgets why she fell in love in the first place. We're a bride who often takes off her wedding ring in public. We've lost eyes to see the loveliness of the covenant we are in because we're too preoccupied with how skeptical onlookers see us. We assume the only way hipsters and seekers and anyone else might like us if we offer a "safe place" Christianity, one with endless caveats, asterisks, apologies, and trigger warnings (and fair-trade coffee).
Yet seeker-friendly and hipster Christianity failed to invigorate contemporary Christianity because they've been too embarrassed to lead with the admittedly uncomfortable truth that a Christianity with no teeth, no offensiveness, no cost, and no discomfort is not really Christianity at all. It attracts the masses to something vaguely moralistic and therapeutic, but mostly just affirms their "eat whatever fruit you want" freedom and status quo comfort." (Chapter 14, Countercultural Comfort, page 187)

If you're feeling tempted to walk away from the church, will you read this book? If you're committed to a local church, will you read this book? There is something in this for everyone and mostly it's to affirm an undeniable truth: being part of your local church won't always be fun. Being a part of the church will be one of the single most stretching experiences of your Christian life, but through it and by it you will become more like Christ as you learn to die to self-preferences for the glory of something - Someone - greater than you. That is an uncomfortable fact we must live, but live it we must. To the pain. To the death.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge Conclusion (2018)

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

And so we once again reach the end of another Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge. If you managed to read/watch anything relating to L.M.M.'s life or work, let us know in the comment section below! This is the time to leave links to reviews and further thoughts, sharing with people the stories you enjoyed and the things you learned.

I hope you had a good reading month. Go ahead and mark your calendars for next year's reading challenge. Next year we'll celebrate the Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge's TENTH anniversary and I'll make it good!

Hope you enjoyed!

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit

Once upon a time our family traveled to England for a month. While we were there we took in the stage production of The Railway Children which is performed in a specially designed theater connected to King's Cross Station. I meant to read the book before we saw the play but that didn't happen but it really was alright. Our kids were younger then and if I had read the story to them any earlier, I fear they wouldn't remember it. The play they remember in part and the book they now stand a better chance of remember in full.  (That's what we call a "win/win" right?)

As noted, we finally corrected our gaffe and read the book and it was a charming delight from beginning to end. In case you are unfamiliar with the plot line, I shall briefly fill you in:

Three children - Roberta ("Bobbie"), Peter and Phyillis - have their life turned upside a bit when their father is very suddenly and abruptly "called away" and their mother must move with them to the countryside. The children aren't sure as to why their father isn't around, but, being children, they quickly adapt to their new circumstances. Mother, who has always had time for play before, must now spend her time writing stories to make a little money. The children are largely left to their own devices and make a few choice friends down at the local railway station. Most of the story surrounds various incidents which occur around the railway line but we also get to know them through the eyes of other locals from the village. Running throughout the story are questions about where their father might have gone and when he might return. The book concludes happily alright but the family does undergo a fair amount of challenge and suffering before we're done getting to know them. Told in Nesbit's lovely style, this is a story our family is sure to remember for a long while.

I found The Railway Children well-suited for a read aloud. The chapters are a bit long so we only read one a day (we usually aim for two). Our kids are ages three to eleven and it was certainly our oldest three that got the most out of the story, laughing at all the right parts, etc. I would say if you only want to read this book once, then wait until your kids are at least six or seven before taking time out for this. However, I hardly think this is a "one and done" sort of read. I could easily see us devouring this book several times over. But that's Nesbit for you; her works are generally re-readable.

The Railway Children held a few surprises for me, in particular, at the end. Nesbit's theology shines through during a particular conversation between her characters. Peter and his mother are having a little heart-to-heart on account of the fact that Peter is missing his father's presence. He doesn't know the reasons why his father isn't at home with the family and proposes that sometimes books are better than real-life. He suggests to his mother that if their life were a story, Mother could just write it out so that Father would come home. The following interaction takes place:

Peter's mother put her arm round him suddenly, and hugged him in silence for a minute.
Then she said:
'Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing a book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right - in the way that's best for us.'
'Do you really believe that, Mother?' Peter asked quietly.
'Yes,' she said, 'I do believe it - almost always - except when I'm so sad that I can't believe anything. But even when I can't believe it, I know it is true - and I try to believe it. You don't know how I try, Peter.'

What a gem of a passage! There are many times over the course of my life that I've wished the story was going a little differently. It's tremendously easy to believe that I know best and that I'd write the story of my life out much better. In my Chronological Study Bible I've reached the story of Job where he too questions God's plan. I absolutely love the passage in Job 38 - 41 where God thunders out His reply in a manner which causes Job to stand still and believe.

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” Job 40:3-5

There is so much that we can't know about our own lives so long as we're here on earth. There is so much that we will dream of having happen to us or through us on their earth that will never be. We will always live with questions. We will always be surrounded by mystery. This will never change. Our sole duty and responsibility is to believe. Believe that the Lord is Who He says that He is. Believe that His ways are higher, more perfect, and more holy than our imagination can comprehend. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for that is how we will be saved. (Acts 16:31; Hebrews 11:6)

Nesbit, through her character of Roberta, Peter and Phyllis's mother, got it right. If we were in charge of writing our own stories and proclaiming our own destinies, we'd be at a risk getting things wrong and making mistakes. But God knows how to make each of our stories end just right - in the way that is best for us.

It's worth reading the entirety of The Railway Children for this one passage if for no other reason. I loved it in every particular and I'm so glad that we took the time to get to know this book.

Of course, now that we've read the book we are permitted to watch the Masterpiece Theater version which we will do so as promptly as is humanely possible. My own children are already at me to see it. I must confess I'm just as impatient to get to it as they are!

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Tangled Web, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I mentioned that I wouldn't be delving into too many Montgomery books this month due to reading a good bit of her work last year. I did, however, want to re-read A Tangled Web, especially as I had apparently not read it since 2009! Suffice it to say, I had thoroughly forgotten the majority of the plot line, making this a delightful read all over again. (Sometimes it's good to have such a poor memory.)

If you haven't read A Tangled Web before, you should know that Montgomery wrote this book for adult readers. It's not really a children's book at all, but deals with adults, adult themes and adult trials of life. Originally published in 1931 the affairs of the day were tame by comparison with 2018 but, nevertheless, you experience some messes!

The plot of this book revolves around an old family heirloom. Aunt Becky is the owner and possessor of a cracked brown jug which has been passed down through a few generations and which everyone in the Dark and Penhallow clan wants to own upon Aunt Becky's death. The Darks and Penhallows have been intermarrying for 60 years and every single member of the clan feels that they have some claim to this brown jug. Aunt Bekcy however, known for being an obstinate and rather mean woman, doesn't seem in any hurry to name an inheritor. At the opening of the story, Aunt Becky calls a family conclave to announce who will receive the jug and the terms by which they will do so. The rest of the book is a mystery with the reader guessing at who might eventually own the jug. As it is a mystery, I won't spoil anything by telling you. You'll have to read it for yourself.

A Tangled Web is aptly titled as it investigates the lives, romances, deaths, and dramas of a variety of characters. Romances blossom and also die in these pages. Characters find both happy endings and mildly unsatisfying ones. It's a very different style and format from Montgomery's other stories which makes this book an intriguing read. She rather breaks away from her typical formulaic style of story telling, choosing to weave in and out of a family clan instead of focusing on one particular character. As a curious fact, there are 225 characters mentioned in this book! But don't let that fact stress you out or keep you away from it. It's a very interesting read and keeps you on your toes as you follow along. Further interesting to note, this book was not very well-received by the public when it was released. I would say that this title shows a bit of the darker side of Montgomery and perhaps that played a part in low sales. It was also published after the stock market crash and that could account for poor sales as well. Whatever the reason, I'm happy to say that it is once again in print and able to purchase. (Although seriously with the cover art - ! Ack!)

Some people consider this one of Montgomery's best works. You can definitely see how she challenged herself to write differently than her norm. Challenges are always fun (sometimes only in retrospect though) so I can't help but wonder if she didn't enjoy writing this one out. I highly recommend the read if you can land a copy. It's worth the time and energy!

Interesting facts:

  • A Tangled Web was published in between Magic for Marigold (1929) and Pat of Silver Bush (1933).
  • As mentioned, it was published after the stock market crash and Montgomery's finances were affected by this event.
  • She lived in Norval, Ontario at the time she wrote this book.

I also found this rather, ahem, interesting video on Youtube about Montgomery which touches on her life in Norval. Enjoy it or not, as you choose.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Virtuous, by Nancy Wilson

Every now and again I pull up the Canon Press online catalog and see what's new. It had been awhile since I had done so and I noted two new titles by Nancy Wilson, wife of Douglas. One was on the subject of being a grandmother and the other was entitled Virtuous: A Study for Ladies of Every Age. While I'm certainly curious about what she has to say about being a grandmother, I figured Virtuous was likely a more suitable read for me now so I picked up a copy.

It arrived just about a week or so ago and I got to it rather promptly. On the heels of The Pursuit of Holiness (linked to review) I kinda wanted to just stay in the word and keep learning. I dove on into Virtuous and quickly discovered that Mrs. Wilson wrote this book with the idea of it being used in a small group study setting. Thus the chapters are very, very short and each is followed with a series of questions for contemplation and discussion. There is absolutely not a thing wrong with this format, but my friends and regular blog readers will know that this sort of book is typically "not for me." I tend to avoid devotional type books, or short studies. I couldn't really tell you why except that I just tend not to like them. When I pick up a book, I want to read a good chunk of the author's thoughts and arguments and devotional/study books feel short and stumpy to me. Again, it's a personal preference thing and no reflection on the author.

Personal preferences aside, I figured since I purchased the book I better go on and read it. As it is meant to be tasted in chunks, it made for an easy, breezy read. I split the book up into two "sittings" and it took me about 40 minutes each day to read through it. It's very brief but, nevertheless, it packs a punch.

Virtuous is a quick look at character traits which scriptures spell out as relating to the virtuous woman. For those who want to complain that the Bible isn't written just for women and that men aren't called to any lesser Biblical standard I say to you: peace, be still. At several points in the book Wilson likens some of the traits she is discussing with traits which are also to be exemplified in our male counterparts. However, this book wasn't written for a couple's study but for a women's study so go with the flow already please. Thank you.

Mrs. Wilson first begins by defining what she means in using the word 'virtuous'. "A virtuous woman," says she, "is a woman who exhibits godly character traits." She further explains that "virtue is about ethical behavior, and it's about our character." She by no means presents an exhaustive list of ethical considerations and biblical character traits and she freely admits this fact. Her goal is only to get the ball rolling to help women begin to think through what it means to be virtuous. Some of the topics she hits on include, but are not limited to: diligence, cheerfulness, wisdom, courage, kindness, loyalty, modesty and gratitude. Each chapter is roughly 4-5 pages long and there are about 5-6 questions to use as thought provoking follow-up.

Admittedly I read through this with a bare amount of interest because I was hoping for a deeper look at the topics and I just felt like I was bouncing around. I have to clarify yet again though that this was my fault for not checking into the format of the book and realizing it was meant to be used as a study. I think as a study it would probably produce some interesting conversation because Wilson doesn't mince or waste the words she chooses to use. She gets straight to the point with her readers and, in true Wilson fashion, (if you are familiar with the Wilson family), this can make people squirm. (I, on the other hand, tend to love it.)

I paid most attention to the chapter on kindness because that's a topic of huge interest to me these days. Why? 'Cause Life. So much unkindness surrounds us all of our days and it's frequently hard to know how to be kind to others who just don't seem to want to be kind back! Following on the heels of my Bridges read, and thinking about the fact that I am not more righteous than God and therefore should not hold myself out as being more worthy of being offended when someone sins against me, (or I against them!), the chapter on kindness was a useful tool. It especially is helpful if you've come to realize and understand that all throughout your whole life you will go around being unkind to others and having them treat you unkindly in return! We're sinners all and it takes a great deal of effort to be kind. (I used to envy people to whom kindness seemed to come naturally. Then I got to know those people better and realized that, no, they weren't anything exceptionally special. They struggle with it just as much as I did and do....just in different ways! Pedestals smashed for the good of all!)

I made a few notes, including scriptures that Mrs. Wilson quoted from (Romans 5:8; Luke 6:35-36; and Matthew 5:45b). It's good to have verses in your "back pocket" sometimes for helping you to steady on. I appreciated the fact that she reminds us that it is only by and through the love of God that we have been transformed into people that He has made so that we might extend kindness to others. God doesn't leave us high and dry, demanding things of us that He will not help us to do. We must do and He will be there to give us the strength to do. Even when we don't want to be kind and/or it's not coming naturally. Mrs. Wilson also reminds the reader that we are to "put on" kindness by faith. (Colossians 3:12). Sometimes being kind takes deliberate effort and that's ok. We should not shy away from the challenge for challenges produces growth and life and holiness in Christ. Chances to grow in this area should not be avoided. (All of the time?!)  Again, it is through God's power working in us, with the help of His Holy Spirit, that He has made us to be people who are meant to show kindness. This is a good calling, although harder than it appears on its face.

Her musings on the topic of kindness - as well as the other areas of focus - weren't earth shattering but basic truth doesn't have to shatter earth all of the time. (At least, it shouldn't!) Sometimes simple reminders are exactly what you need and simple reminders are what I got out of this book. It was a good encouraging talk from an older woman to keep my eyes on the goal of knowing Christ and press on in the pursuit of holiness. Virtuous was encouragement for the journey and we all need a little of that from time to time, don't we?

Other Nancy Wilson books of note:

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