Friday, May 02, 2014

At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon

We recently went on a "little" trip overseas and, as is the case whenever one travels, I was in something of a quandary to know which books to take along with me. As it turns out, I didn't have as much time to read as I thought I would but the one book I did make it through was At Home in Mitford. The last time I visited with anyone from Mitford was back in 2007 so it has been awhile. These books have been overdue for a re-read. I own them all in hardback form but didn't want to lug any about due to space concerns. Instead, I picked up a cheap, battered up paperback copy which I read and left behind. (It was a placeholder for the souvenirs!)

In the end, I don't think I could have chosen a more perfect book to read than At Home in Mitford. At more than one point in our trip, I was very homesick for the good ol' US of A and Mitford brought me back to it in my imagination. It was a very comforting read as it reminded me of everything that I know and hold dear here in my own country. It was a peaceful balm in the midst of some emotional storms and I so valued and appreciated this read as a result. I resonated with it more than I might have had I read it in the comfort of the familiar. It was interesting for me to read it outside the bounds of my usual comfort zones.

If by some chance you've never gone to Mitford, you really should. A cozier read you'll be hard pressed to find. If life is chaos all around you, go to Mitford. It'll help you slow down and take stock of your situation. As the books are so popular, I'll skip providing a description, assuming you are well-familiar with the characters and plot, and stick to documenting my experience in re-reading.

Here are a few quotes that stood out from me from the book. I didn't mark down the chapters and pages because, well, I just didn't.

Father Tim gets a new neighbor named Cynthia and the strike up a friendship. During one of their conversations, Cynthia makes the following remark:

"I've never been one for physical exercise," she said, "but what God does with our faith must be something like workouts. He sees to it that our faith gets pushed and pulled, stretched, and pounded, taken to its limits so its limits can expand."

This trip out of the country worked to expand my limits in a major way. I wasn't comfortable for awhile and was challenged to think differently and go deeper in my spiritual walk than I had ever done before. I still haven't figured out how to communicate all of the things that I learned overseas but it was a pretty intense (and, ultimately, wonderful) trip. My faith got a workout and my limits were expanded. This sentence glared up at me from the page as I was reading and I grew a little bit more grateful for the challenges and the travel experiences.

I will tell you more about the country we went to (and why) in a few weeks but one of the notable aspects of the society in question is the way that they treat their elderly. Older people are given (and frequently outright demand) a great deal of respect. I would say that in America we do not pay half as much attention to the elderly than they do in the country we were visiting. I also think that is regrettable and that we Americans ought to be ashamed of ourselves. The young people in this other country are beginning to resent the "old ways" which demand respect for those older than themselves and we heard a fair amount of complaining about them having to step aside to let someone older pass, or have a seat on the subway. Personally I think that people who are older than us ought be shown a great deal of respect and consideration and that we should not be half as quick to dismiss them as we currently are!

In At Home in Mitford, Father Tim goes to visit an older lady and long time friend, Miss Sadie Baxter. She makes the following statement:

"Father," said Miss Sadie, who was sitting up in bed, having finished her lunch, "you can't imagine how wonderful it is to have something to listen to me ramble. Did you ever think that just when people grow old and have so much to tell, that's when people want them to hush? I hope when you grow old, there'll be someone to listen to you ramble."

Older people (truly anyone older than ourselves) have the most interesting stories to tell. We could learn much from those ahead of us in the game if we would be humble enough to stop and listen from time to time. I know that I have failed at this and I know that I am being failed in this. American society does not promote respect and worth when it comes to the elderly and I think we should work to bring it back and to give honor where honor is due. I know I purpose to do better in this and I know it will also be hard to do (but important).

Moving along to a different subject, later in the book Father Tim is having a conversation with Pete Jamison, who is a recent convert to the Christian faith. Pete calls Father Tim up on the phone to talk and to receive some advice. Here is their conversation:

"Pray. Read your Bible. Be baptized. Go to church."
"Well, I'm going to church. But I've got to tell you that it's full of hypocrites."
Father Tim laughed. If there was ever a popular refrain in modern Christendom, that might be it.
"My friend, if you keep your eyes on Christians, you will be disappointed every day of your life. Your hope is to keep your eyes on Christ."

A big and rowdy "AMEN" to that! So often I hear of Christians who distance themselves from the church because they cannot find perfect people inside of it. That really ought not to be such a huge surprise, especially considering that they themselves are also very much not perfect. Join the club (because it's what you are supposed to do). Be a part of the body. God made it for you to belong to. Hypocrite sharpening hypocrite, iron sharpening iron.

Speaking of which, several years ago I shared this image of what it looks like when iron is sharpening iron:

Not what you thought? Looks like a little bit of necessary conflict to me, designed to refine and to change.

God knows what He is talking about and He designed the church for us to be involved with. Walk in the door but keep your eyes on Christ or else you will be unnecessarily disappointed. Stick with the Bride of Christ, which exists all over the world, and you will find yourselves blessed beyond measure.

On Easter Sunday this year, Jonathan and I were not in this country and we were not with our church family. We were feeling very lonely and a little bit sorry for ourselves. But we knew and we know that God knows what He is talking about when He tells us to be a part of the Body. So, we found a church to attend and were graciously and warmly welcomed in. At the conclusion of the service time, we were taken out for a meal afterward! It was a HUGE blessing and ministered to us greatly.  It was a "not to be missed" experience which we would have surely missed if we had forsaken assembly with other saints.

This to say - be brave! Stick with the church! And always keep your eyes on Christ! You'll be blessed beyond your wildest imagination if you "tough it out" . . . especially during times when you might not want to.

Again, Mitford was just a delightful read and it managed to speak to me on many levels when I was so very far from home. I love this book and I love this series! Glad to have visited with it again.


bekahcubed said...

I am one of the few who has not yet been to Mitford - and it sounds like I should definitely remedy that.

Monica said...

I too enjoyed At Home in Mitford. I have the sequel A Light in the Window coming up soon. I hope it is as good as the first!

Barbara H. said...

I can see how a Mitford book would be a pleasant companion on a trip. They're some of the coziest books I know, but have so much truth and depth as well.

Susanne said...

I haven't read a Mitford book in years and years. I think I'll have to make a point of it. You're trip sounds very interesting. Looking forward to those posts.

*carrie* said...

Racking my brain to think if you told me about the trip? Curious to hear more . . .

Monica and my mom told me about the Mitford books long before I read them. Once I started, via winning a used copy from a fellow blogger, I devoured the series. They are a comfort to read--you're right! I felt that way also when I read (not first time, of course) some of the Little House books during our time at Mayo.

Bluerose said...

I devoured these books, one after the other, early in my marriage(before little ones). I adore this series, and I'm hugely excited that a new one is finally arriving. I told (my) Jonathan that it seems to go forever between these books being published!

And, wonderful post! I couldn't agree with you more!

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