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Laudable Linkage

Here are some noteworthy reads online discovered in the last few weeks:

Voices That Haunt Us, ways to respond.

The Opposite of the Proverbs 31 Woman.

But Why Does She Get Babies?

Behold Your Mother. Quotes: “Care of parents, particularly in the latter years, is difficult, grueling, and offers little tangible reward. The elderly seem like speed bumps on the road to relevance. But if we really believe each human life was made in the image of God, if we really believe that every human has intrinsic worth, regardless of utility, we’d do better at embodying this ethic when it comes to equipping our people to care for their elderly parents.” “This is why care for the elderly is not simply “the right thing to do” but a vivid portrait of the gospel story. The Holy Spirit in us renews our self-centered motivations, reminding us that Christ cared for our spiritual disability while we were spiritually dead and “yet sinners.”

Ten Things To Do Differently *Before* You Lose Your Temper.

Bleep! Why Christians Shouldn’t Cuss.

5 Bad Substitutes For Discipline.

Dear Moms, Jesus Wants You to Chill Out.

Love Letters. HT to The Story Warren. Quote: “Today all around me I see a stark, utilitarian focus in writing in this age of technology: all must be said to purpose—briefly and efficiently; effortless interaction seems the primary goal as though thoughts are like footballs that simply need punting. Writing is regarded as a chore. Often, so is reading. Extra words, like Mozart’s famous “too many notes,” are regarded as distractions, time-consuming, even burdens on the reader. “Why does Melville ply us with his dense prose so packed with allusions? That is so boring,” I hear my students complain. “Why does Tolstoy carry on endlessly chasing one description after the other? Why can’t he just cut to the chase?” “Why does Tolkien play at length with interwoven plot lines in his wordy fantasies? Why can’t he get to the point?” Why? For one thing, I think it is because ‘the point’ is not the only thing that matters.”

And finally, something fellow book lovers will empathize with:

Waiting for sequel

Happy Saturday! :)

I mentioned in yesterday’s post a little book by missionary Rosalind Goforth called Climbing, one of my all-time favorites. She and her husband were missionaries to China from1888-1936. She had written his biography, and then by request wrote Climbing about missionary life and furlough from her perspective. I think one thing missionaries would want us to know is that they are not “super-Christians,” but rather people “of like passions” as we are, and this humorous incident in Rosalind’s life illustrates not only that but also the importance of being consistently in God’s Word so it can speak to you.

The following is the most notable incident connected with this habit of memorizing Scripture. I give it, for, judging by the effect it has had upon men and women to whom I have told this story, it touches a vital point in the relation of husband and wife. It certainly brought to my husband and myself a lesson never forgotten.

Our children were all away at school. We were together carrying on aggressive evangelism at a distant out-station. The room given to us was dark and damp, with the usual mud floor. The weather, had turned cold, and there was no place where one could get warm. I caught a cold. It was not a severe one, but enough to make me rather miserable. The third or fourth day, when the meetings were in full swing and my organ was taking an attracting part, I became possessed by a great longing to visit my dearly loved friend, Miss H., living at the Weihuifu Station, some hours run south on the railway. But when I told my husband what I had in mind, he strongly objected and urged against my going. I would not listen, even when he said my going would break up at least the women’s work. But I was determined to go and ordered the cart for the trip to the railway. As the cart started and I saw my husband’s sad, disappointed, white face, I would have stopped, but I wanted to show him I must have my way sometimes!

Oh, what a miserable time I had till my friend’s home in Weihuifu was reached! Miss H. gave one glance at my face and exclaimed: “Whatever is the matter, Mrs. Goforth! Are you ill?”

My only answer was to break down sobbing. Of course I could not tell her WHY. Miss H. insisted on putting me to bed, saying I was ill! She made me promise to remain there until after breakfast.

The following morning, while waiting for breakfast, I opened my Testament and started to memorize, as usual, my three verses. Now it happened I was at that time memorizing the Epistle to the Ephesians and had reached the fifth chapter down to the twenty-first verse. The twenty-second, the first of the three to be memorized that morning, read: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands as unto the Lord.” I was, to say at the least, startled! Somehow I managed to get this bravely memorized. Then going on to the twenty-third verse, these words faced me: “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the Saviour of the body.”

For a moment a feeling of resentment, even anger, arose. I could not treat this word as a woman once did, putting it aside with the remark: “That is where Paul and I differ.” I believed the Epistle to the Ephesians was inspired, if any portion of Scripture was. How could I dare cut out this one part to which I was unwilling to submit? How I managed to memorize that twenty-third verse I do not know, for all the while a desperate mental struggle was on. Then came the twenty-fourth verse: “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”

I could not memorize further: my mind was too agitated. “It just comes to this,” I thought, “Am I willing, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, to submit my will (in all but matters of conscience) to my husband?” The struggle was short but intense. At last I cried, “For CHRIST’s sake, I yield!” Throwing a dressing gown about me, I ran to the top of the stairs and called to my friend, “When does the next train go?”

“In about half an hour,” she replied, “but you couldn’t catch it and have your breakfast.”

“Never mind; I’m going to get that train!”

My friend insisted on accompanying me to the station; we ate as we almost ran. With what joy I at last found myself traveling northward!

On reaching my destination, imagine my surprise to find my husband, with a happy twinkle in his eye, standing on the platform!

“Why, Jonathan,” I cried, “how did you know I was coming?”

His reply was simply a happy, “Oh, I knew you would come.”

Later I told my husband frankly all I had passed through. What was the result? From that time, he gave me my way as never before, for does not verse 25 of the chapter quoted go on to say: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” A new realization of the need of yieldedness came to us both, which brought blessed results in our home life.

I don’t think she is saying at the end that her little adventure “paid off,” but rather that God used the incident and their conversation together to open both their eyes to each other’s needs.

Though I am sure it wasn’t funny at the time, I always find this story humorous and I am glad she “told on” herself in her book. But beyond the incident itself, it shows how the Lord can guide and correct us when we are regularly in His Word.

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For the 31 Days writing challenge, I am sharing 31 Days of Inspirational Biography. You can find others in the series here.

Friday’s Fave Five

FFF fall backgroundIt’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

It has been kind of a weird week for me, but thankfully it’s about over and everything is back to normal – whatever that is. :) . Here are some of my favorite parts of it:

1. Getting my fall decorations up, finally!

2. Singing in the car with Jesse. My husband stays home from church Sunday nights and Wed. nights to care for his mom (we have a caregiver there for Sunday morning). If I am driving with Jesse in the car, I usually have music from my phone playing through the car’s speakers. Sometimes Jesse dozes, sometimes we talk, sometimes he’s lost in a game on his phone. A lot of times I am quietly singing along with whatever is playing, and sometimes Jesse will join in. One song this last week was a dramatic old spiritual – kind of  fun.

3. Getting medical tests OVER with! I’m at “that age” (50+) where one physical will generate 2 or 3 more “routine tests.” Thankfully the last of those was completed this week.

4. Getting a colonoscopy OVER with! I’ve had this scheduled since August and had to reschedule a couple of times and have been dreading it, but finally got to the point where I wanted to go ahead and get it done so I didn’t have to think about it any more. The test itself is no problem – the preparation is pretty miserable, and it has taken most of the week for my system to get back to normal. Thankfully the doctor said everything was clear. He removed one little polyp (not uncommon for “older” people to have) that he said was benign but is sending it off to a lab to be sure.

5. Good news from an echocardiogram. This one was not routine – some of you have been reading here for a while know that I have had troubles with SVTs – supraventricular tachycardia – where the heart rate will suddenly jump into a real high rate (180-200 beats per minute), sometimes needing an ER visit to get back into a regular rhythm. It sometimes goes for years without happening and then sometimes will happen a lot. I’ve been having a lot of palpitations lately, and I wasn’t sure if that was quite the same thing, so the dr. had me wear a heart monitor for a couple of days and sent me for an echo a couple of weeks ago. It looks like the trouble still is just SVTs (a relief), and the echo showed the heart was pumping strongly, blood was flowing well, the valves were all working right. I’m supposed to see a heart doctor that specializes in electrical problems of the heart in mid-December to see what he recommends. Years ago I was told they could do an ablation where they “zap” the nerve on the heart that they think is causing the problem. Even though I’m told that is a relatively minor procedure (compared to other heart procedures), I haven’t wanted to do it. But now I’m getting to the point where wanting relief is greater than the dread of the procedure. So I am sure we’ll talk about that then. I am on a beta-blocker that helps, but they can’t increase it because it also lowers blood pressure, and since I don’t have high blood pressure in the first place, they don’t want it to go any lower. But the good news this week is that everything with the echo looked good, and the cardiologist told me that of all the arrhythmias, this one is the easiest to fix, so that’s something. :)

Happy Friday!

How I Know God Answers PrayerI think I first read Rosalind Goforth’s first book, How I Know God Answers Prayer, maybe in my twenties, so about 30 years ago. I don’t remember how many times I have read it since. It is a testimony of how God has answered prayers both small and great in her life through the years, spurred by people’s occasional response that perhaps what seemed an answer to prayer was just a coincidence that would have happened anyway. She wanted to demonstrate through a lifetime of her walk with God that prayer is just a child of God asking her Father for what she needs, and seeing Him answer – not always just the way she originally wanted, but with love and wisdom nonetheless. Of her three books, including Goforth of China (a biography of her husband) and Climbing (a book she was asked to write concerning some of her own experiences and perspectives), Climbing is my favorite, but this book is very good as well.

Since I was reading it this time for Carrie’s  Reading to Know Classics Book Club, I tried to view it as others might who have not read it before.  For the first time I thought perhaps a little of the effect of what she relates might have been lost by the description of events taken out of context. For instance, when she writes near the end about finding “that the Lord could guide me even in trimming my hat to his glory,” some people might think, “What?” In Climbing, one of the difficulties she underwent was criticism of her dress when she would come home on furlough. There was no Internet, Facebook, or even Wal-Mart in those days to keep up with what was going on in the fashion world back home, and she had no idea what would be stylish or out of style or different from the last time she had been there. It is really ridiculous that people would criticize under such circumstances, but they do. Once when a lady offered to get new outfits for her when she was home, she was relieved, until the lady brought her garments entirely in black, which she evidently thought was appropriate for missionary ladies. Jonathan told her she looked like she was in mourning, but she felt she couldn’t refuse the gifts without causing offense. She didn’t necessarily want to be up-to-the minute in the latest styles (in fact, when Merry Widow hats were in style at one point, she thought they were ridiculous and tried to find a way not to wear them), but she didn’t want to be a distraction, either, as they visited churches and conferences. In that book she relates some of God’s leading and answers to prayer regarding that whole issue, represented here just by the sentences, “I found the Lord could guide me even in trimming my hat to his glory! That is, so that I could stand before an audience and not bring discredit to my Master.”

She mentions the anti-foreigner sentiments and some of the dangers involved, but I don’t know if readers will understand just how pervasive and dangerous it was. China was a very closed-off country then, and anything “foreign” was suspicious (one reason why Hudson Taylor advocated dressing like Chinese rather than British). She does mention here that one of the ways she and her husband tried to combat this was to hold “Open House” where they’d let their neighbors come in and tour the house so they could see there wasn’t anything dangerous about them. In one of her other books she writes that one of these times, someone saw her daughter’s dolls in her bed and spread the word that the Goforths kidnapped children and shrunk them. It seems ridiculous now that anyone would think that, but it was a very superstitious and suspicious time. Rumors like that could at the very least cause people to avoid them, and at the worst set off a powder keg of anger. Sudden mob violence was not uncommon, especially leading up to the time of the Boxer rebellion. I remember reading in another book (I forget whose) about a missionary having in her school a skeleton for educational purposes, and then trying to decide how best to dispose of it so people wouldn’t think they had killed someone. Trying to preach a gospel that the people were probably going to react negatively against at first in such a setting indeed required a lot of prayer and faith.

But even with some events taken somewhat out of context, she presents a testimony full of grace in how the Lord dealt with her. Some of the answers she relates were major –  a sudden breakthrough in her husband’s grasp of the language when he was discouraged and near giving up, found later to have happened right at the time that a group in his old college had met to pray for him, response in meetings found to have happened when others were praying (incidents that should remind and encourage us to pray for others), healing when all other help had been exhausted, protection from danger, especially in their escape during the Boxer rebellion. Of the last, she was asked why God spared them so miraculously but not others. She responded:

Truly a vital question, which could not lightly be set aside! Humbly and prayerfully we pondered this “Why” in the light of Scripture. In the twelfth chapter of Acts, we read of Herod’s succeeding in putting James to death by the sword, and directly after comes the story of how Herod was hindered in carrying out his intention to kill Peter who was delivered by a miracle. Then who could read that marvelous eleventh chapter of Hebrews with its record of glorious martyrdom and miraculous deliverances without being thrilled? In face of these and many other passages, while still unable to answer the “why,” we saw our Almighty God used His own prerogative to glorify His name whether in the glorious martyrdom of some or in the miraculous deliverance of other.

I referenced this a few months ago in a post on our pastor’s cancer, how God heals some but not others, for reasons only He knows.

Such big and dramatic answers to prayer can be thrilling, but what touched my heart even more were the smaller, “everyday” answers: a lost key found, provision for clothes, a gift of fresh fruit, the need for a telephone and a coat and help during a speaking engagement when she felt ill.

Some of the incidents were deeply personal, such as the time her husband wanted to go touring out among the people, and she said no at first, for the safety of the children (smallpox was rampant and the Chinese then had no thought of keeping sick people home). She had to learn that “‘the safest place’ for myself and the children ‘was the path of duty.'” Though several of her children died from other causes, none died during this time in their ministry once she yielded to the Lord about it. Another personal situation was finally understanding what it was to rest in the Lord and trust Him for salvation from the power of sin and not just the penalty of it, after feeling like she had been on something of a roller coaster spiritually for 40 years.

Something else I thought some people might have a problem with in reading her book were the times she mentioned prayer being hindered by a wrong attitude or bitterness on her part, or, in one instance, the fact that she felt God allowed something to bless her for responding in a right way. These days what we often hear is that God deals with us on the basis of His grace, not our “performance.” That is true. Yet there are instances in Scripture, even in the New Testament, of disobedience hindering. We’re told that some people are sick and some have died because of partaking of the Lord’s Supper in a wrong manner, that we should reconcile with our brother before offering a gift to God, that confession of sin is a part of praying for healing, that we can’t expect forgiveness if we don’t forgive. We’ll never be perfect, but we can’t expect the Lord’s blessing if we are hanging on to known sin. As to the other, does God ever do a special little something for us when we obey in some area or do the right thing? I don’t know – I can’t think of a Scripture reference that deals with that exactly in the New Testament. We tend to think, especially when reading the Old Testament, “Be good and God will bless me, mess up and He will come after me hard.” But even there Job experienced great calamity even though he was doing everything right, and the wicked seem to prosper even when they are not obedient. Ultimately everything that God allows comes from His wisdom, love, and grace. But I have felt at times, especially in my very early days as a Christian, that some blessing or answer to prayer came just after taking an important step in the right direction, not as a reward or as God patting me on the head for doing right, but just as a little encouragement from a Father to His child. Don’t we do the same for our children? When we see them struggle in an area and do the right thing, don’t we give them some kind of encouragement, even if it is just a smile or a nod or a thumbs up or a “Well done”? Of course, we need to do right even if no one seems to notice or care or no “blessing” comes in response. I don’t think this nullifies the fact that it all comes from God’s grace because we can only obey and make right decisions with His grace. (I’ve written earlier that grace does not nullify the need for obedience but rather enables it. See Of grace, law, commandments, rules, and effort and What grace does not mean). God blesses us far beyond our ability to obey as it is, and obedience should be an outgrowth of love and reverence for Him rather than a “work” to “earn” blessing. This is too involved a topic for this post, but I feel sure she isn’t advocating that prayer and obedience are like vending machines where we put in out part and then expect God to do His – not at all.

Since this is a testimony of answered prayer, naturally most of the anecdotes involve those answers. Yet she also shares some times when God didn’t answer, at least not in the way she prayed for. In one instance, years later she could see and was thankful for the fact that He hadn’t granted a particular request, one that would have changed the path of her life away from China. In other instances, like healing that did not come and the deaths of several of her children, she continued to trust even though she couldn’t understand.

I don’t think Rosalind shared any of these answers to prayer with the attitude, “Look at me and my wonderful answers to prayer. Aren’t I special?”  I think she would have been horrified that anyone would think that. I think rather, she just wanted to show forth His provision and willingness to take care of His dear children’s needs, like the psalmists, whose testimony was, “Hear what great things the Lord has done and how He delivered me.” Every Christian walking and talking with God would have a record like this whether written or not, though admittedly probably not with situations like being delivered from an angry mob on the list. But like the Ebenezers I mentioned a few weeks ago, we should all be able to look back on those times where God met with us, provided for us, and answered prayer for us in a way that only He could. It’s good to share things like this with our families, so they know God didn’t just meet people’s needs back in Bible times, but He still does today. Such things redound to His praise and encourage us in the Lord when “when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;  for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:5-8).

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For the 31 Days writing challenge, I am sharing 31 Days of Inspirational Biography. You can find others in the series here.

Reading to Know - Book Club

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Perfect TimeIn Perfect Time by Sarah Sundin is the third in her Wings of the Nightingale series about three friends who were flight nurses during WWII (The first was With Every Letter, the second was On Distant Shores, both linked to my reviews).

They didn’t start out as friends: they had their differences. Kay Jobson was probably the hardest to get to know for the other girls. They were Christians and she was not. She liked to flirt, to have half a dozen boyfriends at a time, was decidedly unchristian, and liked to run around with other girls who felt the same way she did. But circumstances in the previous two books have led to something of a friendship between Kay, Mellie, and Georgie.

Someone in the book called Kay a floozy, and honestly, that’s what I thought of her in the other books. But I was convicted of being judgmental. She doesn’t get physical with her boyfriends – in fact, that’s one reason she keeps so many, so that none will get too serious. When he does, she drops him. Finding out her back story and mindset was eye-opening. Girls who are flirtatious and even promiscuous are souls Jesus died for with stories and heartaches of their own.

I won’t unfold her story here except to say that part of it involved a father who only preached condemnation and who condemned her about things that weren’t her fault and were beyond her ability to change. Her life now is all about control. Her view of Christians has been shaped by her father.

Guys seem to melt like around her, except for pilot Roger Cooper. He keeps his distance and is known not to date. He has his reasons, noble to him, as we soon discover. He is a Christian anyway, which Kay doesn’t like. But one encounter opens both of their eyes a bit to the other, with a glimpse that there may be more to the other than each had thought.

Roger is a great pilot, courageous, daring, thinking outside the box, but he is not good with details like filling out forms and being on time, and he loves to pull pranks on the other guys. His father told him he would never amount to anything, which becomes kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Both Roger and Kay have to learn that other people’s expectations and misjudgments and even past failures don’t define us. When Kay learns that she is, in fact, redeemable, for the first time she begins to want to be redeemed. They also have to learn that though it is okay to dream, ultimately we have to give our dreams and desires over to God. If He fulfills them, it will be better than anything we could have done. If He redirects them, it will be better than going our own way would have been.

I loved Kay and Roger’s story on several levels. I will forewarn some that this book is perhaps a little more physical than Sarah’s others, but nothing is explicit. One of the characters wrestles with sexual temptation, but that is a common temptation, and I thought Sarah handled it well.

Though characters from the other two books are in this one, I think this one can be enjoyed alone (though I’d encourage you to read the others as well. :) )

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Some years ago a friend mentioned that she had never read anything by C. H. Spurgeon because she thought his writings would be over her head. Her husband, a student in Bible college at the time, assured her that would not be the case, so she began to read some of his books. She was happily surprised to find that he was very readable and down to earth. Her remarks intrigued me because I had felt the same way about Spurgeon. I began to read some of his books and made the same happy discovery myself.*

spurgeonmrsSome years after that I came across a biography of his wife titled Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon by Charles Ray. It is out of print, but used copies are available online, and it looks like the text is online here. Originally published in 1905, the language is very old-fashioned to modern ears, but it is easily readable and gives a sweet picture of a godly lady well suited to her husband as well as glimpses of their home life.

Susannah wasn’t impressed by Spurgeon at first, though. She had believed on the Lord Jesus Christ but was in a state of coldness and indifference when she first heard him speak as a guest at her church. She had heard good things about him, but she was shocked at his youth and “countrified” manner. She wrote later:

“Ah! how little I then thought that my eyes looked on him who was to be my life’s beloved; how little I dreamed of the honor God was preparing for me in the near future! It is a mercy that our lives are not left for us to plan, but that our Father chooses for us; else might we sometimes turn away from our best blessings, and put from us the choicest and loveliest gifts of His providence. For, if the whole truth be told, I was not at all fascinated by the young orator’s eloquence, while his countrified manner and speech excited more regret than reverence. Alas, for my vain and foolish heart! I was not spiritually-minded enough to understand his earnest presentation of the Gospel and his powerful pleading with sinners; – but the huge, black satin stock, the long badly-trimmed hair, and the blue pocket handkerchief with white spots which he himself has so graphically described, – these attracted most of my attention and I fear awakened some feelings of amusement.”

He was called to be her pastor, and she kept going to hear him. Eventually she changed her mind not only about him, but about the spiritual state of her own heart.

Not many months later they were with a large group of friends watching the opening of the Crystal Palace, he pointed out a passage in a book he was reading and asked her what she thought. The title of the passage was “On Marriage,” and the quote:

“‘Seek a good wife of thy God, for she is the best gift of His providence; Yet ask not in bold confidence that which He hath not promised: Thou knowest not His good will; be thy prayer then submissive thereunto; And leave thy petition to His mercy assured that He will deal well with thee. If thou art to have a wife of thy youth, she is now living on the earth; Therefore think of her and pray for her well!’

“‘Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?’ said a soft, low voice in my ear, – so soft that no one else heard the whisper. I do not remember that the question received any vocal answer; but my fast-beating heart, which sent a tell-tale flush to my cheeks, and my downcast eyes, which feared to reveal the light which at once dawned in them, may have spoken a language which love understood. From that moment a very quiet and subdued little maiden sat by the young Pastor’s side, and while the brilliant procession passed round the Palace, I do not think she took so much note of the glittering pageant defiling before her, as of the crowd of newly-awakened emotions which were palpitating within her heart.”

She did have to learn how to share her husband with an adoring public and how to encourage him when public sentiment turned against him, how to respond well when he was sometimes distracted or busy with sermon preparations and other duties.

They had twin sons, Charles and Thomas. Susannah never regained her strength and at times was pretty much an invalid, unable to go with Spurgeon to his speaking engagements. In one sweet testimony of one of her sons, he said,

“I trace my early conversion directly to her earnest pleading and bright example. She … taught me to sing, but to mean it first, – ‘I do believe, I will believe, That Jesus died for me; That, on the cross, He shed His blood From sin to set me free.’ My dear brother was brought to Christ through the pointed word of a missionary; but he, too, gladly owns that mother’s influence and teaching had their part in the matter. By these, the soil was made ready for a later sowing.”

One of her major ministries was a book fund for preachers. It came about this way:

Incredible as it may seem, the state of things revealed when the Book Fund was started was so bad that many ministers had been unable to buy a new book for ten years. “Does anybody wonder if preachers are sometimes dull?” was C. H. Spurgeon’s comment on this fact. Like most other important works, the Book Fund grew from a very simple beginning, and there was no idea at the first of the wonderful way in which the movement would develop. In the summer of 1875 Mr. Spurgeon completed the first volume of his “Lectures to my Students,” and, having given a proof copy to his wife, asked her what she thought of the book. “I wish I could place it in the hands of every minister in England,” was the reply, and the preacher at once rejoined, “Then why not do so: how much will you give?” This was driving the nail home with a vengeance. Mrs. Spurgeon was not prepared for such a challenge, but she began to wonder if she could not spare the money from her housekeeping or personal account. It would necessitate pressure somewhere, she knew, for money was not plentiful just then. Suddenly a flash of memory made the whole way clear. “Upstairs in a little drawer were some carefully hoarded crown pieces, which, owing to some foolish fancy, I had been gathering for years whenever chance threw one in my way; these I now counted out and found they made a sum exactly sufficient to pay for one hundred copies of the work. If a twinge of regret at parting from my cherished but unwieldy favorites passed over me, it was gone in an instant, and then they were given freely and thankfully to the Lord, and in that moment, though I knew it not, the Book Fund was inaugurated.

In the next edition of his publication of The Sword and the Trowel, Spurgeon mentioned the need, and people began to send in both donations and used books (the latter not always of use to preachers, though, like French Grammar and Exercises).

She was also a skilled writer and wrote a variety of things in her later years, including a biography of her husband.

One delight in this book are the many excerpts of letters between the Spurgeons. Here are a few:

“God bless you,” wrote the husband on one occasion [when he had to travel for rest}, “and help you to bear my absence. Better that I should be away well, than at home suffering – better to your loving heart, I know. Do not fancy, even for a moment, that absence could make our hearts colder to each other; our attachment is now a perfect union, indissoluble for ever. My sense of your value and experience of your goodness are now united to the deep passion of love which was there at the first alone. Every year casts out another anchor to hold me even more firmly to you, though none was needed even from the first. May my own Lord, whose chastening hand has necessitated this absence, give you a secret inward recompense in soul and also another recompense in the healing of the body! All my heart remains; in your keeping.”

“I had two such precious letters from you this morning, worth to me far more than all the gems of ancient or modern art. The material of which they, are composed is their main value, though there is also no mean skill revealed in its manipulation. They are pure as alabaster, far more precious than porphyry or verd antique; no mention shall be made of malachite or onyx, for love, surpasses them all.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon looked upon the writing of these letters as more than a loving duty to, his wife. Knowing how pressed he was with other correspondence that had to be attended to, and with literary work, she often used to urge him to write less often to her, so as to get more rest for himself, but this he would not hear of, and except when taking a long railway journey, he used to write a letter to his wife every day that he was absent from her. “Every word I write,” he says in one note, “is a pleasure to me, as much as ever it can be to you; it is only a lot of odds and ends I send you, but I put them down as they come, so that you may see it costs me no labor, but is just a happy scribble. Don’t fret because I write you so many letters; it is such a pleasure to tell out my joy.”

At another time, when sending some pen and ink sketches which he had made of the women’s head-dresses in Italy, he writes, “Now, sweetheart, may these trifles amuse you; I count it a holy work to draw them, if they cause you but one happy smile.”

This note seems to sum up his estimation of her value to him.

“None know how grateful I am to God for you. In all I have ever done for Him you have a large share, for in making me so happy you have fitted me for service. Not an ounce of power has ever been lost to the good cause through you. I have served the Lord far more and never less for your sweet companionship”

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For the 31 Days writing challenge, I am sharing 31 Days of Inspirational Biography. You can find others in the series here.

* Though I have benefited very much from reading Spurgeon, I am not a Calvinist, so would differ from him on some of those points.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

SomewhereSafeJan Karon had thought that she had finished up the Mitford books, but her fans desire for more encouraged her to write another book about Father Tim in Mitford (according to this article, which also includes an excerpt from the first chapter.) Thankfully she indulged her fans, and her newest book is Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good, just released last month.

The last two novels are called Father Tim novels rather than Mitford books because in one he took an interim pulpit for a time somewhere else, and in the other he and his wife were in Ireland. A few of the Mitford folks were here and there, and the books were good – just not the same as the Mitford-based ones. This book is set squarely in  Mitford, however. And though visiting in Mitford is cozy, that doesn’t mean everything goes smoothly and perfectly. Different characters have serious situations to wrestle with.

Father Tim and Cynthia are just back from Ireland, and he feels a restlessness. He’s not sure what to do with himself in retirement. He has little odds and ends things to keep busy, even things that useful to others, but it is just not the same as having an overall purpose and focus that comes with a regular job, or in his case, church. Then, due to tragic circumstances, he is offered what at one time would have seemed like the ideal job. But should he take it? He had to retire due to health reasons. Could he manage the full time load again for a time as an interim, or would it be wiser to step aside?

As he contemplates this dilemma, he is also waylaid by another. Sammie, Dooley’s younger brother, was found in an earlier book and moved into Mitford, and though he could pass for Dooley in looks, his attitude and demeanor are quite different. He is out of control, out of temper, destructive, and about to be kicked out by his landlady. Nothing anyone does seems to get through to him. Of all of Dooley’s dysfunctional birth family, Sammie in some ways had the worst situation in living with his alcoholic father. Father Tim knows he can’t deal with him like he did  Dooley, but it’s hard to know just how to deal with him.

Meanwhile Hope Murphy, manager of the Happy Endings bookstore, is in danger of losing her unborn baby and even her business due to the need to be on bedrest. Father Tim and a couple of others offer to keep her shop open for a couple of days a week.

There are other subplots – aging Esther Cunningham, former mayor, thinks about throwing her hat in the ring again, a new eatery opens in town, an Internet romance blooms, someone discovers and unknown relative, and Coot Hendricks, who has always been a background character before, has a particularly sad and sweet storyline.

I think one challenge an author like Karon might have would be how to keep the Mitford books similar enough so they have that same familiarity to them, yet different enough so that they’re not just remixes of the same thing. I think she does that skilfully. This book was like a visit back home with a stop to see all the loved ones and neighbors, but there were enough differences to add more interest. For instance, Fancy Skinner, the motormouth hairdresser in hot pink, (never one of my favorite characters) in several of the books subjected Father Tim to an inevitable long harangue while she cut his hair and he couldn’t get a word in edgewise. In later books Karon has managed to include her and show her personality without having the same scene repeated every time.  Similarly, Mule Skinner never knows what he wants to order at restaurants, and the scenes with him are familiar enough to think, “Yep, that’s ol’ Mule,” but different enough that they don’t get boring.

Then, too, there are signs that everything is not quite the same, just like in real life. Different characters feel the effects of aging, one passes on, some have serious changes to deal with. I loved how Karon showed, without stating it, that Esther is really not up to running for mayor again and demonstrates how that “take charge” personality can manifest itself when one gets older.

As always in Karon’s books, there is an underpinning of faith naturally and seamlessly woven in.

Some of my favorite moments from this book:

When a young, bookish boy in the book store asks Father Tim about a book by Wordsworth (Father Tim’s favorite author), “He turned away for a moment, smacked by the beauty of complete surprise” (p. 197).

“Since retiring, he hadn’t been able to find the groove worn by all those years of priesting. Getting up at five had remained routine, as had Morning Prayer, but from there, routine staggered off the cliff around 7:30 a.m. and perished on the rocks below. He had missed being in a groove” (p. 217).

“Books! Man’s best friend. Next to the dog, of course” (p. 217).

“‘You love him. I can see it’
‘More than anything.’
That alone should be enough, he thought, but of course it never is. Courage has to come in there somewhere, and perseverance and forbearance and patience and all the rest. A job of work, as Uncle Billy would say, but worth it and then some” (p. 337).

And a quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “The happiness of life is made up of minute fractions – the little soon forgotten charities of a kiss or smile, a kind look, a heartfelt compliment, and the countless infinitesimals of pleasurable and genial feelings” (p. 440).

I loved catching up with the folks back in Mitford. I don’t know if Jan Karon is planning any more books. There was a distinct “wrapped up” (except for one storyline that I felt was left hanging, but I guess enough was said to give us an indication that everything would be all right) and refocused feeling at the end. But who knows? Maybe if her fans keep clamoring for more, she’ll keep indulging us.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

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