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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.

A few years ago I reviewed In Trouble and In Joy by Sharon James, which features four different women of God: Margaret Baxter, Sarah Edwards, Anne Steele, and Frances Ridley Havergal. Of Margaret Baxter I wrote:

Margaret Baxter was a rebellious, glamorous, well-to-do teen-ager who became a Christian under the preaching of her Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter. Though he was twice her age, Margaret fell in love with him, and in time her feelings were reciprocated, and they married. The union was a step down for Margaret socially and financially (Richard took care to arrange their finances in such a way that he did not have access to her money so it would not be thought he married her for her money), but  she had found her purpose in life and blossomed. This was a time when “Non-conformists” were persecuted, and when Richard was imprisoned for a while, Margaret voluntarily joined him. Both were, like all the rest of us, very human. Margaret was known for being generous, cheerful (Mrs. James notes, “It is simply not true that the Puritans went around looking miserable. Indeed, Richard Baxter wrote, “Keep company with the more cheerful sort of the godly; there is no mirth like the mirth of believers” [p. 49]), industrious, competent, capable, patient, supportive — and anxious, fearful, perfectionist, and over-zealous. Yet she was aware of and grieved by her faults, and it was her desire to live a holy life for God.

In the July/August 2002 issue of Frontline Magazine is an article by my former pastor, Dr. Mark Minnick, titled “’Dear Companion’ — A Husband’s Loving Tribute” about Richard Baxter’s now out-of-print book about his wife, A Breviate of the Life of Margaret, which appears to be online here. Richard Baxter was perhaps one of the better known Puritan preachers and writers. The Baxters lived in the 1600s. He was 47 and she was 26 when they married. One of their earliest marital adjustments was that he thought “so much ado about cleanliness and trifles” and keeping “stairs and rooms…as clean as dishes” was a “sinful eccentricity.” He did change his mind, however, and “left [such things] to her discretion.”

He writes of her “utter selflessness,” her charitable acts, her cheerfulness in hard times, her desire for the conversion of others, and many other aspects of her life. But the one thing I want to focus on in this short space is her fears. She was naturally “of too timorous and tender a nature,” and Baxter writes that her “diseased fearfulness” was “the great infirmity which tyrannized over her…against which she had little…free will or power.” “’Anything that had suddenness, noise, or fierceness in it’ upset her.” Dr. Minnick remarks that there may have been very good reason Margaret was this way: “Nearly her entire life was shot through with calamity. Her home had been stormed by soldiers when she was just a girl…plundered…and set on fire, [they] killed some of the household, and then stripped the very clothing from those they spared.“ She had nearly died from one illness; “there had been fires near her lodgings, the near collapse of the floor of an upper gallery…while Baxter was preaching” once; her mother’s death, her husband’s illnesses, dreams of “fires and murders.”

“For our encouragement and learning, this natural timidity displays that Margaret’s fearlessness before persecution was not simply the courage of a bold spirit. It was, Baxter wrote, ‘an evidence of the power of grace that so timorous a person…was more fearless of persecution, imprisonment, or losses and poverty thereby, than I or any that I remember to have known’” (emphases mine). She was a woman “of like passions” as we are, yet God’s grace strengthened her and caused her to triumph.

“Her husband’s troubles, care of the poor, and conscientious life all cost [her] dearly… Baxter reflected that perhaps her conscientious intensity contributed to her untimely death [after just nineteen years of marriage]. ‘She set her head and heart so intensely upon doing good that her head and heart would hardly bear it. Her knife was too keen,’ he observed, ‘and cut the sheath.’”

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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.

Every missionary has to have dedication and has to be willing to make sacrifices, even in our day. But the amount of dedication and sacrifice and willingness to step into the unknown displayed by Adoniram and his wife and the small group who stepped out with them just amazes me. His wife, Ann Hassletine (also called Nancy) is one of the bravest women I have ever read of, going into the great unknown as she did and facing all that she did in later years. The letter Adoniram wrote to ask her father for her hand in marriage in July of 1810 is an atypical proposal, but frank:

I have not to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next Spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls, for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God?

He was not being melodramatic: he was being realistic. It says a lot about Nancy that she accepted such a proposal, especially as it was written only a month after they had met. It took her two months to respond.

Adoniram and Ann were among the first missionaries that we know of that America sent out. I wrote about Adoniram’s biography, To the Golden Shore, last year, but this time I want to focus on Ann.

Ann had come to saving faith in Christ as a teenager, and since that time had developed a strong sense of reverence and dedication to God and a desire to be useful in His service. She would not have taken such an offer as Adoniram’s lightly. She consented and married him more than a year later.

Theirs is one of the most fascinating and, in many ways, heartbreaking stories in Christendom. They sailed for India with a few others. They left as Congregationalists, but during their months at sea their study of baptism in Scripture led them to become Baptists. This step of what they felt was obedience was also a step of faith, as it meant they would no longer be supported by the Congregationalists. Whatever your feelings about modes of baptism and denominations, it says a lot about their character that they would follow through with what they believed to be right as a matter of conscience even though it would cost them in many ways.

Through a variety of circumstances too long to tell here, they ended up in Burma (now known as Myanmar) rather than India. During they voyage Ann had delivered a baby which died and was buried at sea. They labored for six years without a convert and worked on translating the Bible into the native language. Within a year after that first convert, they had baptized 18 Christians. Ann opened a school for women and children. Another son was born and died.

Adoniram was imprisoned for a year and a half due to circumstances too long and detailed to go into here, but involved the Burmese misunderstanding of Adoniram’s banking situation, and they thought they money he was receiving for support from the British, with whom they were at war, meant he was a spy. Ann faithfully visited, bribed the guard so she could see Adoniram, brought him food and encouragement, smuggled his Bible translation work to him a hard pillow, repeatedly appealed for his release, and did what she could to relieve the suffering of the other prisoners as well. When Adoniram and other prisoners were forced to walk barefoot 8 miles to another prison, Ann took her baby daughter and followed. She wrote to her brother around this time, “But the consolation of religion, in these trying circumstances, were neither ‘ few nor small!’ It taught me to look beyond this world, to that rest, . . . where Jesus reigns and oppression never enters.” She fell severely ill with smallpox and spotted fever, and Adoniram was able to nurse her back to health when he got out, though she remained weak. Some time later she contracted another fever she could not fight off. She died at the age of 36, and her baby daughter died soon after.

She had wanted to be  “useful,” and God certainly did use her throughout her life and since. After her death God worked through a book she had written about the early mission work in Burma to inspire interest in missions. He works through her biographies today to encourage us to a closer walk with God and closer dedication to Him. To the Golden Shore naturally has much about her as well as Adoniram, and My Heart In His Hands: Ann Judson of Burma by Sharon James tells Ann’s life story primarily through her journals and letters. Unfortunately it is not in print, but used copies can be found for just a few dollars (somebody needs to work on getting some of these books on Kindle!) Some years ago I read The Three Mrs. Judsons by Cecil Hartley, but I don’t remember much about it. It is available online here. In looking for that one I came across Lives of the Three Mrs. Judsons by Arabella Stuart that is free for the Kindle: I haven’t read it but just ordered it. It is also available online here.

The title from Sharon’s book comes from a journal entry of Ann’s after she accepted Mr. Judson’s proposal:

If nothing in providence appears to prevent, I must spend my days in a heathen land. I am a creature of God, and he has an undoubted right to do with me, as seems good in his sight… He has my heart in his hands, and when I am called to face danger, to pass through scenes of terror and distress, he can inspire me with fortitude, and enable me to trust in him. Jesus is faithful; his promises are precious. Were it not for these considerations, I should sink down with despair…But whether I send my days in India or America, I desire to spend them in the service of God, and be prepared to spend an eternity in his presence. O Jesus, make me to live to thee, and I desire no more.

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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.

 

The preface of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand tells of three men in a raft in the Pacific Ocean. Their plane had crashed, the rest of the crew was dead, they’d been on the raft for 27 days. Finally they rejoiced to hear a plane. They shot flares into the sky and put dye in the water to make their raft more visible. But then the plane started shooting at them: it was Japanese, not American. One of the men jumped into the water, but the sharks came toward him…

And then the author cuts away to the childhood of Louis Zamperini, one of the men in the boat. He had been on the fast track to becoming a juvenile delinquent until his brother intervened for him with the high school principal who had banned Louis from participating in sports as a punishment. The principal relented and allowed Louis to run track, where Louis found focus and purpose.

Louis did so well, in fact, that he ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and was expected to be the first man to break the four-minute mile. His dream of the 1940 Olympics was shattered when they were cancelled due to WWII.

Louis joined the Army Air Force and became a second lieutenant and a bombardier. On one harrowing mission, his plane was ravaged by over 500 bullet holes, yet made it safely back to base.

But on one May day in 1943, their plane crashed into the Pacific, killing the other eight crewman. Louis and the other two survivors stayed afloat for 27 days until the event described in the preface occurred.

I had thought that would be the climax of the story, but it was just the beginning of Louis’s troubles. The crew was eventually captured by the Japanese and taken to a place off the grid from the other POW camps. It was not registered with the Red Cross, no one knew about it, the men were given up for dead, and ultimately the Japanese could do what they wanted with the prisoners with no fear of consequences.

When we think of WWII we often think of the atrocities of the Nazis, but the Japanese were uncommonly cruel. Hillenbrand explains that their concept of “saving face” makes surrender the ultimate humiliation, and the soldiers’ surrender to them gave them license, they felt, to degrade them in any way that came to mind.

At several points in Louis’s story, I thought, “How much more can one man endure?” He must have wondered the same thing at times.

Even after he returned home, his troubles did not end as he was afflicted with post-traumatic stress syndrome, severe nightmares, and succumbed to alcoholism.

But the subtitle to Unbroken is “A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.” Louis’s survival, resilience, and redemption make for an exceptionally touching and inspiring book.

The story is told primarily through narrative, with very little dialogue, but it is captivating. I listened to it via audiobook, and Edward Herrman did an excellent job narrating.

There are those who would want to be forewarned that there is a smattering of bad language in it, understandable in the context, including one particularity vulgar word that could have been left out. But other than that, this is an excellent book.

A movie is being made of Louis’s life, and I hope they won’t leave out the faith element. After Louis got back to the USA, his troubles weren’t over, but God used them to lead him to Himself.

(Reposted from the archives)

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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.

 

I saw this on the Corrie Ten Boom Facebook page.

Corrie Ten Boom

I have not read the book mentioned, but I have read The Hiding Place by Corrie and have an audiobook copy to listen to sometimes. It is amazing and convicting the grace God gave Corrie and her sister for all that He had them go through.

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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.

 

Evidence Not SeenLast year I wrote about Darlene Deibler Rose’s testimony in the book Evidence Not Seen of being a missionary in the Philippines and then imprisoned as a POW during WWII. This is one of my all-time favorite biographies. This year I wanted to share just this one excerpt. The following takes place after Darlene has been incarcerated by the Japanese for some time:

 I knew that without God, without that consciousness of His Presence in every troubled hour, I could never have made it…Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, I felt enveloped in a spiritual vacuum. “Lord, where have You gone? What have I said or done to grieve You? Why have You withdrawn Your Presence from me? Oh Father—” In a panic I jumped to my feet, my heart frantically searching for a hidden sin, for a careless thought, for any reason why my Lord should have withdrawn His Presence from me. My prayers, my expressions of worship, seemed to go no higher than the ceiling; there seemed to be no sounding board. I prayed for forgiveness, for the Holy Spirit to search my heart. To none of my petitions was there any apparent response.

 I sank to the floor and quietly and purposefully began to search the Scriptures hidden in my heart…

 “Lord, I believe all that the Bible says. I do walk by faith and not by sight. I do not need to feel You near, because Your Word says You will never leave me nor forsake me. Lord, I confirm my faith; I believe.” The words of Hebrews 11:1 welled up, unbeckoned, to fill my mind: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The evidence of things not seen. Evidence not seen — that was what I put my trust in — not in feelings or moments of ecstasy, but in the unchanging Person of Jesus Christ. Suddenly I realized that I was singing:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

 I was assured that my faith rested not on feelings, not on moments of ecstasy, but on the Person of my matchless, changeless Savior, in Whom is no shadow caused by turning. In a measure I felt I understood what Job meant when he declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (13:35). Job knew that he could trust God, because Job knew the character of the One in Whom he had put his trust. It was faith stripped of feelings, faith without trappings. More than ever before, I knew that I could ever and always put my trust, my faith, in my glorious Lord. I encouraged myself in the Lord and 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.

Somehow this last week has flown. Here are some of my favorite parts of it:

1. Blue skies after rainy days. It has been a fairly wet week here, and overcast even when it wasn’t raining some days. One day when I was washing my hands at the sink and looking at a bright, blue, clear sky outside the window, I just stood for a moment soaking it in and appreciating it – probably more so for not having seen it in a while.

2. Cooler weather. The temperatures have been just right for me this week – cool but not much as to need a sweater or jacket.

3. A fun family night. Jason and Mittu came over and brought meatball subs and pumpkin pie, and Jesse’s girlfriend came over as well. We enjoyed watching a movie and then watching little Timothy. :) At one point we got out an old ragged frog puppet that Jim used to use with the kids – I don’t even know what brought it to mind. But Jim started using it to talk to Timothy, and he was laughing so much that all the rest of us were almost going into hysterics watching. So fun.

4. Organizing loose ribbons and trim in the craft room. They were just loose in a drawer.

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I think I saw this idea for wrapping them around 5 x 2 pieces of foam board on Pinterest.

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It’s nice to be able to tell at a glance what I have.

5. Getting a mammogram and bone density test over with, both with good results. Our doctor’s health care system has a “patient portal” that patients can enroll in online, and results of tests and labs are often there within a day, and with more detail than just “everything’s fine.” It’s nice to get that done and not have to think about it again for a while.

And finally, I just had to share this with you. My son posted it with the caption “The resemblance is uncanny.”

Beard hat

Happy Friday!

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