Laudable Linkage

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Here are recent reads that have captivated my attention:

Love Like Birch Trees.

How to Sit at the Table With Those Who Hurt and Offend You, HT to Linda. “Extending love to someone who offended you does not mean you’re accepting such treatment – it means you realize you cannot thrive in a place of anger and resentment.”

What to Say Instead of “I Know How You Feel” to Someone Who Is Struggling, HT to Linda. Sharing our similar experience in an effort to let someone know they’re not alone often just draws attention to ourselves and makes the other person feel unheard. This gives a helpful distinctive.

When Our Heroes Don’t Live Up to Their Theology, HT to Challies. How do we think about spiritual giants who were blind to the wrongness of slavery.

Helping Your Daughter by Being Her Emotional Coach, HT to Story Warren.

You Can’t Have Ethics Without Stories, HT to Story Warren.. “We often forget what the Bible actually is. If not a dictionary or an encyclopedia, what is it? The Bible is, among other things, he writes, ‘a faith-forming narrative.’”

Why Children’s Books Should be a Little Sad, HT to Story Warren.

How DNA Testing Botched My Family’s Heritage, and Probably Yours, too, HT to Challies.

And finally, this dog has a dedicated owner:

Happy Saturday!

(Links do not imply complete endorsement of sites or authors.)

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Friday’s Fave Five


It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends
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I’m late with FFF today. I had some errands to run this morning, so I didn’t have time for a post, but I was thinking of not posting today anyway. It hasn’t been a bad week, generally, but I could only come up with 2-3 things to mention. And…I confess I was out of sorts from two nights in a row of waking up during the night and then not being able to get back to sleep for two hours. But one thing I appreciate about this exercise is that, if you stop and think for a bit, there are always things to be thankful for. So here’s an abbreviated FFF for the past week:

1. Sunshine. We’ve had some bitter cold, but at least the sun has been shining more than last week, when we had several overcast days in a row. That makes such a difference to my general outlook on life.

2. Warmth. I know I have mentioned this before, but it’s still been so cold that I have really appreciated a snug house that keeps us toasty.

3. Help. We had a bit of snow this week, and since we don’t have it enough for TN to justify buying all kinds of equipment to deal with it, a lot of people don’t make it in to work. The main roads were fine, but neighborhoods and subdivisions were still icy. The helper we have for my mother-in-law doesn’t live far from us, but her neighborhood is on a hill that’s hard to maneuver when it’s icy. I thought she wouldn’t be in on Tuesday, but she was only a couple of hours late.

4. A new CD, Great Things He Hath Done by Sacred Music Services.

5. A Timothy funny. My son, d-i-l, and grandson Timothy (3 1/2) were attending a church potluck, and they told Timothy he needed to stand in line. He took them literally. 🙂

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Happy Friday!

Book Review: The Man Who Was Thursday

ThursdayIn The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton, Gabriel Syme and Lucian Gregory both profess to be poets, but they argue publicly about the nature of poetry and anarchy, Gregory leaning toward anarchy and Syme a “poet of law, a poet of order; nay, … a poet of respectability.” Privately Gregory confesses that he really is an anarchist, and to prove it, he wants to take Syme to a meeting of a council of anarchists. Seven men make up the council, each with a code name of a day of the week, led by Sunday. Thursday has just died and Gregory feels sure he will be elected to fill his place. He swears Syme to secrecy.

After further discussion and the codes necessary to get into the meeting, Syme asks Gregory in turn to swear not to tell a secret of his own. After Gregory agrees, Syme confesses that he is a detective with Scotland Yard.

Don’t you see we’ve checkmated each other? I can’t tell the police you are an anarchist. You can’t tell the anarchists I’m a policeman. I can only watch you, knowing what you are; you can only watch me, knowing what I am. In short, it’s a lonely, intellectual duel, my head against yours. I’m a policeman deprived of the help of the police. You, my poor fellow, are an anarchist deprived of the help of that law and organisation which is so essential to anarchy.

As Gregory makes his speech at the meeting, he fears saying anything that Syme can use against the organization, so he comes across as very tame. Syme stands up with rousing words that get the meeting behind him, and he is elected as Thursday.

Undercover, he meets with the council to determine their plans so he can thwart them. But when one of the council, an old, frail man, follows him after the meeting, Syme tries several tricks to evade him, only to find him continually following. When they finally confront each other, Syme is stunned to learn that this man is also an undercover detective. And that’s just the first step in his discovering that all is not as it appears.

My thoughts:

This book is quite suspenseful all the way through, and the latter part becomes allegorical. I had not known that going in: before choosing this book, as I tried to read enough about it to know whether I’d be interested, but not so much as to spoil it, I had missed this aspect. I’m struggling with that same line between revealing too much yet wanting to share more in reviewing it.

It gets pretty weird at the end, and I wasn’t sure what the allegory meant. As I sought some more insight this morning, I came across part of an article by Chesterton in which he lamented, “I have sometimes had occasion to murmur meekly that those who endure the heavy labour of reading a book might possibly endure that of reading the title-page of a book.”

It is odd that one example occurred in my own case… in a book called The Man Who Was Thursday. It was a very melodramatic sort of moonshine, but it had a kind of notion in it; and the point is that it described, first a band of the last champions of order fighting against what appeared to be a world of anarchy, and then the discovery that the mysterious master both of the anarchy and the order was the same sort of elemental elf who had appeared to be rather too like a pantomime ogre. This line of logic, or lunacy, led many to infer that this equivocal being was meant for a serious description of the Deity; and my work even enjoyed a temporary respect among those who like the Deity to be so described. But this error was entirely due to the fact that they had read the book but had not read the title page. In my case, it is true, it was a question of a subtitle rather than a title. The book was called The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was, even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.

So realizing that it’s an allegory and being reminded that it was a nightmare helped me comes to terms with thinking I was reading a crime drama only to encounter the increasing weirdness near the end. It is a crime drama, but it’s also fantasy and philosophy.

But realizing it is an allegory also opens more questions as to what it all means. The biggest question most people have, according to my reading, is just who exactly is Sunday and what does he represent? Even the characters “see” him in different ways.

“I suppose you are right,” said the Professor reflectively. “I suppose we might find it out from him; but I confess that I should feel a bit afraid of asking Sunday who he really is.”

“Why,” asked the Secretary, “for fear of bombs?”

“No,” said the Professor, “for fear he might tell me.”

My usual go-to sources for analysis of the classics, Schmoop and SparkNotes, don’t include this book, but this article says it’s meant to be a riddle, like Job, in that everything is not explained, but we’re assured God is in control, and this article asserts that it “revolves around two of the deepest of all theological mysteries: the freedom of the will and the existence of massive, irrational evil.” The latter also suggests a plausible identity for Sunday.

This was my first time reading Chesterton beyond an occasional witty quote, and his wit shines here, as in the irony of “law and organisation which is so essential to anarchy.” A few more examples:

If you didn’t seem to be hiding, nobody hunted you out.
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His soul swayed in a vertigo of moral indecision.
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“It cannot be as bad as you say,” said the Professor, somewhat shaken. “There are a good number of them certainly, but they may easily be ordinary tourists.”

“Do ordinary tourists,” asked Bull, with the fieldglasses to his eyes, “wear black masks half-way down the face?”
___
“My God!” said the Colonel, “someone has shot at us.”

“It need not interrupt conversation,” said the gloomy Ratcliffe. “Pray resume your remarks, Colonel. You were talking, I think, about the plain people of a peaceable French town.”

And the more philosophical:

This is a vast philosophic movement, consisting of an outer and an inner ring. You might even call the outer ring the laity and the inner ring the priesthood. I prefer to call the outer ring the innocent section, the inner ring the supremely guilty section.
___

But right up against these dreary colours rose the black bulk of the cathedral; and upon the top of the cathedral was a random splash and great stain of snow, still clinging as to an Alpine peak. It had fallen accidentally, but just so fallen as to half drape the dome from its very topmost point, and to pick out in perfect silver the great orb and the cross. When Syme saw it he suddenly straightened himself, and made with his sword-stick an involuntary salute.

He knew that that evil figure, his shadow, was creeping quickly or slowly behind him, and he did not care.

It seemed a symbol of human faith and valour that while the skies were darkening that high place of the earth was bright. The devils might have captured heaven, but they had not yet captured the cross.
___
Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—

The second article I referred to has an interesting section on our only seeing “the back side” of things, tying it in with Moses seeing the “back” of God in Exodus 33:17-23.

I’m sorely tempted to go back and reread it now with the understanding of its allegorical nature and some of these insights. But I think I’ll wait. I saw reference in some of my research to an annotated edition which might be helpful. Meanwhile, I am glad to have read it and thankful to the Back to the Classics challenge for steering me towards books I might not otherwise have picked up. I found this book quite funny in places, especially in some of the dialogue, suspenseful throughout, and ultimately seriously thought-provoking. It’s a sign of a good book when it has you pondering it long after closing it.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Winter

I had to smile at this tweet from Jen Wilkin, because I feel the same way.

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Then I just read this morning that the third Monday in January is said by some to be the most depressing day of the year, due to debt from Christmas spending hitting, having already failed at our New Year’s resolution, less daylight, more cold, etc. On the other hand, one article called that pseudoscience and another said it was made up by a travel agent trying to drum up bookings to vacation climes. I wouldn’t doubt it. 🙂

Winter is not my favorite season, and a few years ago I wrote Help For the Winter Blues, ideas of other things to focus on or do, quotes, poems, etc. Last year I reflected on Finding Beauty in Bleakness – that’s one aspect of winter I have the most trouble with, and it helped to reflect that God has purposes for even that.

So I won’t rewrite those this year, but I’ll share some other day-brightening thoughts found recently for coping with winter.

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Doesn’t that just fit?!

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I don’t know if that works, but I sure wish I had some bubble solution to try it out!

Winter fun

 

Carroll snow

Winter tree

 

 

Tolkien winter

Fireplace

What do you know?

I recently read about a young woman’s experience running into a beloved Sunday School teacher she’d had as a child. As her heart swelled with fondness and gratitude for this woman’s ministry in her life, she opined that it’s the relationships, not the instruction that matters.

While I rejoiced in the relationship this woman had with her teacher and the way it inspired her to teach her own students, I was saddened that she downplayed the lessons. Religious instruction matters very much. The epistles are replete with warnings about wrong doctrine and correction thereof. Yet relationships are important, too. They help flesh out the truth and get it from the head to the heart.

I’ve heard the acquiring of Biblical knowledge downplayed because “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth,” according to I Corinthians 8:1.  That’s an example of ripping a verse out of its context and not couching it in the overall setting of the whole Bible. Yes, the Bible warns us against becoming proud of our knowledge, but it doesn’t discourage us from gaining knowledge.

Creation reveals knowledge of God’s existence, wisdom and ways. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Psalm 19:1-2.

God was angry with Job’s friends because they had not spoken what was right about Him.

God asked Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

Job was comforted by the truth of knowing that his “Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”

The psalmist asks, ‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Psalm 25:4-5

The psalmist urges people to “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching,” including “the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” – information about Him as a means to knowing Him – and to pass that knowledge down to the next generations.

The first few verses of Proverbs say that Solomon gave them, “to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.” By contrast, later in the chapter it says fools hate knowledge.

Paul prayed for people who had “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:1).

See how many times in 1 Corinthians 6 Paul says, “Do you not know…?”

Paul told Timothy to “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge'” (1 Timothy 6:20).

Peter tells us to supplement our faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, and other qualities.

That’s just a small sampling of passages that talk about knowledge. If we also look at passages that talk about leaching and learning, we see that God places great value on them.

I have also heard the argument that it is more important to know by experience than to just know facts: for instance, it is better to spend time interacting with a person than just learning about them. It’s true that many of those passages about knowledge are referring to this experiential type of knowledge. But isn’t it also true that in getting to know someone you learn facts about them, their likes, dislikes, preferences, etc.? Years ago I saw a comical card for a wife from a husband depicting various domestic scenes. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the gist of it was, “I may not do A, B, and C that you want me to, and I may do D, E, and F that you don’t want me to, but I sure do love you, honey!” But living with an utter disregard for a wife’s preferences is not a manifestation of love. If husbands are to dwell with their wives according to knowledge, how much more should God’s people seek to know what pleases and displeases Him?

God has given us His Word, among other reasons, that we may know Him. We learn about Him that we might think of Him correctly and know how to please Him. Yes, just learning facts about Him is not sufficient and doesn’t take the place of knowing Him. But knowing Him without learning His Word makes for a shallow relationship.

God wants us to love Him with not just our hearts and souls, but our minds, to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, to gird up the loins of our minds.

It’s true that knowledge can “puff up” with pride, but rather than avoiding gaining knowledge, we need to remind ourselves that If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2), and we need to remind ourselves that the purpose of gaining knowledge is to better know the Lord and serve Him and others.

It’s true there are some things that surpass our ability to comprehend, like the love of Christ and the peace of God.

It’s true that if we have all knowledge, but have not love, we are nothing. But that doesn’t mean we abandon knowledge. That verse also says “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” We obviously don’t abandon faith. But we use knowledge and exercise faith in love.

We do have to be careful to keep things in balance and not become like the Pharisees, who were all academic knowledge and no heart and soul. We shouldn’t stop with just learning facts about God or think of knowledge as an end in itself, but we should acquire knowledge of God through His Word in order to learn to know Him better, to get to know Him experientially, and to show love to His people, our spiritual family, in a way that builds them up in truth, and to answer those who would pervert or distort the faith. Like Paul, we pray that our “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9) and that we might “[increase] in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10b).

That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

 

 

Laudable Linkage

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I have a short but good list of thought-provoking reads discovered in the last week or so.

Freak Out Thou Not. This Means You.

On Being a Christian Woman in the Year of Our Lord, 2018, HT to Challies. A lot of good thoughts here, among them: “We must teach the women to act like Christian women, not door busters. We must teach them that the Christian life is not one of getting our way or forcing our plans or barging in––it’s one of dying daily, humble waiting, prayerful dependence, and unseen service where our right hand is ignorant of our left.”

Well-behaved Women Rarely Make History,” HT to True Woman. The article from which this statement was taken out of context actually lauded well-behaved, ordinary women. (On a side note, I have no idea what the author means by “God’s seven eyes” – I have never heard that before.)

Publicly, We Say #MeToo. Privately, We Have Misgivings, HT to Challies. “The fact that such unwelcome advances persist, and often in the office, is, yes, evidence of sexism and the abusive power of the patriarchy. But I don’t believe that scattershot, life-destroying denunciations are the way to upend it. In our current climate, to be accused is to be convicted. Due process is nowhere to be found.”

Logan Paul and Our Embrace of Two Minutes Hate, HT to Challies.

Boring Church Services Changed My Life. “The work of ministry is not so much about finding new, tantalizing ways to make people excited about Jesus, but about the timeless rituals that shape their hearts.”

Three Questions for the New Year. I like this: simple, but effective. Somehow I have never seen the first one on any goal-setting plan, and I am wondering why no one thought of this before?! Someone probably has and I just haven’t come across it til now. But I don’t know why I never thought of it. I do this with planning for a day but for some reason never thought about it when planning for the year.

This is not a new post, but an older one I return to occasionally: The New Year talks about setting goals rather than resolutions and considering all the different aspects of your life.

And a couple of funnies found on Pinterest:

To be fair, the instructions could have been clearer: Show your work, or Write and equation for this problem. But I love this answer from a very literal-minded child. I tend to be like that with math, too – I don’t know how I got it, I just figured it out.

*Eyeroll*

Happy Saturday!

Friday’s Fave Five


It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends
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We’ve been blessed with a break in our cold snap and enjoyed temperatures in the 50s this week. But we’re back to 17 this weekend and more cold next week, so I’ll enjoy the moderation while I can. Meanwhile, here are some other great parts of the last week:

1. Hot oil treatment for hair. I have dry skin anyway, exacerbated by having the heater drying out the air in the winter. My scalp has been a particular problem, and using a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner didn’t help a whole lot. Years ago I used to occasionally use VO5’s Hot Oil Treatment for Hair, so I looked for it again – couldn’t find it in stores, but found it online. That and an occasional application of Scalpicin brought blessed relief.

2. Rearranging books and other tasks. Last fall I got rid of some books in my sewing/craft room, which opened up some space on those shelves. I had books I’d read in the last year or so stacked up sideways in front of the regular books on my bedroom bookshelves, so I took some time one afternoon to rearrange my books. The bookshelves in the family room are pretty well organized, but the ones in the sewing room and bedroom had some of the same categories of books in each, so I got a workout carrying armloads of books back and forth, getting books on the same subject matter together, and finding a place for the newer ones. I even culled a few more to give away. I was extremely satisfied with the results.

During December, some tasks that can wait get pushed lower and lower on the to-do list while the holiday activities are going on. This week it was good to get some of them taken care of, like hand-washing a few items that needed that care, setting up files for some card-making ideas I had printed out and torn out of magazines, etc.

3. Not cooking all weekend. Friday afternoon my son and d-i-l came over and brought take-out from a favorite BBQ place. Then Saturday night, my husband asked if I wanted to get pizza. Well, I am not going to turn down that offer! Then Sunday after church he suggested takeout from McAlister’s Deli. I enjoyed the food as well as the break. Then one warm afternoon this week, my son and d-i-l asked if we could could get out a Christmas gift we’d been holding back for Timothy – an outside riding toy that it had just been too cold to use (he knew there was a big box covered up in the garage but didn’t know it was for him. 🙂 ) They offered to make dinner, so I had one more evening “off.” That came in especially handy that night because I had pulled something the wrong way in my shoulder and had spent much of the day with Tylenol and a heating pad. (The shoulder is still tender but much better, and Timothy loved his new toy!)

4. A running gas fireplace. We hadn’t been able to use ours most of the time we’ve lived here because it emitted a terrible odor. We haven’t really needed it, so it hasn’t been a priority. My husband has tinkered with it sometimes, and recently cleaned it all out thoroughly, but it still smelled too bad to use. Then it occurred to him maybe the smell was coming from a build-up of residue on the fake logs in it, so he pulled those out and started it up – and it ran fine! He found some new logs online, and now we have a working fireplace! Even though we probably still won’t use it much – it gets the family and dining areas toasty, but then the warmth keeps the thermostat from coming on, so the rest of the house gets cold. But it will be especially helpful if we have a power outage and also if we ever need to sell the house.

5. Jesse receiving a grant. Jesse (youngest son) has been pursuing his Bachelor’s degree online for several months now. There was a small snafu that just recently came to light in his filling out his financial paperwork, so he corrected it, and he just received word that he not only received a grant for this semester, but they also gave him the one he should have received last semester as well. He was thinking he would have to obtain a loan to finish, but with these grants, the money he had saved, and a new part-time job, it looks like he will probably be able to finish without taking out a loan, or if he needs one, it won’t be much.

It’s been a week full of blessings large and small, and I am thankful to God.

Happy Friday!

Book Review: Ghost Boy

Ghost BoyMartin Pistorius was a fairly normal boy living a fairly normal childhood in South Africa. But in 1988, at age 12, he came home from school with a sore throat. Over the next few days he lost interest in eating and only wanted to sleep. He ended up in a wheelchair, silent and unresponsive. The doctors explored psychological causes and then ran every physical test they could.

It took about a year for the doctors to confess that they had run out of treatment options. All they could say was that I was suffering from a degenerative neurological disorder, cause and prognosis unknown, and advise my parents to put me into an institution to let my illness run its course. Politely but firmly the medical profession washed its hands of me as my mother and father effectively were told to wait until my death released us all.

But at about age 16, he started “waking up,” or becoming aware, for short periods of time. By age 19, he was fully conscious. But he couldn’t let anyone know. He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t control his limbs. Even when he did begin to regain movement and could lift his head up and down and smile, people didn’t recognize that the movements or expressions were purposeful. So he was trapped in his body for six more years. At times he was frustrated and angry. Other times he used his imagination to escape into fantasy.

I resembled a potted plant: something to be given water and left in a corner.

He lived at home, but spent his days at a care center while both parents worked. One of his caregivers, who used to give him massages to work his stiff muscles, thought he might be more aware than previously thought and arranged to have him assessed.

We come to rest in front of a large sheet of acrylic glass suspended on a metal stand directly in front of me. Red lines criss-cross the screen, dividing it into boxes with small black and white pictures stuck in some of them. These line drawings show simple things—a ball, a running tap, a dog—and Shakila stands on the other side of the screen watching me intently as I stare at them.

“I want you to look at the picture of the ball, Martin,” Shakila says.

And…he did. After a series of tests, both to test his responses and different kinds of communication devices, Martin was equipped with pictures of symbols he could stare at in answer to questions and eventually outfitted with a computer which gave him a “voice.” Learning to communicate was a long, painstaking process, but it was worth it.

“If someone does not expect or is not expected to achieve, then they never will.” (Dr. Diane Bryen)

Eventually he regained more motor control, went to classes, held down several jobs, and even married! He wrote Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped in His Own Body to share his story.

One of the hardest adjustments for him was making decisions. He could remember nothing from before his illness, and life had been structured around him for so long, he didn’t know how to make decisions at first. He was glad to be able to let people know his food was too hot or cold, he was thirsty, he’d like salt, etc. But even years later, when his girlfriend too him to buy some shoes, he was overwhelmed. He had only ever had the same kind that someone else had bought him, and there were so many choices, as well as the overstimulating atmosphere of so many people and loud music, that he broke down.

Some people caring for him were excellent. Some were thoughtless or just doing a job without care for the person inside the unresponsive body. “Do they really think that a limited intellect means a child can’t feel viciousness in a person’s touch or hear anger in the tone of their voice?” Something else that came to light after Martin began to express himself more extensively was that he had been horribly abused, especially in a longer term care facility that he had been placed in if his parents went on overnight or longer trips. He had been called names, slapped, pinched, handled roughly (thrown into a chair so hard he fell face first), neglected, and sexually abused.

He had a faith that sustained him:

The only person who knew there was a boy within the useless shell was God, and I had no idea why I felt His presence so strongly. I wasn’t exposed to the rituals and traditions of worshiping Him at church and knew that I hadn’t been before my illness because my family, although they believed in God, didn’t attend. Yet somehow I instinctively knew that He was with me as my mind knitted itself back together. At times it felt confusing to be surrounded by people, utterly alone and yet aware that God was my companion. Yet my faith didn’t waver. He was as present to me as air, as constant as breathing.
___

The one person I talked to was God, but He wasn’t part of my fantasy world. He was real to me, a presence inside and around that calmed and reassured me…I spoke to God as I tried to make sense of what had happened to me and asked Him to protect me from harm. God and I didn’t talk about the big things in life—we didn’t engage in philosophical debates or argue about religion—but I talked to Him endlessly because I knew we shared something important. I didn’t have proof that He existed, but I believed in Him anyway because I knew He was real. God did the same for me. Unlike people, He didn’t need proof that I existed—He knew I did.

One unsung hero in the book is Martin’s father. In Martin’s silent years, he heard arguments between his parents about his care. His father wanted to keep him at home. His mother wanted to put him in a full-time care facility, as the strain of his care was affecting their marriage and the rest of the family. But his father insisted Martin was still part of the family and needed to remain. His mother, for a time, distanced herself from Martin, so at home all his care fell to his father, who would get up early to feed and dress him and take him to the care facility, work long hours, bring him home and feed, bathe, and put him to bed. Basically, he didn’t have a life beyond work and caregiving for years, and he did it without complaint. Martin appreciated his “quiet and steady presence,” and eventually his mother came around as well, helping him tirelessly to increase his “vocabulary.”

This book is sad and horrifying on one level, considering all that Martin endured. But it’s inspiring on another that he triumphed over it. I particularly loved what he said as he was falling in love with the girl who would become his wife: “I’ve lived my whole life as a burden. She makes me feel weightless.”

It encourages me as my mother-in-law has become less and less responsive that perhaps she does hear and perceive more than she can express, and even if not, the way she is handled will make her feel secure and loved even if words aren’t getting through.

It also angers and saddens me that such abuses and inhumane treatment goes on in care facilities. We’ve come across our share of both good and bad caregivers in the various facilities my mother-in-law has been in. That Martin should have suffered such abuse is atrocious, but that in some cases, other caregivers observed and laughed is just infuriating. And the fact that more than one could wheel him away long enough to privately sexually abuse him without anyone questioning what was going on, where they were, why they were gone so long shows up the need for better monitoring. Unfortunately, in our experiences and I am sure all over the world, those places are woefully understaffed.

But it inspires me that some caregivers went the second mile in their concern and care. The one who first noticed that Martin seemed aware and responsive used to talk to him while she worked, and that’s one thing that caused his responsiveness. After trying to make a connection with others and failing, Martin essentially shut down inside himself. As this caregiver talked with him, he would look at her and follow her with his eyes. That she would notice this and then act on it speaks so well of her. That should be the norm, but too often facility caregivers slog through the everyday thankless monotonous tasks on autopilot. We have had our share of excellent caregivers as well who take time to interact with the patient as a person and notice the details that make a difference in their care and comfort.

Some readers would want to know that there are a couple of bad words in the book, and the section on Martin’s sexual abuse is graphic but not titillating and is mostly contained in one chapter. There is a video of a TED talk with Martin here, and a sweet interview with his wife here. They made this video and submitted it along with the manuscript when they were seeking a publisher for the book:

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Book Review: Watership Down

Fiver and Hazel are brother rabbits. Fiver is not a seer or prophet per se, but he has vague feelings of impending doom when something bad is about to happen, and he’s feeling strongly that some danger is about to come to the warren. Hazel takes him to the chief rabbit, but the chief rabbit doesn’t take him seriously and only goes into a long explanation about how hard it would be to evacuate a warren, especially the does and kittens.

One of the chief rabbit’s guards does take the warning seriously, however, and comes to find Hazel later. They agree to spread the word as much as they can that danger is coming and they are leaving the warren.

So a small group of rabbits sets out. Of course they face many dangers, the first of which is that the chief rabbit sends out guards after them to arrest them once he finds out they have left. So the first order of business is to get away as fast as possible. They face obstacles like rivers, enemies like cats and large birds and foxes, hardships like injuries, fatigue, and hunger. Once they find a place, they realize they have no does with them, so they have to decide what to do about that problem. And ultimately they have to defend their new home.

WatershipRichard Adams wrote Watership Down as a result of stories he used to make up to tell his daughters while they were in the car. His children urged him to write the stories down, but he resisted at first. But one night, after throwing the children’s book he was reading across the room in disgust, he decided to take a stab at writing. As he wrote sections, he would read those pages to his daughters and take their feedback. The book was published in the UK but didn’t really take off in sales until it was published in the USA.

Adams took care to have the rabbits act as rabbits, except for their being able to think and talk. There are no rabbits wearing clothing, sipping tea by the fireplace, or driving cars in this book. But endowing them with human-like thought and speech led to a rabbit mythology and history and human characteristics.

Adams insists that there is no symbolism or deeper meaning in Watership Down: it’s just an adventure story about rabbits. But there are still several things that can be gleaned from the story.

One is group dynamics. Hazel is not leading a coup or establishing himself as a new leader, but since he’s the one suggesting they leave, the others look to him to lead. He wisely does not assert anything like authority until the others show signs that they see him that way. He also is not a dictator (like another rabbit they meet along the way) or a micromanager. He knows how to rely on other rabbits’ strengths, like Blackberry’s ability to figure things out and Dandelion’s storytelling ability. Even the smallest rabbit, Pipkin, contributes to the group in ways. Bigwig, the chief rabbit’s guard initially, was the largest rabbit and their chief means of defense in a fight. Once he knows what to do and is assured a plan is a good one, he implements it with everything he has, but he isn’t afraid to question or oppose something he doesn’t think would work. Adams says in his introduction that some of the rabbits are based on people he knew and a couple on mythological figures.

The group also learns that, to grow and survive, they have to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones. Usually does dig burrows, but as they have none, it’s either dig or stay out in the unsafe open. They also learn that making friends with other creatures they would normally avoid can sometimes benefit them.

At some times humans are portrayed as the embodiment of everything evil, and I objected to that at first, until I realized that, from a rabbit’s point of view, humans are a chief danger. But even a human does the rabbits a good turn near the end.

One section that particularly touched me was in one of their stories about El-ahrairah, kind of a folk hero of rabbit lore. Many of the tales about him are funny, celebrating his wit and cunning. In this particular tale, he has fought a long and harrowing battle, suffering great loss. As he comes back to the warren, weary and depleted, he sees a group of younger rabbits he does not know. He asks them to find one of the captains, but they’ve never heard of him. Then the young rabbits start making fun of the “white-whiskered old bunch” and criticizing them for “wicked” fighting – fighting that had kept these young rabbits safe. “If nobody fought in wars, there wouldn’t be any, would there? But you can’t get old rabbits to see that.” As El-ahrairah steps aside by himself, Lord Frith (the “god” of their legends) comes to him and asks if he is angry. He replies,

No, my lord, I am not angry. But I have learned that with creatures one loves, suffering is not the only thing for which one may pity them. A rabbit who does not know when a gift has made him safe is poorer than a slug, even though he may think otherwise himself.

I’ve heard of this book for years and wondered about it. Somehow I picked up that it was about rabbits, and they were on a journey, and I thought from the title that a boat or journey over water was involved (and though they do have to get over water a couple of times, the name comes from a real place in England called Watership Down). It seemed strange that a book about rabbits would be so popular, but since it was so well-loved, I wanted to read it some time. December turned out to be a nice month for it, as it didn’t fit into any of m reading challenges (it’s not quite old enough for the Back to the Classics Challenge, though many would consider it a classic). I like to read (or listen to audiobooks) just for enjoyment in December and not have to race to finish any challenges then, so this book fit the bill. There was one place it dragged just a little, and I wondered if almost 16 hours of the audiobook was going to get boring. But just then the group ran into another warren which seemed a relief at first: this warren wasn’t going to fight them, seemed to welcome them, but something about them seemed a bit off. I got caught up in that mystery, and thankfully figured it out before the rabbits did, and by then I was invested and eager to follow them on the rest of their journey.

To come to the end of a time of anxiety and fear! To feel the cloud that hung over us lift and disperse—the cloud that dulled the heart and made happiness no more than a memory! This at least is one joy that must have been known by almost every living creature.

It’s hard to say what age this book is for. It had trouble gaining a publisher at first because they thought only young children would like a book about bunnies, but it was a bit intense, even violent in places for young children. I think it has found a wide audience among all ages, and I am glad be familiar with the story and characters. I listened to the audiobook very nicely read by Ralph Cosham.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday)

When everything fails

I’m currently reading in the book of Isaiah, about 20 chapters in, to the part where God pronounces judgment on different nations. To be honest, it’s not a section I look forward to or revel in. In the past I probably would have summarized the chapters as:

Chapter 16: God judges Moab
Chapter 17: God judges Damascus
Chapter 18: God judges Ethiopia
And so on…

But this time, either because God is opening my understanding (something I have been praying for Him to do), or because I got a new ESV study Bible, or, more likely, those two factors are working together, I am seeing some things I never saw before.

It started with the footnote on chapter 18:4-6:

Working as silently as heat or dew, God frustrates human attempts at securing the world without him. He watches until the moment is right, and then acts. This is the truth underlying the appearance of human might in history. (ESV Study Bible, p. 1272).

Then I noticed a lot of things in chapter 19, focusing on Egypt.

In verses 1-4, the “idols tremble at his presence” and there is social unrest.
In verses 5-10, the Nile is dried up, affecting their economy and daily lives.
In verses 11-15, the wisdom of Egypt (which the ESV footnote says they were famous for) fails and “the wisest counselors of Pharaoh give stupid counsel.”

But this is not just dishing out judgment. It’s showing the futility of everything they trusted in, much like the plagues that occurred before the exodus of Israel from Egypt were not just random events but a triumph of God’s power over that of supposed deities. And why do that? Because that’s the only way they’d turn to Him, the one true God, the only One who could help them.

19 In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. 20 It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. 21 And the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. 22 And the Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.

All of the terrible things in the first part of the chapter were not just a matter of judgment, but they were an evidence of mercy, to open their eyes and bring them to Himself.

And someday, Egypt, once an enemy and an oppressor of God’s people, will take its place with Israel as a blessing:

24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”

A few take-aways I’ve gleaned from this section so far:

  • God is not only behind history, always observing and evaluating what’s going on, but often orchestrating it.
  • His purposes are mercy and redemption unless that mercy is spurned, and then there is nothing left but judgment. But God is patient and longsuffering, giving nations and individuals as much of a chance to repent as possible.
  • Sometimes awful things that happen are not just a matter of His judgment, but of His opening eyes to false hopes and saviors to the only true one.

What does this mean for us in our day?

If these things are true in Isaiah’s day, they’re still true now. I see a lot of people, especially young adults, despairing over the state of the world. Sometimes it seems like God is not at work. But He is. He’s doing things we can’t see with larger purposes and on a grander scale than we can take in. Some day wrongs will be made right. We can trust Him for that and for every day until then. That doesn’t mean we don’t pray, speak out, or act – God often uses those efforts. But our dependence is on Him.

Also, there are times when everything we look to or rely on is taken away or fails us. That’s an opportunity to look to Him. That was my situation when I was saved: my family was falling apart, my parents were divorcing, we moved from everything familiar to a large metropolis, I had no contact with friends for a while. I felt like the rug had been completely pulled out from under me. I’d had encounters with the gospel and believed to an extent, but at this time everything crystallized for me. I became aware of deep spiritual need and cast myself on God in a way I hadn’t before. It’s not that God orchestrates problems in our lives to create a need for Him: rather, He strips everything away to reveal a need that was already there that we couldn’t see or hadn’t paid attention to. Sometimes He has to show us that nothing else is sufficient to meet that need before we’ll turn to Him. It may seem terrible and confusing and unsettling, it may seem like God is absent or doesn’t care. But He’s very much there, He does care, and He is acting in wisdom and mercy. He’s more than sufficient to meet any need we have.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Telling His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)