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.

I have much to be thankful for this week! These are at the top of the list:

1. Timothy’s birthday!

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2. Flying kites! Jim had gotten a kite for his birthday a few weeks ago, and then my son and daughter-in-law got one for Timothy.  We went to a park last weekend to fly them, and the day could not have been more perfect for it.

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Our caregiver wasn’t available at the time we could all go, so we took my husband’s mother with us. She seemed a little agitated at first, but after a bit she settled down. She didn’t seem to see the kites when I tried to point them out to her, but later on it looked as if she was following them with her eyes (between dozes :)). I think she was glad to get back home, but I hope the change of venue did her good.

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3. The Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge. We all went there last Saturday morning. I was quite impressed! Oak Ridge played a big part in the Manhatten Project during WWII, so much of the museum concerns that. But the rest of it is just a museum geared to kids. I think Timothy’s favorite parts were the life-sized dollhouse, the rain forest room, the water room, and the space room.

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In the old-time classroom, Jim took on the role of teacher.

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Jim met some new friends there. 🙂

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Mittu packed us a picnic lunch which we were able to eat inside. There were tables and a playground outside as well. All in all a fun outing!

4. Family time. My oldest son had come in towards the end of last week and was able to stay through Monday. Besides all the outings and activities mentioned, we had fun just talking, playing games, eating pizza, barbecue, and Mexican food at different times. I especially enjoyed having the whole family together at church Sunday morning.

5. Safety. I had a scary encounter Thursday morning. I was in my car waiting at a red light when I heard some noise, but it didn’t register what it was. I had my windows rolled up and an audiobook on, and I thought it was a nearby car with people talking loudly or a radio on. Then a huge guy got out of the passenger’s side of the car to my left, but I thought perhaps they were just changing drivers. Then I realized the noise was that guy yelling, and he went to the car on his left and started punching the passenger side door, eventually breaking the mirror. The driver pulled forward, but his light was red (although, if it the situation had gone on any longer, I would not have blamed him for disregarding the light). But the attacker stopped punching and stalked back to his own car. Besides that whole situation being disturbing, the bigger fear was that the situation would escalate- that he’d attack the driver personally, that someone would pull out a gun,  that he’d see me watching and then start punching my door. Thankfully none of that happened. It was all over in a few seconds, the traffic lights changed, and we all drove off. It’s scary how some people have little to no control when they’re angry. I was glad nothing worse happened, but I was rattled for a while afterward.

I hope you had a good week as well!

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Book Review: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Ben-HurTwo young men sat in a garden in first century Judea. They had been close childhood friends, but now they realized they must come to a parting of the ways. Their culture, religion, education, and training pitted them against each other. One was a Roman, Messala; one was a Jew, Judah Ben-Hur.

But their parting signaled more than the loss of friendship. A procession of the Roman governor and his guard passed by Judah’s house one day. As Judah and his sister leaned over the parapet to watch, his hand accidentally loosened a roof tile, which fell and hit the official, knocking him off his horse. The guards stormed the house, and Judah was accused of attempted assassination by none other than Messala. Judah’s mother and sister were seized and taken away, the Hur home was confiscated by the Roman government, and Judah was made a galley slave in a Roman ship.

In Judah’s third year as a galley slave, Quintas Arrius took over the ship to combat pirates. Arrius noticed Judah and asked about him. He was stunned to learn that Judah was the son of someone he had known, a prince in Judea. When a sea battle wrecked the ship, Judah saved the life of Arrius. Arrius adopted Judah as his son, had him trained in Roman fighting, and left him all his wealth.

Judah had two aims in life: to find his mother and sister, and to exact revenge on Rome in general and Messala in particular. He found opportunity to face Messala in a chariot race.

In his travels, Judah heard of a man named Jesus who was the source of much controversy. Some thought Jesus was the promised Messiah, arrived to set up his kingdom. Most thought the kingdom would be an immediate physical one, unseating and defeating the Romans. A few thought the Messiah’s kingdom would be a spiritual one. Judah threw all his influence and training into getting an army ready for the day Jesus would announce himself as King. But Judah also pondered Jesus’s teaching and wonders who he really was.

The subtitle of Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace is A Tale of the Christ. Although Christ is physically in the plot a short amount of time, He is a subject of consideration for much of the book. The story actually begins with three wise men meeting in the desert, discussing their backgrounds and how they came to faith in the one true God and were led by a star. Then they journeyed together to find the newborn king. Some twenty years later, the lone surviving magi, Balthasar, came back to Judea to see the now adult King take His place. This was the first novel with Jesus as a major character, and though Wallace made up scenes, descriptions, and actions involving Christ, as an author he respectfully did not put words in Jesus’s mouth. The only words Christ speaks in the story come from the Bible.

This story was spurred by a conversation Wallace had on a train with noted atheist Robert Ingersoll. Though Wallace wasn’t particularly religious, he felt Ingersoll was wrong. Wallace felt ashamed that he did not know more. He decided to research Christianity, eventually came up with the idea of framing the story and teaching of Jesus in a novel, and became something of a believer himself in the process. His novel became an all-time best-seller.

Many are familiar with the 1959 film starring Charlton Heston as Ben-Hur. The book, of course, goes into much more detail, and there are a few differences in some plot details between the two. (One interesting tidbit – but don’t read if you don’t want too much of a spoiler! In the film, Messala cheated in the chariot race by having spikes on his wheels with which he attacked Ben-Hur’s chariot. In the book, however, it was Ben-Hur who clipped Messala’s wheel in a slight action unnoticed by the crowd, causing the latter’s chariot to wreck. Though Ben-Hur was out for revenge, this isn’t treated as cheating in the book – in preparing for the chariot race, Ben-Hur noted the need to be alert to the Romans’ tricks. In fact, earlier in full sight of the crowd, Messala used his whip to strike Ben-Hur’s horses, causing them to leap forward. So it seems like this kind of thing was part of the race and not penalized.)

One of my favorite passages in the book comes after Messala tried to upset Ben-Hur’s horses and throw them off course:

The four sprang forward affrighted. No hand had ever been laid upon them except in love; they had been nurtured ever so tenderly; and as they grew, their confidence in man became a lesson to men beautiful to see. What should such dainty natures do under such indignity but leap as from death? Forward they sprang as with one impulse, and forward leaped the car. Past question, every experience is serviceable to us. Where got Ben-Hur the large hand and mighty grip which helped him now so well? Where but from the oar with which so long he fought the sea? And what was this spring of the floor under his feet to the dizzy eccentric lurch with which in the old time the trembling ship yielded to the beat of staggering billows, drunk with their power? So he kept his place, and gave the four free rein, and called to them in soothing voice, trying merely to guide them round the dangerous turn; and before the fever of the people began to abate, he had back the mastery.

Ben-Hur’s time rowing as a galley slave, which he probably thought of a lost period of his life, gave him the strength and training to handle this.

I watched the film and read the book some years ago. I enjoyed reading it again, although I found it rather wordy and overly descriptive (naturally, since it was published in 1880), which I don’t remember thinking the first time. But I enjoyed it, though I wouldn’t take my theology from it, especially the frequent grouping of “love, faith, and good works” as a way to “win heaven.” Wallace did a lot of research and explained a lot of history, and he gives a realistic description of the Jewish and Roman cultures and what Jews in that day might have been expecting. There is an interesting article here about Lew Wallace’s life and career.

I mostly listened to this audiobook version but read parts in the Kindle version. The narrator sounded a little bored in places, but did a good job in others. I listened to samples of other narrators, but none of the others sounded any better. The sound quality is one of the worst I have ever received in a book by Audible – there are several places where it sounds like it was a recording of a cassette tape that had been pinched or bent in places.

I recently learned that Wallace’s granddaughter, Carol, read his book for the first time and enjoyed it, but thought it needed to be rewritten in less “stilted” language, so she did so. I’d be interested to read that some time.

A 2016 remake of the film changes the plot in many places (making Ben-Hur and Messala adopted brothers, for instance), so I am not interested in seeing it.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Book Review: Another Way Home

Another Way Home Another Way Home by Deborah Raney is the third in her Chicory Inn series involving the family of empty nesters Grant and Audrey Whitman, who have turned their family home into a bed and breakfast. (The first was Home to Chicory Lane; the second, Two Roads Home.) Though the whole family of their adult children, sons- and daughter-in-law, and grandchildren are in every book, each book in the series focuses on one particular child and his or her family.

This time the spotlight shines on middle daughter Danae and her husband Dallas. They have been trying to conceive for years with no results except tension in their marriage and resentment and hurt on Danae’s part. She’s particularly stung when sister Corrinne becomes pregnant – again – unexpectedly without even trying. Danae can’t keep her resentment from showing, and Corrinne feels guilty and unsure when to even announce her news to the family. Though the family empathizes and tries to be sensitive,  Danae resents their well-meaning questions and concerns and sympathy. Dallas especially feels he has to constantly walk on eggshells around Danae. Dallas won’t even discuss the possibility of adoption, for reasons which he won’t share, even though he himself was adopted and raised by a loving family.

Danae decides they should stop fertility treatments and the quest to have a baby for a while. To try to occupy herself, she responds to an announcement at church asking for volunteers at a women’s shelter. There she becomes friends with another older volunteer, Bertha, and gets involved in the lives of one of the women there and her son.

I don’t want to say any more than that so as not to give the story away.

I love how Deborah doesn’t sugarcoat any of the facets of the story. All of the characters’ struggles are gritty and realistic while they seek for God’s direction, provision, and grace.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Inconvenience

I was well familiar with the story of Peter’s long night of fishing with no results. After he had come in for the day and Jesus used his boat to speak to the people, Jesus told Peter to put out his nets again. This time the catch was so large that the net broke, causing Peter to realize his sinfulness and Jesus’s power and holiness.

What I don’t remember noticing before in this story, until last Sunday in church, was the inconvenience of it all (though inconvenience wasn’t the main point of the message or the passage, that aspect provided food for thought for the next day or two). Luke 5:2 says the fishermen were out of their boats and washing their nets. They were done for the day. Then they were asked to go back out, at the “wrong” time of day, to a place that had seemed fishless just a few hours earlier.

I worked for a few years at a fabric shop, and one night just before closing a girl came in to look at fabrics for her wedding. I think all of us who worked there either slumped or looked visibly dismayed: that kind of encounter at the store could take hours, and we were all set to go home. The girl noticed our reaction and immediately turned around and left the store. I’ve always felt bad about that – not only did we lose a customer and look highly unprofessional, but we put a damper on what is usually a fun time in a girl’s wedding planning. So I can imagine a little what Peter’s feeling might have been at being told to put his nets back out after he had just come in and cleaned up his equipment.

I began to remember a few other Biblical incidents of inconvenience:

I’m sure there are multitudes of other Biblical examples.

I thought of incidences in my own life when I’ve struggled with convenience vs. obedience:

  • When I was in the middle of something, like making dinner, and my child disobeyed, and I was tempted to “let it go this time” rather than stop what I was doing to deal with him
  • When I’ve cozied up on the couch with a good book and remembered that I haven’t spent any time in the Bible yet that day
  • When I have felt an inner prompting to speak to someone about the Lord and convinced myself it wasn’t the right time or place.
  • When someone interrupted my writing time just when I was experiencing an unusual flow of thought and expression or when I wanted to get a certain amount finished before stopping

I’m sure there have been many other similar incidences here also.

Once when I was in college, a few girls became aware of a certain student’s financial need. Most of us were struggling financially ourselves and did not have any extra to give to anyone else. I can’t remember the exact details now, but I remember news of the situation was passed to about four people before someone was able to chip in and help her. At the time I wondered why God didn’t just prompt the fourth person directly about the need instead of going through such a circuitous route. I don’t know all the reasons, but surely one was that this way, more people were aware of the need and more people glorified God when the answer was provided.

In the situation with Peter, the fact that Jesus told him to put out his net in the daytime after an unsuccessful night of fishing brought more glory to Christ and showed more of His power. Even though Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law earlier, somehow this incident with the great catch of fish affected Peter much more, causing him to fall “down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.‘” I’ve heard preachers point out from this incident that God touches us not just in our area of weakness, but in our area of strength. Perhaps seeing Jesus’s abundant power and provision in what had been Peter’s area of expertise was what finally brought Peter to his knees.

For the widow of Zarephath, not only were her and her son’s needs provided for miraculously, but the very prophet who so inconveniently asked for her last food in such desperate times was the instrument through which God healed her son.

Sometimes inconveniences are just part of living in a fallen world – we don’t know why they happen, and all we can do is try to take them patiently. Sometimes they test our love, our obedience, our willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others. Sometimes they show us our wrong priorities. Sometimes they remind us of our need to rely on Him. But we can see God’s hand through, in spite of, or even because of the inconveniences He allows. He inconvenienced Himself for our sakes: may we be willing to allow Him to inconvenience us for His sake.

(Sharing with Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Friday’s Fave Fives

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

Though it has been a great week, at first I had trouble pinning down five specific favorites items. But that’s one thing the FFF is great for: making the time to think over the week and recount the blessings. And if some of these are “repeats,” that’s fine – it’s good to be thankful for them as often as they occur!

1. My oldest son is visiting! It’s not only good to see him and spend time with him, but we also have extra time with the whole family when he’s here.

2. Spring days. Finally in the last couple of days it has started to feel like spring. Sunshine, nice temperatures, cool breezes. I see one more night in the 30s in next week’s forecast, but hopefully spring is here to stay. We especially enjoyed hanging around in the back yard yesterday evening while Timothy played.

3. Dogwoods budding! For some reason the buds in this picture came out darker than real life, and my attempts to lighten the photo distorted it, so I left it.

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In addition, the new little tree we planted last fall, that has just looked like bare sticks for months, is sprouting some new baby leaves.

4. Lunch at my son and daughter in law’s with the family. Always fun to spend time there.

5. Plans and preparations. A certain little someone’s birthday is coming up soon! And we have a few more family activities planned while everyone is here.

Happy Friday!

Book Review: He Fell In Love With His Wife

He Fell In Love With His WifeI first encountered He Fell in Love With His Wife by Edward Payson Roe at Carrie’s review at Reading to Know (which is currently offline, so I can’t link to it just now.) It sounded so good that I got it when it came up for free on the Kindle, but I just got to it the last several days.

This is the sweetest story – not in a syrupy or cloying way. It’s the first book in a long time that had me trying to squeeze in extra minutes to read and missing the characters when I finished.

The story opens with James Holcroft at a low point. His only ambition was to enjoy a quiet life on the farm where he grew up. He had married a quiet, sensible girl he had known since childhood, and though their relationship wasn’t a highly romantic one, they had “something that often wears better—mutual respect and affection.”

But his wife had died a year before, and on top of missing her, he found he was having a hard time working the farm alone. He was just about to give it up, but he decided to try hiring a housekeeper. The two he tried, however, made his life much worse.

He decided to sell his stock, went into town for that purpose, and stopped to talk with his friend who ran the poorhouse. His friend told him of a woman there, Alida, who was in dire straits. She had been deeply wronged and felt horribly ashamed and feared town gossip, even though her troubles were not her fault. She currently had almost nothing to her name.

Holcroft’s heart went out to the woman after he heard her story, and eventually he devised a plan to help them both. His previous housekeepers were older widows, and one had a daughter, so it was acceptable for him to employ them at his out-of-the-way farm. But Alida was near his own age, so he suggested that they have a “business” marriage in name only.  She could help him on the farm, and he would provide for her, and the marriage would protect her reputation. The quietness and remoteness of his home appealed to her, and he seemed a kind man, but she was afraid the stain of her background would taint him. After a lot of discussion, though, they agreed.

Of course, the title tells what happened. This isn’t the first story of a “business” or arranged marriage where the couple truly came to love one other. But this avoids silly, flighty romance and portrays a mature story of two wounded souls finding healing and respite, and for Holcroft, a faith he thought he had lost.

Some parts, especially with the first two housekeepers, are quite comical, but the rest of the story is full of warmth and pathos. Since it’s written in an older style (it was published in 1886) it’s more descriptive than current books, but to me the story flowed nicely without getting bogged down as some older narratives do.

Just to forewarn some of you, there is one expression in the book that today is considered quite vulgar, but I think it can’t have meant then what it does today, partly because Roe was a Presbyterian preacher, and partly because I hadn’t heard the term myself until the last few years. I don’t usually read or listen to much where I know I am going to come across vulgar terms, so I am sure it has been around longer than I was aware. Still, nothing in the character of the book would lend itself to thinking it was used then as it is now. Plus Holcroft reacts to some rabblerousers  in a way we’d consider violent today, but it seems to have been taken in stride then.

I wasn’t sure if this book would count as a classic: I wanted to include it for my Back to the Classics challenge under the category of a “classic by an author that is new to you,” but, just because a book is old doesn’t mean it is a classic. However, according to Wikipedia, Roe’s books were “very popular in their day,” and they are still being read for enjoyment today, so that sounds like a classic to me!

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

God Is There

The church we have been visiting has been going through the book of Job in their study time. A number of calamities hit Job all at once out of the blue: loss of the great majority of his property, all his children, his health, and his good standing in the community. His friends insisted he must have sinned in some way to “deserve” all that happened to him. Job maintained his innocence and wished several times over that he could plead his case before God directly.

What struck me in our last discussion time at church, but which I didn’t have my thoughts together in time to share there, is that all the while Job wished to address God, God was right there. Job was unaware of the interaction between God and Satan and the celestial audience viewing his situation. God already knew Job’s innocence, integrity, trials, “miserable comforters,” as Job called his friends. When God addressed Job near the end of the book, He displayed that He knew all about Job’s troubles and a great deal besides, and He had everything in hand! “God did not “show up” at the end. God was there all along.

(Why, then, did God not relieve Job’s suffering? He did, eventually, but He had specific reasons for allowing it at this time. Elisabeth Elliot said in Keep a Quiet Heart, “It had to be proved to Satan, in Job’s case, that there is such a thing as obedient faith which does not depend on receiving only benefits.” Layton Talbert said in Beyond Suffering, “Satan’s accusation that Job is ‘pious only for pay’ undermines God as well as Job because if it is so, that means God is content with that arrangement” (p. 40). God may allow suffering for any number of reasons, but He promises His presence and grace and help through it).

Job did not have the whole written Word of God that we have. His book is one of the oldest in the Bible, so I’m not sure what he would have had in written Scriptures. He did show that he knew much truth.

In our day, we do have the whole written Word of God and millennia of history of God’s dealing with people, yet we still sometimes feel alone in our trials. Yet we know by faith, even though we don’t always “feel” it, that God is omnipresent: He is everywhere all the time. Psalm 139 says there is no place we can go where He is not. One of the names of Christ is “Immanuel…God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

There is a special way in which God is “with” His people, His children. In John 14, Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (verse 6), “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you (verses 16-17), “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (verse 23).

And with God’s presence is His love, power, wisdom and all the rest of His being and character.

Someday we’ll be with Him fully.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3, ESV).

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, ESV).

Someday, we’ll even see His face:

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads (Revelation 22:3-4, ESV).

But for now, He’s just as near, just as aware, just as loving, as He can be.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4, ESV).

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works (Psalm 73: 23-28, ESV).

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10, NASB).

If you are not “with” God as one of His children, He invites you, the Bible invites you, and I invite you to come to know Him in that way:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3, NASB).

This song, “God Is There,” is written by Faye Lopez and based on Psalm 139. Though I have known this song for years, I don’t know the people in the video, but they do a great job portraying this truth that God Is There.

God is there when I am searching. 
God is there when I’m afraid. 
God is there when sorrows break my heart
And leave my life dismayed. 
God is there when life’s uncertain
When I am alone, when I’m betrayed. 
God is there. He’ll be my fortress. 
God is there!

Word and Music by Faye Lopez

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

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.

It’s nice to be in April! Although we’ve had nights down in the 30s and we had to turn the heater back on, the days have been pleasant. I love this time of year before the heat of summer sets in. Here are some of the best parts of the last week:

1. Easter. We had a nice service at church, a good meal, and an Easter egg hunt with toys in the eggs for Timothy and money for the older kids.

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And a couple of candy-filled bunnies.

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And a real one came by!

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2. New furniture. I’ve mentioned furniture shopping on a few Saturday mornings. Our sofa and loveseat were getting worn: the sofa had developed obvious and growing holes on the seat. We finally made a purchase, which was delivered Thursday!

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3. A good report at the dentist’s and getting that over with for another six months. And though going to the dentist is about my least favorite thing to do, I am glad we have good dental care in our country.

4. Great-grandma speaking. Jim’s mom has been mostly silent for I don’t know how long now – a year, maybe more. All of a sudden the last several days, she’s been saying a few words here and there. We can’t always understand her, but often she’s clear, and it’s been nice to have that form of communication again.

5. Spring closet changeover. I always love getting my spring clothes out and putting the dark, heavy winter ones away.

Bonus: Tulips! This is the first time I have ever had tulips in my yard, and I am so glad they’re coming up and thriving!

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Happy Friday!

Book Review: Reading People

Reading PeopleIn Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, blogger and author Anne Bogel discuses the basics of seven personality frameworks.

Anne’s own “Aha! moment,” as she calls it, came in early married days when she and her husband disagreed. She was emotionally expressive, but he seemed to shut down. She thought he was shutting her out and didn’t understand, and she got more upset. After one such encounter, she picked up the library book about personalities that she just happened to be reading, and found herself at a part that described each of them perfectly. She realized that just because her husband didn’t respond emotionally as she did didn’t mean he didn’t understand. His calmness wasn’t indicative of coldness.

Anne compares “understanding personality [to] holding a good map. The map can’t take you anywhere. It doesn’t change your location…the map’s purpose isn’t to move you; it’s to show you the lay of the land. It’s a tool that makes it possible to go where you want to go” (p. 15).

We want to know more about ourselves and the people we interact with every day. We suspect our lives would be better if we actually understood ourselves and the people we love. We want to know why we do what we do, think what we think, act how we act–and why they do, too (p. 12).

The frameworks in this book can highlight what upsets you (and why) and what makes you hum. They can help you understand what’s causing friction in your relationships, and what to do about it. They can open your eyes to what’s really going on in situations that currently make you batty (p. 19).

Once you understand yourself, you can stop fighting your natural tendencies and plan for them instead (p. 43).

It can be difficult to pinpoint one’s exact personality with some of the frameworks because we tend to answer the assessment questions according to how we want to be or think we should be rather than how we really are. Also, no one personality indicator fits individuals 100% in every aspect. But, Anne says, one will fit more than the others.

And even though we might not be able to pinpoint other people’s personalities, we can understand that they are different from us, and that’s not a bad thing.

Because we live in a world with many other people…we need to be not only smart about meeting our own needs but also gracious about their needs…we have to learn to be flexible (p. 52).

Understanding our personalities doesn’t eliminate the tension that results when people with different needs, motivations, and preferences come together or, especially, live together. But understanding things beneath the surface–why people act the way they act and prefer the things they prefer–helps us at least make sense of what’s going on. These people are not out to get us or trying to ruffle our feathers; they’re just different–a different kind of normal (pp. 54-55).

When we bring personality types together, communication breakdowns are inevitable…Thinking types may feel they’re being considerate by getting straight to a point in a conversation, unaware that their feeling friends perceive them as uncomfortably blunt. Intuitive types may think they are contributing by sharing their grand plans in a team meeting, unaware that the thought of so many changes at once completely stresses out their sensing colleagues. Extroverted types may feel disappointed when their spouses don’t immediately respond with enthusiasm to their ideas, ignorant that they just need time to think the ideas over (pp. 136-37).

The different personality frameworks Anne discusses are:

Introvert vs. Extrovert
Highly Sensitive People
The Five Love Languages
Keirsey’s Temperaments
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
The Clifton StrengthsFinder
The Enneagram

She shares a condensed version of what’s involved in each of these, how they are tested, where to find the tests, their difficulties, right and wrong ways to use the information. She does not suggest that readers use all of these; rather, she encourages us to choose which one resonates with us the most and go from there.

Her last chapter is “Your Personality Is Not Your Destiny.” Even though some of our traits are hard-wired, character can be developed. “My personality traits don’t determine my destiny, but they inform it” (p. 201).

Personality changes are incremental–and gradual. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t change much; after all, our personalities are only one part of what makes us who we are. Our personalities may be resistant to change, but our behaviors are significantly more pliable. Understanding our personalities makes it significantly easier to change the things within our grasp (pp. 195-96).

Growth is a multistep process, but it is an actual process. Spiritual formation isn’t quite as slippery as some make it out to be. The first step is to crack ourselves open to see what we’re hiding, either deliberately or inadvertently, and to drag what is in the dark into the light. This is the process of self-discovery and self-awareness (p. 179).

My thoughts:

I was familiar with most of these frameworks. One I had never heard of and one I knew very little about – that one was my main purpose for picking up this book.

What I have read about personalities reinforces what Anne said about them. It can be very helpful and insightful to understand more about ourselves and about others with whom we interact. Reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain was a huge help to me. Even though I knew before reading it that I was an introvert, Cain’s book helped me understand myself, realize that introversion was not an abnormality or disability, find ways to cope when my circumstances aren’t ideal, and realize that I have to extend myself beyond my comfort zone sometimes.

I do think it’s possible to become obsessed with them, however. I’ve known people to read multiple books on one of these frameworks without being able to figure out their type exactly, and it’s a constant conversation point. It’s possible to spend too much time on introspection.

I’ve also seen some of these used the wrong way. Someone recently told me of a personality test given to employees where they worked. Those who scored high in areas that indicated leadership qualities were put into leadership – and failed abysmally, because there is more to being a good leader than a certain personality type. I’m sure Anne would agree that there are ways to interpret and use this information wrongly, as would the creators of these frameworks.

But I thought Anne did a great job summarizing the different personality frameworks and made a good case for studying and understanding our own personalities.

One last thought: Anne is a professing Christian and refers to spiritual issues naturally within the book, but this is not a Christian book per se. Her audience is the general public, not just Christians. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as a Christian reader, there would be layers I would add to the information she shares. For instance, to the last quote I mentioned about cracking ourselves open and bringing what’s in the darkness to light, I would add the necessity of asking God to search us. Also, as Christians we seek God’s help to change and grow.

Overall, a great book and one I am happy to recommend.

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

Book Review: The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

Helen Keller Many people are familiar to some degree with Helen Keller’s story of being locked in a dark and silent existence until her teacher, Anne Sullivan, found a way to communicate with her. The first part of The Story of My Life is in Helen’s own words. The second part is made up of her letters, from the time she was a little girl to the time of the book’s publication, showing the growth and development of her ability to communicate. The final section of the book, “A Supplementary Account of Helen Keller’s Life and Education,” shares more information by the editor of the book, John Macy, and includes letters from Anne Sullivan.

Helen was only in her early twenties and a junior in college when she wrote her part of this book. She began with her birth in Alabama in 1880, her family background, and what she could remember of her home and early childhood. When she was nineteen months old, she came down with “acute congestion of the stomach and brain” (Wikipedia says it was likely scarlet fever or meningitis). She survived the illness but lost her sight and hearing. She made her will known by signs or acting out what she wanted, but there was still much she could not express. She could tell other people communicated differently, put her hand on their lips, and then got extremely angry and frustrated that she could not talk the way they did.

The desire to express myself grew. The few signs I used became less and less adequate, and my failures to make myself understood were invariably followed by outbursts of passion. I felt as if invisible hands were holding me, and I made frantic efforts to free myself. I struggled–not that struggling helped matters, but the spirit of resistance was strong within me; I generally broke down in tears and physical exhaustion. If my mother happened to be near I crept into her arms, too miserable even to remember the cause of the tempest. After awhile the need of some means of communication became so urgent that these outbursts occurred daily, sometimes hourly.

When Helen was six, her parents took her to a doctor in Baltimore, who referred them to Alexander Graham Bell, who suggested Michael Anagnos of the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. Mr. Agagnos sent them Anne Sullivan.

I felt approaching footsteps. I stretched out my hand as I supposed to my mother. Some one took it, and I was caught up and held close in the arms of her who had come to reveal all things to me, and, more than all things else, to love me.

Anne started spelling the names of objects with a manual alphabet with her fingers in Helen’s hands, and although Helen could mimic what Anne did, Helen didn’t make the connection that the letters spelled the names of the objects. Then came the famous incident in which Anne spelled “water” while Helen’s hand felt water pouring from a pump. Suddenly the light dawned and the connection was made, opening up the world of language and communication for Helen. It took a while, though, to go from learning nouns to making sentences and learning abstract concepts.

In her narrative in the book, Helen recounted her education, various incidents in her childhood, people she met, books she read. She was determined to go to college: “A potent force within me, stronger than the persuasion of my friends, stronger even than the pleadings of my heart, had impelled me to try my strength by the standards of those who see and hear. I knew that there were obstacles in the way; but I was eager to overcome them.” Anne went with her and spelled out the classroom lectures in Helen’s hand. Helen had to get textbooks printed in Braille. Different types of Braille caused difficulty in an examination where the raised print was different from what she was used to, yet Anne was not allowed to spell into Helen’s hand for the exam. She referred to “…those dreadful pitfalls called examinations, set by schools and colleges for the confusion of those who seek after knowledge.”

Despite the obstacles, Helen enjoyed learning in the midst of other students and interacting with them.

But I soon discovered that college was not quite the romantic lyceum I had imagined. Many of the dreams that had delighted my young inexperience became beautifully less and “faded into the light of common day.” Gradually I began to find that there were disadvantages in going to college.

The one I felt and still feel most is lack of time. I used to have time to think, to reflect, my mind and I. We would sit together of an evening and listen to the inner melodies of the spirit, which one hears only in leisure moments when the words of some loved poet touch a deep, sweet chord in the soul that until then had been silent. But in college, there is no time to commune with one’s thoughts. One goes to college to learn, it seems, not to think. When one enters the portals of learning, one leaves the dearest pleasures–solitude, books and imagination–outside with the whispering pines. I suppose I ought to find some comfort in the thought that I am laying up treasures for future enjoyment, but I am improvident enough to prefer present joy to hoarding riches against a rainy day.

Every one who wishes to gain true knowledge must climb the Hill Difficulty alone, and since there is no royal road to the summit, I must zigzag it in my own way. I slip back many times, I fall, I stand still, I run against the edge of hidden obstacles, I lose my temper and find it again and keep it better, I trudge on, I gain a little, I feel encouraged, I get more eager and climb higher and begin to see the widening horizon. Every struggle is a victory. One more effort and I reach the luminous cloud, the blue depths of the sky, the uplands of my desire.

But I do not blame any one. The administrative board of Radcliffe did not realize how difficult they were making my examinations, nor did they understand the peculiar difficulties I had to surmount. But if they unintentionally placed obstacles in my way, I have the consolation of knowing that I overcame them all.

She did indeed overcome the obstacles and earned her degree, the first blind and deaf student to do so.

I realize now what a selfish, greedy girl I was to ask that my cup of happiness should be filled to overflowing, without stopping to think how many other people’s cups were quite empty. I feel heartily ashamed of my thoughtlessness.

It is only once in a great while that I feel discontented, and allow myself to wish for things I cannot hope for in this life. But, as you know, my heart is usually brimful of happiness. The thought that my dear Heavenly Father is always near, giving me abundantly of all those things, which truly enrich life and make it sweet and beautiful, makes every deprivation seem of little moment compared with the countless blessings I enjoy.

I enjoyed reading Anne Sullivan’s side of things, too, and wish I could share several quotes about how her philosophy of educating Helen developed. Even though Anne herself had attended the Institute, she had to come up with her own methods on the spot to teach Helen. She determined to teach her in a natural and not a “classroom” way, at least until Helen learned to communicate well. Anne’s letters here were informally written to a lady at the Institute who was like a mother to her, and I am so glad these letters were included rather than formal reports: they reveal much of her heart.

It is a rare privilege to watch the birth, growth, and first feeble struggles of a living mind; this privilege is mine; and moreover, it is given me to rouse and guide this bright intelligence.

If only I were better fitted for the great task! I feel every day more and more inadequate. My mind is full of ideas; but I cannot get them into working shape. You see, my mind is undisciplined, full of skips and jumps, and here and there a lot of things huddled together in dark corners. How I long to put it in order! Oh, if only there were some one to help me! I need a teacher quite as much as Helen. I know that the education of this child will be the distinguishing event of my life, if I have the brains and perseverance to accomplish it.

One aspect of Helen’s education that I did not quite pick up on was how it became so public. A lot of that publicity seemed to come from Mr. Anagnos, but I don’t know if he was just excited about it or promoting the work of the Institute or what. Major frustrations for Anne were the exaggerations of Helen’s accomplishments or Anne’ abilities in the news, or the judgments of her methods by people who had no real idea of what was involved.

Mr. Macy, the book’s editor, spends a great deal of time on one blight of Helen’s career or education. Helen had written a story and sent it to Mr. Anagnos, who then had it printed in the newspapers. Alert readers wrote in to say that the story resembled one written by another author and accused Helen of plagiarism. Helen was only eleven at the time, and an investigation was made. Neither Anne nor Helen’s mother had read to Helen the story which she was accused of plagiarizing: they had not even heard of it. Finally the story was tracked down at a home Helen had visited some years before. Evidently someone there had read it to her, and she had forgotten the incident, but retained bits of the story in her own imagination. Included in this book is a letter from the author of the original story, saying that she did not believe Helen repeated the story as her own on purpose, and she thought Helen even improved upon her story in some places. She concluded:

Please give her my warm love, and tell her not to feel troubled about it any more. No one shall be allowed to think it was anything wrong; and some day she will write a great, beautiful story or poem that will make many people happy. Tell her there are a few bitter drops in every one’s cup, and the only way is to take the bitter patiently, and the sweet thankfully.

As a Christian, I enjoy learning about a person’s spiritual development. This post is already long, so I don’t feel I can share many of the quotes I have marked on this aspect, but I think Helen was greatly confused. Anne recorded that she tried to avoid the topic of religion as she felt unqualified to deal with it. Wikipedia records that Helen eventually followed someone who taught universalism.

I did not know until scanning the Wikipedia article on Helen that Anne married Mr. Macy, the editor, a couple of years after the book was published! I read a Kindle edition, but apparently the one I have is no longer available. There are various Kindle editions available, however. In the version I read, the formatting wasn’t done well: sometimes it was hard to tell when a quote from a letter ended and the editor’s words began. Some of the letters are indented, but many are not. I also just discovered that the book is online here and includes pictures that are not in my Kindle edition, including some samples of Helen’s writing. The original book was published in 1903: this particular edition was published in 2014, and I wish they had included an afterword about the rest of Helen’s life, but I had to peruse Wikipedia for that.

I had only known the bare basics of Helen’s early life, probably from the movie The Miracle Worker, and I very much enjoyed learning more about her and Anne.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved and Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)