Book Review: Surprised by Oxford

Somehow I often end up running behind with books that are making the rounds all over the Internet. Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber was one such book: I saw many reviews of it a few years ago, was intrigued by the title hearkening to C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy, but just never got to it until I saw it on a Kindle sale this year.

Carolyn Drake graduated from college in Ontario and traveled to Oxford for graduate studies in Literature with a full scholarship. She brought with her baggage from a broken home, distrust of men, feminist leanings, self-sufficiency, and agnosticism.

I reasoned that God most likely did not exist because we could not see Him, or if He did exist, He did not interact with us in any tangible way. I had dabbled in the Bible for various course requirements, these forays mixed with a few hazy images from childhood. Reason, not faith, however, helped me build the emotional boundaries I needed to survive…

Magnificently self-sufficient, like William Wordsworth on his deathbed, I would have said I had no need of a redeemer. Unlike Jane Austen, I did not believe the only power afforded women was that of refusal. I had no real need of believing in men, God incarnate or otherwise.

And yet I also knew that from the very first of firsts I felt a beam deep inside of me that was connected to and recognized a beautiful source, the utmost of all “reference” points, but that the world made it a dangerous place to open up this light, to shine it, to function from it. So I packed up that feeling like a cherished outfit that was now out of style (a robe, perhaps, of too many colors) and put it away.

She only knew one “evangelical” in Canada, but in Oxford, she seemed to come across Christians and Christian influence often, especially with “TDH” (tall, dark, and handsome), with whom she got off on quite the wrong foot at first.

She wasn’t looking for faith and argued against it, but she couldn’t deny the truths she confronted.

Most people who have never actually read the menu probably assume they can order à la carte at the Jesus table or customize their own recipe of faith. But you can’t say yes to the historical figure and a few parables but pass on miracles, the resurrection, and the Son-of-God thing. That is not the offering. Christ is a fixed meal. It is all or nothing with His claims. Everyone is invited, but only you can decide if you actually want to eat at His table. For those who do believe in Christ, it means getting real, being honest about your sin, and living your life as if you really mean it.

The morning after I heard the gospel, however, I woke up with what felt like a hangover. Little would I know it was of the spiritual kind that accompanies the inevitable dawn of realization that life is not, perhaps, what we previously thought it was. And we cannot go back to pretending. What a headache to be caught in that liminal space! Literally.

It was occurring to me that believing in the Bible was an all-or-nothing affair. Either you believe it is the revealed Word of God, or you don’t. It is like being a little bit pregnant. Impossible. Either you are in or you are out. Having eliminated lunatic, given the unavoidable seriousness warranted of my attention, was it now liar or Lord?

What would you like Him to say that He hasn’t said already?

How my friends who grew up in Christian homes took their gifts of faith from their parents for granted! How prayer came as second nature, an obvious problem-solver or comfort or alternative to panic, anxiety, and fear. They took for granted the powerful pause of grace before meals. How oblivious they could seem to the precious and effective armor they had been given: to have the gift of faith from your childhood, to lean into it and grow into it . . . to even have the luxury to rebel against it.

This book is the story of that first year in Oxford, Carolyn’s hard-fought journey to faith, and her wrestlings with the implications of it. Thankfully she also shares a bit of what has happened in her life since in the epilogue.

I’m always intrigued by someone coming to faith who didn’t grow up with it and wasn’t looking for it, an “outside looking in” view. Their stories reassure me that there is hope for some I love and pray for. And it’s so marvelous to see how God works to draw people to Himself.

Some readers would want to know there is a bit of crude language in one spot and a good bit of alcohol consumption. I would disagree with Carolyn on some secondary issues, but I ached and rejoiced along with her in her journey of faith.

It’s not for nothing

Joni Eareckson Tada recently passed the 50 year mark in her wheelchair as a result of a diving accident in her teens. I just cannot imagine – it would definitely take the grace of God to do that. I read a number of articles about this milestone, especially her testimony here, but this one had me thinking for a long while afterward, not just about Joni, but about her helpers.

The article mentions a wake-up crew who helps Joni get out of bed and ready for the day every morning. I can empathize with how hard that would be, even with joyful and willing helpers. We so easily take for granted the ability to use the bathroom on our own or brush our own teeth and hair.

But I thought of these helpers from this angle: many of us aren’t comfortable or don’t feel qualified to be the out-front people. We prefer to be behind the scenes, enabling someone else in their ministry. We can’t have the unique ministry Joni does, but we’d be overjoyed to have a minuscule part in helping her.

But what about those who need that kind of care and don’t have any kind of public ministry? Who don’t speak and seem less and less present every day? Like the thousands of contracted, shriveled, seemingly vacant forms in nursing homes. Like my own mother-in-law.

I’ve written before that I am not a “natural” caregiver like many people I know. I don’t think I could ever have been a nurse. But every angle we have looked at it over the years comes back to the conviction that this is the best place for her at this time (I’ve shared before our journey with my mother-in-law through assisted living, nursing home, and then to our home.) And, like Moses, Gideon, Jeremiah, and others who didn’t feel qualified to do what God was calling them to do, we trust Him for His grace to do it. And He provides, not in one fell swoop of “feeling” qualified, but in the day-by-day ministrations from Him through us.

Sometimes it seems like it’s all for nothing, this trying to encourage food into someone, cleaning up the results of eating, changing position, showering, keeping comfortable, watching out for skin breakage, etc., when there is less and less response or even recognition from the person who sleeps maybe 20-22 hours day for years now, only to do it all again the next day and the next. My aunt called it “the long good-bye.” My husband describes it as watching someone die one brain cell at a time. Sometimes we can’t help but wonder why God still has her here and when He’ll release her from this crumpled, silent body to her new glorious one in heaven.

I’ve shared before what one friend who cared for a mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s said, that sometimes God leaves them here not so much for what He is doing in their lives, but what He is doing through them in ours, showing us our innate selfishness, teaching us to love unconditionally. And I have found that to be true in my own life as well.

As I remind myself of the truths I know, I thought I’d share them with others who are caregivers now or will be someday, who labor behind the scenes, doing the same thing day after day during a long decline. The care you provide is not for nothing, because:

God has made everyone in His image and that imbues them with value.

Jesus said when we minister to others, we minister to Him.

We should treat others as we want to be treated.

God wants us to honor our parents and care for them. They cared for us and deserve our care in return.

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27

“God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Hebrews 6:10

Godly love is about giving and isn’t dependent on what the other can do for us.

“To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Hebrews. 13:16

“With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” Ephesians 6:7

When our children were little, my husband and I often lamented that they wouldn’t remember the youngest stage of their lives and the fun things we did with them, but those years were the foundation of and a major part of the overall relationship. A baby can’t articulate what he needs or thank you for responding to him (at least until he can smile. 🙂 ) But how you care for him matters. He can tell a difference between loving touch and care or harsh treatment. I believe the same is true of the elderly. They may not be able to understand, acknowledge, or define it, but loving care contributes to their overall well-being.

There may be little to no response from the person in our care: some of my friends have even experienced a negative response. There may not be any obvious results from your ministry. But it’s not for nothing. Your loved one or patient would probably tell you how much he or she appreciates your care if they could think right about it and express it. And God knows right where He has you for now and sees your loving care.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Mondays @ Soul Survival, Wise Woman, Tell His Story)

 

Save

Laudable Linkage

IMG_0195Here are some noteworthy reads discovered in the last couple of weeks:

Can I Sing “Amazing Grace” If I Was Saved at Six? We tend to forget that if loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is the greatest commandment, then failing in that is the greatest sin, and we have all done that every day!

Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of My Diving Accident.

Bible study resources.

Lies the Modesty Culture Teaches Men. We were just having a family discussion about this recently.

When Your Kids Won’t Bow Down to Your Idols.

I would never forget my child in a hot car…until she did. Good advice to teach little ones (who are old enough to understand) safety tips for such a situation.

And I found this funny on Pinterest – both moms and kids of any age can identify with this. 🙂

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.

I cannot fathom how we’re 1/3 into August already! And August is a busy month for us, so I imagine it will go pretty fast, too. Here are some favorite parts of the last week:

1. An unexpected gift from a blog friend. Dianna sent me a sweet card and this cross that her husband made as a recovery gift after my surgery. I was so touched by their thoughtfulness. (The flowers are from Jason and Mittu, favorites, too!)

2. A gel seat cushion in my computer chair has been a big help with sciatic nerve pain.

3. Peanut butter chocolate chip mug cake. I’ve made this a few times now (not all of them this week! 🙂 ) It’s an easy recipe, 1 minute in the microwave, and perfect when I want something sweet but not a whole panful of something.

4. My husband’s sous vide chicken and pork loin. He made them on Sunday, and usually I use the leftovers in a stir-fry, but this week we used them in salads a couple of times. Very good!

5. Healing. I am feeling much better than I was this time last week. I’m making my first excursion to the grocery store today since the surgery, taking Jesse with me for the heavy lifting and to take over if I tire out. 🙂

Bonus: Finding some time this week to work on a special project I’ve been wanting to get to for ages. I hope to share more when I have more done with it. 🙂

Bonus 2: Timothy’s reaction when he noticed 3-D cows on a Chick-Fil-A billboard: “Cows up there! They’re drawing!”

Happy Friday!

 

Save

Stray thoughts

A few weeks ago in the store, a family of three was across from me in the aisle, and the wife asked where the Shake N Bake was. The man quoted from the old commercial, “It’s Shake N Bake, and I helped!” The wife and 10-or-so-year-old son looked at him like he was crazy, and then he saw me smiling and said, “She remembers!” I’m glad I could help vouch for his sanity with his family. 🙂

Am I the only person in the world who is nauseated by the scent of lilacs? I was delighted to learn that one of our bushes outside was a lilac bush a few years ago, and cut off some for a vase inside – but had to throw them out. Someone recently gave us a flower arrangement with a few lilacs in it, and first I had to put it in another room but eventually had to pull them out of the arrangement and throw them away. I was so disappointed.

I was telling my husband there needs to be a word or phrase, something like “friendly fire,” for problems you pick up at the hospital that aren’t directly related to your original issue. Like bruises from ivs and blood draws – I always look a little beaten up after a hospital stay. I also have an  allergic reactions to some adhesives, but this time was the worst ever with the dressings plus some patches on my back. With this surgery they have a more extensive kind of heart monitor, and I had three big (four-inch across) patches on my back for that plus the outline of a pad of some kind I must have been lying on that all left itchy welts (I called them my crop circles). We’ve been using lots of Benadryl cream! Then, I had been on my back for so long, and my bottom took the brunt of that pressure, so that my sciatic nerve got irritated or inflamed or something, making it extremely painful to sit down for the first few days. Thankfully all of that is much better now.

So it hasn’t been the cozy, restful recovery I was anticipating. 🙂 I’ve been doing more sleeping than reading, which is probably for the best. Years ago when I had my first surgery, Jim came across an article about an experiment in which they put healthy, fit football players under anesthesia to measure the effects of the anesthesia itself without an underlying illness, and it showed that it took about six weeks just to get back to normal from having that in their system.

Monday night I had a scare with an episode of afib that lasted about 7 hours. I had been told that the ablation itself could cause some arrhythmia, just from all the poking around they did in there, and it takes about a month for all of that to heal and settle down. I had been feeling some ripples and spasms and am on a couple of anti-arrhythmia meds, but when this went on and on, I was discouraged that the surgery hadn’t worked (I was told sometimes they have to do it twice). I wanted to go to the ER, but my husband felt we needed to talk to my doctor directly – with having just had surgery, there might be something they’re supposed to do or not do. Everything resolved by morning, and when I finally heard back from my doctor’s nurse, she reassured me that this was normal and didn’t mean the surgery wasn’t successful. So I was still a little dismayed that it happened but not as much as I had been.

But otherwise I do feel I’m gaining back strength and getting a little more back to normal every day.

July 27 was my eleven-year blog anniversary. Usually I mention that in a special post and sometimes even have a giveaway, but this year it completely slipped my mind until WordPress sent me a notice. I guess I was a little distracted with the upcoming surgery. 🙂 It’s interesting how the blog world has changed over the last decade. I miss some old blog friends who are no longer online. But I am extremely thankful for you who are reading! I’ve made some lifelong friends online! I’m still amazed that people read here, but I am grateful, and your care and comments mean the world to me. Thank you.

Save

Book Review: Unlimited

Unlimited by Davis Bunn starts off with a bang: Simon Orwell has just had an accident on a hot dusty road in Mexico. He is carrying some sort of apparatus with him. something highly valued, though damaged, and he’s escaping from the man who deliberately caused the accident.

He had been on his way to see his former MIT professor with whom he had helped work on the apparatus. But when he finally makes his way to a safe place, he learns not only that the professor has been killed, but the emails from him were sent after his death.

Simon ends up hiding out at an orphanage run by the professor’s dear friends. Some of those friends see Simon as a danger who needs to leave ASAP. Others, particularly the orphanage director, Harold, see Simon first as a desperate soul in need of help, and secondly as the man who could finish the professor’s research.

Simon had come for only one reason: to apologize to the professor for a former betrayal. Wracked with uneased guilt, with no confidence in his own potential, Simon is at loose ends. But when Harold shows him some of the professor’s further research on the device, a source of free energy, Simon begins to tinker with it and then to believe he can fix it. While Harold is thrilled, he is more concerned with the weight on Simon’s soul and his reclamation.

There are others, though – some lurking in darkness, like the man who caused the car accident, and others lurking behind fake smiles and assurances, who want the apparatus for far different reasons.

Bunn does an excellent job keeping the reader in suspense throughout the book on several fronts: whether the apparatus can be fixed and made to work as intended, whether the wrong people will get their hands on it and hurt people in the process, and whether Simon will respond to the truth Harold is sharing with him and living out before him.

Parts of the story are true, especially the fact that Harold is a real person, a former NASA engineer, who retired to establish orphanages in India and to lecture on principles of success. Honestly, what I read about the latter online, that “internal powerful forces that can propel [people] from ordinary to extraordinary…You can begin now to illuminate your path to future unlimited greatness and Dr. Finch wants to show you how” made me a little uncomfortable and wary. What was presented in Unlimited was fine but I wouldn’t endorse the rest of his teaching without knowing more about it.

This book was made after the 2015 movie of it, rather than the movie being made after the book as is usually the case. I had not heard of the movie and couldn’t find it in any of the usual rental places. I did look it up on Pureflix and found it there – we aren’t members, but it may be worth a trial membership to see it.

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

Book Review: All Things New

All Things New by Lynn Austin takes place at the end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction, one of the most difficult periods in American history.

Virginians Josephine Weatherly and her mother, Eugenia, and sister Mary have lost their father, oldest brother, and many of their possessions to the war. Their other brother, Daniel, finally comes home but is a broken man. Living for so long with famine, fear, and unanswered prayers, Josephine has lost her faith as well.

As the South tries to recover from the war, various attitudes clash. Some, like Eugenia, want to restore everything to the way it once was and have difficulty treating the former slaves as employees. Some, like Daniel, become bitter and want revenge and control through violence. Josephine is in a fog for a long time, but eventually she sees that things must change. Bored with her listless life and empty time, she begins helping one of their two remaining servants in the garden, much to her mother’s shock and dismay. But Josephine finds that she enjoys doing something useful. She also begins to see the servant, Lizzie, as a real person and learns more about the family she hadn’t even known Lizzie had.

A federal agent is sent to help the freed slaves find positions, start a school for their children, and help negotiate contracts between the former slaves and masters as employee and employer. The former slaves are grateful for his aid, but he is not trusted by the white people because he is a Yankee and still regarded as an enemy. When Josephine runs into him accidentally, at first she is appalled, but as she gets to know him, she finds him and his views thought-provoking and reasonable.

Among the views that need changing are not only those involving slaves and masters, but those involving what it means to be privileged. As Josephine shocks and angers her mother by further activities outside the bounds of what privileged young ladies are supposed to do, Josephine finds new purpose and meaning. And gradually her heart begins to open to the idea that it needs freedom as well.

Here are some of the quotes that stood out to me:

Eugenia hated seeing her daughter stray so far from her aristocratic upbringing to labor like a common woman, even though her hard work was saving all of them.

Jo fought to control her temper, to be the dutiful daughter. She was walking the same narrow path that Dr. Hunter was, her conscience telling her one thing, her sense of duty and her ingrained respect for her mother telling her something else.

“Even after the war, Eugenia, do you still put people into categories the way you were taught to do—rich and poor, socially acceptable and not, black and white?”

“I haven’t placed them there. Life has.”

“But people are all the same in God’s eyes, don’t you think? Or do you believe there will be segregated divisions in heaven like the ones we’ve created here on earth?”

I think you’ll find our children’s values will be different from ours. They’ll see that slavery was wrong and that it had to end. They’ve seen the futility of war. They’re learning to live without wealth and privilege. I would hope our sons and daughters would also learn to look for other qualities in each other besides money and social position.

We have to lead by example. Our generation has to make peace with the Negroes and with the Yankees. We have to show our sons and daughters that the old South was destroyed because it was flawed and that we’re willing to embrace the changes. It will only lead to more suffering if we don’t. We can show our children that many of the changes are good. . . . It begins with us—you and me.

Pride. We began to believe that we were little gods, expanding our empires, living well at the expense of an entire race of people. The Almighty finally had enough and showed us we were only human after all, that we would bleed and die from cannonballs and bullets. He reduced us to the same poverty and helplessness that we inflicted on the Negroes—but some of us just haven’t learned that lesson yet.

The war has exposed our false beliefs and the moral rot that accompanied slavery. All of our prideful decisions and the shameful way we treated the Negroes have been exposed. We were flawed, Eugenia. God said so. It’s time to let go of our old attitudes and rebuild the South with compassion for others and with the belief that’s at the core of our Constitution—that all men are created equal. And it’s up to us to lead by example.

I grew up in southern TX, where we considered ourselves Southerners, but it didn’t really come up much unless someone with a Northern accent was around. It wasn’t until I moved to SC that I met people passionate about being Southern and speaking haughtily about “The War of Northern Aggression.” Students of the Civil War are quick to point out that it wasn’t just about slavery, that there were other issues involved as well. But as John Newton said to Hannah More in a letter concerning their fight against slavery in England:

I think this infamous traffic cannot last long; at least that is my hope…should it still be persevered in, I think it will constitute a national sin, and of a very deep die…I should tremble for the consequences; for, whatever politicians may think, I assuredly know there is a righteous judge who governs the earth. He calls upon us to redress the injured, and should we perversely refuse, I cannot doubt but he will plead his cause himself (as quoted in Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More by Karen Swallow Prior).

I don’t know why it took so long for people to recognize the wrongs of slavery. Ruffled feathers against “Yankees” and “The War of Northern Aggression” aren’t cute any more. Change of heart has been slow in coming, and it’s much better than it was in this era, but there is still a long, long way to go to repent of deep-seated prejudices in this country. I’ve lived in the South all my adult life, in SC, GA, and now TN, and I love it dearly, but we still need to grow.

I thought this book was very well done showing the difficulties of this era on all sides without simplistic platitudes pasted on like band-aids. And beyond the overarching themes and settings, the stories of the individual characters were well-drawn. Highly recommended.

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

Save

Save