Book Review: My Hands Came Away Red

HandsIn the novel My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay, eighteen-year-old Cori decides to spend her summer on a backpacking mission trip in Indonesia. Though she has a vague desire to do good, to help people, to “spread the love of Jesus,” her main purpose for going is to get some time away from Scott, her boyfriend. Cori is a Christian, but her relationship with God isn’t as close as it once was. Scott is not a believer, but he wants to marry Cori. So Cori needs time away to think, to sort things out.

After meeting the mission leader and the five other teens who will be going on the trip, they spend several days in a grueling boot camp. Then they travel on to Indonesia where they will help build a church as well as performing puppet shows and such. They meet Mani, the son of the local pastor, whose English is best and who acts as an unofficial liaison between the mission group and the church folks.

The group learns there is a tenuous peace between the Christian and Muslim villages. The Muslims view those who convert from Islam to Christianity as traitors, and Mani’s father is such a convert. But, though they are advised to be careful, no serious trouble is expected.

After several weeks of work and getting to know each other in the process, when the thatched-roof church is nearly finished, the mission group leader’s wife falls suddenly and dangerously ill. As the leader, Gary, makes hasty plans to get the group ready to leave, the kids protest. They can finish the church in the next couple of days and catch the next boat to meet up with Gary. Reluctantly, Gary agrees.

When the church is finished, the teens decide it needs a cross on top, so they go into the woods to find a suitable log. Nearing the village on their return, they hear angry voices. Mani stops the group close enough to listen, but far away enough not to be seen. Men from a neighboring Muslim village are angry that Christians have attacked their village, and, grouping all Christians together, they call on this village to answer for it. Mani’s father tries to explain and calm, but tempers flare and fighting breaks out. Mani’s parents are killed before the group’s eyes. One of the teen guys rescues Mani’s younger sister, Tina, while Cori tries to help Mani’s father. But it’s too late. The horrified and shaken teens head back into the woods. Mani says it would be no use to try to go back to the village. Their best bet would be to hike through the mountains to a neighboring village and then to the airport.

Thus begins a harrowing three-week journey in which the teens are tested in almost every imaginable way.

My thoughts:

Though teens are the main characters, and this book would be good for teens to read, it’s not just teen or young-adult fare. I found the story riveting. First, from my own standpoint, I don’t think I could have survived what the teens went through. And secondly, as a parent of young people, I can imagine what the parents went through with news of fighting in the area and no word from their kids.

On top of the physical hardships and mental and emotional strain they all face, some of them, especially Cori, wrestle with their faith. Reading Bible passages about God’s protection seem hollow after what they witnessed. Yet, to whom else can they turn?

Before this summer those words [Romans 8:28] were part of whole set of trusty beliefs that defined my life. I knew they were true the same way I knew it really was good for me to eat my green vegetables. God is good, and everything works out for the best . . . and we all live happily ever after. I was so naïve. It’s not that I don’t want to trust those promises I’ve always believed in, but I just don’t understand

_____

If God didn’t see fit to save them, who’s to say that we weren’t all going to end up dead in this whole mess? And I hardly saw how that might produce a rich crop of faith, hope, and peace in my life. Unless it was in my heavenly life. Which, as much as I believed in heaven, was hardly a comforting thought.

In some ways I wish Cori’s faith struggles were more resolved by the end, but then I think part of the author’s point is that there are some things we can never resolve. One of the other teens tells Cori, after everything is over physically, but not mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, that sometimes you “just have to make a choice based on what you know about God. And relax and trust for the rest of what you don’t know” and “You know, life’s a journey…Some questions get answered later. You can’t stop traveling just because that’s not now.”

Besides the story itself, I loved the clearly-drawn characters. And I love the Jip and Kiki story game that started back in boot camp and helped distract the kids on their trek. One of the teens would start with, “Once there was a boy named Jip,” who loved chocolate and had a pet monkey named Kiki, and each one would add a few sentences, often based on what the kids themselves were going through.

In the author’s afterword, she shares that though the people in the story are fictitious, the circumstances, the fighting in the villages she named, were very real. The author’s own international and even inter-continental upbringing informs her writing, making it even more realistic.

I had heard this book highly recommended years ago and have had it on my TBR list since then. Somewhere recently I read that someone bought the rights to the book for a movie, and the book was being re-released. That brought it to the forefront of my attention again, so I decided now was a good time to read it. I am glad I did. I hope the film does it justice.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

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Book Review: The Lost Castle

Lost CastleIn The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron, Ellie Carver’s Grandma Vi had raised her since her parents’ deaths when she was a child. Now her grandmother was in a care facility suffering the ravages of Alzheimer’s, often not even knowing who Ellie was.  But one particular day, her grandmother seemed especially agitated and could hardly keep herself from the window. While Ellie gently attempted distraction, her grandmother pulled out a book of The Sleeping Beauty in French. While wondering  why her grandmother had such a book in French and flipping through the pages, an old photo fell out. The picture was WWII-era vintage of a young woman sitting on a stone wall smilingly staring up at a young man who was definitely not Ellie’ grandfather. Ellie learned that there was a castle called The Sleeping Beauty in France, and Vi was supposed to have met this man at the castle to tell him whether or not she would marry him.

These revelations sent Ellie to the Loire Valley in France, uncovering a story that spanned hundreds of years.

In 1789, Aveline Sainte-Moreau was much more interested in the politics and current events of the day than a lady of her station should have been. Though she did not condone all the actions of the disenfranchised poor, she had compassion on them and helped as she could. To keep her in her place and divert her attention, her father arranged her marriage with a man she had never met. On the night of her debut and the official announcement of her engagement at her fiance’s home, the castle was attacked. While the castle crumbled and burned, Aveline was rescued, but not before being scarred by the flames. Her rescuers had to keep her hidden while she recovered: unrest had been fomenting into revolution, and the nobility in general was in danger.

In 1944, Viola Hart was a linguist caught in France, having escaped the Nazis. Taking refuge in a chapel, she was discovered by a neighboring vigneron, Julien, who secreted her to his family’s home. Eventually she learned he was part of the French Resistance, and her skills would be valuable. Having no way to safely get home, she stayed to help. In their preparations, they painted a large red V on the walls of a deserted castle.

When Ellie came to the Loire Valley, she wanted to search for the castle wall where her grandmother’s picture had been taken. She was distressed to learn that the castle grounds were closed to the public. Her host and tour guide, Quinn, was reluctant to push any further into the mystery, wanting to respect the castle owner’s wishes. But at Ellie’s  and his own grandfather Titus’s insistence, Quinn took Ellie where she needed to go and helped her unravel the clues. She learned that the castle’s nickname, The Sleeping Beauty, came from a legend of a member of the nobility hundreds of years before who seemed to disappear in the area. As Ellie uncovered more of her grandmother’s past, she unlocked more of her own story as well.

My thoughts:

I loved the three women’s stories and how Kristy wove them together. I loved the strength of each character in her circumstances. I enjoyed some of the touches in each timeline: the castle itself, a brooch passed down to each woman, a fox that lives in the woods and visits the castle grounds, the various shades of lavender and purple, from Aveline’s shawl and love of violets to Grandma Vi’s cardigan. The faith element is subtle but steady.

And isn’t that cover gorgeous?

One quote that encapsulates the book’s theme:

Titus says the land is a witness of the generations who have come before. That it stands resolute. It’s the same yesterday. Today. And who knows what tomorrow will look like. He likens it to God’s influence over creation. That He’s immovable. Steady. Watching from a distance, yet ever involved. A bit like your lost castle, hmm? (p. 244).

I’ve read many books with two timelines: this is the second in recent months that had three. It wasn’t confusing to keep up with them, as each setting with its characters was distinct. The only confusion within a timeline came when a new chapter opened at a time earlier than where we had last left those particular characters – a flashback within a given timeline. But it only took a few moments to get oriented.

With elements of mystery, the fairy-tale quality of Aveline’s story in particular, historical elements, and above all a lovely story and testimony of God’s faithfulness, Kristy has another winner here. So far I have never been disappointed with any of her books, and I hope she writes many more!

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Book Review: Borders of the Heart

Borders of the HeartIn the novel Borders of the Heart by Chris Fabry, J. D. Jessup has moved from Nashville to Tuscon and works on an organic farm. Tuscon is close enough to the border of Mexico that a lot of illegal aliens come through the area. J. D. has been instructed to call Border Patrol if he sees any illegals.

While on his rounds one morning, J. D. Comes across a beautiful Mexican woman in the desert. She is dehydrated and injured, with a handcuff on one wrist. Instead of calling border patrol, however, he takes her back to his place and then to a doctor. Before long he learns that a killer is after the girl, a killer who has no qualms about killing anyone who has had contact with her.

Several times J. D. thinks perhaps he should leave well enough alone, and the girl, Maria, urges him to for his own safety. But he just can’t let go. For various reasons he feels compelled to help her, and in doing so, the walls around his own heart begin to come down.

Both J. D. and Maria are close-mouthed about their pasts at first, and their stories come out piecemeal as they get to know each other. Maybe for this reason, it was a little hard for me to connect with the characters at first. And, though I know the lead characters in a story have to go through all kinds of trials and setbacks before they reach the end, they usually face both ups and downs. In this story, however, there seemed to be unrelenting and worsening downs for most of the book before things finally turned around.

But things did turn around near the end, and by that time the characters had grown on me. Along the way, the book tackles some tough issues, like racism, false assumptions, and wondering where God is during tragedies. The only quote I marked touches on the latter:

But think of it this way. A lot of people don’t believe in God because bad things happen. A follower of Jesus can hope in spite of the bad things. Look at the crucifixion. That didn’t look like a good outcome for his followers. But God gained his most glorious victory on that cross.

While this is not my favorite of Fabry’s books, it’s still a very good read.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Women of the Word

WOTWIf you could only read one book about studying the Bible, I would recommend Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin.

I read it four years ago, but wanted to read it again. I should probably reread it every few years.

Jen opens with some of the mistaken approaches she took to reading the Word of God at first. One was reading it as if it were a book about her and to help her. Though the Bible does help us, it is a book about God. Another “turnaround” for her was the realization that the Bible should speak to the mind as well as, and even before, the heart.

If we want to feel a deeper love for God, we must learn to see him more clearly for who he is. If we want to feel deeply about God, we must learn to think deeply about God (p. 33).

We must love God with our minds, allowing our intellect to inform our emotions, rather than the other way around (p. 34).

Jen’s great passion is promoting Bible literacy, which she says “occurs when a person has access to a Bible in a language she understands and is steadily moving toward knowledge and understanding of the text” (pp. 36-37). She emphasizes the steady movement: we won’t some day “arrive” at complete Bible knowledge, but we should be ever growing.

But “we may develop habits of engaging the text that at best do nothing to increase literacy and at worse actually work against it” (p. 37). She discusses several of those wrong habits, like the Xanax approach (which “treats the Bible as if it exists to make us feel better,” p. 39), the Magic 8 ball approach, and several others.

Then she shares Five P’s of Sound Study: purpose, perspective, patience, process, and prayer, explaining, illustrating, and giving example of each. Within “process” she discusses comprehension, interpretation, and application, and she stresses reading in context and in consideration of the genre of each book.

Throughout the book Jen emphasizes that Bible study and literacy is not an end in itself: it is a means of knowing God for who He is, getting to know Him better and being changed to become more like Him.

Our study of the Bible is beneficial only insofar as it increases our love for the God it proclaims. Bible study is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. It is a means to love God more, and to live differently because we have learned to behold him better. And it is a means to become what we behold. The reciprocal love of God is a love that transforms (p. 148).

She includes an excellent chapter expressing the great need for women to teach women and sharing helps for those who would go on to lead Bible studies. I especially appreciated the admonition to avoid “ricocheting around the entire Bible…Good teaching will necessarily involve the use of cross-references, but not at the expense of the primary text” (p. 139) and to avoid “feminizing the text” (p. 140) as well as the rest of the advice in this chapter.

I am glad I read this again, and I am happy to recommend it again.

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

Book Review: Emma’s Gift

Emma's gift Emma’s Gift is the sequel to Julia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly. I think you could read and understand the second book without the first one, but you’d get much more out of the story with both of them. Plus, since Julia’s Hope will probably be one of my favorite books read this year, I encourage you to read it, too.

In Julia’s Hope, Julia and her husband, Samuel Wortham, and their two children lost everything during the Depression. They were hitchhiking east to get a job with Samuel’s cousin when they got word that the job fell through. Totally alone and with no hopes, they find shelter in an abandoned farmhouse. Then Julia gets the idea that perhaps the owner would let them stay in return for fixing up the place. They find the owner, Emma, who is an elderly amputee who can no longer live alone. She agrees to the arrangement, much to the consternation of some of her friends who think the Worthams are taking advantage of her. Before long the Worthams suggest that Emma come back to the farmhouse and stay with them, which she agrees to do, and they become something of an adopted family for each other.

Emma’s Gift picks up the story several months later. Emma was not in good health in the last book and knew her time was soon coming to an end. She passes away near the beginning of this story. It’s not unexpected, yet it’s still a blow to the family. But then their neighbor, a mother of ten children, passes away the same night, totally unexpectedly. The Worthams take in the children while the woman’s husband, George, deals with his grief. While glad to help, and, really, having no choice, an addition of ten children, one a newborn, weighs heavily. Helping the children through their grief while dealing with their own is a challenge.

Uncertainty also weighs on both families as their houses and land were owned by Emma. Emma had tried to give the Worthams the deed to the house they were in, but Samuel refused at the time. George has been unable to make any payments for months, if not years, and Emma wanted to forgive the debt. But now her affairs are in the hands of her nephew, so everyone has to wait to see whether he’ll abide by Emma’s wishes or take the property as his own.

Some of the townspeople bring food out and stay to help with the children, which helps Julia to feel that they are finally accepted. Some of the men help Samuel deal with George, who is on the verge of doing something stupid.

Even though the first part of the book is heavy with grief, please don’t let that deter you. The light does break through in the end, and it’s heartwarming to see the progression.

The point of view switches back and forth between Julia and Samuel. Two themes emerged for me: that everyone has something to give to help others no matter how much or little they have, and when you’re weighed down almost to the breaking point, God’s grace sufficient.

A few favorite quotes:

It made me feel good inside to love her right over top all the rough edges.

Kissing cheeks, passing plates, even listening to George pour out his woes one more time over a late cup of root coffee—it was all the work of God. Because people need each other. And sometimes we don’t realize how much we have to give until we’ve started giving it.

It doesn’t take away the pain of this world. But just knowing the outcome can stop the ache that comes in the middle of some lonely night, or can give you words to make a crying child smile again. God is faithful. Our shelter in the time of trouble. Our refuge in the time of storm. We don’t always know what he’s given us. When we’re deep in the hurt of some awful moment, we don’t always know what good things God has prepared for the days ahead. But we do know so much of himself has been given to our hands. To cherish. To rest in. And especially to share.

These two books are all I have, but there is another sequel, and then another three-book series with some of the same characters as well as a Christmas story. I’d like to get to the rest of them some day. In looking up Leisha Kelly after reading the last book, I was sad to discover that she and her teenage son had died in a car accident some years ago. But I am glad she left this legacy behind.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday)

What’s On Your Nightstand: September 2018

Nightstand82The folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand the last Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

I checked my calendar yesterday morning, but I somehow got my weeks mixed up and thought I had another week before the Nightstand post! Instead, I am a day late. Oh, well…

Since last time I have completed:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, reviewed here. Loved this! And the movie was wonderful, too, despite a few changes to the plot.

Julia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly, reviewed here. Loved this story about a family struggling during the Depression who ends up sharing a house with an elderly amputee.

Tea With Emma by Diane Moody, reviewed here. Something of a modern take on Jane Austen’s Emma. It was…okay.

Reclaim Your Life from IBS: A Scientifically Proven Plan for Relief without Restrictive Diets by Melissa G. Hunt, reviewed here. Both practical and helpful.

Helen Roseveare: On His Majesty’s Service by Irene Howat, reviewed here.

The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering by Vaneetha Rendall Risner, reviewed here. Excellent. Deep. Convicting.

I’m currently reading:

Emma’s Gift by Leisha Kelly

The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron

Rereading Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

I’ve been using my normal audiobook time to listen to a series of lectures on Classics of British Literature by John Sutherland.

I’m also reading parts of The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White, but it’s more of a reference book than one to read straight through.

Up Next:

Reading the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word by George Guthrie. Some of his blog posts have been very helpful to me, so I am looking forward to his book.

There’s a Reason They Call It GRANDparenting by Michele Howe, recommended by Michele Morin.

I am trying to decide whether my next audiobook with be Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas or Alvin York: A New Biography of the Hero of the Argonne by Douglas V. Mastriano. I know a little of both men’s stories and would like to learn more.

I have all kinds of Christian fiction in my Kindle app and on my shelf, but I am not sure which one will be next.

I think that wraps up by reading activity for this month! Are you reading anything good?

Book Review: Julia’s Hope

JuliaIn Julia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly,  Samuel Wortham is out of a job, like so many others in the early 1930s. Not only did his business close, but the investment he financed with money from his wife’s inheritance failed. The family has just a few dollars. Sam’s cousin says there’s work for Sam in Illinois, so the family is going to hitchhike from Pennsylvania.

Julia, Sam’s wife, is understandably angry with Sam over the lost investment, but she tries to keep a brave face for the children and make the trip an adventure.

It occurred to me then that I ought to pray for help in getting over the anger I felt towards Sam. But I didn’t do it. I guess it was easier to think that I’d forgiven him already and was just entitled to my feelings beyond that.

A few days into the trip, with money gone and the family eating in soup kitchens and sleeping wherever they can, Sam calls his cousin to tell him where they are. He’s told the job fell through and the cousin himself is looking for work.

But when Samuel stepped out of that office, looking like a stormy wind had dashed him against a wall of stone, the clouds descended over me and I turned away. I knew by his face. Dewey wouldn’t be coming. Dewey couldn’t carry all the hopes we’d pinned on him. We were alone.

One day, caught by a sudden downpour, the family takes refuge in an abandoned farm house. Something about it appeals to Julia and the children, so she proposes they find the owner and see if they might be allowed to stay in return for working on the place. Sam thinks the idea is crazy, but Julia is so set, he humors her.

They discover the homeowner is an elderly lady named Emma. She loves the house, but due to a heart condition and the loss of  leg, she can’t live there alone any more, so she has been living in a boarding house in town. Though what the Worthams propose is unconventional, she agrees to let them stay at her house so that it doesn’t deteriorate further.

The Worthams feel like they are taking unfair advantage, though. So within a few days they propose a new situation: that Emma come out and live with them at the house. She agrees.

Emma and Julia both know how to live off the land – what greens are good for food or tea, how to plant seeds and cultivate vegetables etc. But Sam is totally out of his element. He has never farmed and he’s worried about Emma’s care. But there doesn’t seem to be anything else he can do, so he puts forth his best effort.

Emma is a town treasure, so many of her friends check on her and the Worthams. Some of her friends, however, suspect the Worthams have “sweet-talked” her and are out to milk her out of her property, and they make no end of trouble despite Emma’s assurances. One in particular “was a difficult sort, one who was pleased to be displeased.”

My thoughts:

I loved this story. Its main appeal to me is how clearly Leisha communicates the character’s feelings. I ached along with Sam in his financial predicament, his guilty feelings, and his loss of self-respect. I understood Julia’s struggle to put aside her anger,  forgive, and attend to her children in a way that kept them hopeful, rather than afraid. I felt Emma’s joy at being home again.

But I also enjoyed reading about this time era, not one that I can remember seeing much in fiction. I enjoyed the gelling of a new family group. And I appreciate the way the people in the community helped each other though most of them didn’t have a lot themselves.

We all need each other, and that’s how the good Lord intended things to be.

“You think when that boy come bringin’ the Lord bread and fish, that the Lord shoulda just sat an’ ate it all his own self?”

“Well, no, he couldn’t. He fed the five thousand.”

“That’s right,” she said with a smile. “Didn’t look like it, but God’s got plenty for ever’body. So it don’t hurt me none to share.”

The point of view switches between Sam, Julia, and Emma, so we see their different perspectives. The faith element is woven in naturally.

This is the first book in a long time that I stayed up too late to read and had a hard time putting down. I immediately started reading the sequel, and I am looking forward to more with the Wortham family.

(Sharing With Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved, Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Book Review: Tea With Emma

 Tea With Emma by Diane Moody is a story within a story.

The outer story has writer Lucy Alexander with writer’s block ever since her beloved aunt died. When Lucy’s father sends her the teacup collection that her aunt had willed to her, Lucy is reminded of their special times together and of the Jane Austen book her aunt had bought for her.

Then Lucy is inspired: she can write a series of stories based on each of the cups. The first one is loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma.

Next comes the first story, Tea With Emma.

Two lifelong friends, Maddie and Lanie, are just returning from a trip to England. Maddie is inspired to open an English tea shop, and Lanie has agreed to help her. Their giggling and carrying on in the plane annoys the seatmate in front of them, an English professor. In a comedy or errors, the girls and the professor keep running into each other, with near-disastrous results.

When Maddie goes home to her grandmother in Texas, whom she has taken care of since the latter had a stroke, she lays out her plans for the tea room and gets her grandmother’s blessing. She soon discovers that the grumpy professor lives across the street. She tries to befriend him, but he rejects her efforts.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma, but evidently missing what Emma had learned by the end, Maddie feels God’s mission for her life is to be a matchmaker. She encourages Lanie towards the contractor and away from an online computer geek. It does not go well.

Meanwhile the professor has to come to grips with the issues in his life which have made him so cranky.

My thoughts:

I thought the premise would make for a fun, touching story, but I just didn’t connect any of the characters, except maybe the grandmother and the computer guy. Maddie and Lanie seemed juvenile, Maddie seemed pushy, and the professor was just a grouch, at least until he got his heart right. And the transformation from irritation with Maddie to falling in love with her just seemed too quick and unrealistic. Of course, this is a novella, so things had to happen a little faster than they would have in a longer novel.

I enjoyed the theme of letting God have control and following His direction. Both Maddie and the professor became more likeable by the end of the story. I know Jane Austen’s Emma goes through a similar learning curve, but I always found Emma sophisticated and likeable even while I disliked her actions and motivations at the beginning.

Reviews on Amazon were mixed, with some people loving the story and others not, so it may just be a matter of personalities not appealing to everyone. It’s a sweet, clean story. So don’t let me discourage you from trying the book, especially as it’s free for the Kindle at the moment.  I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

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

 

Book Review: The Scars That Have Shaped Me

ScarsWhen Vaneetha Rendall Risner was a baby in India, she contracted polio before her inoculation. The doctor had never seen a case of polio before, misdiagnosed it, and prescribed a wrong treatment which left Vaneetha paralyzed. Vaneetha had twenty-one operations from age two to thirteen. She spent much of her young life in the hospital and felt safe there and at home,  but was “openly picked on at school.”

She wanted “nothing to do with God because he had allowed all this to happen,” but when she was a teenager, He drew her to Himself.

Vaneetha’s trials weren’t over, though. After her first daughter was born, she had three miscarriages. Her son was born with a heart defect which surgery corrected, but a doctor’s mistake led to her baby’s death at the age of two. Then she contracted post-polio syndrome,  which causes “increasing pain and weakness, which could potentially result in quadriplegia.” There is no cure. Then her husband left her.

The magnitude of any of one of those trials weighs heavy, but all of them together are crushing. How does a person cope with all of that?

Vaneetha tells her story in short order in The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering and then spends the rest of the book  sharing what God has taught her through her trials. Her words, like Joni Earecksn Tada’s, carry weight because they are based on Scripture and they’ve been tried in the trenches.

It’s hard to summarize a book like this, so I’ll just share a few quotes:

Our faith is not a facade we erect to convince ourselves and others that pain doesn’t hurt—it is an oak tree that can withstand the storms of doubt and pain in our lives, and grow stronger through them.

I’ve often been devastated when he tells me no, but as I submit to his will in those situations—even with disappointment and tears—he assures me he’s working for my good. I see only part of the picture. He has a purpose in his denials. The Father said no to the Son [in Gethsemane]. And that no brought about the greatest good in all of history. God is not capricious. If he says no to our requests, he has a reason—perhaps ten thousand. We may never know the reasons in this life, but one day we’ll see them all. For now, we must trust that his refusals are always his mercies to us (emphasis mine).

In this life, I may never see how God is using my trials. But one day I will be grateful for them. All I can do now is trust that he who made the lame walk and the blind see, who died on a cross so I could spend eternity with him, is going to do the very best thing for me.

This is the most precious answer God can give us: wait. It makes us cling to him rather than to an outcome. God knows what I need; I do not. He sees the future; I cannot. His perspective is eternal; mine is not. He will give me what is best for me when it is best for me (emphases mine).

Replacing “what if ” with “even if ” in our mental vocabulary is one of the most liberating exchanges we can ever make. We trade our irrational fears of an uncertain future for the loving assurance of an unchanging God. We see that even if the very worst happens, God will carry us. He will still be good. And he will never leave us.

So what do we do when we feel drained and empty? When no one understands our suffering and no one seems to care? When we feel discouraged and tired and unbearably lonely? Read the Bible and pray. Read the Bible even when it feels like eating cardboard. And pray even when it feels like talking to a wall. Does it sound simple? It is. Does it also sound exceedingly hard? It is that as well. But reading the Bible and praying is the only way I have ever found out of my grief. There are no shortcuts to healing.

When I say read, I don’t mean just reading words for a specific amount of time. I mean meditating on them. Writing down what God is saying to me. Asking God to reveal himself to me. Believing God uses Scripture to teach and to comfort me. To teach me wonderful things in his law (Ps. 119:18). To comfort me with his promises (Ps. 119:76). Reading this way changes cardboard into manna. I echo Jeremiah who said, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” ( Jer. 15:16).

I mentioned yesterday the concept she brought out that what we think of as the lowest points of our lives are actually the highest, from God’s viewpoint, because that’s often where the most change and growth occurs in our lives. Another concept she described was that we often feel our prayers have not been answered when God doesn’t deliver us out of a situation, but His grace sustaining us through a trial is just as much an evidence of His power as a miraculous deliverance.

In waiting for the huge, monumental deliverance—the kind where I can put my issue to bed and never have to pray about it again—I’ve overlooked the grace that keeps drawing me to him. The prayers that may appear unanswered, but actually are fulfilled in ways that keep me dependent, tethered, needy.

I’ve often wondered about the difference between Biblical lament, such as what we see in the Psalms and other places in the Bible, and complaining. These thoughts helped:

Scripture never mandates that we constantly act upbeat. God wants us to come to him in truth. And so the Bible doesn’t whitewash the raw emotions of its writers as they cry out to God in anguish, fear, and frustration when life ceases to make sense. People like Jeremiah and Job, Habakkuk and David have all poured out their honest feelings of sadness and disappointment to God.

The Bible is shockingly honest. And because of that, I can be honest as well. I can both complain and cry, knowing that God can handle anything I say. The Lord wants me to talk to him, to pour out my heart and my thoughts unedited because he knows them already.

This conversation is different than the grumbling of the children of Israel. They complained about God and Moses to each other. I am talking directly to God. Telling him my doubts. Asking him to help me see. These saints I quoted all talked directly to God, which was the first step to healing. They named their disappointments and voiced their struggles before him. They needed to know that God understood them. And that they could be truthful with him. No pretense or platitudes. Just raw honesty, acknowledging their pain before God.

Like most of us, I would rather learn from others about suffering than have to go through it myself. But some portion of suffering is allotted to all of us, and I am so thankful for a godly example like Vaneetha’s. Much of what she said spoke to my heart even though my trials have been different.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

GuernseyIn the novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, Juliet Ashton had begun writing a lighthearted newspaper column during WWII under the name Izzy Bickertstaff. Her editors thought the country needed a bit of humor and uplift. After the war, the columns were collected and published as a book, making Juliet and her publishers a lot of money.

But now the war is over, and Juliet wants to write something more meaningful under her own name. She’s not sure what, though, until she receives a note from someone on Guernsey named Dawsey who had somehow ended up with a book she had given away about Charles Lamb. During WWII, Guernsey and surrounding Channel islands were occupied by the Germans. Most of the children were evacuated off the island, and for five years the island didn’t have contact with the outside world. As the island had been isolated during the war and no booksellers had come back yet, Dawsey can’t find other books by or about Lamb, and he  wonders if she might have access to some. In their correspondence, he mentions the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Understandably curious, Juliet asks to know more about the society. It was invented one night when a few neighbors out after curfew were stopped and questioned by a guard (why they were out was another interesting story). One of them made up on the spot the literary society that they had supposedly just come from and even mentioned a German book. Thankfully the guard was a literary type and let them go. But now they had to implement such a society to avoid suspicion, so they began to meet regularly to discuss books they were reading. Some of the members were not avid readers, but they found at least one book to read and talk about.

The more Juliet hears, the more she feels maybe this is what she needs to write about. The book is made of of correspondence mostly between Juliet and her publisher, a few friends, and the various members of the society.

Some of their stories are comical, some are poignant, others are quite sad. Some were helped by the books they read; others were helped more by the camaraderie and community. And a fair bit of drama occurs in Juliet’s life as well, and her life changes in several ways she could not have predicted.

It seemed like everyone was talking about this book a few years ago, and I had always intended to read it “someday.” When I saw a film was being made of the book, I decided now was the time. I have not seen the film yet, but I knew I wanted to read the book first.

Epistolary novels are not my favorite form of story, but it works for this novel. You would have thought that it would be hard to “show rather than tell” through letters, which are a way of telling. But Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece, Annie Barrows, do this masterfully.

Unfortunately there is a smattering of bad words, including the Lord’s name taken in vain. There are no sexual scenes, but one woman has a baby out of wedlock, a couple of men are characterized as homosexual, and mention is made of women who fraternize with the Germans sexually.

But the characters are charming, and I love the way the story unfolds. I hated to see the story come to an end.

I’ve read much WWII fiction, but nothing that I can recall from this period of recovery just after the war. Amid the joy and relief of the war ending and the Germans retreating, there were still shortages, missing people who had been sent off to camps, buildings defaced or marred by Germans who had taken them over, not to mention the emotional trauma many carried with them for a long while afterward.

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully read by a number of people. At first it was a little hard to distinguish between some of the characters, but after a while I got them straight. I ordered the book as well, and it contains a wonderful afterword by Annie Barrows. Most of the book was written by Mary Ann Shaffer, but her health began to fail during the rewrites, and she asked Annie to step in. Evidently Mary Ann had always been a wonderful storyteller, and the family was so pleased that her work was received so well.

I’ll close with a few of my favorite quotes:

That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.

Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.

All my life I thought that the story was over when the hero and heroine were safely engaged — after all, what’s good enough for Jane Austen ought to be good enough for anyone. But it’s a lie. The story is about to begin, and every day will be a new piece of the plot.

Because there is nothing I would rather do than rummage through bookshops, I went at once to Hastings & Sons Bookshop upon receiving your letter. I have gone to them for years, always finding the one book I wanted – and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.

Your questions regarding that gentleman are very delicate, very subtle, very much like being smacked in the head with a mallet…it’s a tuba among the flutes.

Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.

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