Book Review: A Constant Heart

 A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell takes place towards the end of Queen Elisabeth’s reign. The Earl of Lytham, a nobleman who was one of Elisabeth’s courtiers, needed to advance himself in her favor so as so as to earn a pension, knighthood, or something to increase his own fortune. To garner money to finish and maintain his homes, he found a knight paying a good dowry to marry off his daughter. Lytham did not really care about the girl, and was, in fact dismayed that she was beautiful. His first wife had been beautiful—and traitorous and unfaithful.

The earl’s new bride, Margret, had been trained since she was five only to please her future husband. Since it was obvious she could not please the earl personally, she sought to advance his interests at court. But she was an outsider, and a beautiful outsider at that. No one must outshine the queen. Marget’s life as a courtier fell flat until Lady de Winter took her in hand and advised her to do what every other female courtier did: shave her eyebrows, paint her face white with ceruse (a white lead mixed with vinegar), and dye her hair red to look like the queen’s.

The longer Margret stayed at court, the more she discovered the futility of life there. “It was a way of life that seemed to produce nothing of worth and yet consume everything of value.” And she came to understand that few there could be trusted. But she seemed to have no choice but to continually turn herself into what she was not.

And then the most dangerous development occurred. Lytham and Margret came to actually love each other. But no courtier was to love anyone more than his queen.

My thoughts:

I loved the depths of historical research deftly layered into this book. Siri states in a note to readers that the main characters were fictitious, but the circumstances were real. Elisabeth wore the ceruse paint to cover up both signs of aging and the smallpox she had endured. People didn’t realize the negative effects of lead paint until later. I had hoped Siri would also talk about some of the other details of the story in her note, but she didn’t. I did some reading about being a courtier in Elisabeth’s time, and many of the details Siri brought out were mentioned. Siri didn’t go into any of Elisabeth’s many accomplishments: perhaps all or most of those occurred before this last decade of her reign.

Some would want to know that sex is referred to often in the book. Since one method some used to curry favor involved sexual advances, that kind of thing could not help but be mentioned. But nothing is explicit.

I enjoyed Margret’s and Lytham’s journey toward learning to truly love each other and wrestling with just who the sovereign was in their lives. Grace was contrasted with the consuming machinations to court the favor of a capricious monarch. The integrity of a faithful heart was shown to have great value in all eras.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

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Making the Bible Come Alive

“He really makes the Bible come alive!”

Have you ever heard that about a preacher, speaker, teacher, or writer?

People could mean several different things by that statement. Perhaps they mean the teacher is exciting. They have a dynamic presentation. Or maybe they make the Scriptures seem particularly relevant. Maybe they help us understand things from the Scripture that we hadn’t before. They use a lot of eye-opening illustrations.

Those are all good traits. Years ago, at a former location, a Christian radio station ran a program from a local pastor who spoke in a monotone. I used to turn off the radio when his program came on. I actually got angry at him and thought, “Doesn’t the Bible deserve better treatment than that?” Then I got convicted of a wrong attitude. The man had been a pastor and had this program for years, so he obviously had listeners. Maybe some people like monotones, who knows.

But here’s the thing: we don’t make the Bible come alive. It IS alive.

Jesus said “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63, ESV).

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, ESV).

We’re the ones that need to be made alive. And what enlivens us? I like the King James word “Quicken,” which sometimes means to make alive, sometimes revive. God quickens us with His Word:

My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word. (Psalm 119:25)

This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me. (Psalm 119:50)

I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me. (Psalm 119:93)

God making us alive through His Word is not surprising, really. He created the universe and everything in it with His Word.

God’s Word can enliven us even if it’s read in a monotone.

That doesn’t mean we should be careless when we read, explain, or teach from it. There’s no virtue in reading the Bible in a monotone or presenting it in a dull way if we know better and can help it. We should try to present it in as understandable and winsome a way as possible.

Each of the Bible writers has a style about them: the Holy Spirit gave them the words, yet worked through each of their personalities to express truth.

But we should be careful of our tendencies to follow “exciting” teachers. If they can be exciting and Scripturally accurate, great. But too often, people gravitate towards excitement rather than truth.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4, ESV).

The Bible is so full of good truth that convicts, comforts, enlightens, teaches, rejoices our hearts, builds us up. We don’t need to dress it up or manipulate it to make it “interesting.” We just need to show people what it says. And we need to know it well enough to seek teachers who do the same.

Your words were found, and I ate them,
    and your words became to me a joy
    and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
    O Lord, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16, ESV)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Literary Musing Monday,
Hearth and Soul, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, Tea and Word,

Happy Now, Anchored Abode, Let’s Have Coffee, Worth Beyond Rubies,
Recharge Wednesday, Wise Woman, Share a Link Wednesday,
Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire, Faith ‘n Friends.
Links do not imply 100% agreement)

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End-of-September Musings

I don’t have my fall decorations out yet. It’s hard to get motivated when it doesn’t feel like fall yet. I’ve seen this going around on Facebook (I was unable to trace who originated it):

But! It will come! Sooner or later!

Meanwhile, here’s a look back at the month.

Family

Our big family event for the month was my youngest son, Jesse’s, birthday. He’s still job-hunting and hoping to be on his own soon, so this birthday the major concentration was gifts for his own place. Too bad they don’t give showers for single people. 🙂

We also enjoyed the Tennessee Valley Fair and a couple of family movies.

Mittu had a bad cold and now Jim has it. We’re hoping and praying it doesn’t spread further.

I got some medical stuff out of the way: my annual physical, a treatment for vertigo with a physical therapist, and an eye examination. Besides having a dentist appointment next month, I should be done with everything medical for a long while.

By the way, does anyone else get tired of hearing “That’s part of getting older” when you tell doctors your symptoms?!

Timothyisms

From my five year old grandson:

When Mittu asked Timothy if he wanted to tell Grandma the Bible verse he was learning, he replied, “Too much pressure.”

He didn’t believe his toy cow was a girl even though it had an udder. When asked why, he said, “It doesn’t have eyelashes.”

We were playing a game that involved choosing sounds to represent various scenarios (Earwax). Timothy loves to laugh at the different sounds. One of the categories was “What does love sound like?” I asked Timothy that question, and he said, “A beatboxing trumpet.”

Creating

I only made one card this month, for Jesse’s birthday. He likes video games, and this is supposed to look like his Nintendo Switch controller.

Watching

I’m continuing to watch When Calls the Heart while riding my exercise bike. We enjoyed America’s Got Talent, especially the finale (one of their best). Jesse and I usually watch something together while eating lunch, and lately we’ve been working our way through Merlin. It’s about Merlin as a teenager, just making his way to Camelot and meeting Arthur as a young man. They do change some details from the usual legend. But it’s amazingly clean. Of course, it deals with magic. We’re careful about that kind of thing, and when the kids were young I avoided any books or shows with magic. But then I realized that fairy tale magic is a different thing from the occult:real witches don’t turn people into toads and such.

We watched The Lion King a few weeks ago and the new Aladdin movie with Jason, Mittu, and Timothy.Then we took Timothy to his first in-theater movie with other visiting grandmother and saw Abominable. Cute in places, but probably not my favorite kids’ movie. But it was fun watching Timothy’s reaction to everything.

Writing

Still chipping away at revising the book I’m working on.

Reading

This month I completed:

  • Rachel’s Prayer and Sarah’s Promise, the last two books in Leisha Kelly’s series about the Worthham and Hammond families. Loved these dearly.
  • There’s a Reason They Call It GRANDparenting by Michele Howe. Good resource for grandparents who want to be a good influence in the grandchildren’s lives.
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Better and deeper than I had anticipated.
  • A Promise in Pieces by Emily T. Wierenga, about a WWII nurse who takes a dying soldier’s letter to his widow after the war The widow gives her a baby quilt, which she uses as a midwife. Good and touching story.
  • The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington. It’s something of a forgotten classic, but I enjoyed it quite a lot once I got into it.

I’m currently reading:

  • Loving People: How to Love and Be Loved by John Townsend . . . still. I used to read this kind of thing after my devotional time, but lately there hasn’t been time. I need to finish this one!
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Just started this, and it is SO good!
  • A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell

Blogging

Some of the blog posts from this month:

  • Forsaking Thoughts. It doesn’t help just to tell ourselves not to think about certain things. Here are some strategies for changing our thoughts.
  • What If We Really Don’t Measure Up? Someone will always be better than we are. But we’re only responsible for what God wants us to do.
  • Let Us Lift Up Our Hearts to the One Lifted Up for Us. A quick look at the phrase “lift up” in the Bible. Because He was lifted up for us, we can lift up our souls, eyes, voices to Him.
  • That’s Just the Way God Made Me.” Knowing how we’re wired helps in many ways. But good traits have offsetting weaknesses that we shouldn’t excuse. Plus, God sometimes wants us to extend ourselves out of our comfort zone and rely on Him to do what does not come naturally to us.
  • Making the Bible Come Alive. We can’t—it IS alive. We’re the ones who need to be made alive by the Word of God.

As we close out September, I’m looking forward to October: more fall weather, beautiful colors, no major events on the calendar. Oh, there are potlucks and a baby showers and Bible studies and always things to be done. But after our busy “birthday season” from the last few months, I’m looking forward to a lighter schedule between now and the holiday season.

How was your September?

(Sharing with Linda, Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging,
Literary Musing Monday, Hearth and Soul, Purposeful Faith,
Happy Now, Tea and Word, Tell His Story, Shannan,
Let’s Have Coffee, Worth Beyond Rubies, Porch Stories,
Grace and Truth, Faith ‘n Friends.
Linking does not imply 100% agreement)

Laudable Linkage

I have a very short list today, but a good one. I started to save them for next week, but by then I might have so many they’d get lost in the shuffle.

Redefining Balance So We Stop Thinking We’re Doing Life Wrong, HT to Edie Melson at the Blue Ridge Conference Writers Facebook Page. “Juggling is exhausting. It’s also not supposed to be a full-time gig. Professional jugglers don’t juggle every day, all the time. Which brings me to the whole idea of balance because juggling involves balance.”

Maintaining Confidence in the Process. “Too often we overestimate the growth we can gain in a week, but underestimate the growth we can gain in a year.”

The Casserole Rules. “As people of faith, we are very good at meeting people in times of death and illness. There are no judgments around these things, and we do not need discernment about who was in the wrong. We don’t have to wonder about whether one’s grief is deserving of a casserole. The rules about other human conditions are not so clear. Casseroles for the death of a marriage? For a mental breakdown? For rehab?”

My five-year-old grandson likes the “Dude Perfect” guys on YouTube and shared several of their videos with us. This was one of my favorites:

I don’t necessarily like the “Rage Monster,” who appears in all their “stereotypes” videos. Being so angry you’re out of control is scary rather than funny to me. I guess someone must have been looking to take up a gym floor here. 🙂

Happy Saturday!

Friday’s Fave Five

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

The last Friday of September and the first Friday of autumn! It still doesn’t feel like autumn yet, but some trees are starting to turn color. It’s just a few degrees lower, but I sure am looking forward to cool breezes, hopefully soon. Meanwhile, here are some of the best parts of the last week:

1. Mending is not a favorite, but it does feel good to take clothes from unwearable to wearable status. I had not worn a couple of items in a long time, so it almost feels like getting something new!

2. A good report from the ophthalmologist. I hadn’t seen the eye doctor for years since our last one retired and his replacement went to a pediatric office. I seemed to have an excess of new floaters, so I wanted to make sure everything was ok with my retina. My husband’s retina detached a few years ago, and the first symptom was a lot of floaters. I was glad to hear everything was ok with my eyes.

3. Movie night Jason and Mittu rented the live-action Aladdin and brought it over to watch. I hadn’t seen the animated version, so I don’t know how it compares, but we enjoyed it a lot.

4. Cuddling with Timothy while watching the movie. He usually sits with his mom and dad or on a kid’s couch when we watch something, so it was sweet he took the initiative to sit next to me.

5. Antibiotics. My poor dear husband has had some kind of upper respiratory problems for a week and a half now. He called in for an antibiotic a couple of days ago, and it’s starting to help. He’s still pretty sick, but hopefully he’ll be well before too much longer.

Bonus: Munchkins! I was craving a donut after my eye doctor appointment, but didn’t want to go into a store with my eyes dilated (with all the bright lights. And I didn’t want to wear my sunglasses inside in public). I didn’t think we had a donut shop near, but discovered a Dunkin Donuts not too far way. I like their bite-sized assortment.

Happy Friday!

Book Review: The Magnificent Ambersons

Booth Tarkington won a Pulitzer prize for The Magnificent Ambersons, set in Indiana in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries.

One one level, the story focuses on Georgie Amberson Minifer, only grandchild of the great Major Amberson. “His grandfather had been the most striking figure of success in the town: ‘As rich as Major Amberson!’ they used to say.” The town was proud of the Major, and his mansion was the big finale when people took visitors on a tour. But Georgie was considered a “princely terror” who felt his entitlement even as a child. Many people looked forward to the day when Georgie would “get his comeuppance.”

As a reader, I began to look forward to the same thing and wondered how it would come about. I also wondered if it would be the ruin of him or the making of him. Even though Georgie is not a likeable character at first, one does feel sorry for him during his “comeuppance.”

On another level, the book masterfully conveyed the changes of the times: the advent of the automobile, which many considered just a fad at first; the growth of the little town into a big city with the problems that kind of growth can bring; the decline of “old families” and their pedigrees and the rise of industrialism and entrepreneurship.

But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us suspect. They are here, and almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace. I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can’t have the immense outward changes that they will cause without some inward ones, and it may be that George is right, and that the spiritual alteration will be bad for us.

The city was so big, now, that people disappeared into it unnoticed, and the disappearance of Fanny and her nephew was not exceptional. People no longer knew their neighbours as a matter of course; one lived for years next door to strangers—that sharpest of all the changes since the old days—and a friend would lose sight of a friend for a year, and not know it

A big part of the first chapter describes the various ways the rich distinguished themselves in fashion, facial hair, architecture, and such. It was an enjoyable observation of changing styles. I found it interesting that the term “hand-me-downs” came not from getting clothes that had belonged to someone else, but from getting them “off the shelf” rather than specially made from a tailor: “Trousers with a crease were considered plebeian; the crease proved that the garment had lain upon a shelf, and hence was ‘ready-made’; these betraying trousers were called ‘hand-me-downs,’ in allusion to the shelf.”

It took me just a bit to get into the story, as it begins with a heap of description. One thing I most appreciated about Tarkington’s writing was his skill in conveying things to the reader through Georgie’s eyes that Georgie himself missed. For instance, various people comment on his father not looking well, but Georgie thinks he looks just as he always did—and then Georgie is surprised to find out his father really is ill. Georgie’s fairly young throughout the book, so he’s forgiven for a bit of immaturity. But his lack of understanding other people or situations comes more from his exalted view of his own opinion.

Gossip can be a problem for anyone, but it’s a partuclar bane for the rich and famous. I found the advice Georgie’s uncle George gave him worth consideration:

In this town, naturally, anything about any Amberson has always been a stone dropped into the centre of a pond, and a lie would send the ripples as far as a truth would.

“Gossip is never fatal, Georgie,” he said, “until it is denied. Gossip goes on about every human being alive and about all the dead that are alive enough to be remembered, and yet almost never does any harm until some defender makes a controversy. Gossip’s a nasty thing, but it’s sickly, and if people of good intentions will let it entirely alone, it will die, ninety-nine times out of a hundred.”

People who have repeated a slander either get ashamed or forget it, if they’re let alone. Challenge them, and in self-defense they believe everything they’ve said: they’d rather believe you a sinner than believe themselves liars, naturally. Submit to gossip and you kill it; fight it and you make it strong. People will forget almost any slander except one that’s been fought.

Nobody has a good name in a bad mouth. Nobody has a good name in a silly mouth, either.

I also found especially interesting the Major’s thoughts when he knows his time is coming near:

The Major was engaged in the profoundest thinking of his life. No business plans which had ever absorbed him could compare in momentousness with the plans that absorbed him now, for he had to plan how to enter the unknown country where he was not even sure of being recognized as an Amberson—not sure of anything, except that Isabel would help him if she could. His absorption produced the outward effect of reverie, but of course it was not. The Major was occupied with the first really important matter that had taken his attention since he came home invalided, after the Gettysburg campaign, and went into business; and he realized that everything which had worried him or delighted him during this lifetime between then and to-day—all his buying and building and trading and banking—that it all was trifling and waste beside what concerned him now.

For those who would want to know, the book has a few objectionable elements: a smattering of bad words and taking the Lord’s name in vain, the condescending view of “darkeys” and a couple of uses of the “n” word, and one character visiting a medium. That character (not Georgie) said he wasn’t superstitious, only believed what the medium said for about ten minutes, and realized he had inadvertently supplied her with information enough for what she told him. But the incident was a major turning point in his attitude, and I was disappointed Tarkington used it to bring that about.

Wikipedia says, “In the 1910s and 1920s, Tarkington was regarded as the great American novelist, as important as Mark Twain.” I’m nor sure why he’s not read as much today. I’m thankful I chose this book for the Classics from the Americas category of the Back to the Classics challenge. I enjoyed Tarkington’s story and insights very much.

I mostly listened to the audiobook read by Peter Berkrot, but I read the last few chapters in the free Kindle version because I can read faster than the narrator does, and I wanted to finish it. It’s also online free through Project Gutenberg. There are a couple of movie versions of the book, but I haven’t seen any of them.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: A Promise in Pieces

In A Promise in Pieces by Emily T. Wierenga, Clara Kirkpatrick and her best friend, Eva, just finished nursing school during WWII. Clara’s father was a pacifist preacher. “Daddy didn’t know the truth about the war . . . he just stood at his pulpit and spouted about peace while men died to make it happen.” Clara and Eva ran away to enlist as nurses.

Clara’s heart was broken many times over caring for soldiers in various states of health in the worst physical settings. On a particularly bad night, she had a patient named Gareth who was dying but singing hymns. He had been a preacher, but he and his wife, Mattie, felt he should go fight to defend people against the evils of Hitler. Gareth’s faith and example rekindled Clara’s. Gareth asked her to take a letter to his wife as soon as she could after the war.

Clara fulfilled Gareth’s wish and went to see Mattie and deliver Gareth’s letter. “Mattie’s home reached out like an old friend, with its shutters around the windows and its welcome mat and white lace at the windows.” Mattie wanted to talk extensively with the last person to see Gareth. The two became friends, and Mattie gave Clara a baby quilt she had made. Since Mattie’s own dream of having a family was now gone, the quilt was too painful to keep.

After the war, Clara became a midwife. When she delivered a baby, she loaned the blanket to the new mother and then embroidered his or her name on the quilt along with a word of blessing. She didn’t think she’d ever marry: she had seen so much loss and devastation, she didn’t want to love someone only to lose them.

But life took Clara and the quilt in surprising directions. She faced more than one tragedy and struggled with the search for significance. “I somehow missed the war, in a mournful, sadistic kind of way. I missed knowing I was needed. I missed fighting for something. I felt a little lost, not having a clear, defined purpose.”

The story is told by Clara as a grandmother sharing the details with her grandson on a family trip. Some parts of it are shared as flashback chapters. Then the last third or so of the book catches up with the family in real time. and continues from there.

Though sad in parts, the story shares Clara’s growth in faith and her finding her purpose. There are sweet and poignant moments throughout.

But there were also a couple of odd places. In one passage she tells her children:

“God is kind of like sugar. He dissolves inside our hearts. So he’s there, and he’s making us sweeter, so to speak, but he isn’t visible.” There was quiet as they ate, and I thought about the love of Oliver and these children and the friendship of Mattie and the dream of the women at the tables, and I thought, in fact, God is so very visible. We just have to have eyes to see him.”

I think she’s just trying to make the point that God works on us invisibly, from the inside out. But I have trouble with the analogy of God “dissolving” in our hearts.

In another place, she speaks of “How we are all God-in-flesh, born to die to ourselves, so others might be saved.” I think she’s just saying that God calls us to lay down our lives for others as He did. But even though He indwells believers, I wouldn’t call us “God-in-flesh” in the same way Jesus was.

I tried to look the author up online, but links to her website, Facebook page, and Twitter accounts all led to error pages or “Page Removed” messages. I found a few articles of hers online but not enough to really know where she’s coming from. Her other books are nonfiction.

This book is part of a “Quilts of Love” series, but from what I can tell, the books are individual stories unconnected to each other except with the quilting theme.

Except for the couple of odd places I mentioned, this was a good story.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

“That’s just the way God made me”

When my youngest son was small, he was a chatty little guy. In fact, sometimes he could talk too much. I didn’t want to squelch his openness with people or his ability to strike up a conversation, as those are valuable traits (which don’t come naturally to me!) But no one wants to be around someone who talks incessantly. Once he was talking to the wife of a visiting missionary family at church who was trying to soothe a fussy baby and graciously step away from him. He kept chatting merrily on, unaware that she was trying to escape. When I tried to suggest that perhaps he was talking a little too much, he flashed his bright smile and said, “That’s just the way God made me.”

“Well,” I thought, “What do I say to that?”

After a while the Lord did bring to mind a few principles to share with him, such as the fact that God made us to eat, yet it is wrong to eat too much or the wrong things; God made us to sleep, but warns against loving sleep too much and being lazy, etc. He gives us responsibility to use our natural bent and inclinations in the right way. We talked about the warning signs that you’re talking too much — when other people look bored, sleepy, or glazed, or when they’re trying to step away or start another conversation with someone else, etc.

It’s good to know how God made us. The preponderance of books and articles about personality tests and frameworks shows just how interested people are in this topic. Some of us have experienced major frustration trying to fit in a task or even ministry, only to realize later that we weren’t gifted for that position.

I participated in a particular ministry for years without really enjoying it. I thought I was guilty of a bad attitude and needed to pray more. When I was asked to take a different position within that ministry, I suddenly felt as if I had found my niche, and my attitude changed completely. That was one of my first inklings that the way we’re wired has a lot to do with what ministries and tasks we’re best suited for.

But knowing how we’re wired is only half the battle. Here are a few other considerations concerning our personalities and giftings:

We can’t insist on our own way.

I know I am an introvert. For many years introversion was considered negative, but books like Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power on Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking helped demonstrate that introverts have valuable and needful traits. That book helped me feel at home in my own skin.

But I can’t sit in my corner with a book as much as I’d like to. I can’t always leave greeting visitors at church to others who are better at it. I have to depend on God’s grace when I don’t get what I think I need.

Sometimes we have to extend ourselves outside our comfort zones. Our pastor has said that he’s very spontaneous, but he has learned that his wife and son need a bit of time to mentally change gears from what they’re doing to what he suggests. When we love, live, and work with others who are wired differently, sometimes we have to yield to them or meet them halfway.

When my middle son was in the 6th or 7th grade, he lamented that he studied for spelling tests and yet still received disappointing grades. A classmate hardly studied at all and yet made A’s. I explained that everyone has an aptitude for certain areas, and this friend obviously had an aptitude for spelling. My son brightened, thinking that since he didn’t have a natural aptitude for spelling, he didn’t have to worry about it. I had to say, no, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to work on your spelling: in fact, in means you have to work harder!

We have weaknesses directly related to our gifts.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, every strength has an offsetting weakness. An acquaintance is very much a take-charge person. When there’s a crisis, when no one know what to do first, this man is great to have around. He knows just what to do, how to organize tasks and people. But not every situation calls for leadership. When he tries to use those same skills when they’re not needed, he just comes across as controlling.

I used to really struggle under the leadership of someone who was an “idea guy.” When he overlooked something that caused problems, frustrations, more work, etc., for the people under him, he’d just smile and say, “You’ll have to forgive me, I’m not good with details. I’m just not wired that way.” I’ve heard someone apologize for an angry outburst by saying, “I’m sorry, I just have a bad temper.” I’ve known people who think they have the spirituals gifts of prophesy or exhortation to harshly lambast a person or movement (and take great pleasure in doing so), forgetting that “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Timothy 2:24-25).

We need to keep growing

No matter what our gifts are, we’re still tainted by a sin nature. We’re not perfect yet. God needs to keep refining us and developing us. We rest in Christ for our righteousness and salvation. But we can’t rest on past laurels or victories or even our gifts. The devil doesn’t rest in trying to trip us up or distract us. To keep growing, we need to keep abiding and keep letting God cultivate us and prune us.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, (Philippians 1:9)

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 9-10)

Sometimes God calls us to a task outside our natural gifts.

Moses felt he could not lead or speak, yet God did not accept any of his excuses. Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, ‘Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak’” (Jeremiah 1:6-7). We think of the apostle Paul as bold and wise, yet he said, “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom.” But he goes on to say he ministered “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:3-5).

Sometimes God uses people in the ways they seem to be bent, but other times He calls them to do something that doesn’t come naturally to them to show His power and His grace through them. While taking care of my mother-in-law a few years ago, I wrote in Rethinking Spiritual Gifts:

Someone I knew said of their daughter, who was training to be a nurse, that she was a “natural caregiver.” Another friend who is a nurse spoke of loving to use the talents God had given her to minister to people in that way—another natural caregiver. That’s not me. I want people to be cared for, particularly my mother-in-law. But I have never been good with or felt inclined to the hands-on type of caregiving she is in need of now, except with my own children.

Yet here we are. Do I tell God, “There must be some mistake. Not only am I not gifted for this, but it’s keeping me from what I feel I am gifted for.” Probably not a good idea. Spiritual gift tests can sometimes foster a “That’s not my job” syndrome when we’re asked to do something outside of our comfort zone.

Though we need to rely on God’s help, grace, and strength even for those areas where we feel He has gifted us, there’s nothing like being totally out of our element to make us lean on Him and plea for His enabling like never before. And though the main point of caregiving isn’t about me, but rather about showing love and ministering to my mother-in-law, perhaps one reason He has allowed this opportunity is to teach me lessons about my own selfishness as well as serving and loving others in the way they most need it, not in the way I am “comfortable” showing it.

The person who is not good with details is not excused from having to deal with them; in fact, he may have to work harder to handle them, or hire an assistant to help him. The person with a bad temper is not allowed to give it free reign because he can’t help himself. The shy or introverted person has to extend herself sometimes, even though it’s uncomfortable. Even spiritual gifts such as exhortation or mercy or giving have to be kept in balance. A person whose gift is giving for example, can’t run his family into debt or neglect their needs to give to others. He is responsible to exercise that gift in conjunction with other Scriptural instruction under God’s leadership. Scripture contains several passages of instruction concerning how to exercise spiritual gifts.

Understanding they way we’re “wired” does help us to know what direction to go in life, what ministries or vocations to choose, etc. For instance, I am not good with numbers: I can add the same list of numbers up three times and get three different answers—even with a calculator. So I would not look for a job as an accountant. I get rattled in a busy, noisy environment, so I wouldn’t likely work best there—as a teen I lasted working for a fast-food place for only a week.

Whether dealing with a sin issue, a personality bent, or even a spiritual gift, “That’s just the way I am” is not a good excuse. God wants us to seek Him for deliverance from the power of sin, for power and grace to maintain right balances and to be diligent even in areas where we don’t have natural gifts, and for help to grow continually more Christlike every day we live. He does not want us to remain “just the way we are.” “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). We’re changed by beholding Him.

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(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Kingdom Bloggers, Global Blogging,
Literary Musing Monday, Hearth and Soul, Purposeful Faith,
Tell His StoryTea and Word, Happy Now, Anchored Abode,
Let’s Have Coffee, Worth Beyond Rubies, Recharge Wednesday,
Share a Link Wednesday, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth,
Faith on Fire, Faith ‘n Friends)

Laudable Linkage

Any link I share with you is a worthy read, but there have been some especially excellent ones this week:

A Tale of Two Teachers. “We elevate youth and beauty. We want funny more than we want wise. . . We want empowerment more than we want humility.

If You Want Your Kids to Own Their Faith, Teach Them to Think Critically about Their Faith, HT to Challies. “I think this is one of the reasons why many Christian kids grow up and abandon ‘their’ beliefs. For many of them, those beliefs were never theirs in the first place. They were their parent’s beliefs that the kids were taught to memorize and regurgitate, beliefs the kids were never challenged to think through for themselves.”

Make Me a Cake, HT to Challies. “Sometimes during the long dark nights, I wake. And I remember Autism, that dark cloud that settled over our lives years ago. And I think about how this is forever, at least on this Earth. How this is the rest of my life. And I wonder, how can I do this for the rest of my life?”

The Ministry of Presence. “The local church doesn’t need people of outsized talents or rare abilities as much as it needs normal people with full-out commitment.”

5 Tips for Conversations in Our Tense Cultural Moment, HT to Challies. “In years gone by, it seems you could just disagree with someone and everyone was fine with that. You could just shake hands and move on. But now, in our tense cultural situation, disagreement is regarded as a personal attack. To disagree with someone is to be hateful and unloving toward them.”

Confidence to Face the Challenge. “He doesn’t look to boost Solomon’s self-esteem, but to encourage his confidence in the God who has called him.”

Why I Find Decorating Important to the Soul, HT to Kim. “There was a time when I almost stopped doing any kind of seasonal decorating. Why bother when we no longer have children living at home and the days of spending hours preparing a meal for a crowd are long gone. Why decorate when it is just two of us and a cat most of the time?”

Finally, this showed up in my Facebook memories this morning: a text with my husband a few years ago that brought a smile.

It makes me wish there was a breakfast biscuit called Bacon Nation. 🙂

Happy Saturday!

Friday’s Fave Five

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

It seems like September just started, and now 2/3 of it is gone. I like to press “pause” on Fridays and remember some of the best parts of the previous week, lest they fly by too quickly.

1. The Tennessee Valley Fair. We hadn’t gone since before Timothy was born, so it was fun to see his reaction. I hadn’t known in previous years that they had a section for young kids. I enjoyed watching Timothy put on his “brave face” for his first ride that a parent couldn’t do with him. After that, he was fine and rode several more.

2. Jesse’s birthday.

As a subset of this one, he has asked for lemon cake the last few years. Normally I don’t crave lemon, but I do look forward to this every year!

3. Vertigo treatment at a physical therapist’s office using this procedure. It took three repetitions, but the vertigo finally subsided.

4. Providential timing. Jason and Mittu’s car has been in the shop, so they have been borrowing Jim’s old one. One day they dropped something off at our house, and Jim got home just after they came. As they drove away, Jim heard a weird sound and called them to come back. He found that one tire had 3 lug nuts missing somehow! So they borrowed my van while Jim took his car in. I’m thankful God brought attention to this while they were in a safe place.

5. A few quiet days after several busy ones. We’ve had a lot of things on the calendar the last two weeks, some necessitating getting up an hour early. Though most of the events were fun (fair, birthdays) or necessary (doctor’s visits), I was so glad there was nothing going on the rest of this week. Wednesday I seemed to fall asleep every time I got still for a few minutes, and I was afraid I’d be wide awake that night. But I wasn’t, so I must have needed the extra shut-eye.

Bonus: The flushing mechanism on our toilet broke the same day as the car issues came up. We could still flush it, but we had to take off the lid to the tank and do it manually. I was so glad Jim could fix it the next day.

Happy Friday!