Book Review: Until We Reach Home

Until We Reach Home by Lynn Austin is the story of three sisters from Sweden in 1897. Their mother died, then their father committed suicide, which in that time and culture went beyond its own tragedy to be considered a disgrace to the family. An aunt and uncle move in to “help” but ended up taking over the farm. To protect her sisters from a danger which only she knows about, oldest sister Elin accepts another uncle’s invitation to come to America.

Elin is the take-charge mother hen of the group. The danger she wants to keep them from has made her wary, nervous, and sad, which irritates her sisters because they don’t know what’s behind it.

Kirsten is the free-spirited, adventurous, independent middle child. She doesn’t want to move to America at first, but when she learns that her relationship with a young man will never advance because of her father’s disgrace, she breaks up with him and wants to leave.

Sophia is the shy youngest, attached to the farm and thoroughly unwilling to go to America. She often visits her mother’s grave and wants to stay near it. But she doesn’t want to be separated from her sisters, either.

The trip via trains, ferries, and finally a ship, is harrowing, especially in the crowded conditions of steerage. Seasickness hits them all, and then a mysterious disease breaks out. Then their arrival is not what they had anticipated when two of them are detained at Ellis Island and even when they finally get to their aunt and uncle’s home. Almost entirely on their own, they have to scramble to find work and a place to live.

Elin and Kirsten both carry weighty secrets from their past. When Sophia is faced with the one thing she fears most, she rediscovers the faith of her mother.

Will they all find release from their burdens? Will life always be a hardscrabble struggle, or will they ever find their new start in this new land? Will they ever find a true home?

My thoughts:

New beginnings are almost never easy, even when they’re excitedly anticipated. But starting over under the conditions that they did and at the time they did made it all the harder. So many immigrants came from hard conditions to make a better life and faced so many hardships both in travel and then supporting themselves once they got here. Like the pioneers, persevering through hardships made hardy stock of them – or maybe they were to begin with. This book was quite enlightening, and I enjoyed it very much. As one character says, “Life with God is often very difficult. But life without Him is unendurable.”

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

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Book Review: Don Quixote

The only thing I really knew about Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes was the famous tilting at windmills scene. When one of the categories for the Back to the Classics challenge was a classic published before 1800, as I searched titles, this was one of only a couple that I was interested in. I was dismayed to see that the audiobook was 36 hours! One paperback copy I saw was 992 pages! But I plunged in.

Don Quixote starts out as nobleman Alonso Quixano in Spain. He loves reading about tales of chivalry to the point that he loses his senses, believes the stories to be true, and decides to bring back knighthood by becoming a knight errant himself, much to the dismay of his niece and housekeeper. He chooses the name Don Quixote for himself (or Don Quixote de La Mancha in full) and finds an old suit of armor and cleans it up. When he discovers the helmet has pieces missing, he constructs them out of pasteboard. He renames his old horse Rocinante. Every knight has to have a lady love, so he chooses a farm girl from a neighboring village, unbeknownst to her, and renames her Dulcinea del Toboso (at the beginning it is said that he was once in love with her, but later he confesses that he has never even seen her).

Thus he sets off to seek adventure. But most of his encounters meet with little success. People think he is crazy, so some of them fight against him. Other times he mistakes what’s going on, like thinking windmills are giants or sheep are an army of invaders. Once he got so caught up in a puppet show that he began to think the action was real and slaughtered the villainous puppets. When confronted with reality, he concludes that some enemy enchanter changed things, like making the giants into windmills at the last moment.

Along the way he also encounters other people and hears their stories. My favorite one of these involved a well-to-do woman renowned for her beauty. All sorts of men fell in love with her, but she wouldn’t have them and went off to live alone as a shepherdess. She’s thought to be cruel since she won’t return anyone’s affection. Don Quixote comes upon a funeral of a shepherd who died over his love for this woman and her lack of love for him. While the other shepherds are telling the story, the beautiful shepherdess comes upon the scene and delivers what I have dubbed The Lament of Beautiful Girls Everywhere, saying, in the modern vernacular, “Look, I can’t help it if I am beautiful. God made me that way: it’s through no effort of mine. I can’t fall in love with someone just because he falls in love with me, so give me a break already!” One of the more famous of these is the tale of Lothario, who was unwillingly drafted by his friend to woo his wife, thinking that if she passed this test, he would be sure of her love. Lothario resists at first, then lies saying he has made attempts when he has not, and finally the inevitable happens and he falls in love with his friend’s wife, leading to a “lothario” in our day meaning a man who seduces women.

The book we have today contains two parts. Cervantes wrote the first and was in no particular hurry to write the second, until someone else wrote a book about Quixote. Then he wrote the second part in which he makes many digs at this interloper and his work and ends it in such a way that no one can credibly write any more about his character. Nowadays both parts are published in one book.

Quixote takes three journeys, or sallies, two in the first part and one in the second. He goes alone the first time, but for the second two he takes a farmer as a squire, Sancho Panza. Sancho goes back and forth between admiring Quixote in some ways, particularly his bravery, to wondering about his sanity. He stays with him, though, mainly because Quixote has promised his an island to govern at some point.

The story is told by a narrator as if studying the works of a Cide Hamete Benengalie and his research on Quixote, lending a supposed air of authenticity to the story.

My thoughts:

It’s obvious that the story is meant as a farce. Just the mental picture of what translator Ormsby calls the “unsmiling gravity” of Quixote in old banged up armor with a pasteboard helmet (and later a barber’s bowl for a helmet) on an old horse talking in lofty language like a knight of old is comical, as are Sancho’s lamentations over what Quixote is doing or wants him to do and Sancho’s constant stringing together of proverbs.Cervantes even pokes fun at himself: in one scene, Quixote’s friends are going through his books and getting rid of the books of chivalry most likely to cause the Don the most problems and come across one by Cervantes and comment on it. Then in the second part, he addresses some mistakes in the first part tongue in cheek (like Sancho’s mule, Dapple, being stolen and then appearing in Dapple with no explanation) by saying it was a mistake of the printer, and so on. I enjoyed this kind of humor.

I particularly liked some of the phrasing. Cervantes, in the scene above describing his book that Quixote supposedly read, is said to have “more experience in reverses than verses.” Quixote is often described as lean, even gaunt, and one line speaks of “cheeks that seemed to be kissing each other on the inside.” One girl “did not measure seven palms from head to foot, and her shoulders, which overweighted her somewhat, made her contemplate the ground more than she liked.” My absolute favorite line is: “With a blunt wit thou art always striving at sharpness.”

But a lot of the humor is not to my taste. For instance, in one chapter, Quixote and Sancho and another man are sleeping in something like a stable of an inn. The other man is waiting for a woman to join him. Quixote sees her come in and thinks she is there to test his virtue, so he sets her down beside him to tell her why he must remain true to Dulcinea. The other man sees the Don holding the woman there apparently against her will and starts fighting him. Quixote thinks it is an enemy and fights back. The woman is thrown onto Sancho’s bed, and he, being startled, starts punching her, not realizing she’s a woman. It ends up a free-for-all, Three Stooges style. In fact, there is quite a lot of beating up in the first part.

In both parts there is a lot of setting Quixote up for situations and then laughing at him behind his back, but it’s more concentrated in the second part. Just about all the major characters in the book, even Sancho and the Don’s closest friends, have no trouble deceiving him and laughing at him. In fact, when a friend comes to deceive Quixote into coming home for a year in the hopes that his “madness” might thereby be cured, he is told by someone else, “May God forgive you the wrong you have done the whole world in trying to bring the most amusing madman in it back to his senses. Do you not see, senor, that the gain by Don Quixote’s sanity can never equal the enjoyment his crazes give? … if it were not uncharitable, I would say may Don Quixote never be cured, for by his recovery we lose not only his own drolleries, but his squire Sancho Panza’s too, any one of which is enough to turn melancholy itself into merriment.” And this laughing at someone who is impaired plus setting him up for further laughs is not my kind of humor, either.

It’s a little crude in a couple of places.

Don Quixote seems pretty foolish at first, but by the end of the book I had grown quite fond of him. More than anyone else in the book, he maintains his integrity. He has his flaws, but he operates under the laws and ideals of chivalry unwaveringly, even when it costs him. As is said of him near the end of the book, he “was always of a gentle disposition and kindly in all his ways, and hence he was beloved, not only by those of his own house, but by all who knew him.”

So while the book will probably never go down as one of my all-time favorites, I am glad to have read it. I enjoyed much of the writing. It’s nice to know the full story now, especially as cultural references to Quixote abound. I’m listening to Cyrano de Bergerac now, and even that references Quixote. And then there is this recent cartoon from xkcd:

When I was trying to discern which translation would be best to read, I came across this discussion, which said that a newer one might be more accessible to the modern reader, but an older one like John Ormsby’s catches more of the nuances of the original language. And if I am going to read a classic like this, I want those nuances. 🙂 I found a Kindle version of Ormsby’s translation which I would highly recommend, especially his preface. He also gives a brief biography of Cervantes, telling how his travels supplied some of the characterizations and scenes and how he he was a captive in Algiers for a time, which comes out in the character of a soldier in the same situation in the book. He describes how even the geography of La Mancha, for those who know it, lends itself to the irony of the book with what he calls its monotonous landscape with “nothing venerable” about it as being an unlikely place for launching a glorious hero.

I primarily listened to the audiobook narrated superbly by Roy McMillan, with some dipping into the Kindle version already mentioned. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if it had been read with a Spanish accent – that would have enhanced the Spanish flavor of the book. But he did a wonderful job with the different characters’ voices and perfectly portrayed the “unsmiling gravity” of Don Quixote.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

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Mentoring Is More Than Affirmation

Sometimes over the years I have read the question from younger women, “Where are the older, godly, Titus 2 women?”

I’ve also read many sentiments from younger women, especially younger moms, that they don’t want anyone to criticize them or tell them they should be doing anything differently. They just want to be encouraged and told they’re doing a good job.

Granted, older women have a reputation for being critical. We should take great pains to affirm and encourage younger women. We shouldn’t be talking behind our hands to our friends about the younger generation (or anyone else). We need to be open to the fact that many things about Christian womanhood can look different for different people and situations and not insist that everything should be done like we did it 20-40 years ago.

On the other hand, though, is mentoring just about affirmation? Does a classroom teacher or athletic coach or job supervisor only affirm and encourage? Do they not sometimes correct and instruct?

Once I looked up the Greek word translated “teach” in the famous Titus 2 passage about older and younger women. It’s the only time this particular word is used in the NT, and, according to BibleStudyTools.com, it means:

1. restore one to his senses

2. to moderate, control, curb, disciple

3. to hold one to his duty

4. to admonish, to exhort earnestly

Are we actually looking for that kind of interaction with older women?

I know it’s hard sometimes when you get conflicting or thoughtless or inappropriate or “out of touch” advice. Here are some thoughts:

1. Manage your expectations. No one on the planet, even a wise, godly older woman, is going to hit the nail on the head every time. We’re all sinners; we won’t always get it right; we won’t always be available when we should be. We want to be the ideal older woman, but we’ll fail. Your mentors won’t be gurus or fairy godmothers: they’ll be very human. But that’s even better, because we can learn from God’s grace in their mistakes as well as their shining moments.

2. Even though God wants these kinds of relationships, don’t seek them before Him. Seek Him first for any problem, and ask Him to direct you to whom to talk to if that is His will.

3. Attribute the best motives. Once in the mall with our young baby in a stroller, one older lady from our church stopped us and told us he needed to be covered up more so he didn’t get a chill. Just a few minutes later, another older lady from our church told us to uncover him so he wouldn’t get hot and sweaty. It’s easy to want to roll our eyes behind people’s backs sometimes, but tell yourself that they mean well and at least showed an interest.

4. Glean. Sometimes you’ll get different opinions from different older women whom you respect and who both love the Lord. This was hard for me as a young mom until I hit upon the idea of gleaning – kindly listening and then taking from their advice what would best work for our family and leaving the rest.

5. Observe. In every stage and season of my life, God has placed ladies just ahead of me that I have learned much from just by observing.

6. Interact with older ladies, whether going to ladies’ meetings, talking with them at baby showers, asking them over for lunch or dinner, etc. Sometimes older women feel unwanted by the younger: let them know that you do want to know them. Sometimes you can glean a lot just by being around them.

7. You may need to take the initiative and go to an older woman whose advice you would like to receive. Some are reticent because they don’t know how to mentor or they are afraid of offending. Feel free to ask questions. They’re much more willing to share when they know their thoughts are wanted.

8. Don’t be offended. I read a post years ago about a woman who was rebuked in a harsh way by an older lady over a modesty issue. To her credit, the younger woman took it to the Lord and came to believe that the woman was right, even though the woman had gone about it in a totally wrong way. That doesn’t excuse the older woman, but we’re also not excused from something God might be trying to tell us through an imperfect vessel.

9. Don’t be oversensitive. Don’t mistake advice or a suggestion as criticism. Some years ago I was with a younger lady who had just received a gift of a parenting book after her child was born. This was pretty common when I was a young mom, and we welcomed it – we knew we needed all the help we could get. I knew the giver, and she had discussed this book with me once and mentioned that she liked to give it to new moms because it had been such a help to her. But this new mom was hurt, interpreting the gift as an indication that the giver thought she wasn’t going to be a good parent. Likewise, I’ve heard women sound hurt when someone tells them, “You have your hands full!” and take it as a jab for having an active child or more than one child. More often than not it is said by someone who has also had their hands full parenting in the past and who know what younger parents are going through.

10. Don’t assume that you know the motives behind what another woman is saying. Ask questions to clarify if need be.

It’s hard for older women to know how to go about mentoring unless we’re in an actual position of authority (parent, Sunday School teacher, pastor’s wife). Even then it can be touchy. For most of us, in our everyday interactions it wouldn’t go over well to just stop a younger women in her tracks and start “teaching” her. But here are a few considerations:

1. Pray. If there is someone on your heart, pray much before approaching her, pray much about how to approach her, pray much about whether to approach her at all. If someone asks you a question on the spot, send up a quick prayer for wisdom and possibly even ask for time to think and pray about their question and get back to them.

2. It’s generally best not to offer advice unless asked.

3. Even when offering advice, we need to couch it in suggestive rather than authoritarian tones. I often say, “You might think about…” or “Something that helps me is…” rather than “You ought to…”

4. Don’t contradict a woman’s doctor or pediatrician unless a moral issue is involved. Obviously if a woman’s doctor is advocating abortion, we’d want to try to help her see another view. But in just the little everyday parts of child care, I was amazed at how much had changed between what I was taught as a young mother and what my daughter-in-law was instructed to do with my grandson. It’s probably best never to use the phrase, “Back in MY day…”

5. Don’t contradict a woman’s husband unless there are moral, sinful, or abusive issues. If he wants her to work while she wants to stay home, pray with her, possibly suggest ways she can approach him about it, but don’t incite rebellion.

6. Don’t major on the minors. There are so many divisive issues among women: getting married or remaining single; working vs. staying at home; breastfeeding or bottle feeding; home school vs. public school vs. private school, whether to use a pacifier or not, and on and on and on. Most of these are secondary issues that the Bible does not give specific commands or instruction about. You may have specific principles you’ve drawn after much study in the Word. That’s as it should be. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). The whole tenor of Romans 14 is that believers can have differing opinions about even such things as what days to celebrate and what’s permissible to eat without judging each other or having divisive arguments. Take a stand where the Bible does but allow for differences where the Bible does.

7. It’s best to mentor in the context of relationship. Don’t just look at someone as a “project.” Look at them as sisters or daughters in Christ. Have them over, develop a relationship, truly care about the other person. If some kind of advice or a different perspective is needed, it will go over better coming from a loving relationship.

8. Don’t be a busybody. Don’t overstep or go too far.

9. Don’t belittle.

10 Don’t assume. Sometimes when you see part of a situation, you may not understand the whole of it or what has lead up to it. One off reaction might be just one off reaction rather than characteristic of a whole personality. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19, ESV).

11. Be careful of your example. Some time ago I was at a table of women at a church event, and the oldest woman at the table started talking about things her husband did. It was all quite funny, but I cringed at the negativity couched in humor. Would he have thought it funny if he had been there? The other women may have chuckled in sympathy, but did they get an example of reverencing their husbands? I’m not saying we have to put on a front and pretend everything is perfect in our homes, but we can present godly ways to deal with conflicts. By contrast, once I was with an older woman at church as she and her husband were preparing for an event for a group they headed up. The woman came into the kitchen looking for something or trying to figure something out, and was not exactly rattled (like I would have been), but pressured in getting everything ready. Her husband came in at that moment with another issue. Her back was to him, and I saw her just close her eyes a moment and then gently answer him. She probably wasn’t even aware that I was there or had observed that moment, but it spoke volumes to me.

12. Don’t be afraid to share your mistakes and what you’ve learned from them.

13. Do encourage that God will give them strength and wisdom, that the “terrible twos” don’t last forever, that they can go through their children’s teen years with their relationship intact, that God is using them and will give them grace in every moment, to keep on instructing and disciplining their children even if it seems nothing is getting through.

14. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29, ESV.

I’m not saying that older woman should start looking for things to correct and advise on. Rather, I urge them to look for ways to encourage and help younger women. And I urge younger women to look for more than affirmation from older women. Pray over advice, filter it, discuss it with your husband.

Also, these truths apply to more than marriage and motherhood, but that’s my realm, so that’s where my examples come from. Obviously women who are single or who are in the workplace can apply these same principles.

How about you? Have you ever received advice from an older woman that was particularly helpful? What are some other ways older women and younger women can help each other?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Tell His Story, Faith on Fire)

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Laudable Linkage

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Here are a few of the good reads discovered lately:

The Greatest Work You Can Do, aimed at college students but good for all of us.

Fictitious Forgiveness: Why We Cannot Forgive Ourselves, HT to Challies. “Feeling bad about ourselves over undealt with offenses is God’s objective expression of love, not a feeling to be drowned out by self-actualization and self-pampering.”

Implications or Applications: Biblical Narratives, HT to Proclaim and Defend. Written for preachers but good advice for reading and knowing how to apply Biblical narratives.

Altar of the Feels.

Act Your Age. This is aimed at young men needing to “grow up,” but has some good thoughts for all of us.

Go to Bed for the Glory of God.

6 Surprises Every Premarital Counselor Should Cover, HT to True Woman

Dashing Little Ones Against the Rock HT to Challies. Thoughts on one of the most difficult passages of Scripture.

A few about parenting:

What Your Kids Need Is Your Authentic Christian Life.

Spurgeon’s Secret for Raising Godly Children, HT to Challies. I’d disagree with #8, but otherwise agree with the list.

Teaching Our Children About Work.

And finally, this from Pinterest made me smile.

Happy Saturday!

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Friday’s Fave Five

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

Here we are at the first Friday of July! Here are some high points of the past week:

1. Jim’s mom’s 89th birthday. I don’t know if she quite understood what was going on, but hopefully she caught the love expressed.

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She has trouble swallowing and only eats pureed foods, so instead of cake, Jim got her a caramel frappe from McDonald’s – he used to bring those to her when she was in assisted living.

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2. Flourless Applesauce Spice Cake. I had wanted to have just a small cake for the rest of us on Jim’s Mom’s birthday. Mittu is gluten intolerant, and I had a couple of GF cake mixes on hand, but didn’t want a big cake. So I looked up some GF recipes I had pinned on Pinterest, and found this one. It was SO good! Tasted a lot like carrot cake, and was very moist.

3. The 4th of July. I had a pretty relaxing day until nearly dinner time. We had planned to get Timothy’s wading pool out, but it was raining off and on. Jim went ahead and set it up and put our canopy over it. Jason and Mittu and Timothy came over, and while Jim was grilling, Timothy did get to play in the pool.

Timothy pool coverThe rain really poured for a while, but thankfully paused long enough for Jim to grill burgers and sausage. Later in the evening, a church near us had a fireworks display that we could just see a little of over the trees. Timothy was so excited! At least for a little while. 🙂 I’m glad he got to see them. Plus his parents took him to a parade earlier in the day, so he had just about the whole July 4th experience. I made some gluten free brownies from a mix and sprinkled the top with red, while, and blue sugar – simple, but they hit the spot. 🙂

Timothy parade

4. A productive morning. Wednesday and Thursday I was frustrated because it seemed like I wasn’t getting anything done that I had wanted to. Then all of a sudden Thursday morning, things fell into place, and I got several things knocked off my mental to-do list.

5. Touching base with extended family. My aunt passed away earlier this week, and while we grieve, it has been good to have more conversations than usual with another aunt and uncle and my sisters and brother.

 

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Book Review: Finishing Our Course With Joy

At 99 pages, J. I. Packer’s Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging  is not a total treatise on aging. Its main thrust is that modern society tends to put older people on the shelf for a life of indulgence and idleness, but Christians should continue growing in our relationship with God as well as our ministry to others. Our ministry may look different from what it did in our youth, but God still has a purpose for us being here. He acknowledges that one fourth of the “oldest old” (over 85) will have some degree of dementia, but:

These pages address those who, by God’s grace, still have their faculties intact; who recognize that, as is often and truly said, aging is not for wimps; and who want to learn, in a straightforward way, how we may continue living for God’s glory (p. 14).

He says that for years, people have viewed older age as a state of decline, but we should view it as what he calls “ripeness” or maturity.

We know the difference between ripe and unripe fruit: the latter is sharp, acid, hard, without much flavor, and sets teeth on edge; the former is relatively soft and sweet, juicy, mellow, flavorful, leaving a pleasant taste in the mouth” (p. 18).

The Bible’s view is that aging, under God and by grace, will bring wisdom, that is, an enlarged capacity for discerning, choosing, and encouraging (p. 19).

[Racers] always try to keep something in reserve for a final sprint…so far as our bodily health allows, we should aim to be found running the last lap of our Christian life, as we would say, flat out. The final sprint, so I urge, should be a sprint indeed (pp. 21-22).

He discusses various ways to do that, living one day at a time as if it truly might be our last, with glorifying God as our “constant goal,” avoiding excessive daydreaming and nostalgia, ready to go whenever God calls us home.

The fact that one is no longer under any pressure to use one’s mind in learning things, solving problems, or strategizing for benefits either to oneself or to anybody else, will allow intelligence to lie permanently fallow, and this, so they tell us, may very well hasten the onset of dementia. The agenda as a whole turns out to be a recipe for isolating oneself and trivializing one’s life, with apathetic boredom becoming one’s default mood day after day (p. 30).

He discusses some of the temptations of old age, such as “going with the flow” of everything declining, even spiritually, or not acknowledging any decline due to pride and becoming “tyrannical” with family and friends after having to leave one’s sphere of work (pp 45-46).

He discusses how the church’s view too often mimics the world’s views of retirement:

Yet the common expectation, undiscussed but unchallenged, is that retirees will not continue the learning and leading that were big in their lives while they were at work. The most that the church will expect of them now is that they will continue to support from the sidelines, as it were, the modes of ministry in which others engage (pp. 62-63).

By moving us to think this way, however, Satan undermines, diminishes, and deflates our discipleship, reducing us from laborers in Christ’s kingdom to sympathetic spectators…(p. 63).

Still taking their cue from the world around, modern Western churches organize occupations, trips, parties, and so forth for their seniors and make pastoral provision for the shut-ins, but they no longer look to these folks as they do to the rest of the congregation to find, feed, and use their spiritual gifts. In this they behave as though spiritual gifts and ministry skills whither with age. But they don’t; what happens, rather, is that they atrophy with disuse (pp 63-64).

He encourages churches to balance acknowledging that there is bodily decline and ministering as needed to seniors with seeking to “cherish and continue to harness the ministering capacities” of older saints (p. 64). “And elderly Christian themselves should press on in the worship and service of God and in pastoral care for others, up to the limit of what they can still handle…” (p. 64).

“The challenge that faces us is not to let that fact [that our bodies are slowing down] slow us down spiritually, but to cultivate the maximum zeal for the closing phase of our earthly lives” (p. 72). He then spends several pages discussing zeal and quotes J. C. Ryle as saying that “Zeal in religion is a burning desire to do his will, and to advance his glory in every possible way” (pp. 74-75).

He urges balance in families as well, encouraging seniors not to be “dictatorial” or “invade family circles unasked,” remembering that “loyalty to one’s spouse should trump the claims of parents,” and encouraging families not to “ignore mature wisdom that is available…in [their] older relatives and friends” (p. 97).

He also discusses nurturing the hope of heaven, letting that be a guide and inspiration as well as a testimony, and remembering that we will give account at the judgment seat of Christ that Christians will face (different from the judgment that unbelievers face).

There is a lot packed in this short little book, and it’s encouraging to be reminded that God still has things for us to do for His glory as we age.

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

Book Review: A Proper Pursuit

Proper Pursuit A Proper Pursuit by Lynn Austin takes place in Illinois in the late 1800s, where 20-year-old Violet Rose Hayes, recent graduate from Madame Beauchamps’ School for Young Ladies, learns that her father plans to remarry. She is confused, because she has been told for years that her mother has been ill in a sanitarium all this time. Her father had to confess that, no, she actually left the family and divorced him a long time ago, but he thought it would be easier for Violet to think that she was sick.

Upset and angry, Violet asks if she can visit her grandmother in Chicago, with whom the family has not had much contact in years. Her father reluctantly agrees, but what he doesn’t know is that Violet is planning to secretly look for her mother at the last address she had for her.

Violet’s grandmother and aunts are a variety of sisters. Her grandmother is a vibrant, active Christian, working among the poor in inner city Chicago. Her Aunt Matt supports women’s suffrage and attends meetings and protests in that cause. Her aunt Agnes married into elite society and takes Violet calling, hoping to snag a rich husband for her. Her aunt Bertie is living in the past, believing that her husband is away fighting in the Civil War and wondering why she hasn’t heard from him in so long. But unfortunately, none of them will discuss her mother with her, feeling it is her father’s place to do so. So Violet goes sleuthing on her own.

This coming-of-age novel reflects on the pathways open to women. Violet accompanies her grandmother on several of her missions, begins to move out of her self-centered viewpoint to see the needs of others, yet is repulsed by the sights, sounds, and especially smells of poverty.  She loves her aunt Agnes’s rich lifestyle, but over time begins to feel its shallowness. She can see many of the points her Aunt Matt makes about the need for women’s votes and voices, but carrying placards in public isn’t her style. Each of the women has her flaws, but also her strengths: in some ways they each are striving for the same goals, though in different ways. Violet can learn from each of them, yet she has to find her own way, though she isn’t sure what that is at first.

And on top of everything else, her father and two of her aunts have someone they want her to marry, all very different from each other and none of them just right.

It’s written from Violet’s point of view, which is sometimes immature, but other times quite funny.

If the art of conversation was like a graceful tennis match, then I had lost track of the ball, the racket, and the score. Worse, I felt as though I had become entangled in the net.

I delivered a threat without raising my voice. Madame Beauchamps would have approved.

I had never washed a dirty dish in my life, and I had no desire to disturb my record.

Mary rummaged through the picnic basket as if searching for her ticket out of this conversation.

My thoughts:

I thought the initial premise that Violet would believe that her mother was ill and hadn’t communicated with them for eleven years was a bit weak, even for someone as naive as Violet. And I thought Violet was a bit melodramatic, but chalked that up to her age – though I would think it characteristic of a younger teenager rather than a twenty-year-old. But later in the story another explanation comes up for that. There were a couple of theological points that made me wince just a little bit, but, again, I think that’s owing to Violet’s initial ignorance of such things.

But otherwise, I enjoyed the story and Violet’s growth very much as she finds out about herself, the world in general, and God, and contemplates what He would have her do.

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

 

 

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