Book Review: My Father’s House

My Father's House My Father’s House by Rose Chandler Johnson begins with the idyllic childhood of Lily Rose Cates in Georgia. Then her father died when she was sixteen, turning her world upside down. Her mother had been not entirely mentally present for some time, a situation made worse by the death of Lily’s father. A lady who took care of their home, Annie Ruth, became a second mother and the main stabilizing influence in Lily’s life.

Milestones pass – high school graduation, friendships, college. Lily has a couple of part-time jobs she likes, but life is pretty tame. She is invited to visit a cousin’s place in New York City and is absolutely mesmerized by all there is to see and do. One highlight is an encounter with a handsome and charming waiter who asks for her number.

To her joy and surprise, the waiter, Manny, does call – only he’s not a waiter. The restaurant was his family’s, and he was just helping out for a while. He’s actually a driven, high-powered lawyer in Detroit. A telephone romance leads to a proposal and a move for Lily Rose. Some incidents and reactions from Manny make Lily uncomfortable, but she’s in love and her courtship is such a whirlwind, she lets them go.

Their first few days are bliss until Manny has to go back to work, leaving Lily lonely trying to get accustomed not only to a new city, but a new situation, style of home and life, everything. Before long, Manny’s dark side comes out bit by bit. Lily realizes that she can no longer brush off or overlook his actions. Manny has become unpredictable and dangerous, and Lily decides to leave with the help of a friend.

Lily goes back to Georgia to a home of her father’s that she had inherited but had not told Manny about.  She knows Manny will come looking for her, but for a while she has time to heal, stabilize, and rediscover her roots and her faith.

This was a wonderfully told story with a strong sense of place. The description of the Southern setting makes one want to settle in a rocking chair on the porch with a glass of sweet iced tea. I was drawn right in and looked forward to each new chapter, sorrowing with Lily over the loss of her father and her marriage, rejoicing as she grew.

There were a few too many references to Lily and Manny’s intimacy for my tastes, but none of that was explicit, and what was said did make sense in context. Then in the second half of the book, there are a number of instances of an unmarried man and woman staying overnight in a cabin and home. None of the other characters seems to have a problem with that: I would have loved for at least one of them to object. The author prevents anything from happening between them. And there’s an odd incident where Lilly almost seems to be saying she visited her father in heaven in a dream.

But other than those caveats, I thought this was a lovely story.

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Book Review: Looking Into You

Looking Into YouIn Looking Into You by Chris Fabry, Paige Redwine is an English professor at a college in Nashville. Only her parents know her secret: some twenty years before, she became pregnant and placed her baby for adoption at the insistence of her parents. Told that the father of her baby died, Paige had no choice but to go on with her life. But she feels stuck: she’s supposed to be finishing her dissertation on a mother’s love in literature, but she can’t seem to make progress. She also feels stuck in a relationship with a nice man who wants to be more than friends, but she can’t seem to move forward.

Then one day a coworker tells her about a documentary she saw about a nursing home’s residents and workers (told in Every Waking Moment). Among the nursing home staff was a girl in her twenties who had been placed for adoption but ended up being passed through the system. The girl had nystagmus, which caused her eyes to move rapidly, and when overwhelmed she made a typing motion with her hands. She wasn’t very expressive, but she had an unusual way with the residents, especially those who couldn’t or didn’t communicate. Paige is jolted when she learns the girl’s name: Treha, the unusual name she had purposefully given the baby she had placed for adoption.

Shaken, Paige finds and watches the documentary. But even now, knowing where her daughter is and what she has been through, Paige is hesitant to reach out. But then, “indecision made the decision” for her: suddenly Treha shows up as a student in one of Paige’s classes, unaware that Paige is her mother.

The point of view switches back and forth between Paige and Treha, and also occasionally to Miriam, Treha’s boss at the nursing home. I enjoyed seeing both sides as mother and daughter learn to overcome their fears to reach out and have a crash course in mother-daughter relationships. I’m glad Fabry didn’t paint this too rosy: every relationship has its rough spots, and both women had a lot to learn in relating to one another. “Grace allows you to see yourself in light of the past, not in the shadow of it.”

This book drew me in right away, and the ordeals of both women touched my heart. I think this book could be read as a stand-alone – I had forgotten much of Every Waking Moment when I started this book. But I’d recommend them both.

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

Book Review: The Song of Sadie Sparrow

In The Song of Sadie Sparrow by Kitty Foth-Regner, Sadie’s assisted living facility could no longer meet her needs, so her daughter found a lovely new nursing home. Sadie feels sad and neglected by her daughter, but soon she makes friends with the other residents and staff and gets involved in the activities.

Meg Vogel is in her fifties and ready for a new start in life. Her husband recently passed away from cancer, and she closed down the freelance copywriting business she’d had to neglect during her business. She’s hired at Sadie’s nursing home to assist the activities director, her special project being the use of her writing and interview skills to compile biographies of the residents.

Elise Chapelle is the daughter of one of the residents, Charles. She had quit her job as a teacher to take care of her father, but now that he is in a nursing home, she wonders what to do with her life. She takes a writing class that involves setting up a web site.

These three women from different generations form a friendship though Elise is a Christian and Meg is an atheist. Meg is particularly antagonistic towards Christians because her husband became one near the end of his life, and she felt his new religion and views took him further away from her. She’s fairly sarcastic in any kind of religious conversation, but she genuinely likes the other ladies.

I enjoyed a view of life from inside a nursing home. My own mother-in-law’s experiences in a nursing home not nearly as nice as this one were mostly negative, but her early assisted living experiences sound like they could have fit in with this book. One common theme in all of these places is the neglect of many of the residents by their too-busy families.

But this is not just a story about a nursing home: it’s a story of faith.

Kitty’s experiences inform the book as she was once an atheist (her story is told in Heaven Without Her) and she spent much time in a nursing home first visiting her mother and then volunteering. Her web site, Everlasting Place, hosts two blogs: Eternal Eyes: A Blog About Forever and Golden Years: A Blog About the Elderly. A neat interview with the author about this book is here.

Special thanks to the author for sending me a copy of her book.

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

Book Review: Villette

Villette was the last book written by Charlotte Bronte (another was published posthumously but was actually her first book). I had only recently heard of Villette, but since Charlotte penned one of my top three novels, Jane Eyre, I thought I’d give it a try.

Villette is a semi-autobiographical novel based on parts of Charlotte’s life. She and her sister, Emily, had taught for a time in a boarding school in Brussels, Belgium. They both went back to England when their aunt died, and Charlotte returned to the boarding house alone. Villette is a fictional town in France, but based upon Brussels. By the time Charlotte started writing this novel, she was the only remaining sibling of the original five in her family, and she well captures that feeling of being all alone in the world.

The story’s heroine is Lucy Snowe. After some unexplained tragedy in her family, Lucy was left totally alone and needing to make her own way in the world. She heard that some French families hired English-speaking governesses for their children, so she took what money she had and went to France though she knew almost no French and no one in the country. She met a young English girl, Ginevra, on the ship, who went to a French boarding school. After getting lost in Villette, Lucy found herself on the doorstep of the same boarding school run by a Madame Beck. Lucy begged for a job doing anything at the school. She was hired to take care of Madame Beck’s children, but eventually she was asked to teach English at the school.

Lucy on the outside seemed like a quiet, almost mousy person (someone called her a shadow), but inside her feelings ran deep. Charlotte named her Snowe on purpose (she was originally going to go with Frost) to portray how she seemed to other people.

In addition to the ups and downs at the school and encounters with the spoiled Ginevra, Lucy came across her godmother and his son in town, who, unknown to her, had moved to Villette. The son was a teenager at the beginning of the book but became a doctor. Later Lucy encountered a father and daughter she had also met at the beginning, and had several run-ins with an abrasive fellow teacher, M. Paul Emanuel.

One article I read said “Everyone loves Paul Emanuel.” I did not. He constantly criticized Lucy and tended to dominate, not letting her leave for lunch when he wanted to talk to her, locking her up in the attic to learn lines for a school play he was directing. Later he is shown to have several redeeming qualities, but I never got over the initial dislike.

Since France was primarily a Catholic country Lucy stood out as one of the few Protestants. M. Emanuel and a priest took it upon themselves to try to convert her, but Lucy stood firm. Lucy had no use for Catholicism (” the CHURCH strove to bring up her children robust in body, feeble in soul, fat, ruddy, hale, joyous, ignorant, unthinking, unquestioning”), but came to believe that “there are good Romanists.” She and M. Emanuel eventually came to an understanding that they both trusted in “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” and they left each other’s religious affiliations alone after that. The priest, however, thwarted some of her interests later.

Though there are several aspects to the story, it’s primarily a psychological drama of sorts with Lucy’s highs and lows, known mostly just to herself. There are comic moments in Lucy’s asides to herself, especially in her conversations with Ginevra. But Lucy gets so low at one point, when she is left alone at the school during a long break with a mentally disabled student and then falls ill, that she has a breakdown. One passage that’s characteristic is Lucy’s encouraging of herself:

Courage, Lucy Snowe! With self-denial and economy now, and steady exertion by-and-by, an object in life need not fail you. Venture not to complain that such an object is too selfish, too limited, and lacks interest; be content to labour for independence until you have proved, by winning that prize, your right to look higher. But afterwards, is there nothing more for me in life—no true home—nothing to be dearer to me than myself, and by its paramount preciousness, to draw from me better things than I care to culture for myself only? Nothing, at whose feet I can willingly lay down the whole burden of human egotism, and gloriously take up the nobler charge of labouring and living for others? I suppose, Lucy Snowe, the orb of your life is not to be so rounded: for you, the crescent-phase must suffice. Very good. I see a huge mass of my fellow-creatures in no better circumstances. I see that a great many men, and more women, hold their span of life on conditions of denial and privation. I find no reason why I should be of the few favoured. I believe in some blending of hope and sunshine sweetening the worst lots. I believe that this life is not all; neither the beginning nor the end. I believe while I tremble; I trust while I weep.

Some article I read herald the novel’s “feminism” and Lucy’s independence, but here she shows a longing for a “true home,” someone “dearer to me than myself.” I read that she wanted to write a sad and unfulfilled ending, but her father (and I think perhaps others) urged a conventional happier one. The ending is a little ambiguous, so readers can interpret it whichever way they like.

There are several parallels between Villette and Jane Eyre. Both protagonists are women alone; neither would be considered beautiful; each has a rather unconventional romance with an unlikely suitor. There is even a bit of gothic mystery in both: Jane’s Mr. Rochester is found to have a mad wife locked up in an unused part of the house; Villette’s boarding school has a legend of a dead nun who haunts the place, which Lucy encounters a couple of times (though later a logical explanation is found for the appearances).

One downside to Villette is that much of the conversation is written in French with no translation. That posed a problem for me to listen to the audiobook since I know almost no French. Thankfully I found an annotated copy of the novel at the library with translations and other notes, but it was disjointing to have to look up passages later after reading them.

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully read by Davina Porter. Though I enjoyed the novel, Jane Eyre is still my favorite Bronte work.

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

 

Louisa May Alcott Challenge Wrap-up

LMA-button2018

The Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge hosted by Tarissa at In the Bookcase hosts this month has ended. I read two books for the challenge:

I watched the recent Masterpiece Theatre remake of Little Women and enjoyed it quite a bit – I think it aired last month. But I enjoyed watching several of the behind-the-scenes videos of the show. I didn’t know the Alcott home, Orchard House, was still preserved today with many of its originals furnishings, Louisa’s desk, and even May’s (Amy’s counterpart) sketchings on the walls. I learned, also, that one of May’s art students sculpted the sitting Lincoln Memorial.

I also listened to several of the podcasts Tarissa linked to for us.

It was fun to spend so much time reading and thinking about Alcott this month. I already have at least one book planned for next year’s challenge.

Thank you for hosting, Tarissa! It was fun!

Book Review: A Small Book About a Big Problem

Anger“Anger lodges in us. It comes home, kicks off its shoes, plants itself in front of the TV, and expects to stay. It doesn’t even look at you when you tell it to leave. But it can be moved. It just takes more than a day” (p. 35).

You wouldn’t think I was an angry person if you observed me much. I don’t generally yell or scream. I might occasionally throw something if I am alone. I tend to seethe rather than explode. Part of that is my upbringing; my father was the only one allowed to express anger. But quiet anger is still anger and still destructive. I experience it enough that when I saw A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace by Edward T. Welch, I got it as soon as possible. Ed’s book, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest, was a big help to me with anxiety, so I trusted this book would be just as helpful concerning anger. And it was.

It is indeed a small book. It’s only about four by six inches and 185 pages. It’s divided into 50 chapters, but they average about three pages each. Ed advises reading just one chapter a day and meditating on its main point rather than rushing through the book without absorbing it. And that’s a wise strategy. I confess I did sometimes read two at a time, if one was short or a expressed a truth that was already a part of my thinking. But I tried to move slowly. I went back through the book after finishing it and made a list of main points and quotes from each chapter. That overview over about three days helped bring out some of the recurring themes and connections.

The first need is to acknowledge that anger is a problem.

“To be angry is to destroy…In its commonness we can overlook our anger’s volatile and destructive disposition” (p. 1).

“Anger is known to take a toll on our bodies. It is not healthy” (p. 2).

“Jesus…enlarged the boundary of murder so that it includes all kinds of anger. In order to do this, He links them at the level of the heart, where they share the same lineage of selfish desire. We want something–peace, money, respect–and we aren’t getting it. The only difference is in our choice of weapons” (p. 18).

Sometimes we’re “deaf to [our] anger” because it sounds like what we grew up with; it seems normal (p. 117). Prov. 22:24-25: “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.”

Wisdom–learning what God says about anger–and humility are our best aids to diffuse anger.

“Humility might sound like your worst nightmare because it seems to destine you for mistreatment. People can now treat you any way they like, or so you think. In response, you can only meekly turn the other cheek. Humility, however, is not necessarily silent, and it is certainly not passive. Instead, it is the foundation for all wisdom. It has the flexibility to rebuke, overlook offenses, invite, or get help” (pp. 25-26).

“One of your desires is “I WANT AN EASY LIFE. When this is thwarted, you will likely pounce on the offender” (p. 157).

It’s not the incident that made us angry: anger was lurking in the form of desires (James 4:1). Some desires are legitimate, but we elevate them from a desire to a need, and then get angry when they are thwarted.

Anger may not seem to relate to God, but when we don’t get a desire we have deemed important, that “says something very significant about our relationship with God” (p. 43). James 4:4. “We are not thinking about God. We simply want something or someone else, at least temporarily. Our selfishness blinds us to the betrayal. We want what we want, and we don’t want Him” (p. 44).

James 4:13-16 talks about taking the Lord’s will into account in our planning. This is hardest for me in the “little” areas of life, like traffic jams keeping me from getting somewhere on time. But “If we learn this, we no longer live as if we are slaves to the circumstances of life” (p. 108).

The passage in James reminds us our life is but a mist. “We are mere mortals who will die. What makes us so important that life must go according to our plans?” (p. 108) (emphasis mine).

Anger can seem powerful, gives an illusion of control, gets results. But “A man without self-control  is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25). “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32). “Real strength and real power, however, never lash out. Those who are truly strong are composed, while others are not. Real strength is used to rule our spirit rather than rule others” (p. 92).

Other chapters discuss covert forms of anger (grumbling, which reveals our displeasure that God isn’t doing things our way, sarcasm, coldness, and even indifference), the need for forgiveness, taking care of the “log” in our eye before dealing with the “speck” in someone else’s (Matthew 7:1-5). Anger can feel like fear, threat, being misunderstood, fatigue, injustice, depression, guilt, shame. Some even use anger as a shield for their own pain and vulnerability, like a hurt animal. We need to recognize these in ourselves but show mercy and patience when we recognize them in others.

The author looks at anger as shown by God the Father and Jesus and how their anger differs from ours.

“When other people’s welfare was at stake, Jesus was angry. Here is how He is unlike us: He was never angry when He was personally violated” (p. 53). 1 Peter 2:23 – when He was reviled, reviled not again.

“Does this leave you deaf, bind, and mute in the face of personal injustices? No, it leaves you so that you are not mastered by the injustices of others. Anger might feel powerful, but it is not. It renders you a servant of the one who hurt you. The way of Jesus is the way of Spirit-given power. In this power you have a clear mind to consider how and when to act” (p. 54).

“Jesus was confident that His Father was in control; there would be justice in the end” (p. 54).

“Jesus served by blessing His enemies (Luke 6:27-31), which is a good thing, because we ourselves have been His enemies” (p. 54-55).

When the only one who has a right to be angry chooses love and service, when He considers the interests of others more important than His own and chooses humility–He changes everything” (p. 55).

And he encourages us that God loves us and wants to forgive us and help us change.

“When we see our anger clearly, we would expect God to forget about us. Instead, He pursues us with even more zeal, and He gives us even more power to stay faithful to Him” (p. 70).

“He doesn’t forgive us because of our resolve to never be angry again. He forgives us because of His resolve to forgive those who come to Him” (p. 47).

Hebrews 4:15-16 – our high priest (Jesus) sympathizes with our weakness, has been tempted like we are. Draw near to throne of grace for grace to help in time of need.

One chapter that brought me to tears was “Day 22: You Have Been Anger’s Victim.” And later, for those of us who grew up with anger:

“Retrain your ears as you listen” for anger. “Decide that the culture of anger will stop with your generation” (p. 118).

“As a protest against the anger around us, who will you bless with your words today?” (p. 119).

Our example of how to respond when wrong, is of course, Jesus, who “when He was reviled, reviled not again” (1 Peter 2:23). And when we remember how much we have been forgiven, we realize we have no right to withhold forgiveness from others (Matthew 18:27-35). Remember the love and cost to our forgiveness, freely offered (Eph. 1:7-8; 2:4-5). But even beyond forgiveness, God wants us to love and bless those who wrong us.

Forgive me for such a long, quote-heavy post. But there is so much that was so helpful in this book, and I have only shared maybe half of it. Needless to say, I highly recommend it.

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

 

Book Review: Invincible Louisa

AlcottI had not heard of Invincible Louisa, a Newberry medal-winning biography of Louisa May Alcott by Cornelia Meigs, until I saw Tarissa’s review of it last year. I found a Kindle version and saved it for this year’s Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge.Even though the book was written for children in 1933, I found it immensely readable.

Louisa was born the second of four daughters to Bronson and Abigail (called Abba here, Abby in other sources) Alcott. In some ways Bronson was ahead of his time. He was an abolitionist when such a stance was not popular, helped runaway slaves, and even enrolled a black girl in one of his schools, refusing to dismiss her despite protests which led to parents pulling their children out of the school, which led to the school’s closing. He had some forward-thinking practices in his schools, but also some controversial methods. On the other hand, he was more of an impractical thinker/dreamer/philosopher (“He once said that the sort of life which would satisfy him completely was to walk through the world all of his days, stopping to have conversations with people by the way”). He tried to start a Transcendental community with friends, but it failed. He very nearly joined a Shaker community which would have required him to leave his family. “In the first twenty-eight years of Louisa’s life, this household was to achieve the record of twenty-nine moves.” Though he worked hard, he could never manage to support his family very well. One family story tells of a friend giving the family a load of firewood. A poor man with a sick baby and no fuel came to Bronson, who gave the man all he needed and helped him take it home. Abba reminded him of his own baby and the need for fuel in the harsh, cold weather. Then another neighbor, unaware that someone else had helped the Alcotts with fire wood, brought them a load.

Abigail was industrious and practical. She was also more spirited. “Abba was a person of varying moods: excitable, quickly moved, always devoted to them all, but often too harrowingly uneasy concerning the family welfare to be entirely calm.”

The couple had four daughters in all, plus a son who did not live. Anna and Elizabeth were more like their father in temperament; Louisa and May took after their mother. But all the children learned industriousness, frugality, and generosity. “They were all of them generous to the utmost degree, so that it was by Abba Alcott’s consent, as well as by Bronson’s and the three girls’, that they habitually gave away everything that could, or could not, be spared.” “It was one of the Alcott beliefs that no matter how poor a person is he or she always had something which could be given away.”

Because the family’s financial situation was always so precarious, Louisa felt burdened to help as much as she could. She sewed, taught, worked as a governess, and did whatever came to hand. She wrote stories and sold them here and there. Family friends were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, so Louisa grew up under their influence and example. “To Louisa [Emerson] gave the freedom of his library and all that went with such a privilege.” “All their lives the members of this haphazard family were singularly lucky in friends, in people who appreciated and loved them and would do anything in the world for them.”

During the Civil War, Louisa went to Washington to help in a hospital. She sent home letters telling about the hospital itself and stories of the patients she encountered. Some of her letters were published, and people liked them so much that she wrote more and eventually put them into a book called Hospital Sketches, her first real literary success. “Louisa had told of the life with extraordinary effect; for she was not straining after romance now, but had given the truth simply, graphically, and with great spirit.” She caught typhoid fever, had to be taken home, faced a long and grueling recovery, and was never quite fully healthy again.

A publisher asked her for a book for girls. Louisa refused at first, saying she liked boys better and wouldn’t know what to write for girls. The publisher kept asking, however, so Louisa wrote some stories based on her own family. Louisa was Jo, Anna was Meg, Elizabeth was Beth, and May was Amy. The publisher was not terribly impressed, but he gave them to some young girls to read–and they loved them.

Several scenes paralleled the Alcott family. Elizabeth really did die of scarlet fever. Louisa did feel that Elizabeth’s death and Anna’s wedding were the beginning of breaking up the sisterhood. But there was no boy next door on whom Laurie was modeled: Louisa based him on a younger man she met while traveling abroad as a paid companion to an invalid girl. Some sources say there was a romance; this book says Louisa thought he would be better for May and hoped they would meet. Louisa herself never married, saying she would “rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe.”

The success of Little Woman and Louisa’s subsequent books helped the family finally get on a solid financial footing. Although “Louisa never could quite put aside her taste for startling events and her love for writing tales which bordered on the fantastic,” “she had begun to see her work in its proper light; she understood also that [the more realistic] stories were needed for young readers instead of the sentimental and tragic tales with which their minds were usually fed.”

I had known a little bit about Louisa’s life, but I enjoyed learning more through this book.

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

What’s On Your Nightstand: June 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 enjoy this monthly opportunity to share what we’re reading.

Since last time I have completed:

Gospel Meditations for Mothers by Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, Hannah Anderson, and others, reviewed here. Very good.

Heaven Without Her: A Desperate Daughter’s Search for the Heart of Her Mother’s Faith by Kitty Foth-Regner, reviewed here. A feminist, agnostic middle-aged daughter is challenged by her mother’s death to investigate whether Christianity’s claims are true. Very good.

The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron, reviewed here. The information and practical helps were great: the New-Agey philosophies and exercises, not so much.

A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott, reviewed here, for Tarissa’s Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge this month. This was one of Louisa’s “sensational” stories. Not my usual cup of tea, but it was quite suspenseful and interesting to see that side of her.

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin, reviewed here. A lovely story overall, but unfortunately with a few crude spots.

Villette by Charlotte Bronte. Just finished over the weekend; hope to review it soon.

A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace by Edward T. Welch. Ditto with this one – I hope to review it this week.

I’ve also dipped into Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal by the editors of Reader’s Digest and The Christian Writer’s Market Guide-2018 edited by Steve Laube, but neither are designed to be read cover to cover.

I’m currently reading:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs, a biography of Louisa May Alcott, also for Tarissa’s challenge.

More Than These: A Woman’s Love for God by June Kimmel

My Father’s House by Rose Chandler Johnson

Up Next:

Christian Publishing 101 by Ann Byle

The Song of Sadie Sparrow by Kitty Foth-Regner

Overcoming Your Devotional Obstacles: 25 Keys to Having Memorable Devotions by John O’Malley

30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents  by Kathy Howard

That about wraps it up for this time. Did you get to read much this month?

Book Review: Heaven Without Her

HeavenI first became aware of Heaven Without Her: A Desperate Daughter’s Search for the Heart of Her Mother’s Faith by Kitty Foth-Regner when Sherri reviewed it here. I commented that I was putting the book on my TBR list, and the author graciously contacted me and offered to send me both this book and another of hers, The Song of Sadie Sparrow.

This book is part memoir, part apologetics. Kitty grew up with a loving Christian mother, but she rejected the gospel. She felt God wasn’t real and Christianity would just get between her and her idea of fun. She became a feminist and an agnostic, developed a good writing business, had lots of like-minded friends and a significant other. Life seemed good.

Then her aging mother became sick and was not expected to live. Kitty couldn’t bear the thought that she might not see her mother ever again. To Kitty’s credit, she didn’t just mouth a false profession. She couldn’t agree to Christianity if she didn’t believe it was true. But she was willing to investigate it. So she dug, read, and studied not only Christianity but also other religions from every conceivable angle, such as the existence of God, creation vs. evolution, the veracity of the Bible, and more.

The book tells how she got “so lost” in the first place and how, point by point, God dealt with all her objections and brought her to Himself.

A few quotes:

The most dangerous lies are those that contain a healthy dose of truth.

It didn’t take me long to make the most important aspect of radical feminism my own–all the me-centered principle that made my ambitions, my feelings, my intellect, and my freedom my number one priorities.

It was time to quit wondering and take some action.

Later, I would read in Philippians 4 about “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” It was like that: peace that I hadn’t felt since I was a little kid, before I knew the heartbreaks and fears and humiliations that can happen in this world. The sort of peace you feel when you know someone much bigger than you is in total control, loves you to pieces, and will take care of you always.

My friendship with several hyper-feminists were among the casualties of my conversion. Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut. But I figured that a friend doesn’t let a friend live without hope; a friend shares the gospel.

Kitty ends the book with a list of recommending resources for anyone wanting to research the same questions and concerns that she did.

I’ve heard people criticize creation and apologetic ministries because they are not the gospel, and it’s only the gospel which “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16, ESV). That’s true, but the seed of the gospel is the Word of God, according to the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-15), and apologetics ministries pull out some weeds and rocks in the soil of people’s hearts and minds so the seed can better take root.

I’m thankful for Kitty’s sharing her testimony and the truths she learned in her book, and I can highly recommend it.

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

Book Review: The Highly Sensitive Person

HSPThe first time I heard the term “highly sensitive person” as a personality designation, I felt it sounded like me. When I read the chapter on the highly sensitive in Reading People, I knew for sure that was me. On the self test I scored 25 out of 27. I wanted to learn more, so I looked up the book which started it all: The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron.

Actually, people have been writing about this personalty type since Jung, according to Aron, but she is the first to study and write about it in a major way.

A highly sensitive person is not someone who is extra touchy or prickly. The scientific name Aron coined is Sensory-Processing Sensitivity, not to be confused with Sensory Processing Disorder or Sensory Integration Disorder. SPS or HSP is not a disorder at all, but an innate personality characteristic summarized by the acronym DOES:

D is for depth of processing. Our fundamental characteristic is that we observe and reflect before we act. We process everything more, whether we are conscious of it or not. O is for being easily overstimulated, because if you are going to pay more attention to everything, you are bound to tire sooner. E is for giving emphasis to our emotional reactions and having strong empathy which among other things helps us notice and learn. S is for being sensitive to all the subtleties around us.

HSPs tend to be more aware of subtleties and process information more deeply. As a result they can be easily overstimulated and overwhelmed by things like bright lights, noise, too-busy schedules, too much social interaction. HS is not introversion, though many introverts are highly sensitive.  HSPs are also not neurotic by definition: one difference Aron found was that neurotic people tended to have a troubled childhood, which, combined with their sensitivity, made them more depressed or anxious.

Aron spends a lot of time discussing how higher sensitivity can be negatively perceived by others, especially when an HS companion gets overly aroused. Aron encourages what she calls reframing memories in light of this new information: when someone was impatient with you for being afraid or needing to leave, now you know you had good reason for your reaction.

She also emphasizes the good aspects of being highly sensitive: conscientiousness, being better able to “spot errors and avoid making errors,” “to concentrate deeply,” to process material deeply, being “deeply affected by other people’s moods and emotions, being “especially good at tasks requiring vigilance, accuracy, speed, and the detection of minor differences.”

She likens society to being divided into “warrior kings” and “royal advisors.” The warrior kings are aggressive, conquering, competing. They show initiative, expand territory, crush the competition. The “priest-judge-advisor class” provides balance and “is a more thoughtful group, often acting to check the impulses of the warrior-kings.”

HSPs tend to fill that advisor role. We are the writers, historians, philosophers, judges, artists, researchers, theologians, therapists, teachers, parents, and plain conscientious citizens. What we bring to any of these roles is a tendency to think about all the possible effects of an idea. Often we have to make ourselves unpopular by stopping the majority from rushing ahead. Thus, to perform our role well, we have to feel very good about ourselves. We have to ignore all the messages from the warriors that we are not as good as they are. The warriors have their bold style, which has its value. But we, too, have our style and our own important contribution to make.

Aron goes on to share ways to find balance between avoiding or dealing with over-stimulation yet not becoming a hermit to do so. She also discusses relationships, work, medication’s pluses and minuses, and different types of psychotherapy for those who might be interested in that route.

Personally, though I found much that was helpful, Aron’s style rubbed me the wrong way many times. For instance, she talks about picturing your highly sensitive personality as an infant and learning how to “reparent yourself.” Then she refers to the reader’s “infant/body self” so often the term began to have a fingernails-on-chalkboard effect on me. Some of her approaches are too New-Age-y for my tastes. For instance: “Perhaps the greatest maturity is our ability to conceive the whole universe as our container, our body as a microcosm of that universe, with no boundaries. That is more or less enlightenment.” She suggests an exercise in which the reader is instructed (in more detail) to curl up like a baby, breath from your diaphragm for three minutes, and then “become yourself as a baby.” Another is to imagine “your infant/body self” as a young baby and ask it what it needs. I guess some might find these exercises helpful, but they put me off. I also disagreed with the Jungian concept she describes as an inner helpmate or anima figure or spiritual guide. Discernment is needed in wading through the spiritual aspects of the book.

I disagreed with her about the nature of shyness as well. She says shyness is different from sensitivity, which I agree with. But then she goes on to say “Shyness is the fear others are not going to like us or approve of us. That makes it a response to a situation. It is a certain state, not an always-present trait.” I have been shy all my life, but my reactions weren’t related to fear of not being liked or approved of. When I panicked over being drawn into a conversation, it wasn’t because I feared others wouldn’t like what I had to say: it was because I couldn’t think of anything to say. Probably a lot of that had to do with an introvert’s penchant for being slower to process things. She prefers the term “social discomfort” to shyness, which I could go along with.

The edition I read was updated from the original with new research. Though I would have preferred a more straightforward style, I did benefit from the information and practical tips.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)