Book Review: Songs of a Housewife: Poems by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Some years I go I saw, somewhere, a poem that I really loved. I looked up the author and found she had written a whole book of them, so I got it, I think possibly from a used book seller on Amazon. But it’s hard to just pick up a book of poems and start reading through, so it sat undisturbed on my bookshelf for a very long time. Then one day I saw it and noticed the author’s name again, and thought it looked a little familiar. I looked it up, and …yes, the author of Songs of a Housewife: Poems by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, was also the author of a book I dearly loved, The Yearling. So that put the book higher on my to-be-read list! I finally put it on my desk, where I’d pick it up in between doing other things and read a couple to a handful at a time.

Rodger L. Tarr edited the book and explains in the introduction that the poems were originally in a newspaper column that Rawlings wrote in the NY Rochester Times-Union between 1926 and 1928. He includes a few pictures of the column, which sported the icon and typeset he used on the cover. It came about at a time when newspapers wanted to expand beyond just the news and provide entertainment as well. They were published mostly six days a week over two years until she moved to Florida, resulting in some 495 poems, about half of which are published in this book.

Tarr goes into a brief history of her writing career (her first story was published when she was eleven) and family life. She was writing feature articles for the newspaper when she proposed a weekly poetry column for women, particular housewives. Her editor was “skeptical at first” (p. 4), but finally let her try. The poems became a “cultural phenomenon” (p. 1). Sometimes readers asked her for a poem on a specific subject.

She explained her perspective in an interview:

I was brought up to believe in the modern myth that housekeeping is only drudgery, and the housewife is a downtrodden martyr. I thought that any seemingly contented housewives were only ‘making the best of it.’ When I first began housekeeping in my own home, I felt that I had entered the ranks of the mistreated.

After a time I began to realize, to my amazement, that I didn’t feel at all downtrodden, and that I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I began to look at other domestic ‘martyrs’ from a new angle, and I have learned many things.

I have found that there is romance in housework: and charm in it; and whimsy and humor without end. I have found that the housewife works hard, of course–but likes it. Most people who amount to anything do work hard, at whatever their job happens to be. The housewife’s job is home-making, and she is, in fact, ‘making the best of it’; making the best of it by bringing patience and loving care to her work; sympathy and understanding to her family; making the best of it by seeing all the fun in the day’s incidents and human relationships.

The housewife realizes that home-making is an investment in happiness. It pays everyone enormous dividends. There are huge compensations for the actual labor involved…

There are unhappy housewives, of course. But there are unhappy stenographers and editresses and concert singers. The housewife whose songs I sing as I go about my work, is the one who likes her job (pp. 6-7).

She was writing at a time when feminism was coming to the fore, and she “was fully committed to a woman’s right to share equally in the workplace…Yet she also took the firm position that women who choose to stay home are also professionals” (p. 7).

Tarr divides the poems into six categories and at the bottom of each shares the date when it was originally published. They cover the gamut from cooking, family happenings, housework, friends and relatives, “philosophical nuggets,” and nature. Sometimes they express kind of a smiling frustration: usually they’re cheery.

The poem that started it all for me was “The Symphony of Supper-time”

I like the sound of silver
When the table’s being set,
In the early Winter twilight,
With the lamps unlighted yet.

I like to hear the kitchen door
Swing slowly out, and then,
When Mary passes, laden, through,
Swing slowly back again.

I like to hear the kettle sing;
The hissing of the roast;
The children coming in from play,
A hungry, noisy host.

I like to hear the murmurings
When my dessert appears.
The symphony of supper-time
Is music to my ears! (p. 35).

With so many poems so many days in a row, not all of them are winners. But I marked several that I particularly liked. Here are a few:

A Prayer for Housewives

Let me have endless patience, first of all,
And not grow weary when the quick doors slam,
Or when small fingers stain the new-washed wall.
Let me ignore the mud tracked o’er the jamb!

Let me be tireless, for the hours are long.
Let me be merry, when I want to weep.
And if my days may not move like a song,
Grant me, at night, the healing touch of sleep.

May I remember small, important things–
An empty cookie jar is such a crime!
Is it too much to pray at times for wings?
How else, some days, to have the meals on time!

And if there’s any fun to come my way,
Or any laughter due me, Lord, decree it!
And where there’s beauty in the every-day,
Oh, let me not be blinded! Let me see it! (p. 102).

“Mistress and House” begins:

A gracious mistress for this gracious place,
She moves in harmony with flowers and birds;
Her voice is gentle, filled with gentle words
And there is sunlight on her quiet face.

It ends with “She crowns its beauty with her womanhood” (p. 111).

In “Treasure,” she says she’ll let her son, Tom, off from chores for a bit because he’s deep into reading Treasure Island, and closes with

He treads the ground unseeing, starry-eyed;
Plays, eats and sleeps and studies in a trance.
His mind consorts with pirates and with ships,
In high adventure. He has found romance.

Not mine the voice to call him from the realm,
Where sailors’ parrots cry and silver gleams!
He has found treasure past life’s power to steal.
He’s keeping company, these days, with dreams (p. 155).

In “Aunt Ida’s Letters,” after discussing her “ramblings” and picturing what she looks like as she writes, she says:

And through her talk of life, and things,
The beauty of her spirit sings.
And when her letter-writing’s done,
There will be somehow less of sun (p. 156).

After describing “A Peaceful House,” she closes with:

I knock. And in the mistress’ eyes
The source of this sweet peace is seen.
Her love has made her calm and wise–
Her love has made this house serene (p. 191).

After discussing various aspects of dealing with “Old Clothes,” she concludes, “Old friends forgive old clothes, because/Friendship is never out of style! (p. 198).

After describing a host’s gracious “Hospitality,” she concludes:

But did you know these things material
Welcomed me less than those that have no form?
It was your kindness that was beautiful,
It was your spirit’s grace that kept me warm.

You called me friend. You made me one of you.
I was no more a stranger and apart.
You give to hospitality a clue–
Finer than open hands, the open heart (p. 226).

I could empathize with the last stanza of “Fooling Myself”:

I fool myself elaborately,
Some other line of work pursuing.
I seize each task so eagerly–
Except the one I should be doing!

Tarr says that to Rawlings, “Nature is a representation of God’s favor, although God as a concept seldom enters directly into her poems. Instead, she relies upon faith, which she sees as a transcendental force that runs through nature. There is a large element of Thoreau in Rawlings….Nature is divine, or at least a reflection of divinity” (p. 11). I would disagree with that view of nature, believing instead that God created it and it points us to Him (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-23). But I didn’t really see that philosophy reflected in the poems about nature included here. Most of them just show a pleasure in and enjoyment of nature.

A few of her poems would not be politically correct today. In one ode to her cook stove, she calls it her “black slave, humble and low” (p. 123). Some are a little gossipy. In one, she asserts that, just like in poker, “A full house beats a pair” at home, meaning that a home full of noisy children was better than “quiet, childless homes” with their “sedate and stupid choices” (p. 117), odd since she had no children of her own, but made up one for the persona of her columns.Maybe she regretted not having children – or maybe she was just catering to the way she thought her audience would feel. But it seems more than a little insensitive.

Most of her poems, however, bring a smile or a moment of thought or sweet reflection. I can imagine eagerly looking up her column in a newspaper each day. The quiet, kind, serene “mistress of the house” she portrays in many of the poems make me want to be more more like that kind of homemaker. These may not be the highest form of poetry, but for the most part they convey truth, beauty, perspective, understanding, and fun, a worthy goal of any artistic expression.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Wise Woman)

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What’s On Your Nightstand: June 2017

What's On Your Nightstand

The 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.

It’s nearly the end of June (already!), so it’s time to summarize this month’s reading.

Since last time I have completed:

The Sweetest Thing by Elizabeth Musser, reviewed here. Two girls with different personalities, lifestyles, families, economic situations, and religious persuasions become closest friends and help each other through the trials in their lives. Very good,

Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin, reviewed here. A girl lands in jail for breaking the Prohibition laws her grandmother fought for and reflects on the heritage of strong women in her family and their causes, wondering what her part in it all is. Very good.

Grow Old With Me by Melinda Evaul, reviewed here. A middle-aged bed and breakfast owner with looming physical issues meets a middle-aged man horribly disfigured from a fire. Good.

No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God by Aimee Byrd, on the need for women to grow in discernment and knowledge of God, reviewed here. Good.

I’m currently reading:

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Almost done!

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More by Karen Swallow Prior and Eric Metaxas

Songs of a Housewife: Poems by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, edited by Rodger L. Tarr

A Proper Pursuit by Lynn Austin

Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging by J. I. Packer

Up Next:

The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron

The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate

Threads of Suspicion by Dee Henderson

The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, spurred not only by the Back to the Classics Challenge but also Rebekah’s review.

What are you reading this summer?

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Book Review: No Little Women

No Little WomenAimee Byrd takes the title of No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God from 2 Timothy 3:6-7:

For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

Other translations use the descriptors “gullible,” “foolish,” “idle,” “silly” women. She says the literal translation is “little women” or “small women” and “was a term of contempt” (p. 23).

“Of course, Paul is not making a blanket statement about all women” (p. 21). “Paul isn’t soft-pedaling the issue here. And he isn’t being chauvinistic. His writing in Scripture shows a high view of women and much appreciation for their service. I wish we could all be the kind of woman who is praised in his writing. And Paul is not saying men are never gullible. He is saying that a particular type of immature woman was being targeted by false teachers looking to manipulate and infect households” (pp. 23-24).

In pondering why women would be such a target, she discusses the value of women, first of all from having been made in God’s image, but also in having been created as a helper. Sometimes we bristle at that word “helper,” but the word is also used of God “as a ‘helper’ to Israel throughout the Old Testament” and this word “communicates great strength” (pp 24-25). She quotes one author’s interpretation of the word for helper, ezer, as a “necessary ally”  which “brings into view the joint mission for which the male and female are created to rule God’s earthly kingdom” (p. 26). It emphasizes their relatedness to each other and dependence on each other.

To get to Adam, Satan went after a target of value to him. It is no surprise, then, that he is still relentless in trying to deceive Christ’s bride, the church, through false teachers, ill-placed priorities, felt needs, fear tactics, and coping mechanisms, to divert them from resting in Christ and in God’s wisdom, provision, and sovereignty” (p. 26).

In these days, this often happens via women’s ministries and books targeted to women.

In many cases, women’s ministry becomes a back door for bad doctrine to seep into the church. Why are there still so many gullible women? Have we made any progress in equipping our women to distinguish truth from error in what they are reading? Do the women in your church actually have the skills to lead a Bible study? Why is it that so many women sit under good preaching and have all the best intentions, yet fall prey to the latest book marketed to them that is full of poor theology? And why do so many women in the church fail to see that theology has any practical impact on their everyday lives?” (p. 22).

No matter what our different circumstances and vocations may be, every woman is a theologian. We all have an understanding about who God is and what he has done. The question is whether or not our views are based on what he has revealed in his Word about himself. And yet many women are either turned off or intimidated by doctrine” (p. 53) (emphasis mine).

Further complicating the problem is that sometimes pastors are unaware of what is being taught in women’s Bible studies, or, in some cases she cites, concerns women bring up to pastors about the books they’re reading are dismissed as if they don’t matter. I appreciate that she encourages pastors and leaders not just to give women’s ministry leaders lists of approved and disapproved authors, but to engage their questions and concerns and teach them how to be discerning in their reading.

Aimee delves further into what it means to be a “necessary ally,” why women should be theologically robust, how church leaders can help, how to be more discerning in our reading. She goes into church and feminist history to a degree. She demonstrates that, though a woman is not to hold an authoritative office over men, that doesn’t mean men can never learn from women (e.g, Hannah and Mary’s prayers are theologically rich and recorded as inspired Scripture, Priscilla is named with her husband Aquila as having “explained to [Apollos] the way of God more accurately,” Abigail reasoned with and appealed to David, diverting him from killing her household). She discusses different levels of doctrines: there are core ones that not to believe is heresy, such as the inspiration of the Bible, who Jesus is, how one can be saved, etc. But there are secondary ones that we might disagree over yet acknowledge that the other person knows and loves God, and we might benefit from their teaching while not necessarily agreeing with every little point. She has one section where she takes excerpts from popular books for Christian women and shows how to ask questions of them to discern what they are saying and how it lines up with Scripture.

I very much appreciate that she summarizes well after a section of writing. Not many non-fiction authors do this any more: maybe they feel they’ll bore the reader. But it helps me for the author to step back every now and then and review in a more concise form what they’ve just been talking about. Sometimes it’s hard to keep in mind the flow of the book and the connection between individual chapters and the overall point, so it helps when an author does that occasionally.

I have multitudes of places marked, much more than I can share in this already-long review, but here are just a few quotes that stood out to me:

The reason why so many people have an aversion to theology may be that it takes fitness. Returning to Hebrews 10:23, holding fast to anything requires fitness. It requires exercise, conditioning, stamina. We are exhorted to hold fast to our confession of hope because there is always something working against our fight for spiritual health and growth. John Owen picks up on this, saying that these two words insinuate an opposing force–we could even say a “great danger.” “To ‘hold fast’ implies the putting forth our utmost strength and endeavors in so doing.” This is going to take awareness and a real fight. Faith is a gift of God, but it is a fighting grace. To be fit theologically, we must be conditioned by God’s Word, exercising this gift actively by living a life of faith and obedience (pp. 57-58).

Sometimes we get so invested in our favorite authors and teachers that we have trouble separating their personalities from the content of their teaching. How do you handle it when your favorite books or speakers are challenged by constructive criticism? Do you take it personally? Do you think you have any blind spots when it comes to reading with discernment? (p. 64).

Our evangelical culture is one that promotes tolerance and love. But it isn’t loving to tolerate bad teaching in the church. Love requires the work of guarding the Word of the One who is truly loving. He loves us enough to be direct about holiness, sin, and the way to everlasting life. We have a responsibility to discern the teaching of those who eagerly wish to disciple others (p. 87).

We need to be careful not to be led by our sentiments to the detriment of our competency in God’s Word (p. 166).

Discernment is necessary in our relationships and in all of our learning. We are to pursue truth, and that means we have to distinguish truth from error (p. 201).

Aren’t we striving for unity? Of course we are! But what is it that unites us? We have a beautiful prayer recorded in Scripture, offered by Jesus for the unity of his church (see John 17:11). In it, he prays for his disciples, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). To sanctify means to set apart. So we see that Christ’s disciples were to be set apart by his word….We can be united only by the truth; anything else is superficial. God’s Word is the truth! And yet there is a setting apart, as truth needs to be separated from lies and errors (pp. 221-222).

But isn’t love the most important thing? [Quotes Jesus from Matthew 22:37-39, ties back to Deuteronomy 6:4-5.] So yes, love is of extreme importance–not only with our hearts and souls, but with our minds as well (p. 222, emphasis mine).

[After quoting Galatians 1:6-9 about letting those be accursed who bring a false doctrine] Those are very strong words. But they are loving words! It isn’t loving to accept any teaching in the church that is damning to our souls (p. 229).

What they believe to be true about God and themselves will shape their everyday decision making and behavior. But, more than that, it is an eternal matter. Impress the truth upon both the women and the men that they are theologians. We all have some sort of knowledge about God. The question is whether we are good theologians or poor ones. We are called to a life of faith and obedience. How does the knowledge of who the Lord is and what he has done on our behalf affect us? (p. 269).

If you’ve read here long, you know I take sound doctrine seriously, and I agree with what Aimee says about the need to read, understand, believe, obey, and teach what God says. I, too, have been saddened or dismayed by some of the problems in some of the most popular Christian books marketed to women. So I am very happy to see the emphases in this book on robust theology and discernment.

However, there are a few areas where I’d disagree with Aimee, though they all fall under secondary issues.

She wonders if there is any need for separate women’s ministries at all, and if there is, she feels they should be called initiatives rather than ministries. She feels that calling every other endeavor in church a “ministry” takes away from the ministry of the preaching of the Word of God, from which everything else we do in church should flow. I agree that the preaching of the Word is the primary ministry, but I have no problem with a women’s ministry or children’s ministry or prison ministry. The Bible does teach that we are all supposed to minister to others, and I have never had the example or even the thought that these other ministries of the church are competing with or downplaying preaching.

Somewhat connected with that, she quotes Hannah Anderson’s Made for More as saying, “When we craft our learning and discipleship programs around being ‘women,’ we make womanhood the central focus of our pursuit of knowledge instead of Christ.” I have not read Hannah’s book, but I don’t have a problem with a women’s ministry’s focus primarily concerned with Christian womanhood. A lot of what older women are instructed to teach younger women in Titus 2 has specifically to do with their womanhood, yet it is all within the context of sound doctrine (verse 1). I’ve been involved with women’s ministries for most of my adult life, and they’ve mostly been set up with monthly or quarterly meetings built around fellowship and outreach with occasional Bible studies at other times. The preached Word that we receive in other services during the week (4 or more for many of us) forms the basis and context for what we do in the women’s ministries. Having a women’s ministry built around Christian womanhood does not necessarily mean that we’re elevating that above knowing Christ: we’re seeking how to be the kind of women He wants us to be under the leadership of Titus 2 older women.

In a section about Adam and Eve, she states that “They were to expand the garden-temple, and therefore God’s presence, to the outermost parts of the world” (p. 68). I have a question mark under “God’s presence.” He is already everywhere. I’ve never heard this as a part of their instruction to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Later in this section she faults Eve for being “hospitable to the enemy, allowing the Serpent to converse with her in the garden-temple” (p. 69). Is talking to him being hospitable? And did she even know he was an enemy at that point? I’ve often wondered about this scene. She shows no surprise that a serpent speaks to her. Did all animals speak then? I don’t know. It seems to be a real serpent as opposed to a figurative one (like the dragon or beast in Revelation. We take them as figurative representations of real people with dragonish and beastly characters) because the curse in Genesis 3:14-15 has him crawling on his belly like a snake. Granted, when he started questioning and twisting God’s Word, that should have raised a red flag for Eve, and maybe that’s all that Aimee means, that Eve should not have kept listening to the snake at that point. But she seems to find a lot of fault with both Adam and Eve long before the Bible charges them with sin.

In a discussion of our unity with Christ, with His being the head and we His body, she makes the statement, “Christ has united himself in such a way to his church that we can be called the total Christ, or the one Christ!” (p. 171). While I agree with everything else she said about our union with Him, this statement bothers me, but I would need to ponder it more than I have.

Aimee writes from a Reformed perspective, and I am not Reformed, so we would have some differences there. Some day I really should write out why, but it would take too long to get into all of it here.

There are a couple of areas I wish she had gone into more, such as why we believe the canon of Scripture is closed and there is no new revelation at this time and hermeneutics (principles for Bible interpretation), as those are two areas of error in a lot of popular books.

But overall, I found much food for thought and much I agreed with thoroughly. I thought this was a very helpful book and I highly recommend it for every woman who wants to be strong in the faith rather than a spiritually immature or “little” woman.

(Sharing With Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Wise Woman)

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Laudable Linkage

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve been able to share the interesting reads I’ve come across, so I have quite a list accumulated.

Love Is More Than a Choice.

How I Process the Moral Failures of My Historical Heroes. I’ve been pondering this for some time, with the thought of possibly writing a post about it, so I was glad to see some thoughts very similar to my own.

Pray Them Home: Three Prayers to Pray for Prodigal Children.

The Father Who Eliminates Shame.

Ecumenical vs. Evangelical, HT to Challies. A good, concise summary of the history and the issues involved.

The Not So Simple Life. “No matter where you land on this simplicity spectrum, all of these endeavors don’t satisfy the peace we hope to gain from the ‘simple life’…Even simplification is a vain pursuit when it takes up so much room in our minds and our hearts.”

Don’t Take This Personally. “We each cast ourselves as the star (and director and producer) in our own movie. All our life’s plots revolve around us. And all the people in our relationships are supporting actors. But here’s the catch: The supporting actors in our movies are actually busy starring in their own movies.”

Dear Girl: Please Don’t Marry Him. “Your fear of breaking off the relationship should be obliterated by the fear of making a foolish marital choice which is far, far worse.” I don’t know anything about this author, but thought this was a good article.

Teens Who Choose Life in Unplanned Pregnancies Need Support and Respect, Not Shame, HT to Challies. Being pro-life is not just a matter of being anti-abortion.

The Art of Days. Seeing beauty in the everyday tasks.

Let Your Kids In On Your Ministry.

Desire, Choice, Consequence: Building Character Through Stories, HT to Story Warren.

Member of the Family.

As You Grow, So Should Your Dresses.

Is the ESV Literal and the NIV Gender Neutral? HT to Challies. Very little, if any, translation from one language to another is literally word for word the same, due to differences in sentence construction, words for which there are no equals, etc.

6 Keys to Help You Be the Boss of Your Blog.

The Numbers Trap, HT to True Woman.

Is Screen Time the Enemy of Reading? I almost didn’t read this, figuring I knew where it was going to go, but I was pleasantly surprised.

To a Schoolgirl in America: Writing Advice From C. S. Lewis.

Free ebooks, HT to Worthwhile Books.

I saw this on a friend of a friend’s Facebook, and I don’t know who originated it, but I think it’s great. The OT is so much more than moralistic stories.

What the Bible's About

(Links do not imply 100% endorsement of site or author.)

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Book Review: Though Waters Roar

Though Waters RoarIn Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin, Harriet Sherwood is a young woman in the early 1900s who has just landed in jail for defying the Prohibition’s liquor laws – but not for the reasons you might think. As she spends the night in jail, she contemplates how ironic it is that she’s there, given that her grandmother spend much of her adult life fighting for Prohibition. Trying to trace how she got to where she is, she reminiscences about the women in her heritage.

Her great-grandmother, Hannah, helped hide slaves and smuggle them to the Underground Railroad. Her grandmother, Bebe, stepped out of the conventional role of her new marriage in upper-class society to help those less fortunate, participate in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and fight against “Demon Rum,” landing in jail herself for taking an axe to whiskey barrels. Her mother, Lucy, though having a very different personality and upbringing, eventually stepped out of her shallow lifestyle to try to help others as well. Finding that the means to appeal to civic authorities for needed changes was blocked by those authorities because she was a woman, she fought for women’s right to vote.

Harriet “didn’t want to be like my fiery grandmother and end up in jail, any more than I wanted to be a dutiful wife like Mother or a virtuous siren like Alice [her sister]. But how was I supposed to live as a modern woman, born just before the dawn of the twentieth century? What other choices did I have? That’s the question I was endeavoring to answer when I ended up in jail.”

The story of Harriet’s ancestors takes up most of the book and is told in flashback. With each mother-daughter pair, the mother tries to teach eternal truths to a daughter not always willing to listen, at least at first. But eventually each finds her own way, and Harriet is reassured that “Someday…God is going to give you a task to do in your own time and place. Then you’ll have to put your faith in Him as you follow your conscience.”

A few favorite quotes:

Thank goodness you’re such a plain child. You’ll have to rely on your wits.

Grip the rudder and steer, Harriet. Don’t just drift gently down the stream. If you don’t have a map, you might run aground somewhere or end up crushed against the rocks. Always know where you’re headed.

Bitterness is like a weed. Remember how hard it always was to pull out thistles once they take root? Remember how deep those roots grow, and how if you just snapped off the end of it, the plant would grow right back? You have to dig down deep inside. Let God search your heart. Let Him show you what’s there and help you root out all that bitterness.

There’s no shame in changing direction, Harriet. In fact, once you’ve seen the warning signs, it’s always wise to turn around.

Our daughters aren’t the same people we are, nor are they extensions of ourselves. They are unique individuals in God’s eyes, responsible to Him for the choices they make, not to their mothers.

As much as our communities might need it, and as bad as things are, imposing our morality on others isn’t the answer. It doesn’t work. People may be forced to give up alcohol, but they are still going to hell. That’s our calling—to bring people to Christ—not to force them to behave the way we want them to or to solve all their external problems.

I had not known until fairly recently that there were different waves of feminism and that when it first started, it fought for good and necessary ways to help others. It was later on that other agendas and prejudices crept in. So it was interesting to read how this first wave came about. Even in fighting for good causes, though, there were problems with balance in being away from home so much, leaving children to others to raise, and occasionally defying husbands. I don’t think the author is saying those things are necessary or right, but that it’s always a struggle to maintain the right balance. Even Grandma Bebe (speaker of the last quote listed) comes to realize in the end that her life would have been better spent in eternal pursuits.

I actually didn’t like Harriet very much, but I think her personality was indicative of both having been left to herself too much and trying to find her way. When she does seem to be finding it and some pieces start to fall together for her, some of the rough edges smooth over.

I did enjoy the story and the look into the lives and journeys of the women. I was about to say which one I identified most with, but then found I couldn’t really name one – there was much to glean from and identify with in each woman’s life.

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

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Book Review: Grow Old With Me

Grow Old With MeIn the novel Grow Old With Me by Melinda Evaul, Sarah Campbell runs a bed and breakfast in the small NC town of Love Valley. She spent all of her adult life caring for her mother, who had an accident leaving her with the mind of an eight-year-old. Sarah gave up a chance at marriage and a family of her own to care for her parents. Now her parents have passed on, and she is in her 50s, barely making ends meet, and trying to ignore symptoms that indicate something worse than just the aches and pains of getting older because she doesn’t have the money to see a doctor. She has a good church and set of friends, but she doesn’t let anyone know the depth of her problems.

One day a client, Benjamin Pruitt, comes to her establishment to do some carpentry work in the town. He is horribly disfigured from a fire years ago that killed his best friend. He keeps to himself to avoid people’s stares and carries a lot of bitterness, especially toward God for allowing such a thing to happen. He plans to mostly stay in his room after work, but the first night, when Sarah has dinner set out for him and another client, he doesn’t feel he can back out without being terrible rude. She extends friendship and grace towards him, and eventually he responds.

Friendship turns to something more, but there are so many issues in the way. Both had expected to spend the rest of their lives single. Sarah is a believer and Benjamin is not. As Sarah’s symptoms escalate, so do her fears of becoming dependent on someone and being a burden to them, and her physical and financial situation seem like too much to ask someone to take on. Benjamin is still in the process of opening himself up to others and trusting.

My thoughts:

It was nice to see a romance between ordinary older people rather than the main characters being young/beautiful/handsome/muscular/at the top of their profession. I thought the fears of aging were handled realistically. Both characters were realistically flawed: Sarah admits to having a bad temper and is fiercely independent; Benjamin struggles the way many people would who had undergone what he had. I liked what both characters learned along the way about themselves, God, and each other.

I did find the writing a bit choppy in places and awkward in others. There were some sentences that seemed a bit overly…sentimental, maybe, almost silly (“Dust motes danced to the Christmas music playing on the CD”; “Fervent pleas leapt from his dark eyes.”) I thought Sarah went way too far in the relationship without knowing that Benjamin was a Christian and knowing that would be an obstacle for her.

But overall it was a good story. It’s supposed to be the first in a Quilt Trail series, but it was written in 2010, and apparently there are no sequels yet. The author’s web site tells how she and her husband like to travel the back roads of TN and NC seeking out Quilt Barn Squares on buildings, so evidently she originally planned a series of books along those lines. I don’t know if she still plans to write more. This one has pretty consistently been 99 cents for the Kindle, making it easy to give it a try.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Book Review: The Sweetest Thing

Sweetest ThingIn The Sweetest Thing by Elizabeth Musser, Perri Singleton belongs to a well-to-do family in Atlanta in 1933. She attends a private girls’ high school, goes to parties and dances, has tons of friends and dates, and doesn’t have to worry about much in the world.

Her mother’s best friend, Mrs. Chandler, had invited her niece to live with her and get an education at Perri’s school. The niece, Mary Dobbs Dillard, is about Perri’s age, but her family lives in Chicago and doesn’t have much money. Her father is an evangelist, not a well-paying profession in itself, but the family tends to give much of their resources away to help the poor. Mrs. Chandler thought Mary Dobbs intelligent and wanted to help with her education. So she asks Perri and her mother to accompany her to pick Dobbs (as she prefers to be called) up at the train station. They agree, and Perri is expecting a ragged waif. But Mary Dobbs is gorgeous, yet in an “unorthodox” way that doesn’t fit in with the current styles. She’s also a bit overenthusiastic, talkative, and religious.

Perri’s not particularly impressed, but on that very same day, her world falls apart, and Dobbs ends up becoming her closest friend.

There are so many layers to this book. Friendship, obviously. Differences between rich and poor. Dobbs realizes that she has misjudged wealthy people, and they’re not all selfish – some of them are quite generous, with an eye to helping the poor. And she starts to get used to having enough to eat, beautiful clothes, and little luxuries. Crises of faith for both Perri and Dobbs, in different ways. Life in the South in those times. Figuring out how to live out your faith in a foreign situation. Finding your gifts and your place in life. Family secrets. And even a mystery about stolen items, misplaced blame, threats, and deceit.

I feel like I am not telling you enough about the book, but there is so much I don’t want to give away. Here are just a couple of quotes:

Faith doesn’t work that way. You don’t just believe when you get everything you want. That’s not our choice. We share in the sufferings of others….We bear the burdens together. We take what comes, and we believe. It’s not down here that it will all be equal and okay. It’s later. Here, well, the Lord promised us sometimes we will have hardship and suffering. He also promised He’d never leave us. His presence, His holy presence is with us here. And later, there, that’s when the tears will be wiped away. Later.

I always thought of God like that—providing in the nick of time—believing in Him got me something: a miracle, or at least help. God owed me something. But…it wasn’t working….And finally it hit me. Selfishly, I wanted a formula to fit God into, something that could be explained….It had almost seemed easy – the way He’d provided for us so many times before. But Mother was right. God was past understanding, and He was asking me to trust Him as a good God and Father before I knew there would be [an answer.]

I loved this book and felt right along with the girls and all they were going through. Elizabeth Musser is one of my favorite authors. She says her books are “entertainment with a soul.” They are indeed.

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

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