Book Review: Travelers Rest

Travelers Rest Travelers Rest caught my eye first of all because I used to live near a town by that name in SC, and I always thought it was a lovely name for a town. Then, as I started reading books by Ann Tatlock, I wanted to bring this one up from the depths of my accumulated Kindle sale titles and place it high on the TBR list.

In this story, Jane Morrow and Seth Ballantine live in Troy, NC, and are engaged, planning to be married after his tour of duty in Afghanistan. After nearly a year, though, Seth is hit by a sniper and paralyzed. He’s told Jane to stay away, but when he is shipped to the VA hospital in Asheville, she can’t help but go to see him to assure him of her love.

But Seth is no longer the man she knew. Though the physical issues are daunting, Jane thinks they can overcome them. But the mental and emotional hurdles for Seth are a different story. Gradually, though, he gets used to Jane coming around.

Though Jane still loves Seth and wants to marry him, sometimes she’s overwhelmed by the losses they face and by Seth’s extreme emotions. While taking respite in the common rooms, she meets an older black man, Truman, who once was a doctor but now lives at the VA. He still makes “rounds” to encourage the patients and help where he can. He has seen quite a lot, and he helps Jane understand Seth’s perspective. As they talk, Jane learns more of Truman’s life and sorrows. Truman is from Travelers Rest, where events in his twenties changed his course and relationships forever. He doesn’t think he can ever return there.

Jane’s spiritual background is shaky. She knows Truman and Seth and his family are believers, but she doesn’t know what to believe. But she knows her love alone isn’t enough to heal Seth’s internal wounds.

My only reluctance to reading this book beforehand was that I figured I knew how it would end. But I was wrong! Even if the story had gone the way I thought it would, however, I would have loved the unfolding of it. I enjoyed the characters very much. I also enjoyed the setting, as I’m familiar with many of the places mentioned. I liked the different layers of meaning of “Travelers Rest” employed in the book. I wish Jane’s faith journey would have been just a touch more clear. But overall, I loved the story.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

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Book Review: A Room of My Own

Room of my ownIn A Room of My Own by Ann Tatlock, Virginia Eide’s family was not rich, by her father’s definition, but they were better off than most during the Depression. He was a doctor, which at least provided steady work, even if some people paid in goods and services rather than cash.

But not everyone had steady work. Ginny’s uncle’s loss of his job led to his whole family living with the Eides, with Ginny having to give up her room and sleep with her younger sisters.

The Depression also led to a shanty camp being set up outside of town called Soo City. People who had lost their jobs had nowhere else to go. They tried to rig up some kind of shelter to stay in while they looked for work.

When Virginia’s father was called to help a woman in labor in Soo City, Virginia’s mother had misgivings. Every time he was called there, she had a feeling that something bad was going to happen.

Of course, there were the usual opinions around town that the Soo City residents were bums, that they could find work if they wanted to. To combat those attitudes and develop Ginny’s empathy, her father asked her to assist him in his rounds there. He didn’t tell her his purpose: he just told her he could use her help. Likewise, when he gave some of their home-canned goods to Soo City residents, he asked if they could take the old jars of food off their hands because his wife was getting ready to start this year’s canning. He made them feel like they were doing him a favor.

Ginny feels important helping her father, and she comes to know many of the residents by name.

Meanwhile, her uncle has become involved with a man trying to set up a labor union, while townspeople accuse strikers and unionists of Communism.

Things come to a head with both the strikers and Soo City, bringing tragedy to Virginia’s world and jolting her out of childhood.

I loved the back-and-forth between Ginny’s girlish activities with her friend and her fledgling forays into being grown up. I loved her father’s gentle and thoughtful example. And I loved Ginny’s coming-of-age in a manner she had not expected.

Some of my favorite quotes:

We can’t help worrying sometimes. But in spite of what we feel, we can still trust God to do what’s right.

Fear, I discovered in that moment, is as contagious as disease–maybe even more so because it takes only a moment, a few words, or a look for it to leap from one person to the next.

Most people might just be glad it was the other fellow hit by hard times, but a sensitive person like you probably can’t look on the suffering of another without feeling guilty that you aren’t suffering in the same way. But you have to look at it this way. If you and I had nothing, we’d have nothing to give. And if we had nothing to give, our friends down in Soo City might be just a little bit worse off.

I was so overwhelmed by feelings that I couldn’t feel anything anymore.

I missed home. I missed the routines of our lives, all the otherwise unnoticed customs–meals together around the kitchen table, and evenings together on the porch or around the radio, all the untroubled hours of work and play and rest. How sweet all those simple things seemed now. How much I longed for that completely unromantic but loveliest of lives.

American flags waved from front porches all up and down our street. I saw the patriotic gesture as ironic–people had been complaining about our country all year long, but now that it was Independence Day, they went right ahead and celebrated as usual. Maybe it wasn’t hypocrisy that led to the flags and the fireworks. Maybe it was hope.

So for a time, with Charlotte at my side, I almost forgot where I was and why I was there. Friends can do that, bring a bit of real comfort in a time of distress like balm on a wound.

I love this one for the description, as one who grew up with oscillating fans before central air-conditioning was common: “The one small fan in the corner turned its head from side to side, giving off mechanical sighs of contentment as it blew warm air across the room.”

When I looked this book up on Amazon, I was surprised to see a note that it was written for the general market but “may contain content of an inspirational nature.” There is a natural faith element woven into the story without being at all preachy.

All in all, a very good book.

(Sharing with Booknificent, Literary Musing Monday)

Book Review: Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Karen Swallow Prior is a professor of English at Liberty University. In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, she shares how books taught and influenced her throughout her life.

Books have formed the soul of me. I know that spiritual formation is of God, but I also know—mainly because I learned it from books—that there are other kinds of formation, too, everyday gifts, and that God uses the things of this earth to teach us and shape us, and to help us find truth (p. 10).

In commenting on her parents being pretty free in what they allowed her to read, Karen says:

It seems to be to be an entirely negative, not to mention ineffective, strategy to shield children from reality rather than actively expose them to the sort of truth that merges organically from the give-and-take of weighing and reckoning competing ideas against one another (p. 14).

That sounds a lot like Hebrews 5:14 (ESV): “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Karen goes on to say:

Books meet with disapproval because of their objectionable content. Wisdom, however, considers not only what a book says (its content), but how it says it (its form). Just as important–or perhaps more important than–whether a book contains questionable themes like sex or violence or drugs or witchcraft or candy is how those topics are portrayed. Are they presented truthfully in terms of their context and their consequences? Are dangerous actions, characters, or ideas glamorized in such a way that makes them enticing? (pp. 14-15).

Karen came to these conclusions not only from her own experience, but also from John Milton’s Areopagitica, a tract against censorship. Milton’s fellow Puritans wanted to ban books that they deemed unworthy. Milton argued instead that books should be “promiscuously read.” “Promiscuous” did not have the sexual connotations then that it does today: it just meant “indiscriminate mixing” (p. 22).

The essence of Milton’s argument is that truth is stronger than falsehood; falsehood prevails through the suppression of countering ideas, but truth triumphs in a free and open exchange that allows truth to shine (p. 10).

Milton goes on to argue that “our faith and knowledge thrives by exercise,” that “Moses, Daniel, and Paul . . . were steeped in the writings of their surrounding pagan cultures,” and even bad books “to a discreet and judicious reader serve in many respects to discover, to confute, to forewarn, to illustrate”(pp. 22-23). He asserts, “Truth is strong . . . Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” (pp. 23-24).

I don’t think either Milton or Karen are saying that “anything goes.” But we don’t have to restrict our reading to just that with which we already agree. Karen quotes 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Test all things and hold fast that which is good” (p. 22).

I’ve spent the most time on this first chapter because I found it so fascinating. I don’t remember exactly when I started to come to some of these same conclusions– I think maybe during or not long after college. I realized that the Bible itself contains what many would consider objectionable elements, but it handles them in a way that does not glorify sin but exposes truth.

Karen goes on to discuss several different literary works and how they influenced her thinking. Charlotte’s Web had much in common with her own childhood and her grandparents’ farm (though her pet rooster wasn’t granted the same reprieve as Wilbur). Gerald Manley Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty” revealed the unexpected beauty found in surprising places. Jane Eyre’s quest to become her own person rather than Rochester’s mistress or St. John’s missionary wife gave insight to Karen’s emerging self between eighth-grade cliques. Vocation, sexuality, faith, doubt, love, and marriage were likewise informed by Karen’s reading.

I greatly enjoyed Karen’s discussion of books I was familiar with. Her chapter on Gulliver’s Travels helped clear up aspects of the book I had been confused about. Her discussion of Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Madame Bovary made me want to read both of those books. I knew the former was about a girl in Victorian times who got pregnant and the latter was about an adulteress, and I had figured both would be somewhat risque.  But Tess has to do with purity of heart. Either due to naivete or rape, she had gotten pregnant, which at that time meant she was “ruined.” Yet Hardy presents her purer of heart than the society that so harshly judged her. And Madame Bovary shows Emma’s struggle between the idealized life she longed for that would never be true while she missed the joys of everyday reality.

Madame Bovary changed my worldview. It made me realize that happiness is in here, not out there. That the imperfect love of a real person is far greater than the perfect love that exists only in fairy tales or movies. That living happily-ever-after begins with embracing life–not fleeing to fantasies–today (pp. 176-177).

Karen mentions throughout the book that she grew up in a home with believing parents and regular church attendance. Though she “asked Jesus into her heart” at a young age, she led a double life of sex, drugs, and drinking. She realized as an adult that she had never asked Jesus into her mind, and the Bible tells us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. Furthermore, she realized that repentance involves a change of mind that results in a change of actions. While much of the book tells how God brought her to this place step by step, I wish she had included a little more about how this change came about from professing faith to really embracing it for herself.

I will warn some readers that Karen is quite frank about some of her thinking and activities in this split part of her life. But I think it’s important to realize that many young people (and even older people) are the same way, and hearing their stories will help us understand them better.

A few more quotes that stood out to me:

In focusing my attention on things much bigger than myself, ironically, I learned who I was. It’s the lesson, once again, that beholding is becoming (p. 142).

[Jonathan] Swift’s orthodox theology led him to a realistic understanding that all of man is fallen, and this includes man’s reason . . . His method was to expose the errors of rationalism by taking it to its logical extreme (p. 129).

I wanted not only to comfort the young woman, but also to get her to see that talking about such an event in a book was a safe, constructive way of dealing with these issues (pp. 101-102).

I’d love to audit Karen’s classes. I enjoyed the insights she brought out from the various works she cited and how they influenced her own growth.

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

Book Review: I’ll Watch the Moon

MoonIn the novel I’ll Watch the Moon by Ann Tatlock, 9-year-old Nova lives with her mother and 13-year-old brother in her aunt’s boarding house in 1948. Her mother works in a bakery by day and helps at the boarding house afterward. Nova’s mother is usually sad or angry, and Nova doesn’t know why until much later. Nova’s aunt, Dortha, is a woman of faith but has learned to choose her words carefully around her sister.

She was, you see, actually a loving and gentle woman. It’s just that she was lost, hidden way deep down inside somewhere, in a place of no light, the bottom of an ocean of too many hard years. And yet there were moments when she rose to the surface, breaking through the sadness and the anger like a diver coming up through murky waters. When I glimpsed her then, in those moments, I knew that this was the real Catherine Tierney, the good and kind woman, my mother, and someone I wouldn’t see very often because she had to work so very hard to find her way out of that dark inward place.

Nova’s brother, Dewey, is nicknamed Galileo because he loves astronomy and wants to be the first man on the moon. Nova and Dewy are exceptionally close, making it doubly hard for her to accept his going swimming without her. Their mother has strictly forbidden them to swim due to the possibility of getting polio, which was running rampant at the time. Dewy will risk it himself, but will not let Nova.

Other boardinghouse residents are a quiet Polish professor named Josef, a couple of show-business sisters, a middle-aged single lady, and a few others. One theme of the book is that every heart has its secrets sorrows, and some of these are revealed as the story progresses. And, as their stories come to light, and Nova goes through her own set of hard circumstances, another theme emerges: we often can’t explain why things happen the way they do. But we can trust God is with us.

“And if I curse him, Mrs. Tierney? What then? If I turn away from him, what do I turn toward?” Josef paused, shook his head slowly. “No. Better to keep one’s face toward heaven, even if you are angry with God, than to turn away and find nothing at all.”
___

Even a grain of hope can manage to eclipse a whole world of despair.
___

“Until then you can put yourself in the hands of God—he’ll see you through. You can take it from someone who knows, dear. I’ve found his hands to be an easy place to rest.”

I had read this book some years ago, evidently before I had a blog. I couldn’t remember much about it, so I bought a copy during a Kindle sale. Lou Ann’s recent review reminded me of it and brought it to the top of my TBR list. Interestingly, I was reading this just as our church was reading through Ecclesiastes, which often shares a similar theme: some things in this life don’t make sense, but we can trust God for what we can’t understand.

This was a wonderful story on many levels. I am so glad I read it again, and, this time, jotted down some of what I gleaned from it.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

 

Book Review: How Green Was My Valley

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn is the story of a family in a Welsh mining village in the 1800s. The story begins with the narrator, Huw (pronounced like Hugh), looking back over his time in the valley just as he is getting ready to leave it as an older man.

Huw remembers his somewhat idyllic childhood. Most of the men in the valley worked in the coal mines. They’d come home en masse covered with coal dust, take a bath, and enjoy a fine meal prepared by their wives. Saturdays were special: payday. Every wife would dress in her second-best and bring a chair outside her door. Her husband would put his pay for the week in her lap. After a bath and a good dinner, then they’d go shopping.

Huw was the youngest son. Most of his brothers worked in the mines and contributed to the family coffers, so they were well-off, comparatively, and able to help others when times were hard. Huw was in an accident after which he could not walk for five years. Even after he could walk, his legs were spindly. Huw was educated by a village woman until she had taught him all she could. Then she prepared him for the national school. There he was a target, both because he was so slight and because he was the new kid. When he came home beat up, his father taught him how to defend himself.

Fighting was a big part of life then. People fought over slights, over speaking to a man’s daughter without asking his permission first, over just about any real or perceived infraction.

Huw’s memories trace the progression of his family, his own coming to manhood, Mr. Gruffydd (Griffith), the town minister, troubles and triumphs in town and at school. Trouble with the mines affected most of the families, and arguments flew back and forth about the best way to handle them. Some, including some of Huw’s brothers, were for unions, some for striking. And the slag heap, made up of waste from the mines, continually grew into a bigger blight on the landscape, eventually choking off life from the river and the land.

I’m not one to see symbolism behind every element in literature, but the slag heap is such a presence through the book that it must symbolize something. I’m not sure exactly what, though. Man’s progression, which so often ends up  harming his environment? Man’s inherent corruption, which affects everything he touches? Maybe a bit of both.

Llewellyn is a beautiful writer, with a musical lilt to much of his prose. I listened to the audiobook wonderfully narrated by Ralph Cosham, and enjoyed hearing the lyricism of the book that way. I also checked a print copy from the library and enjoyed rereading a few passages.

There is beauitful to watch a mountain sleeping, and other mountains in the other valleys rising up like bits of blue velvet to make you feel you could cut a piece and wear it for a coat, to dance in above the fat clouds.

O, there is lovely to feel a book, a good book, firm in the hand, for its fatness holds rich promise, and you are hot inside to think of good hours to come.

There is good a cup of tea is when you are feeling low. Thin, and plenty of milk, and brown sugar in the crystal, in a big cup so that when your mouth is used to the heat you can drink instead of sipping. Every part of you inside you that seems to have gone to sleep comes lively again. A good friend of mine is a cup of tea, indeed.

I knew she was laughing, but she looked as though she were crying, with golden tears unsteady in her eyes, and her eyes gone lovely blue to call for pity, big, and round, like a little girl wanting to be carried, and turning down her mouth, only a little not to be ugly, and a tremble in the chin, and with hair almost the colour of a new penny about her face and hanging down three feet, with stray ones shining like the strings of a harp across her eyes and down her cheeks.

There is a wholeness about a woman, of shape, and sound, and colour, and taste, and smell, a quietness that is her, that you will want to hold tightly to you, all, every little bit, without words, in peace, with jealousy for the things that escape the clumsiness of your arms. So you feel, when you love.

Men lose their birthrights for a mess of pottage only if they stop using the gifts given them by God for their betterment. By prayer. That is the first and greatest gift. Use the gift of prayer. Ask for strength of mind, and a clear vision. Then sense. Use your sense. …Think long and well. By prayer and good thought you will conquer all enemies.

Never mind what you feel. Think. Watch. Think again. And then one step at a time to put things right. As a mason puts one block at a time. To build solid and good. So with thought. Think. Build one thought at a time. Think solid. Then act.
____
Well,” my father said to her, and looked at her.

“Well,” my mother said to him, and looked at him.

In that quietness they were speaking their own language, with their eyes, with the way they stood, with what they put into the air about them, each knowing what the other was saying, and having strength one from the other, for they had been learning through forty years of being together, and their minds were one.”

When Huw was sent to take some things to a neighbor having a baby, he thought doctors brought babies in their bags. The daughter of the woman having the baby told him otherwise and brought him to a window to watch to prove her point. Traumatized, he went home, and eventually his parents found out. He thought he was going to get in trouble, but his father just said:

Listen to me. Forget all you saw. Leave it. Take your mind from it. It had nothing to do with you. But use it for experience. Now you know what hurt it brings to women when men come into the world. Remember, and make it up to your Mama and to all women. . . And another thing let it do . . . There is no room for pride in any man. There is no room for unkindness. There is no room for wit at the expense of others. All men are born the same, and equal. As you saw to-day, so come the Captains and the Kings and the Tinkers and the Tailors. Let the memory direct your dealings with men and women. And be sure to take good care of Mama.

Another interesting comment about women came when he and one sister had to do all the dishes for their large family, and he commented, “A man will never know a woman until he knows her work.”

One of the funniest parts was when the village school teacher came to the house to drill Huw before his examination for the English school. She gave him a math problem about how long it would take to fill up a bathtub with so many gallons going in and two holes letting so much out the bottom. Huw’s mother, a smart woman in her own right but not much on “book learning,” can’t get over the silliness of someone pouring water into a tub with holes. Then when they move on to decimals, she wants to know who came up with that idea and who says what that little dot is supposed to do.

One somewhat disturbing part was when a small girl was “ravaged,” and the men of the village sought him out and took his punishment into their own hands.

“To hand her murderer over to the police will give him an extra day to live, which your daughter was denied,” said Mr. Gruffydd. “He shall be fed and housed until the day he meets the rope, but your daughter will lie beneath the dead wreaths long before then, and the rope gives a good quick and clean, without blood, without pain, without torture of the soul and body. Is justice done, then, with a rope about the neck of a man, and his victim, a child of seven years, torn and twisted, long in her grave?”

“No,” said the crowd.

“Shall we burn him?” asked Mr. Gruffydd. “But if we do, he will die a death of honour, for martyrs died in the flame. What then?”

“Give him to me,” said Cynlais Pritchard.

“Is that your common decision?” Mr. Gruffydd asked the crowd.

“Yes,” they all shouted back.

“Take him,” said Mr. Gruffydd, “and as we do with him, so shall we do with the next, if next there is. And remember, if you bury him, however deep, you pollute innocent ground. Burden not the earth with such.”

Though the people were God-fearing, sadly, Huw saw Christ as only a man.

There is a smattering of “damns,” “hells,” and such. There is one description of teenage fondling and another of a sexual encounter that are written metaphorically, but still more graphically than I am comfortable with.

Though much of the book has a nostalgic feel, to me it ended up sad. Nearly everyone has passed on and the slag heap is about to crush what’s left. Huw muses:

But you have gone now, all of you that were so beautiful when you were quick with life. Yet not gone, for you are still a living truth inside my mind. So how are you dead, my brothers and sisters, and all of you, when you live with me as surely as I live with myself.

Llewellyn was of Welsh decent and portrayed this as something of his own history. After his death, it was discovered that he had not been in Wales until well after the book was published. He knew people from Welsh mining families and drew from their conversations.

The 1941 film version with Roddy McDowall and Maureen O’Hara remains popular even today. I saw it years ago but I remember little from it. I’d like to watch it again some time.

Book Review: The Fashion Designer

Fashion designer The Fashion Designer by Nancy Moser is a sequel to her book The Pattern Artist. I think the second book could be understood alone, but I encourage reading both of them.

In The Pattern Artist, which I read and reviewed last year, Annie Wood was a housemaid in England in 1911. She hoped her skill in sewing and designing would move her up to a lady’s handmaid. But the handmaids took credit for her work. Deciding there was no future for her in the Summerfield’s house, she decided on a trip to the US to strike out to pursue her own version of the American dream. She started out in the sewing department of Macy’s, then was hired on as a pattern artist for Butterick.

In the beginning of this new book, The Fashion Designer, Annie and a few friends from Butterick had quit their jobs to start a new company designing practical patterns for the everyday woman. But the lady who had enthusiastically promised to fund their endeavors inexplicably has a change of heart: she wants the women to design for her elite, upper crust friends and wants them to create patterns for a fashion show. At first Annie and her friends comply, but then bow out because their investor’s vision no longer matches their own.

After several discussions with her husband and the other women, they decide to try to open a store with dresses that people can buy off the rack but also have altered to fit if need be. They pool their resources to get started while they look for funding to continue. But all the financial avenues that seem promising end up closing.

Meanwhile, someone from Annie’s past at the manor house in England shows up seeking her own fresh start. Maude, one of Annie’s coworkers and partners, faces struggles in her relationships. She had vowed never to marry, for her own private reasons, but she meets someone who makes her wish she could change her mind. And a difference of opinion with Annie’s husband’s father puts a rift not only in their relationship, but between his parents as well.

Once again Nancy shared at the back of the book how some of her research informed the story and included facts and photos from the era. I especially enjoyed how she tied in Lane Bryant’s true story to intersect with Annie’s fictional one.

I enjoyed following along with Annie and Sean as they struggled to trust God for His wisdom and provision for the plans that they felt had come from Him.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Literary Musing Monday, Booknificent)

Laudable Linkage

Here are a few interesting reads found on the web lately:

Next in the Sexual Revolution: Children. HT to Proclaim and Defend. “They claim children are sexual beings too and who are we to deny a consenting child that right?” Scary and appalling.

Matthew 18 is Not Instructive for Book Reviews, But Much of the New Testament Is, HT to Challies. “‘Did you contact the author privately before you posted the review?’ . . . The question invokes the well-known, but oft-misunderstood, church discipline passage in Matthew 18:15-20.”

The Miracle That Can Happen When You’re Tired. “They were tired. They were overworked. They were hungry. Which just so happens to be the perfect time for God to display His power.”

Who Says Social Media Can’t Make You Wise? HT to True Woman. “Ten years of social media has shown me the wisdom of being slow to speak, how comparison kills joy, how in-person friendship knows no substitute. But it has also taught me the sweetness of the well-timed word of encouragement, of shared celebrations and shared losses. Used wisely, a virtual platform can actually minister. For those indwelt by the Spirit, wisdom can be unearthed from even such common soil as social media.”

14 Stunning Illustrations That Perfectly Capture the Introverts Love of Books, HT to Linda

The $8,000 Mistake All Bloggers Should Beware. I forget where I saw this one. “Copyright laws have created and enabled an industry of predatory lawyers – also known as copyright trolls. These attorneys take advantage of photographers and artists who make their images available online, as well as the bloggers who don’t know any better and post the wrong content to their sites.” Apparently they don’t have to warn you first and give you a chance to take it down. We all know (or should) that just because a photo is on the Internet doesn’t mean we can use it. But apparently some of the instances we thought were ok, like a link back to the original site, don’t justify the use of the photo.

You’re Using a Cutting Board Incorrectly, HT to Challies. I never knew! But it makes sense!

And, finally, someone on Facebook posted this video of a baby trying chocolate milk for the first time. Adorable!

Happy Saturday!

Book Review: The Wednesday Letters

Jack and Laurel Cooper were married for 39 years. The last few years they’ ran a bed-and-breakfast in VA. Jack had been battling cancer and knew his time was short. Laurel had heart issues they were both unaware of. At the end of the first chapter, Jack and Laurel died in each other’s arms.

The Coopers had three adult children. Matthew, the oldest, is a tightly wound businessman. Samantha, the only daughter, is a police officer who originally wanted to be an actress. Malcolm, the youngest, is a bit of a wild card, living in South America and writing a book at the time of his parents’ deaths.

As the three converge at their parents’ place and start going through papers, they discover a collection of letters. They had never known that their father wrote a letter to their mother every Wednesday of their marriage. Some are fun (especially one about a chance meeting with Elvis). Some recall daily or major events, some are silly, some are poignant. Some reveal deep and painful secrets that are of particular consequence to Malcolm. Can he forgive as his parents forgave?
___

I first saw this book advertised in the Victoria Trading Company catalog and thought it sounded interesting. Because it was in that catalog, I thought it would be from the Victorian era. Instead, it’s set in 1988. I don’t often take chances with modern secular fiction, unless I have heard favorable reviews from someone I trust, because it usually contains bad language or explicit scenes. But I decided to go ahead with this book. And I was pleasantly surprised. There were no objectionable elements, and the story was well-written and touching with an undercurrent of faith.

I did not know until after I finished the book and was looking for more information that the author is a Mormon. I have serious disagreements with much Mormon doctrine, but I didn’t pick up on anything of that nature in the story.

Book Review: She Makes It Look Easy

In the novel She Makes It Look Easy by Marybeth Whalen, Ariel Baxter is a stay-at-home mom and photographer. Her photography side business has taken off to such a degree that she and her husband can afford a nice new home in a neighborhood she has dreamed of living in for years. Though Ariel has her gifts, her life and home are disorganized and chaotic.

Through my lens I watched the dynamic of friendship play out among Heather and her friends: the familiarity laced with timidity, the chance to open up paired with the fear of being exposed, the awkward dance of really knowing another person. . . somehow the girls always found a way to come back together, to find what made them stick and hold on to that. I envied their natural rapport, the ease that can only come with time together. How ironic, I thought as I focused and clicked, that these girls already had what I couldn’t seem to find.

Ariel’s neighbor, Justine is one of those women who has it all together. She’s pretty, fit, perfectly made up for a pool party, her daughters wear matching outfits. She’s organized – she even has an organizing notebook! And she’s creative and speaks to her church’s ladies’ group.

Ariel is delighted that Justine deigns to befriend her and help her start organizing and exercising. As they spend more time together, Ariel is sometimes frustrated that Justine calls the shots in what they do. But she doesn’t want to jeopardize the friendship, so she goes along. She even acquiesces when Justine steers her away from another neighbor, Erica, whom Ariel actually likes.

As events unfold, we see that Justine’ life is not as perfect as everyone else thinks. She may be organized, but her happiness, marriage, and spiritual life are facades.

We had been living in denial for months, fooling ourselves into thinking that we were safe if we stayed inside the bubble of our affluent neighborhood, not realizing that’s the problem with bubbles: They shimmer and shine, but they burst easily.

I think we all have a little bit of Eve in us. She had perfection and everything she could ever want and still she reached for more.

I fell asleep praying for the strength to do what was right and for God to guard me from situations that could land me in the same situation Justine had gotten herself into. I was learning we all need protection from ourselves.

The not-so-subtle theme of the book is that no one is perfect and we shouldn’t put people up on pedestals. No matter how great everything looks on the outside, we all have our issues. While I think this is an important point, and we get into a lot of trouble comparing ourselves to each other, I felt the author took the theme and characters to extremes. I don’t think she’s saying that organized, put-together people are bad and disorganized people with messy lives are on the right track, but it almost looks that way in the book.

Another theme is the contrast between healthy and toxic friendships. Justine is the suburban equivalent of the “queen bee” at school whose favor almost everyone seeks and who decides who is “in” and “out.” Ariel’s just glad to be “in” at first and she’s entirely too trusting. Slowly and painfully her eyes are opened to the truth.

Motivations are another key factor. Justine seems to be primarily motivated by finding “happiness,” even if it takes her on a path that she knows is wrong. Her organization, ministries, and everything else were not for God and His glory or to benefit her family and others. They were her personal search for significance.

Some readers would want to know that a couple of characters engage in adultery, but there are no explicit scenes.

Overall, this story uncovers important truths to consider in our friendships, motivations, our evaluation of ourselves, and our walk with the Lord.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Love Is Not a Special Way of Feeling

I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes struggle with the concept that Christian love, agape love, is said to be more about what we do than how we feel. Yet 1 Corinthians 13 warns that we can do notable, even sacrificial things without love, which sounds like clanging gongs and such. So if I go through the motions of, say, caregiving without feeling warm and loving about it, is that lacking in Christlikeness and therefore assigned to the gong department?

Evidently this question has been on my mind for a long time, because I got this book, Love Is Not a Special Way of Feeling, way back in college. Yet, somehow, I never got around to reading it. I just rediscovered it recently and determined to get it read this year.

First of all, I do not know much about the author, Charles G. Finney. I had heard him quoted favorably in my first few years as a Christian (which probably was a factor in my picking up this book). In more recent years I’ve heard him referred to negatively as somewhat manipulative in his revivalist methods. His Wikipedia page says he was an advocate of Christian perfectionism, which I do not believe in (not until heaven, anyway). So I especially prayed for discernment while reading this book.

As it turns out, the text of this 1963 book is taken from a section of Finney’s 1846 Lectures on Systematic Theology titled “Attributes of Love.” The latter is much more accurate. The back of the 1963 books admits the new title was an attention-getting device.

After a chapter on “What is Implied in Obedience to the Moral Law?” Finney discusses three to four attributes per chapter. Some you would expect: kindness, impartiality, holiness, truth, justice, sincerity, self-denial. Some were a surprise and took a bit of reading to discern how he meant them in regard to love: economy, efficiency, severity, complacency, and others. Some words have changed since the book was originally written. Finney supports some of these attributes with Scripture; others seem based on conjecture.

The language was very difficult to work through: the back of the book and the foreword concede that. But if I am reading him correctly, he seems to be saying that emotions are in themselves neutral. They are only good or bad depending on one’s will or intention. Anger can be a sin or not, depending on what one is angry about. There’s a righteous anger against wrong-doing, like slavery, human trafficking, abuse, etc. But there’s an anger the Bible warns against, especially in Proverbs, Colossians, and Ephesians. I don’t think I’d agree entirely with the thought that emotions are totally neutral, because some of them spring from my sinful nature before I even have time to think about will and intent.

On the other hand, faith is not based of feelings: it is based on facts. He remarks rightly, I believe, that too many Christians, when asked about their spiritual life, will reply with how they feel.

They judge their religious state not by the end for which they live–that is, by their choice or intention–but by their emotions. If they find themselves strongly exercised with emotions of love to God, they look upon themselves as in a state well-pleasing to God. But if their feelings or emotions of love are not active, they of course judge themselves to have little or no religion (p. 31).

I agree that our spirituality is not just a matter of our feelings. But I disagree “that feeling and outward action are only results of ultimate intention and in themselves neither virtue or vice” (p. 125).

Some of Finney’s statements were helpful. Some I strongly disagreed with.

The biggest takeaway from the book for me was that a thought or feeling can sometimes be just a temptation and not a sin in itself. I’m sure I knew this to a degree, but these pages brought it home to me in a new way.

Patience as a phenomenon of the will, tends to patience as a phenomenon of the sensibility. That is, the quality of fixedness and steadfastness in the intention naturally tends to keep down and allay impatience of temper. As, however, the states of the sensibility are not directly under the control of the will, there may be irritable or impatient feelings, when the heart remains steadfast. Facts or falsehoods may be suggested to the mind which may, in despite of the will, produce a ruffling of the sensibility, even when the heart remains patient. The only way in which a temptation, for it is only a temptation while the will abides firm to its purpose, I say, the only way in which a temptation of this kind can be disposed of, is by diverting the attention from that view of the subject that creates the disturbance in the sensibility. I should have said before, that although the will controls the feelings by a law of necessity, yet, as it does not do so directly, but indirectly, it may and does often happen, that feelings corresponding to the state of the will do not exist in the sensibility. Nay, for a time, a state of the sensibility may exist which is the opposite of the state of the will. From this source arise many, and indeed most, of our temptations (pp. 66-67).

I wish now, then, to state distinctly what I should have said before, that the state or choice of the will does not necessarily so control the feelings, desires, or emotions, that these may never be strongly excited by Satan or by circumstances, in opposition to the will, and thus become powerful temptations to seek their gratification, instead of seeking the highest good of being. Feelings, the gratification of which would be opposed to every attribute of benevolence, may at times co-exist with benevolence, and be a temptation to selfishness; but opposing acts of will cannot co-exist with benevolence. All that can be truly said is, that as the will has an indirect control of the feelings, desires, appetites, passions, etc., it can suppress any class of feelings when they arise, by diverting the attention from their causes, or by taking into consideration such views and facts as will calm or change the state of the sensibility. Irritable feelings, or what is commonly called impatience, may be directly caused by ill health, irritable nerves, and by many things over which the will has no direct control. But this is not impatience in the sense of sin. If these feelings are not suffered to influence the will; if the will abides in patience; if such feelings are not cherished, and are not suffered to shake the integrity of the will; they are not sin. That is, the will does not consent to them, but the contrary. They are only temptations. If they are allowed to control the will, to break forth in words and actions, then there is sin; but the sin does not consist in the feelings, but in the consent of the will, to gratify them. Thus, the apostle says, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” That is, if anger arise in the feelings and sensibility, do not sin by suffering it to control your will. Do not cherish the feeling, and let not the sun go down upon it. For this cherishing it is sin. When it is cherished, the will consents and broods over the cause of it; this is sin. But if it be not cherished, it is not sin (pp. 67-68).

The example from which Finney posits this truth is Christ in Gethsemane.

Patience as a phenomenon of the will must strengthen and gird itself under such circumstances, so that patience of will may be, and if it exist at all, must be, in exact proportion to the impatience of the sensibility. The more impatience of sensibility there is, the more patience of will there must be, or virtue will cease altogether. So that it is not always true, that virtue is strongest when the sensibility is most calm, placid, and patient. When Christ passed through his greatest conflicts, his virtue as a man was undoubtedly most intense. When in his agony in the garden, so great was the anguish of his sensibility, that he sweat as it were great drops of blood. This, he says, was the hour of the prince of darkness. This was his great trial. But did he sin? No, indeed. But why? Was he calm and placid as a summer’s evening? As far from it as possible.

Patience, then, as an attribute of benevolence, consists, not in placid feeling, but in perseverance under trials and states of the sensibility that tend to selfishness. This is only benevolence viewed in a certain aspect. It is benevolence under circumstances of discouragement, of trial, or temptation. “This is the patience of the saints.” (pp. 69-70).

In conclusion, at the very least I can say that I have finally read this book. I gained perhaps a bit more insight into my original question of faith vs. feeling, but not a definitive answer.

As I have thought through this repeatedly over the years, I agree that love sometimes means doing the right thing despite feelings. A weary mom awakened by her baby for a 2 a.m. feeding probably doesn’t feel warm and loving at first. She probably feels groggy and maybe even grumpy at having to get up in the middle of the night. But those warm, loving feelings kick in later. I don’t necessarily feel the joy of ministering to my family as I make dinner: sometimes I am frustrated at not being able to finish whatever I was doing. I don’t feel kind and loving when I’m interrupted at the computer just when I’m on a roll in my writing. And some of those irritations at being interrupted are selfish. But the kind and loving thing to do is to give my attention to my loved one and hope that the brilliant ( 🙂 ) thoughts come back to me later. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:17, KJV). But, hopefully, as I grow in the Lord, my feelings as well as my actions will line up more and more with a true expression of godly love.