Wednesdays with Words – February 26, 2014

I’m continuing to read through The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel.  We all need to read more of the Puritan writings.  They are rich and deep and very convicting.

“Must we not conclude that, ” he withdraweth not his eye from the righteous?” Job xxxvi. 7, and that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards him,” 2 Chron. xvi. 9. His providences proclaim him to be a God hearing prayers.”  – p. 42

I must confess that I am drawing great comfort in knowing that the Lord hears my prayers.

But such hath been the special care of Providence towards us, that our turn to be brought upon the stage of this world was graciously reserved for better days : so that if we had had our own option we could not have chosen for ourselves as Providence hath. p. 50

Here you have, or may have, the help and assistance of Christians to direct your way, resolve your doubts, support your burdens, and help you through those difficulties that attend the new birth. p. 52

Here, he is talking about the times and places in which we are born and how that is a blessing.  I couldn’t help but think that we are blessed to live in a land that still allows us, for the most part, freedom to worship, to assemble, and to talk about the Lord publicly. Unlike Mr. Flavel’s day, our pastors are still allowed to preach the gospel without being hounded by the government rules on what they can believe.  We can still meet with our brothers and sisters in the Lord and be helped by them without fear of being turned in as in other countries around the world.  I am deeply thankful for being born in such a time and place.

for whether the families in which we grew up were great or small in Israel ; whether our parents were of higher or lower class and rank among men, yet if they were such as feared God, and wrought righteousness, if they took any care to educate you righteously, and trained you up ” in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” you are bound to reckon it among your chief mercies, that you descended from such parents, for from this spring a double stream of mercy rises to you. p. 53

Yes, it is indeed a mercy to be born to Christian parents.  As exciting as it always was to hear dramatic conversion stories, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that growing up in a Christian home is a great blessing.  When I was young, I thought my conversion story was boring.  I hardly even can tell the time when I first knew the Lord.  However, I now realize that it was the goodness of God that has allowed me to have always known who Jesus was and how He died for me.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that and my life has only been better as a result.

What a mercy was it to us to have parents, who prayed for us before they had us, as well as in our infancy, when we could not pray for ourselves 1 Thus did Abraham, Gen. xv. 2, and Hannah, 1 Sam. i. 10, 11, and some here, likely, are the fruits and returns of their parents’ prayers. This was that holy course they continued all their days for you, carrying all your concerns, especially your eternal ones, before the Lord with their own, and pouring out their souls to God so affectionately for you, when their eye-strings and heartstrings were breaking. O ! put a value upon such mercies, for they are precious I It is a greater mercy to descend from praying parents, than from nobles.  p. 54

There is none in the world so likely, as you, to be instruments of their eternal good. You have peculiar advantages that no others have, as the interest you have in their affections : your opportunities to instil the knowledge of Christ into them, being daily with them, Deut. vi. 7, and your knowledge of their tempers. If therefore you neglect, who shall help them ?  p. 58

And, for you, in whose hearts grace hath been planted by the blessing of education, I beseech you to admire God’s goodness to you in this providence. Oh ! what a happy lot has God cast for you ! How few children are partakers of your mercies ! p. 58

It is a great responsibility and privilege to raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  On the flip side, it is a great blessing to have Christian parents who pray for you, encourage and admonish you, and lead you to the Lord from a young age.  Never minimize the immense mercy in having Christian parents.

See that you honour such parents; the tie is double upon you so to do. Be you the joy of their hearts, and comfort of their lives, if living; if not, yet still remember the mercy while you live, and tread in their pious paths, that you and they may both rejoice together in the great day, and bless God for each other to all eternity.  p. 59

I thought of my mother when I read these words.  She is already with the Lord and I look forward to the day when I will rejoice together in heaven with her.  In the meantime I do remember the blessing she was to me and “tread in [her] pious path” in honor to her faithfulness while she was still with us.

This book is a challenge and a blessing.  I look forward to reading (and sharing) more over the weeks to come.

Monday Musings : “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

That quote from the Man in Black in The Princess Bride is one of my favorites because it rings so true.  Life is full of pain. We live in a fallen world and pain is a result of that fallen state. This is especially true in our relationships. To love someone is to get hurt. This is a constant that cannot be avoided if you once open yourself up to love.  Your husband ignores your feelings, your children are selfish, a beloved parent dies, your friends are too busy or say the wrong thing in your grief, your best friend moves to another state, a church member inadvertently questions your faith while attempting to comfort you,  your adult child walks away from the Lord, and the list goes on.

There is no way to avoid pain if  you want to live life or love anyone.  C.S. Lewis said it so well,

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one,     not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness…We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as a way in which they should break, so be it.What I know about love and believe about love and giving ones heart began in this.” The Four Loves

If I avoid pain and suffering, I will avoid loving others, and in not loving others, I will not know the love of God.  Elizabeth Prentiss wrote, “This is my earnest plea, More love, O Christ, to Thee.”  In order to have more love for Christ, I cannot and must not stop loving the people He places in my life, and that means hurt and brokenness and heartache.  Is it worth it?  Yes, all things are worth knowing Christ and in the pain that results from loving broken, sinful people, He meets me and comforts me and makes me into the beautiful saint He wants me to become.

I don’t want my heart to live in a casket of selfishness, although that may seem safer.  I want it to be open, vulnerable, full of love for my family and friends and if that means it will be broken and bleeding and crushed (and it does mean that), so be it.  I know that the Lord will know how to comfort me in that brokenness and hurt because He has already endured that same brokenness for me.  If you are in the midst of suffering over a relationship, even if it is a small suffering, go to Jesus and let Him comfort you, and then go out and love again and again and again.  Let’s fill the world with the love of Christ so that everyone around us can see our Savior in the way we love one another.

Study is Hard Work

We having just started reading “Study is Hard Work” by William H. Armstrong as part of our Morning Time.  I thought we could read one or two chapters a week and finish it by the end of the school year.  It will be help to JR, a senior this year, and also to JD, who is a freshman in high school.  The introduction contains the story about Ptolemy telling a prince that there are no royal roads to learning geometry but it also contains a quote that if I have ever read it, I don’t remember it at all.  However, it is well worth reading and pondering:

Though a little one, the master-word looms large in meaning. It is the open sesame to every portal, the great equalizer in the world, the true philosopher’s stone, which transmutes all the base metal of humanity into gold. The stupid man among you it will make bright, the bright man brilliant, and the, brilliant student steady. With the magic word in your heart all things are possible, and without it all study is vanity and vexation. The miracles of life are with it; the blind see by touch, the deaf hear with eyes, the dumb speak with fingers. To the youth it brings hope, to the middle-aged confidence, to the aged repose. True balm of hurt minds, in its presence the heart of the sorrowful is lightened and consoled. It is directly responsible for all advances in medicine during the past twenty-five centuries. Laying hold upon it Hippocrates made observation and science the warp and woof of our art. Galen so read its meaning that fifteen centuries stopped thinking, and slept until awakened by the De Fabrica, of Vesalius, which is the very incarnation of the master-word. With its inspiration Harvey gave an impulse to a larger circulation than he wot of, an impulse which we feel today. Hunter sounded all its heights and depths, and stands out in our history as one of the great exemplars of its virtues With it Virchow smote the rock, and the waters of progress gushed out while in the hands of Pasteur it proved a very talisman to open to us a new heaven in medicine and a new earth in surgery. Not only has it been the touchstone of progress, but it is the measure of success in every day life. Not a man before you but is beholden to it for his position here, while he who addresses you has that honor directly in consequence of having had it graven on his heart when he was as you are today. And the master-word is Work, a little one, as I have said, but fraught with momentous sequences if you can but write it on the tablets of your hearts and bind it upon your foreheads. But there is a serious difficulty in getting you to understand the paramount importance of the work-habit as part of your organization. You are not far from the Tom Sawyer stage with its philosophy “that work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” A great many hard things may be said of the work-habit. For most of us it means a hard battle; the few take to it naturally; the many prefer idleness and never learn to love labor.  – William Osler, The Master Word in Medicine (1903)

If my boys learn the value of hard work and learn the tools of study, they will be able to master anything that their future education and jobs throw at them.  I’m sure I’ll be back again with more insights as we read through this little book.  I suspect I’ll learn as much if not more than the boys will.

Wednesdays with Words – February 19, 2014

I finally finished The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill last week.  I have been reading it as slowly as possible to draw out the pleasure but I read the last few chapters in a rush because it was about my favorite season, autumn.  Here are some final quotes from this lovely book:

“In summer in this wood every tree looks much like every other, though of course if you are close up, you can distinguish them by the shape of the leaves, and in the open, where they stand in ones and twos, by the shape of the whole body of the tree. Now though, in decay, the trees have become distinct, separate again, they take back their individual character, for no two species are the same in shading and depth of colour. I stand still and see sulphur-yellow and bright, bright gold, copper and tawny owl’s feather brown, sienna and umber and every kind of nut, and the whole pattern breaks like a child’s kaleidoscope as a sudden wind blows over the wood, becomes mottled, darker, and then lighter, as the leaves show their backs.”

“When we reach the top of the slope and the stile again, we look back, and see that the ribs of the wood are showing through at the sides, like those of a starving man, and the grey bones poke upwards to the sky, topped by a last few bunches of dried leaves, like old, curly wigs, and even as we look, the wind rises and blows and tosses the trees about again and more leaves fall.”

“In the kitchen, autumn is my favourite season, too, because it is preserving time – jams and jellies, chutneys and pickles, fruit butters and cheeses, and the whole, glorious session rounded off with the making of the mincemeat, to be stored until Christmas.”

“This is one reason why preserve-making takes up whole days, with bouts of hard work, and minutes of stirring gently, scattered over long periods of waiting, during which I read a book that doesn’t mind being broken into every so often, or write a few letters, or go out to pick some ripe elderberries from the tree on the other side of our garden, for tomorrow. And friends drop in for cups of coffee and wasps are slaughtered and the telephone is answered, and I go outside, just to stand in the sunshine and look about. It is all very pleasant.” [This description caused me to look forward to next year’s jam and preserve making!]

“There are rows of glowing jars on the dresser shelves, like so many jewels, deep red, orange, burgundy, pale pink, pale green, purple-black. I label them, before carrying them upstairs to the store cupboard, which is in our bedroom, and there, when I have lined them up, I gaze in deep satisfaction. I feel as if we shall indeed be ‘preserved’ against the ravages of this coming winter, and go off to have a long, hot, soothing bath.” [There are few things more satisfying than row upon row of jars, filled with summer fruits and vegetables.]

“Composting is a good activity, but I have certainly not found it so straightforward or foolproof as all the books and magazine articles make out.”  [How true!]

“Summer Time ends next week. But I don’t mind. I have tired of summer, it is time things began again.” [Don’t we all feel this way by the time September comes?]

“The W.I. is a good institution. It is not only about jam- and cake-making, though it is about those things, and so it should be, for they are good activities, at a premium now more than ever before, in a fast-moving, mechanised, society: it is about tea-drinking and exchanging recipes, then, and garden plants and knitting patterns, too….It expresses, by its very existence and strength for so many years, a very great many of the important concerns of all kinds of women, and women make up more than half the population, after all. It has a voice, it carries weight, it cares about national and international issues, matters of life and death and health and sickness, of community care and survival, of the upbringing of the young and the welfare of the old.” [We don’t have the W.I. here in the United States but it would be nice to have such a community of women in each area, perhaps in our churches.]

“There is nothing like literary or mythical significance for provoking interest and affection for a particular wild creature. To have a house mouse or spider or even mole is tiresome, to have a party of roosting jackdaws in the chimney is worse, but to have our own hedgehog, by adoption, is very pleasing.”

“We are all here, my family, the animals, all safe, all well and happy and free in the sunshine, and up the lane and down the lane, the houses of friends and neighbours, and beyond our low stone wall, the ‘happy autumn fields’. The countryside is at its best, mellow, ripe, glorious. It is a time for rejoicing, it is easy to be glad here, to praise, to be thankful. We have had the best of years.”

What a wonderful ending, “We have had the best of years.”  I hope I can say that at the end of 2014.

Book Review – The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill

While my previous book, A Star for Mrs. Blake, left me unsatisfied, my reading experience with The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill was the complete opposite.  I enjoyed every bit of it, savored each page, read and re-read passages that were especially beautiful, and came away full of lovely word pictures and having experienced a pleasurable year in the English countryside along with the author.

The Magic Apple Tree is Susan Hill’s memoir of her life in the Fen country of England where she and her husband bought a cottage in the village of Barley.  She tells of their life in an old cottage, of finding logs for the fire, fighting the clay soil and insects and weather in the garden, raising chickens, watching the birds and local wildlife, participating in the community life in the village, cooking in each season, going for walks with her dog through the local countryside, and of the magic apple tree, a tree growing in their back garden which gives them new views and comforts throughout each season.

Here are just a few of the word pictures in this lovely book:

“one of the richest pleasures of domestic life is, and has always been, filling the house with the smells of food, of baking bread and cakes, bubbling casseroles and simmering soups, of vegetables fresh from the garden and quickly steamed, of the roasting of meat, of new-ground coffee and pounded spices and chopped herbs, of hot marmalade and jam and jelly.”
“In the field that abuts on the orchard garden, at the top end, nearest the hedge, there are thistles and, in early August, they seed themselves and are covered in their ghostly puff-balls, that fly about in the air and cling to hair and clothing, and on these seed-heads feed goldfinches, masses of them together. When I go through the gap into the garden they rise up like insects and fly in panic to the far side of the field where there are more thistles, flashing gold and scarlet and white.”
“These are the sights and sounds and smells of every English village with a cricket team in summer, they are unchanged since my childhood, when I went, Sunday after Sunday, with my grandfather, to watch matches in half the villages of Yorkshire, if I close my eyes I believe I am still there, hearing the crack of the bat and the spattering applause, and the sudden cry of appeal like a harsh bird call.”
“But day by day there are slight changes, subtle alterations in shape, in the mood of the season, it is as though everything is slipping and sliding very gradually downhill, like some great high hayrick sinking softly into itself as it dries.  The year has turned and it is autumn, though we do not fully acknowledge it.”
“Spring so often promises what in the end it never pays, spring can cheat and lie and disappoint.  You can sit at the window and wait for spring for many a weary day.  But I have never been let down by autumn, to me it is always beautiful, always rich, it always gives in heaping measure, and sometimes it can stretch on into November, fading, but so gently, so slowly, like a very old person whose dying is protracted but peacefully, in calmness.”
Those are just a handful of the passages I highlighted and in which I delighted.  If you love England and the countryside and homey things and beautiful prose, read this book.  You won’t be sorry.

Book Review – A Star for Mrs. Blake

In the early 1930’s the United States government send several thousand women, who had lost their sons in the fighting of World War I, to France to visit their graves. A Star for Mrs. Blake is a fictional account of a woman, Cora Blake, and the small group of other mothers with which she traveled to France. Cora Blake is from Maine.  She is a hard-working widow who had raised her son, Sammy, on her own, only to lose him in the last months of World War I.  She and several other women travel together to France to visit their sons’ graves and to act as goodwill ambassadors between the United States and France.  As they travel through France, Cora Blake’s story unfolds along with the story of a reporter she meets in Paris and, to a lesser extent, the stories of the other women and the officers in charge of the group.

What I liked:  The history was interesting.  I did not know anything about Gold Star mothers (mothers who lost sons in the war).  The descriptions and some of the events were also interesting.

What I didn’t like: The characters seemed very shallow at times.  Their interactions seemed forced, they became too familiar with each other too quickly, and their actions often didn’t seem believable.  Also, while the story could have been very good, many things were skimmed over so that it left me wanting to know more.  I kept waiting for more depth and more understanding as to why people were doing what they did but I finished it unsatisfied.

It is a quick read and I think it could have been a good book but I wish the author had spent more time developing her characters and sharing their motivations and thought processes rather than just skimming over the surface.