Friday, April 21, 2017

The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley

from goodreads
This year I'm revisiting some of my favorite childhood books to see how they stand up to inspection--or really, just to have an excuse to enjoy them again.

One book I read over and over and over again was The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley. While I enjoyed several of the books in the series (the latter ones started taking dark and bizarre turns) The Black Stallion was the one I returned to the most. So I'm really happy to talk about it on the blog today and introduce you to Walter Farley's work, if you haven't read it yet.

Our copy is so beat up that the pages are falling out, the cover is crumbling, and you have to read it in sections. It's a book from my mother's childhood that has carried on into ours, and even though my sister had a perfectly good hardback copy, I wouldn't read it. First of all, the blue cover with the black horse is my favorite, and second, the wording is different in her copy. (Even slight wording changes revolt my soul when I'm reading a favorite book.) So I took the crumbly hardback and very lovingly, very carefully, tiptoed through the pages a few at a time.

I knew it almost like the back of my hand, though time had blurred a few of the details. The interesting thing is, it's a children's story, but still with tough things. (Maybe children's stories are these days; I'm out of touch.) Alec, when he's shipwrecked on an island, has to choose between potentially starving and eating the Black. His parents think they've lost their only son for weeks.

But entwined through it all is the heart of what makes it a classic, and in my mind, emotionally gripping tale. It has all the classic elements: shipwreck, wonder horse, national famous horse race, while still applying some very good principles. Another reader described The Black Stallion as a book with a "do hard things" mentality, and that got me thinking. Alec has to be an adult to pursue his dream. He (guess what?) gets up early and works. He works a job to pay for his horse. He takes responsibility and he's required to get good grades at the same time as he's training this masterpiece. Once he has the horse, he doesn't get any easy breaks to either keep it or race it. He has to work from the ground up. He's not a self-centered kid pursuing a self-entitled life. He's a boy that's suddenly on the verge of manhood, and yes, his dream is unconventional, but he's willing to do the conventional work to achieve it.

This slams against a lot of the "dream your dream" mindset today. Alec didn't have to be a highschool dropout, or have uber-rich parents, or become some child of the prophecy. He's normal, and he gets it done by allowing himself to do the responsible things he's supposed to be doing. Even when his big moment comes, his dad requires that he take exams before he's allowed to see if his dream will come true.

Now, all that philosophical thought being said, I've never actually thought about those themes while I read the book. I've been much more interested in the story itself. Alec's wild ride with the Black through the water after the ship sank. His first ride bareback, his rescue, the hurts and starvation he overcame, and his deep affinity with this wild horse. (It goes back to that friendship theme. A friendship between boy and outcast, that runs deeper than anyone else can understand or experience.) Also, the nighttime rides at Belmont, while I don't think I could ever have the conscience to do them myself, were pretty fun.

Perhaps the sheer, glorious adventure coupled with the very mature reality of this story comes because Walter Farley wrote it while he was in highschool. He was in the trenches of exams, just like Alec was, but he let himself dream at the same time--and it comes across in a delightful blend of reality and imagination throughout the story. I would totally hand a kid a book like this. There are a couple of drawbacks. Sometimes Alec keeps secrets from his parents. I was never too keen on that. The use of the word "devil" to describe the horse is sprinkled through fairly frequently, more so than I like. But the overall joy and benefits of the themes of responsibility throughout make it worth the read.

Perhaps it wasn't perfect timing to read right between the molten gold of Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows. The writing style of The Black Stallion is much less poetic. It has a bread-and-butter syntax to it that does the job but doesn't put on frills while it's going about its business. But an awesome kid, with awesome parents, an awesome friend, and an awesome, fearless black horse. What more could you ask for? Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Death Be Not Proud [or the best Jazz Age mystery in the history of ever]


This little beauty came in the mail last week, and after a happy Easter Sunday of worshipping and eating a tasty lunch with family, I cracked it open and polished it off. This is the third time I've polished off the story itself (the first couple of times by beta reading), and it's like a really good chocolate cake--better each successive time you eat it.

In fact, this is my favorite Rowntree fairy tale retelling thus far.

The Book
Moonshine liquor, jazz-fuelled dancing, and the risk of a police raid - these are all in a night's work for cabaret singer Ruby Black. But when a rugby star mistakes her for a dead girl, Ruby's life threatens to become briefer and more exciting than she bargained for. Two years ago, schoolgirl Wu Xue Bai was brutally murdered. Now, Ruby herself is in danger. Who killed Xue Bai? What lies behind Max Moran's obsession with the dead girl? And will Ruby learn the truth before secrets from her own past catch up with her? A fairytale retelling set in Jazz Age New Zealand, inspired by the thrillers of Mary Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock.

My Thoughts 
This is the kind of story that I most love. It's suspenseful and dramatic--the tension leading up to the climax makes you shiver, and the climax itself is a swooning, to-die-for masterpiece. From beginning to end, the pages just crackle with wit and suspense. Max and Ruby have the kind of couple chemistry that jumps off the page as you read it, and I adored them from the get-go. (Rugby player mourning dead girlfriend who keeps adorably rescuing a mysterious jazz singer? Yes, please.) With side supporting characters Kat and Bunny (aren't those fun names?) and the swell boss Bill Fisher, Ruby has everything she needs to help her figure out who murdered the mysterious dead girl and why it has to matter to her.

More things I liked? Stunning New Zealand scenery and vivid Jazz Age setting. This book does have alcohol and cigarettes in it to carry on the time period. While the story does not have an explicit Christian thread that's easy to find, its interplay of love and justice, accepting or abdicating responsibility, and hinted character arcs of maturity, offer plenty of food for thought.

But the best effect of this book is simply the sheer joy of it. It's a book that invites you to laugh, to hold your breath, to fear, to imagine, to strive for the solution. In short, it invites you into a myriad of intense emotions that any reader--every reader--wants to experience. It's a living jewel of a story, and perhaps the sheer aliveness of its characters is what I love about it so much.

Excited yet? You can order yourself a swanky new red paperback, and have it in all its delicious suspense to keep your bookshelves company. (Like that option? Click here or here.)

OR you can find it in a plummy collection of goodness with the rest of Suzannah's fairytale retellings in a new ebook collection here. (Also highly recommended, if you have not read them all yet.)

Extract the credit cards. If you order it now, you can probably relax with it by the weekend.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Practical Suggestions for Commemorating Good Friday


Jesus probably didn't sleep at all the night before Good Friday.

He went anguished and betrayed and whipped and mocked and exhausted into the most momentous day of human history. The day that only a God-Man could have accomplished. The day where the hands of the God-Father pressed the weight of history's sin--my sin--onto the shoulders of the God-Son.

If I were going into a day like that, I would have been like the disciples, sleeping all I could to get ready for it. I would have been so wrong.

Jesus prayed before his anguish. Praying in distress of soul, that he would be ready for the will of God.

Psalm 31:7 says, "you have known the distress of my soul". (ESV) I wonder what it was like, for the Father to know the distress of the Son who had done no wrong, and yet was to become an object of cursing and scorn in just a few hours. It's staggering, the distress that the Trinity must have been in that day. The three-fold relationship, in existence an eternity before the world began, was broken.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

There is no earthly betrayal, no lost friend, no estranged parent or wayward child, that can equal the anguish of that separation. The awe of it weighs upon us. It is so terribly beyond our comprehension, unbearable to contemplate for long--but God, who is without limits, would have comprehended all of it.

It's easy to lose sight of Good Friday. This is the Friday that changed the whole scope of mankind, and yet it's so easy to forget it in anxiety and anger, that leftover fight, those school assignments clamoring to be done, the late shift at work tonight, the baby who won't stop crying.

I'm writing a chapter I've been wrestling with. And oh, yes, I could easily lose sight of Good Friday for the sake of wrestling that chapter into submission to meet my own deadline.

Sometimes I start a day like this with the best of intentions, only to lose sight of remembering as the day goes on. Then I remember a day like this doesn't need--especially doesn't need my works to complete it. It is just as complete without anything that any man can add to it. But Christ does call us to remember. I don't think this is the kind of sacrifice that it's OK to pass lightly over year after year after year.

Commemorating Good Friday is what we need. The unforgivable and unforgiving, the scared, the lost, the indifferent and the joyful--they all find their center at the cross. The Jew and the Gentile, the man and the woman, the parent and child, husband and wife, friend and friend, pastor and congregation, God and man--they all find their center, their reconciliation--at the cross.

We gain perspective of the sins we are not repentant of, and the sins we fear God cannot forgive, when we realize the enormity of what those sins did to God's Son, and the enormity of mercy that flowed down that day.

God so loved the world

that he gave

his

SON.

Maybe, like me, you have things that can't be laid aside today. Maybe you have a job you can't just call off, or a child to take care of, or another obligation. That's OK. I'm going to try to commemorate this way, and I hope it will encourage you to do so as well.

1. Read Scripture
Pick a couple of times throughout the day--the mid-morning break, the lunch break, the dinner break--the first bit of time after you get home from work, the last bit of time before you go to sleep--and read a passage of Scripture. Read it slowly. Slower. Slower than that. Linger and savor over the words. Read phrases over again. Think about how they mean something--what Jesus experienced, and how his sacrifice has changed your life right now.

Here are some passages to consider reading:
John 19:16-30
Isaiah 53
Psalm 22
Luke 23:26-46
Mark 15:20-39
Matthew 27:31-54

2. Listen to Songs of Remembrance 
Songs are even easier--on the work commute, while exercising, while making supper or cleaning the house--to turn our thoughts to Jesus and contemplate his sacrifice for us. Here are some I'm going to be using:

In Christ Alone
How Deep the Father's Love for Us
And Can it Be?
What Wondrous Love is This
O Love that Wilt Not Let Me Go
Jesus, Thank You (Sovereign Grace Music)
He Will Hold Me Fast

I hope these are inspiring or possibly helpful as we remember the wondrous, world-altering sacrifice of Jesus Christ. If you have songs and Scripture passages to add in the comments, I would love to hear them.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Enjoy, by Trillia Newbell

The subject of enjoyment is one that drew me in right away. My favorite memories are days that I have enjoyed with all my five senses--especially taste and sight.

But enjoyment doesn't always come easily. Work seems more holy than enjoyment. Pointing out problems better than basking in the gifts of God.

So when I saw Trillia Newbell's book encouraging Christians to enjoy, I knew I wanted to read it right away. The cover itself is gorgeous--black, contrasting with a beautiful raspberry in a vivid, simple invitation to come and enjoy.

The Book [from Goodreads]

Is It Okay to Enjoy This Life?

Watching a gorgeous sunset. Sharing a laugh with a friend. Tasting a sun-ripened strawberry. Each day is full of opportunities for you to savor the countless gifts the Creator has given.

But do you feel free to delight in God’s abundant gifts, or is your joy sometimes distorted by guilt, fear of idolatry, or simply an overwhelming awareness of sin’s effects on this world?

Trillia Newbell explains how we often miss opportunities to participate in God’s divine delight because we’re discouraged, fixated on selfish fulfillment, or paralyzed by guilt. Enjoy serves as an encouraging reminder of God’s gracious gifts and also challenges women to view all of these gifts—from relationships and careers to food and sex—as reasons to rejoice in the Lord and grow in our understanding and appreciation of who He is.

This thought-provoking book invites you to explore the truth of God’s Word and discover how to nurture daily a spirit of gratitude and deep satisfaction.

My Thoughts 
I was conflicted a couple of chapters into this book. Trillia Newbell's book is a masterpiece of theology. Her book does a great job explaining the sin that prevents us from enjoying things, and how the gospel helps change the filter of how we can enjoy things. One by one, she takes us through how sin has affected creation, food, our enjoyment of money and possessions, and  our enjoyment of our creator. Then she transforms each topic into how Christians should be thinking about it, and how we are free to delight in these things. (I did skip the chapter on intimacy for this stage in my life.) 

While it was theologically spot-on, I did struggle with feeling personally affected by the message. I don't know if my heart was cold or closed, but I felt that it was so theological, and spent so much of each chapter focussing on the fall, when I wanted it to spend more time focussing on the enjoyment. Perhaps it was because I knew much of the biblical information and wanted most of the book to spend more time discussing how to enjoy these things. Perhaps, too, it was merely a different preference of writing style, which is always subjective. When I think in terms of enjoyment, I am impacted with a more lyrical writing style with more five-senses description. Each chapter had a tone of instruction to me instead of delight. Don't get me wrong--I strongly believe we need solid theology. But something struck me as off balance in the amount of sin vs. enjoyment in the chapters. 

However, I did start to enjoy the last couple of chapters more. I do think this book talks very biblically about these topics and I highly respect it for that. I would recommend it as a theological foundation to springboard into the topic. The enjoyment of believers is a topic worth discussing, and a conversation so important to have in the church. It may be a book I need to give a second chance, while reading it along with the enjoy project at the end of each chapter, which is how the book is designed to be read. Due to time constraints I couldn't this time, but that could have an impact on the way I view the book. I would love to hear more thoughts from others who have read it. 

I recieved a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Great Kindle Assessment


It's time.

Small has been a trooper for almost a year now (even though I neglected him for a few dusty months under my bed) and he's seen me through several books, each of which I have heartily enjoyed.

In fact, Small has helped us with a lot.

For those of you who haven't made his acquaintance, Small is a Kindle Fire that I bought last year on Prime Day. He was a good price ($30, maybe? I can't remember anymore) and had the capability of getting on the internet to download apps, which I like a lot.

And after many months of use, in which he has uncomplainingly and staunchly offered bibliophile support, it's time for the Great Kindle Assessment.

Are e-readers as good as print books? Or are they not? Do I still love print books better, or have I been converted to the trends of the 21st century?

Read on, Lizzy.

Kindle Features I Use 
  • Spotify is my favorite music program. A legitimate software that lets you listen to almost anything under the sun you could possibly want. When we were cleaning a house for someone last year, I brought Small and put on music for all of us to listen to. Also, the great thing about Kindle Spotify is that it's not shuffle play like the phone app. 
  • Social media--I use Small to check Facebook, Twitter, and email when I want to, though I still primarily use my computer and definitely wouldn't want to type a whole email on Kindle. 
  • And then, of course, what everyone uses a Kindle for--ebooks. I have a large collection of books, and I've read several on it. 

Kindle Features I Like 
  • The battery life is fantastic. Hours of use when you want to read a book--it's remarkably long, like a good phone life. 
  • I can purchase books very economically, often on sale for 99c up to $2.99, so if I want to try a new author, this is a low-risk way to do it. 
  • I love how Kindle estimates your reading speed and tells you how much time you have left before you finish the book. It's helpful and encouraging in an odd way at the same time. It makes me want to keep shaving down time and motivates me to read just a few more pages. 
  • The highlighting and bookmarking: I absolutely love these features. Highlighting means I don't have to mark up a paper book (though I am starting to do that more than I used to) and I can go back and find things that stood out to me when it's time to review. 
  • The most addicting feature, by far, is being able to turn to the next page with just a swipe of the thumb. Because Kindle pages are smaller than book pages, you keep on swiping page after page without getting bogged down in the length of the book or the size of the chapter. I find I read books very quickly on the Kindle--mostly because I'm glued to the screen and can't put it down--so on a Saturday morning when the world is my oyster, that would be a great time to use it. I also like to use it occasionally during breakfast (bad, bad idea young bibliophiles. it will make you so late starting your day). Altogether, I find I read books much more quickly than I would otherwise, and since my Kindle syncs page locations with my laptop Kindle app, it's easy to switch from Kindle to computer and back again, depending on what I need. 

Kindle: The Downside 
  • First of all, Kindle apps can only be purchased from the Amazon store. You can't use the Android or Apple app stores. That means no Instagram, no Revive Our Hearts, probably no Duolingo, apps I like to have. That was disappointing. But you can add Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Hoopla (an app that lets me borrow movies from the library) so that's great. 
  • Second of all, at the end of the night, it is another electronic screen. I like to stick to print books when I need to wind down for the night. 
In Conclusion
While Kindle will never replace print books (I love reading a novel by hand. There's nothing quite like the smell of old glue or new pages) I do find the Kindle handy, and I wouldn't want to give it up entirely. It helps me read review books very quickly, and it's a great format that easily persuades me to read a few more pages. I've read both fiction and nonfiction on it and found both to be enjoyable. It's small and light, but you can choose a larger font size if you wish, and the highlighting features are way faster than underlining by hand. Also, I've found good sales on e-books and love trying out a book for a low-risk investment that way.

Small was a great investment. While I didn't pay $50 for him (I think that's what they run normal price on Amazon) I would say that he's worth the $50, and I would definitely pay full price if I needed another one someday.

But we don't need to think about that. Long live Small. May his life be a happy and learned one.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dr. Who, Beauty and the Beast, and How to Talk With Friends About It All

via Pixabay
On the first day of March, Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon released the news that they were debuting an openly gay character in the film. Conservatives were in uproar. Boycott. Sign the petitions. Or go anyway. The options were endless.

In like a lion, and out like a lion. On the last day of March, Doctor Who actress Pearl Mackie revealed that the Doctor's next companion will be gay. For those of you Whovians who hear it first on this blog and are disappointed by the news, I am super, super sorry to have to be the one to break the ice.

Up until now, I have been silent about these things on social media. For one, it was because I wanted to weigh my response. Speak in haste, and repent at leisure. For another, I rarely, rarely see the benefit of speaking about divisive issues on the internet. I've been turning over in my mind this morning just exactly how to talk about it. And to be honest, this is a challenging topic. With Beauty and the Beast and the negligible content it contained, there does seem to be an amount of Christian liberty involved as to choose to go to it or not. Doctor Who's content remains yet to be seen.

What is wise during these times? To openly denounce, to talk about Christian liberty, to admonish and warn? I feel like that circuit has been covered. Some of the articles I enjoyed. Some of the articles I honestly didn't. But I feel like there's one angle of it that's not been covered yet, that might be helpful and fruitful for honest, Christian bibliophiles struggling with what to do.

And that's how to talk about it with your friends.

I struggle talking about potentially divisive things with friends. For one, I'm afraid they'll make a decision I don't approve of and that will cause tension, or vice-versa. For another, I'm afraid to hurt them if I speak honestly about how I feel, and they disagree.

But I strongly believe that transparent relationships in the Body of Christ are founded on loving truth.

In other words, please don't feel like you have to be silent. This is a prime example to practice maturity by being willing to face the scarier, more uncomfortable conversations. I hope these few suggestions will equip you with how to do that.

Build One Another Up 

1. Start with private messaging or face-to-face conversations. 
Facebook posts and Tweets can be helpful, but after a certain amount of people have posted about the issue, they lose their effectiveness. You can never say all you want to say in the tone you want to say it in. However, when you're on the phone and a friend can hear your voice, when you're sitting across a dining room table with cookies and tea, when you're side-by-side in church pews, when you're texting one on one, then you have the ability to share your actual tone of voice and the ability to hear the heart of your friend. It is probably (notice I'm not saying exclusively) more fruitful to discuss how to follow Christ in entertainment choices with those you know and love than sharing on social media. It is easier to spiral into hate, judgment, hasty words, and misunderstanding in public circles.

2. Do not fear man. Fear God alone. 
Did you go to Beauty and the Beast? Did you stay home? Then you shouldn't change the way you talk about it based on the friends you're with. The way you most fear God is by being confident before all men in the course of action you have chosen that you think is most pleasing to him. That is all. You don't have to gush if you're with people who didn't watch it, but don't hide the fact, either. If you believe it was right, then you should stand on your belief, unless it would cause your brother to stumble. If you did not go for good reasons, then don't pretend to be excited and like it when your friends talk about it, just so you fit in. If you honestly don't know what to think yet, then it's OK to say you honestly don't know. Be kind, but honest. Assure them that you want them to be honest about how they feel as well. When a culture of honesty is created, then edification (point 4) and accountability (point 5) can be present, drawing both of you closer to Jesus Christ.

(I wish I could live up to these words as consistently as I would like.)

3. Edify one another by seeking the heart of Christ together. 
What is the heart of God on these issues? Should Christians watch Doctor Who, when the companion is a proponent of an unbiblical lifestyle? How can I train my mental appetite to love what God loves and hate what he hates? How do I use my dollars wisely in supporting causes that are worthy ones? Am I sacrificing convictions for entertainment?

While I have never watched Doctor Who, these are all questions I wrestled with in Beauty and the Beast. A friend and I talked at great length how to handle it in a Godly way. And while we were doing that, we were having an honest, iron-sharpening-iron conversation that led us both closer to God, regardless of the decisions we ultimately make. When we seek Christ on these cultural issues, in company with a friend who loves the Lord, then we can build one another up and spur one another on toward wise decisions.

4. Try to listen without anger, defensiveness, and disappointment. 
These are often our first reactions when we talk about potentially divisive issues, and understandably so. I think the first things that come to our mind are fear that our friends are compromising, fear that we are compromising, or just plain annoyance that they're making an issue over something that we think is overblown. Emotion is often a gut-level response to protect something that we love--whether it's a movie or a friendship. But letting our actions be dictated by these emotions can lead to unhealthy fear, unhealthy arguments, or unhealthy refusal to constructively disagree with one another.

The apostle James commands believers to "be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry." Pray that God would guide your words and emotions in this conversation. Be comfortable with thinking silences as you talk with your friend. Let each other process. Ride the initial wave of emotion, and if you can, take time to get over anger or annoyance before you dive into a discussion of the subject. Share your thoughts with a humble and teachable spirit. Try not to talk too much so they can share their thoughts with you. Don't shame them. Don't ever shame them, even if you believe they're wrong. That will never win them to the truth. "How could anyone" "I can't believe anyone would ever" and "Why would you" are never good phrases to use. If the conversation is tense, end it with a gentle reminder that you love them, and they are more important to you than a movie. Then give it time to settle down.

5. Don't try to be the Holy Spirit. Share truth, and then leave the Holy Spirit to work in the other person's life. 

Here's where the rubber meets the road. If you have a Christian friend who decides to see something or partake of social media that you have concerns about, then the question arises, what should you do? First of all, continue to be honest about your choices. They may be struggling, and you can be an example to them. Secondly, winsomely and clearly explain to them your concerns with the movie and Christians watching it. Do this once or twice, but no more. Thirdly, if you see that they don't know the heart of God on these issues, or their media choices are not mature, then be earnest in prayer for them--that God would grow them in wisdom and discernment. And lastly, if they are a mature believer, and they are making this decision in the fear of God, and you still disagree, then after you have honestly shared your concerns with them, take your hands off. You are not the Holy Spirit. Be a faithful friend, and then entrust their heart to God and trust him to sanctify them more and more in the image of his Son.

Conclusion
It's hard to navigate these days individually, not to mention corporately as the body of Christ. While we know the behavior itself in these movies is wrong, it leaves us wondering how to navigate conversations with people who fall on opposite sides of whether or not to watch them. I hope these thoughts have offered encouragement to be full of grace, truth, and honesty in our words and actions.

These are not easy days to live in. But I am so glad that someday these choices won't be part of our lives, and all who know Jesus can rest in the perfect, finished story of how God's love and redemption prevailed against sin to bring his people Home.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Good Morning, Friday

via Pixabay

Schuyler's going to be a bizy backson today. 

boo that 

Happy Weekend, folks! Are you starting Camp NaNoWriMo tomorrow? Tell me all about your projects! I want to know!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Time to Rise, by Nadine Brandes

All good things must come to an end.

Even book series.

But when it's the right end for the right series, it feels almost like a bittersweet doorway. While you are walking through the end of Unknown and new experiences, you're also walking through The Beginning of knowing and loving these characters again and again throughout a lifetime.

The Out of Time series is one of those collections.

It didn't take me long after buying the series to dive into book 2. But I am pleased to say that I didn't eat it in a short amount of binge-reading time like the other two. I stretched and stretched it out in the most pleasant of ways--reading some of it and then taking days or longer in between to make it last longer. I was not in a hurry to see the end. (With, you know, still one binge-read last Saturday. After a certain point there is no stopping for love of mercy or homework grading.)

So let's have at it. And if you haven't read book two yet, then turn right around and head the other way. Here be spoilers that can't be helped. ;)

The Book [official description]

What more can you sacrifice than your life?

Parvin Blackwater is dead.

At least that’s what the Council—and the world—thinks. But her sacrifice tore down part of the Wall long enough to stir up hope and rebellion in the people. Now she will rise again. Strong, free, and fearless.

Parvin and Solomon must uncover the mysterious clues that Jude left behind in order to destroy the projected Wall once and for all. Meanwhile, the Council schemes to new levels of technology in its attempts to keep the people contained. Can a one-handed Radical and a scarred ex-Enforcer really bring shalom to the world?

My Thoughts 
I think what I love most about the Out of Time series is that it is a twisting kaleidoscope of hard and fun. Characters suffer and hurt and learn and grieve and lose and sin. But at the same time, they conquer, love, laugh, experience relief and friendship and survival and God. It is visionary YA literature: thinking stuff that still helps you relax in the evenings. I appreciated as a young adult who's no longer a teenager that Parvin and Solomon acted mature, even though they were young--and I think this casts such a good vision for the audience reading it. That YA novels don't have to be about gratification and rebellion. They can be about young people learning and growing, who are also working to serve others and make the world a better place. That's exactly what YA should be. Parvin grows from caring about herself to caring about others, and in a time of life when it is so, so easy to get wrapped up in our own concerns, this example is vital. She's not boring or stiff or goody-goody while she does it. She's very real, praying and crying and learning to love a guy, and wondering how in the world it's all going to turn out--but she still pursues shalom. 

I liked the added twist in this book of Parvin swallowing a knowledge cap of things she would never ever have wanted to know. She's struggled with outward forces up to this point, and even inward forces, but struggling with an urge to use the knowledge of self-defense against her enemies made her choices very real and difficult--especially when people were in her power and death felt like the best choice to make. Seeing her wrestling with that temptation contrasted other character's choices in a very powerful mirror theme. 

And the climax. The climax. That was just the calibre of tension and excitement you want after a three book series. Perfect pacing, dilemmas, love, sacrifice, and camaraderie after the build-up of the previous books. It was a climax that delivers everything you want it to deliver.

(some wounds will never be recovered from, but they are beautiful scars.) 

This is a series that I will fiercely enjoy the memory of. It leaves you aching in some places, whole in others. I will keep it and thumb through favorite parts (gotta read that climax again) and one of these fine days I'll start over again from book 1, because favorite books are like good friends: they deserve fellowship more than once. And Parvin, in the most aching, beautiful, shalom way, is a good friend. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Was Charles Dickens a Christian?

Blimey Cow mentioned this question once upon a time, making a caricature of people Googling "is such-and-such a celebrity a Christian?" It's a question people have had from Thomas Jefferson to Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens can't be left out of the picture.

We know his themes were incredible--the interplay of justice and mercy in Great Expectations is one I love to read again and again. Dickens cares for the orphan and the oppressed, something that we find in the book of James, as well as God's commandments to Israel. But merely following biblical principles isn't a guarantee of a changed heart--and only a heart relying on the blood and redemptive work of Jesus Christ can truly find its precious rest as a child of God.

Gary Colledge, adjunct professor at Moody, has written about Dickens in more than one place--and his work God and Charles Dickens, goes in-depth on this famous author's life and beliefs. Colledge brings to the table a passion for Dickens' work, which I really appreciated, as Dickens is my favorite author. Colledge makes multiple references to Dickens' works, as well as biographies written about him. Also, as he evaluates the religion and Christian references in Dickens novels, he brings to the table an extensive knowledge of Anglican thought in Dickens' day and how it influenced his works.

The beginning of the book is not promising on Dickens' behalf. The first chapters about Dickens' work The Life of our Lord, and his view of Jesus, while they show Dickens earnestly wanting to follow Jesus' example, wouldn't give you any indication that Dickens was other than just an all around good guy who had chosen Jesus for the pattern of his life.

But as you dig further into the book, indications grow more promising. Dickens, in various private letters, shows that he has an understanding of the religious controversies of his day, and while he never was a theologian, he was a thinking man, in tune with the church and society. One reason that Dickens is so confusing is that he hated the cold Calvinism of his day that gave children frightening tracts about hell and did nothing to relieve the poor in the streets. Dickens cared more about taking Christian action than spending time discussing Christian thought. Because of that, it's easy to put him in a wrong and heretical theological camp, when that may not necessarily be the case.

Chapter 6 on Dickens and the Church was especially worth reading, as Colledge explored the things that especially bothered Dickens (intellectual sermons that didn't help the congregation, keeping Jesus the central focus and not just making Bible study an intellectual end in itself) and how we can keep an eye out for these issues in our church today. Colledge is careful to distinguish that Dickens wouldn't have written all these thoughts himself, but he draws from Dickens' ideas in creating his own thoughts in this section.

Was Dickens a Christian? Based on this book, I think it very likely he might have been. I think he had some serious gaps and flaws in his understanding of God and theology. Certainly, I disagree with his tendency to fit liberal scientific views with the Bible, and I think his hatred of the flaws in the church sometimes caused him to swing the pendulum too far away from some central doctrines of the Bible. But at the same time, I think he understands enough of the essential, foundational elements of the Christian faith (sin in mankind, Jesus as divine and man, and God's forgiveness of the repentant) that he could be considered very promising as a child of God. I'm looking forward to reading his books again with a fresh perspective, especially to trace the theme of forgiveness in Great Expectations.

God and Charles Dickens is a rigorous book. I would recommend reading it in a fairly short period of time so you can grasp the main ideas and keep the chapters connected to each other. I tried the first time to read it in a leisurely way and was always losing the train of thought. But recently I picked it up again and kept on, and got a much better picture of what it was about. It requires a lot of concentration, and the chapters are long, but I think it's an excellent book to choose to strengthen and exercise your brain. I love choosing a tough book now and then, and understanding Dickens' Christianity for yourself is well worth the investment of time and effort. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring TBR

is this font not adorable, somebody hold me
Happy Tuesday, folkies! The spring is really springing, as Pooh would say, and I am so happy to start collecting another TBR stack for the upcoming season. I love the focus these posts give me to tackle books intentionally--and when I'm wondering "what do I read next?" I can always come back to the blog.

Here's what I've picked for Spring 2017....

Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
It's been a long time since I've read Bonhoeffer's thoughts on the Christian life in his own words. Thanks to the gift of a friend, I've had Life Together waiting patiently for me, and since it's such a small book, and I'm currently studying friendship and community, I think it would be a very valuable selection for the Spring season.

Story Trumps Structure, by Steven James
I started it shortly after Christmas, and it got delayed in a threatening TBR stack. Since I think it's a fairly quick read, I want to finish it up during the spring season and report in my findings.

Reformation Heroes, by Joel Beeke
This will be my first book to celebrate the Reformation 500th anniversary! An excellent, beautifully formatted book written by Joel Beeke, it gives informative snapshot biographies of many key people in the Reformation era. If you only read one book about the Reformation this year, let this be the book.

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This is one of the selections I'm most keenly excited about for my children's classics re-reading in 2017. I've been wanting to evaluate The Secret Garden and Burnett's religious beliefs in it for some time, ever since I heard that it contained non-Christian ideology. While I'm nervous about delving into it, I do want to be able to evaluate it for myself.

Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
An absolutely charming story, Wind in the Willows feels like a perfect spring tale. I've been waiting years to read it until I could own an edition with Kenneth Grahame illustrations. I'm so excited to get back to the friendships of Ratty and Mole and Toad and all the rest of the dear animals.

The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley
My childhood fandom, before Kidnapped, before Sherlock Holmes--I adored Alec and the Black and their adventures together. I absolutely cannot wait to rediscover them in a re-read.

How about you? What's on your current TBR stack? I'd love to know!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Tastes of Ireland

I thought, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, I would do a Taste of Ireland post for you all--music, poetry, book suggestion, and tastes of the Irish influence in my own writing to celebrate this festive day. My heart belongs in Ireland, and I hope you enjoy this fangirly post with some gorgeous scenery.


Taste of Ireland //writing: Micheal
Micheal....I don't know where Micheal came from. It was born of inward bitterness that found great redemption on paper. It is the story of a young Irishman who is trying to live his life the way he wants and runs away from home to do it. While he's on his journey to something better, he finds God and love and the sound of the sea. Here are some snippets:

The mist covers my view of the sea, and no birds break the sky to lead my way and remind me of why I am here. But in the stillness--stillness so quiet that a pebble would sound if it clattered from its resting place--I can still sense the chafing of the waves on the rocks below. Silky murmurs that quiet me, and make me continue my way as if in a dream. 
*
 The girl is beautiful, like a young deer climbing along the heights, gowned in a dress of soft fawn shade. Her hair curls alluringly over her shoulders, the color of the cinnamon spice that I saw once being unloaded from a trading ship as I passed by, and her lips are small--the lips of a girl. But her eyes are beyond her age, like twin pools holding ancient magic in them, and it is those eyes and the play of her tiny white hands in a little, confiding gesture as she thinks her own thoughts, that capture my heart and make it hers. 
*
And run I do, through the town, past the villagers that are hurrying out of houses, out to the well that stands away from the town, near an old forest. A young woman stands on it, clinging to the posts so that she will not fall in, suspended between one death and another. And beneath her stands a wolf-- a great diabhal shining out of his eyes in their yellow fierceness. His breath blows up in the frosty winter air, and his teeth clench in fierce anticipation of his prey. He is huge, the largest wolf I have ever seen.

Taste of Ireland//writing: War of Loyalties
War of Loyalties kind of accidentally turned into a book with Irish characters in it (they were Americans originally) and when it's published, you'll find a couple of funny or dramatic Irish characters to keep you entertained throughout. While I had to take it out of the book due to space, Terry O'Sean's family emigrated to America during the potato famine. I love the richness of the backstory. Alas, the section talking about that is no longer available to curious eyes, but I think you'll still find plenty of Irish to keep you happy. And a little more historically accurate Irish at that.

   Ben smiled. "I picked up the talent. What brought you from Ireland to Folkestone, if I may ask?"
   "Weel," Terry O'Sean drawled, "I've knocked about some, but I jumped in over my head on Easter, 1916." ~War of Loyalties 


Taste of Ireland//music
I call myself a Thunderhead and enjoy a lot of the classic Irish songs sung by Celtic Thunder. They are my main source of Irish entertainment--you'll find a lot to smile about in Ireland's Call and Home From the Sea and When Irish Eyes are Smiling. Mythology and Heritage are their best albums, both of which have seen me through a lot of exercising and driving to work. I'll probably throw some on tonight to celebrate.


Taste of Ireland//Finn MacCool
If you're in the mood for some Irish books I actually don't have a ton to offer (my friends on FB helped me out, and I hope to review much more in future. But of course, you might enjoy the Irish legends about the band of the Fianna who went questing and stuff (a la Studio C) around Ireland. They fought with Vikings, enchanted creatures, and each other, and it grips/wrenches/tears your heart to pieces as you read. If you haven't experienced this stirring mythology in the phenomenal writing of Rosemary Sutcliff, be sure to lay your hands on a copy of The High Deeds of Finn MacCool.


Taste of Ireland//poetry 
Lastly, a taste of Ireland that I hope you'll take away from this St. Patrick's Day is one of the most stirring poems I've ever heard--The Foggy Dew, by Charles O'Neill. O'Neill wrote it shortly after the tragic Easter Rebellion of 1916, where the Irish fought for freedom and were staunchly quelled by the British. While my favorite musical rendition is done by Deborah Brinson (sadly unavailable) you can find other renditions by The Dubliners and The Chieftains. And here's the poetry itself for you to enjoy:

As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There Armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No pipe did hum, no battle drum did sound its loud tattoo
But the Angelus Bell o'er the Liffey's swell rang out in the foggy dew

Right proudly high over Dublin Town they hung out the flag of war
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky than at Suvla or Sud-El-Bar
And from the plains of Royal Meath strong men came hurrying through
While Britannia's Huns, with their long range guns sailed in through the foggy dew


As back through the glen I rode again and my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men whom I never shall see more
But to and fro in my dreams I go and I kneel and pray for you,
For slavery fled, O glorious dead, when you fell in the foggy dew.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Happy Birthday, Terry! // Beautiful People: March


I have 3 particularly close characters in War of Loyalties. Terry (aka Turlough O'Sean, but no one calls him that) is one of them. He's a 36-year-old Irish American who has a sweetly cheery companionship for his friends and a surprisingly effective left hook for his enemies. Today is his birthday, and if anyone deserves a birthday celebration it's him, because he pretty much nailed every one of his scenes from draft 1. I honestly didn't have to edit him much.

He's a sweetheart like that. (in the beginning, anyway) 

If he were in the Star Wars universe, he would totally be a BB8 droid companion for Poe Dameron.

help me find my poe. he is lost. *sad beep* I FOUND MY POE. *happy beep* 

(Neither Terry nor I are totally with it after the time change, so please excuse us.)

In celebration, we have some fantastic Beautiful People questions by Cait from Paper Fury. Be sure to join the link-up with a character of your own before the month of March is over!

Now I'll turn it over to Terry. Forgive him if he talks about his Acushla too much. He is a fellow of a one-track mind.

What’s your favourite book/movie/play/etc.?
Terry: I don't think I've read a book since highschool. They were always pretty boring. I just have people tell me what I need to know when I chat with them. And I don't know what a movie is. 

Me: If you had ever seen a movie, you would like Star Wars or Pixar movies. 

Terry: Well, I don't know what you're talking about, but I reckon. I've been to some pretty bad stage plays at the school my sister taught for, and they're kind of boring. No one likes me whispering what I think in the middle of them. 

Is there anything you regret doing?
Terry: Um. Well. I always regret not writing my mother more. Half the time I leave her wondering where in the world I am and what I'm up to--but I'm always alive, you know? So there's really nothing to worry about, and I'll write her tonight, I promise. I should probably visit home again one of these years, I kind of regret not. And not telling them about my sister.  

Me: And kissing someone without permission. 

Terry: I don't regret that. I had permission of the soul in spite of what the words said. 

If you were sick or wounded, who would take care of you and how?
Terry: Oh, no, never in this world. I don't need to be taken care of, and Ben and Jaeryn are fussy doctors who want everything clean and medically sanitized and recovery time, and I hate it when they do that. 

Me: So I take it you've been hurt before.... 

Is there an object you can’t bear to part with and why?
Terry: I have a nice knife with a Celtic cross on the handle for defense, and I will never no never be parted with it. I also have a pretty nifty sapphire ring, that I will only be parted with to give to my Acushla, but I gave it to someone else for safekeeping and I'm not sure when I'm going to get it back. 

Me: That kind of destroyed the definition of parting with it, Terry. 

What are 5 ways to win your heart (or friendship)?
Terry: Here, I made a list. 
1. Being Acushla. 
2. Talking about Acushla. 
3. Acting like Acushla. 
4. Cooking like Acushla. 
5. Being related to Acushla. 

Me: *cough* That's an awful lot of Acushla, Terry laddie. 

Describe a typical outfit for you from top to bottom.
Terry: White shirt, that kinda isn't white anymore. I need to do laundry again. Sleeves rolled up. Work pants, probably brown or grey. Worn, scuffed-up shoes, and maybe matched socks if I happen to find them, but they're all dark colored, so no one would notice if they weren't.  

What’s your favorite type of weather?
Terry: I like a bit of nip in the air. Something on the verge of winter, with good weather. It keeps the German agents indoors in front of the fire and gives me more time to meander around and relax. 

What’s the worst fight you’ve ever been in?
Terry: A locked room in a cellar on the night of a harvest moon. I gave it to 'em good to get out of there. 

What names or nicknames have you been called throughout your life?
Terry: I get called Terry all the time. Like a dog or something. If I say something wrong, it's a scolding voice, and if I do something nice, it's a fond voice, and if I'm about to do something they don't think is a good idea, it's a warning voice. People get shook up by what I want to do so often, I just stopped listening to them after a while. I live with people who worry a lot. Jaeryn and that new doc were barely out of spoon feeding and nappies when I left home, and they still think they're smarter than me. 

Me: Terry, they were a little older than that.... 

What makes your heart feel alive?
Me: Don't say Acushla. Say something else. 
Terry: But it's true! And it's my birthday. I can say whatever I want. 
Me: That doesn't give people a very well-rounded portrait of you, Terry. 
Terry: I think they get the general idea by now. I'm going to go hang out with my friends. And eat something good for supper. I notice you pay attention to Jaeryn's poor starved bachelor existence and you've never once mentioned what I go through. 
Me: I just didn't even think of it, you poor boy. Have the happiest of birthdays with the best of Irish food. You deserve to live until your eleventy-first birthday, and we couldn't be satisfied with anything less. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

How to Buy a Whole Book Series in One Afternoon

(um, Schuyler, do I need help with something like this? yes. yes you do.) 



There are a few things Miss Schuyler gets excited about.

Chai lattes. Plot twists. Books.

Customer appreciation week at local bookstores.

Tuesday I was able to stop in for Customer Appreciation deals at my favorite hang-out spot. And boy, was that visit one for the books. (groan.)

*walks in with plan to purchase 1-2 books at 40% off price and as many discounted used books as possible within set budget*

*fills shopping basket*

*realizes with glee that all books within shopping basket may fit within budget*

*takes one more meander through shelves of new books just in case*

*sees ENTIRE SERIES OF FAVORITE BOOKS THAT CANNOT BE GOTTEN ON AMAZON AND ARE DISAPPEARING FROM THE EARTH*

*faints from ecstasy*

*puts them in shopping basket to see What Can Be Done*

*after vague recollection of sale on non-priced books, checks customer appreciation flyer to see that yes, FAVORITE BOOKS are 30% off.*

*also recollects coupon in purse. wonders if 30% off deal is only for Saturday. makes plans to persuade employees to hide said books until Saturday.*

*after leisurely afternoon of writing and tea, tracks down employee and asks if deal is only Saturday. angel in human form says that the sale extends all week. various other Forgotten And Rejected books fly out of shopping basket back to their respective places.*

*walks up to check out FAVORITE SERIES OF BOOKS. thankfully the same employee is at the counter who confirmed said books were on sale. breath of relief in case it had been a mistake somehow*

*dives about wildly for coupon. total 3 bucks over original budget, but 1 buck under revised budget, so all good*

*slowly realizes that in looking for coupon, a bottle of medication and a bag of crackers have been scattered on store counter*

*crams crackers in coat pocket from embarrassment. takes books and exits store thinking THIS IS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE.*

*sings very loudly from happiness on the way home*

*books match shirt for Instagram photos without even trying.*

I love how God surprises in delightful ways. Three new book friends are most welcome to the family.  But at the same time, I'm so sad because not everyone can get the paperbacks, so it feels a bit unfair to the rest of the bookworms. I hope, hope, hope they come back soon. In the meantime, you can get them on Kindle (I highly enjoyed reading them on Kindle, the ebooks were super fun to read) and A Time to Rise paperback (book 3) is $9 right now--on sale! <3 div="" nbsp="">


(The Out of Time series is a Christian dystopian series by a really sweet author Nadine Brandes.)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Cricket in Times Square

This year one of my reading themes is to rediscover some favorite children's books. I want to know what I think about them, find out the good ones, and re-live the old ones. Children's books are so important for shaping young minds, and I am admittedly out of touch. Frances Hodgeson Burnett is one I'm especially keen to read and evaluate again.

Last week was the perfect time to start. After some in-depth books I felt in need of something both rated G and a little more relaxing to rest my mind. The Cricket In Times Square immediately presented itself, and that was the perfect choice to start my rediscovery of Children's Classics.

If you love Wind in the Willows or Winnie the Pooh, you will most assuredly love The Cricket in Times Square.

About the Book [From Goodreads]
After Chester, a cricket, arrives in the Times Square subway station via a picnic basket from his native Connecticut, he takes up residence in the Bellinis' newsstand. There, the tiny creature is lucky enough to find three good friends—a little boy named Mario whose parents run the unsuccessful newsstand, a fast-talking Broadway mouse named Tucker and his Pal, Harry the Cat. Throughout their escapades and their ups and downs in New York City, together they somehow manage to bring success to the almost bankrupt newsstand

My Thoughts 
Our edition of The Cricket in Times Square is a frail old paperback. The kind you hold carefully and hope the cover will stay on for at least one more reading (behold, it did.) As soon as I cracked the cover and started reading, all the old memories washed back. I adore these animals. I adore them even more for the fact that the mark of a good story is one that can be enjoyed by all ages.  Madeleine L'Engle, in Walking on Water, explains that children's stories should not be written down to children, but written as something the author himself enjoys. I don't know without asking, but in reading this book, I feel like George Selden very heartily enjoyed and entered into the story as he wrote it. It shows, because The Cricket in Times Square, while suitable for children, is timeless and ageless in its appeal.

EPA's Top 100 Authors says about George Seldon, "It was essential to him that his animal characters display true emotions and feelings with which readers can identify." I can easily see that--Chester's homesickness for the countryside of Connecticut, Tucker's laugh-out-loud humor, and the friendship that exists between Chester Cricket, Harry Cat, and Tucker Mouse, are treated as if they are real and true. They resonate deeply with the reader. The ending tugs at your heartstrings while being perfectly satisfactory. They aren't so much children's emotions as they are human emotions. And that's why, all these years later, they mean the same and even more to me than they did when I was small.

Not only are the characters endearing, but with the added perspective of time and writing study, the plotting is also tight, with good structure. I also love the city setting. It makes me happy to think of a bunch of animal friends living in a drain pipe and collecting things to stash. ;)

Our edition has Garth Williams illustrations. The Cricket in Times Square shouldn't be read without them. He brings the same charm to these furry city friends as he does to Little House on the Prairie and the Little Golden Books (The Sailor Dog or The Kitten Who Thought He Was a Mouse, anyone?) While it's been a while since I've read them, you might also recognize his name from Charlotte's Web or The Trumpet of the Swan.

Altogether, my first foray back into children's literature was an absolute success. I'm looking forward to more and highly recommend this enchanting tale of three unlikely friends who share a charming adventure.

Have you read Cricket? Do you like Garth Williams illustrations? I'd love to know!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Adorned, by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth


Women long for kindred spirits. Many of us have kindred spirits in our own age group, safe places to pour out our hearts to. But in the moments where we turn to our peers and say "I have no idea what to do," we long for someone older. More experienced. A Titus 2 friend.

Titus 2 friendships have dropped out of date and out of style, and women everywhere are suffering. I myself for long periods of time longed for an older friend who I could ask life questions and get some practical biblical answers. The Lord is providing in that area for me, but it's been a long, hard road full of tears and loneliness. There is no greater joy than a friendship that spans generations and experience.

I'm not the only one who needs this. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, in her newest book, Adorned, addresses the need for the church universal to pursue these Titus 2 relationships, and a Titus 2 lifestyle. And her book is for older women and for younger women together.

The Book (Description from book's cover)
The Titus 2 model of older women living out the gospel and training younger women to do the same is vital. It's how we all thrive, how we are adorned, and how we adorn the gospel...together. 

Imagine older women investing themselves in the lives of younger women, blessing whole families and churches. Imagine younger women widening their circle to include women who've walked further down the road. Imagine women of all ages and seasons being transformed by the gospel, displaying its beauty, and making it believable to those around them. 

This rich study of the instructions to women in Titus 2 provides a roadmap to help you experience the kind of community and influence God designed you to have in the church and the world. 

My Thoughts
This book could be divided into two key thoughts: how to live as a Titus 2 woman (kind, submissive to husband, loving husbands and children, self-controlled, etc.) and how to mentor others in a Titus 2 relationship. The book is packed with insight on how to live out each phrase of Titus 2--I went through with my pencil for brackets and underlining as I read.

The points that resonated with me as I read Nancy's book are having a sophron (healthy, self-controlled) mind, living a self-controlled, godly life that isn't addicted to things, and making sure my interactions with men are pure. Nancy gives helpful tips and illustrations from her life and lives of other women. I was able to take small action steps as I read her book to apply more healthy living in some of these areas--and I hope to be able to take more in the days to come. Whether you are an older woman or a younger woman, a woman at home or at work, this book is full of grace and community for all of us.

Most of all, as I read chapter after chapter about how to live as a Godly woman, I appreciated Nancy's spirit of gentleness, of encouragement and compassion in attitudes that she recognizes are difficult to achieve. Biblical thinking and living often require spiritual battle--and she encourages us not to fall into the mindset that we have to live life with gritted teeth, somehow forcing ourselves to live out these things--but by the grace of the Holy Spirit, who helps us bear this fruit. That lifts a load off this perfectionists' shoulders, because my tendency would be to take these principles too far and rely on my own strength.

For those of you who have done TrueWoman 201, you know that that study also delves into Titus 2 line by line, with Nancy Wolgemuth and Mary Kassian. Fear not--both studies are complementary and worth pursuing as individual books. I was afraid they would overlap too much, but they are separate, each rich with insight and well worth the read.

On Monday night I finished reading Adorned, and on Tuesday I had the joy of meeting Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth at a ministry event and having her autograph my book. It was the perfect way to celebrate The End! But I hope, too, that it's only The Beginning of living out the truths in its pages. Adorned will be a book I want to return to again and again, as I seek to live out the beauty of the Gospel in different seasons of life.

I received this book from Moody Publishers. All opinions expressed are my own.



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tuesday Mini Reviews: Montgomery, Brandes, and Doyle


In lieu of a big review today, I thought I'd polish off 3 books in one and write about 3 novels I've recently enjoyed. If your reading stack is a bit thin, or you're wondering what in the world to tackle next, consider this post a prescription slip to while away some February days:

Kilmeny of the Orchard 
I read this before The Blue Castle, and finished it on a Friday night (That's right, Eric wrote a letter making fun of my cooking as I recall.) A sweet and old-fashioned romance, Kilmeny is a predictable story, but absolutely lovable. It contains Montgomery's trademark bittersweet themes, clean loving, and beautiful descriptions of people and places. If you're in the mood for something sweet, relaxing, and well-written to kick back with, Kilmeny is a great book to choose after a long day of work or studies.

A Time to Speak 
Installment #2 in the Parvin series, A Time to Speak follows her and Willow as they face persecution back in the West. When the government betrays the people of Unity Village, destroying their clocks and making them Radicals, Parvin is forced into leadership along with Solomon, an Enforcer. She and Solomon have an adorable romance (though my heart still tugs towards Jude), and Parvin learns lessons of courage and independence that are challenging to consider. I can relate to her reluctance and fear about speaking up when God prompts. Her confidence as she makes decisions on her own initiative in obedience to God is convicting, though I would like to see her study the Bible more and not just rely on God's inner voice in her heart. The action is tight and non-stop, with character actions and reactions in a powerful domino effect that makes it impossible to rip yourself away from the pages. I read myself into a headache more than once because of it. With a suspenseful climax that rallies together a disparate group of allies, A Time to Speak catapulted me straight to Amazon to read the sample of A Time To Rise, so I could end the dreadful suspense.

stop throwing tomatoes. i did it for the sake of my sanity. 

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 
I haven't read this in a couple of years, but when Annie and I recently decided to do a read-along together, I began reading a mystery every other day, posting occasional thoughts with the hashtag #Schuylock on Twitter. (This name is awesome, folks) It's been a joy to rediscover these classic stories, and they're the perfect length to enjoy during breakfast. They inspired a burst of creative genius in which I recently started a mystery novella of my own. I love the humor that Sherlock and Watson share, the loyalty in dangerous moments, and I'm also noting intriguing pieces of Holmes' personality or details about his apartment that I hadn't paid attention to before (anyone else know that Holmes was quietly genial?) I'm enjoying this so much that I'm going to continue on into Memoirs. Characters are sad, cute, infuriating by turns, and Holmes is somewhat warmer of a personality than I remembered him. Doyle created fascinating characterizations in these stories. You will be seeing more Sherlock on the blog in future.

Friday, February 24, 2017

In Which Tolkien Returns to My Lady Bibliophile

For a while, I've been finishing so many books that they got backed up waiting to be reviewed. That streak will end, but I sure have enjoyed it while it's lasted.

I mean, who doesn't enjoy checking off The End in one book after another?

This book was on my goals to finish during the winter season, and just in time, I squeaked through to the finish line. I don't know about you, but I love a good Tolkien gab over history and people groups and all the wonderfully rich culture he puts into his books. So if you haven't read The Book of Lost Tales (Part 2, guys, the goodness doesn't stop) then pull up a cozy chair, and let's have a chat.

The Book 
In The Book of Lost Tales Part 2, Christopher Tolkien collects six of his father's early drafts and fits them into the Middle Earth legend. Meticulously, he weaves together the sometimes disjointed notes Tolkien left of each tale to make a consecutive narrative, explaining the name changes and other alterations his father made over time.

These tales are focused on the elves. No Hobbits and few dwarves here. In Lost Tales 2, you'll learn the fierce, proud glory of Turin Turambar, the everlasting love that sent Beren into the den of Melko to win fair Luthien, and the heart-wrenching voyage of AElfine. You'll stand on the walls of Gondolin as it falls to fiery Balrogs and sit with the elves, clamoring for one more story about this well-loved world.

For the philologists among us, there are notes on the meanings of the elvish names, notes on Tolkien's exact wordings, and a brief commentary by Christopher Tolkien after each story tracing his father's train of thought as J.R.R. Tolkien developed each legend and fit it into the giant scope of the world of Middle Earth.

My Thoughts 
While The Book of Lost Tales 2 encompasses 6 tales, I'm going to spend this review focusing on two. Several of them are early drafts of tales (Beren and Luthen, and The Tale of Turambar) that are covered in more detail in The Silmarillion and The Children of Hurin. You may find it interesting to compare the first draft to the later ones, and how Tolkien's ideas grew over time. But if you're not a die-hard Tolkien aficionado, then I wouldn't start with this book. It's a tough nut to crack, and some of the later stories, where we have less and less structure to work with, can be mind-numbing with the effort they require to read.

But two tales in particular linger in my mind with fondness as I shut this book. One is The Fall of Gondolin, and the other is The History of Eriol or AElfwine.

The Fall of Gondolin
The Fall of Gondolin was pretty much the entire reason I started with Part 2 of Lost Tales instead of Part 1. Gondolin was a hidden city in Middle Earth, the one that could always elude and withstand the evil war of Melko. But even Gondolin fell in the tragic war between Melko and the elves, and its fall was heartstirring and glorious. The last stand of Turgon on the walls, the valiant wisdom of Idril, wife of Tuor, the tragic shield brother action of Tor and Ecthelion as they defended each other in battle, and best of all, sightings of Legolas and Glorfindel in the same story, (two of my favorite elves) make for an epic combination.

The History of Eriol or AElfwine 
The history of AElfwine lingers with a tugging of the heartstrings. The beginning half as Tolkien tried to fit this legend into English history is a bit slow and unbelievable, but a later draft of the legend that doesn't contain as much English history is a stirring, grand tale. At the peril of life, AElfwine and his companions sail in search of the island of the elves. In a heart-wrenching twist of fate, most of them catch a glimpse of it. But only one man attains elf land, and the others are blown in the mist all the way back home. The tragedy leaves you breathless.

You might be wondering, is The Book of Lost Tales for me? Here's a good way to go with Tolkien's books:

Read The Hobbit. Everyone reads the Hobbit first. Then read Lord of the Rings. If you love LOTR so much your soul starts singing in the language of elves (a normal and natural reaction) then go on to The Silmarillion. Once you're done with Sil, if you're still interested, then feel free to delve into Lost Tales and The Children of Hurin.

Why this order, Schuyler? Well, because that's the way I did it. But in all seriousness, I think that's a pretty decent order to go in. I'm a sucker for punishment, so I'm going on to The Unfinished Tales next, and hopefully I'll read Lost Tales Part 1 someday.

I think one particular reason why I appreciate reading a tough Tolkien book is the mental exercise it requires. You use a lot of the same skills you would use to read real history, so it translates well. Plus, starting and finishing it is like starting and finishing an intense physical workout. It exercises different parts of your brain (genealogies, geography, and history) and keeps it sharp.

So if you want a mind puzzle, or some glorious moments of valor and heart-wrenching, then give Book of Lost Tales 2 a try.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Blue Castle, and Thoughts on Adulthood

When it comes down to it, I am looking at this post the night before and the thoughts I have rough drafted. I didn't have hours to spend over it on Saturday like I expected (getting lost in a book and grading homework took care of that pretty quickly.) But when it comes down to it, perhaps I am slow to share this because I am afraid. 

I'm afraid of being misunderstood. I'm afraid of being thought liberal--that my thoughts will not come across clearly, or translate to the hearts of my readers. 

When it comes down to it, this book hits me in a topic that I am very currently struggling with and learning in. Actually, this book is about fear of man. So I'm going to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for clarity. And then I'm going to dive in, share my thoughts, and leave reader reactions in his hands. 

"I can't wear those socks/read that book/hold this opinion. There are people around me who hold different opinions, and I need to respect those."

There are two books every adult girl should read. One is A Girl of the Limberlost, and the other is The Blue Castle. Both, in my mind, give a portrait of adult womanhood that simply aren't addressed in nonfiction (or at least, I haven't found it.) Both give a picture of young women who are learning the balance of being gracious, wise, independent individuals in the midst of strong minded people. By independent, I mean neither individualistic nor stubborn. I simply mean an individual soul with an individual relationship before God.

If you struggle to the point of obsession as a young adult over how to honor the convictions of those around you while still being able to hold your own, then join us today for a rousing conversation around L.M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle.

Today's discussion is a lengthy one, so if you want the mini review--I binge read this on a Saturday and absolutely adored it. Barney Snaith is a dear, the nature is vivid, and Valancy is a very real heroine.

The Book 
Valancy lives at home with her mother and cousin Stickles, firmly convinced she will forever be an old maid. She's twenty-eight years old, and her extended family has given up on her as a disgrace--plain, unwanted by a prospective husband, and an unfortunate specimen of the female kind. Now, she serves as a meek little nobody in their midst--the brunt of all the jokes, the person who will always give in, and obedient to a fault, regardless of her twenty-eight years. Valancy has never learned how to be her own person.

Until.

Finding that the pains around her heart are growing worse instead of better, Valancy throws off family tradition and goes to see a doctor alone. There she finds that she has one year to live. In desperation to have something happy to look back on in her own colourless existence, Valancy throws off the control of her family and lives exactly how she likes--whether it's helping a girl who's an outcast of the church, or hanging out with the town reprobate, Barney Snaith. She's determined to live her last year well, and live it on her own terms.

The Book
There are people in the world, of which I am one, who obsess to the point of a fault about how much I agree with others. While I don't talk about it much, I often find myself between the rock and hard place of God's working in other people's lives, and God's working in my life. When I have conversations, I am constantly torn. What if my friend is against what I am for? Worse, what if I'm going against something their parents have cautioned them in? For instance, if my friend doesn't read fantasy, does it mean I never mention Tolkien around them? If a friend doesn't believe in war, does that mean I avoid all stories, songs, and verses in Scripture that refer to warfare? If a friend doesn't think orange socks are modest, should I think about their opinion every time I put my socks on?

no, I don't wear orange socks 

The last is a bit ridiculous, but not entirely. Obsession over other people's opinions will eventually lead to angst over the smallest differences of opinion. It becomes unhealthy. We can't leave the house, or even leave our bedrooms, until we are sure that we will not possibly give anyone a reason to disapprove of our behavior. This is fear of man, and fear of man can be towards anyone: friends, parents, friends' parents, ministry leaders, etc.

Valancy starts off The Blue Castle reading only the books her mother approves of, meekly participating in her uncle's jokes at her expense, and wearing her hair the way her great-aunt orders her to. That's pretty sad for a twenty-eight-year-old young woman. This fear of man is unhealthy. It is not true, biblical humilty or submission. By this age, Valancy should be able and allowed to read books of her choice with a discerning mindset, hold a healthy enough opinion of herself to refuse to participate in behavior that belittles her, and decide her own preferred method of doing her hair.

Appropriate Individuality
While we need to be respectful of other people's opinions and convictions as Christians, as well as not lead them to stumble, I would argue that that does not mean we should pretend to be the same as them in all the same areas. After all, if they are free to share their opinions with us, we should be free to share our opinions with them. We are a different person, and God is working in us in a different way. We do not have to pretend to be them. That's dishonesty to pretend we believe exactly the same as they do. We need to speak up and be who we actually are before God. Iron cannot sharpen iron unless there is something different to sharpen each other over.

For those of you who struggle with this issue, not everyone with a strong opinion is your authority figure. You do not have to place yourself under the authority of every adult you come in contact with. Stop trying to. Be gracious, but confident in the Holy Spirit's work in your life. The Holy Spirit is in you, and you can trust his guidance.

Even the biblical authority of parents, church leaders, and employees is to be tested and obeyed under the supreme authority of God. And there is freedom within biblical submission for individual personalities and preferences. Keep in mind that I write these words to adults here. There are times when a young persons' preferences need to bow to the guidance of an authority figure. But if you are an adult, if you have a track record of wisdom, if you are walking with the Lord, then you should be able to apply a robust, biblical belief system to making basic life decisions on your own.

If a book you want to read is appropriately Christian, or you are reading it for good reason with Christian discernment, you have the freedom to read it. The same with music. The same with activities, friends, and how you style your hair. You should be in charge of your own exercise, managing your schedule, and taking care of your diet.

In a healthy young adult, the balance shifts from asking permission like a child, to seeking input from wise older people, and making decisions in light of good counsel and prayer. Sometimes it means asking for accountability--someone to confront you when you get off track. But it no longer means being 28 years old like Valancy and styling your hair the same way because someone told you to.

I know these can be confusing words, but some young women struggle so badly with fear of man that they never learn to stand before God on their own. They are stuck in a world of semi-childhood, and that is not where Christians are called to be. For instance, when David was about to kill her household, Abigail needed to be an adult and make a decision about what to say and do. That skill wouldn't have come to her in the panic of the moment. It came probably through years of making wise choices and taking responsibility for them.

At the beginning of The Blue Castle, Valancy lies in bed and bitterly recounts the ways she is taken advantage of. But she never cares quite enough to assert herself and behave as the adult she is. Then, when she gets her heart diagnosis, Valancy doesn't care anymore. She reads her book on Sunday if she wants. She refuses to be the butt of her family's jokes. She expresses her own opinions, holds her own beliefs, and associates with people of her choice. After having been too meek for too long, Valancy almost swings too far the other direction in following no one's law but her own.

The End Result of Unbalanced Humility
Trying to force yourself into the mold of someone else's extra-biblical convictions, fears, sensitivities, and mindset will lead to three results: (1. mindless crowd following (2. bitterness in your soul (3. open rebellion. You simply cannot withstand the pressure. It will not work. You need to stop trying. You will end up hating the people whose opinions you are trying to force yourself into. It is better to honestly express where you are, even in conversations with parents, rather than trying to force the end result of of holding the same beliefs when your heart isn't really there.

Most adult young women who are unbiblically meek end up carrying a great deal of bitterness with them throughout their days. They know God doesn't want them to have a root of bitterness in their hearts, so they feel guilty, and pray, often asking God to force their mind to become the same as their parents, or their friends' parents, or their pastors. They think the antidote to their bitterness is somehow forcing their mind to submissively adhere to everyone else's opinions.

Actually, the antidote to their bitterness is blooming into a normal person with healthy opinions and trusting God to refine their perspective in his timing. There comes a point in teenagers and early adulthood where Christian young people need to make their faith and life their own. Sometimes that means making mistakes--not fearing things you should. Holding a looser conviction than you should. Having a different sensitivity than you should. But the beauty of God sanctifying believers is that through time, and faithfulness to him, he will conform you to his will. Sometimes that will mean coming to hold the same opinion as those around you. Sometimes it will mean holding a different one.

If you start off in a different place than you should, and you are continually seeking him, he will lead you to the place where you should be. It is far, far better to submit yourself to the journey of growing in the fear of God than it is to bitterly or fearfully say, do, and believe things because you are "supposed to".

By this I am not saying that we don't hold a belief if God's Word clearly says we do. In that, we need to bow the knee and submit ourselves whether we like it or not. But I am saying that in the matter of orange socks and hairstyles and diet, anything that we have Christian liberty in, it's time to step up and be OK with differences.

In Conclusion
Practically, this means I am graciously speaking up if I believe differently. It means when I don't believe something yet, I explain where I am in the fear of God, and humbly add that I want him to teach me what's right. It means saying "No" when worries want put tendrils of insecurity around everything I say. It might occasionally mean graciously saying something that my friends disagree with. Humility, as my pastor said on Sunday, is neither exalting myself too much, nor abasing myself too much. It is being confident in my identity in Christ.

God might have you on a different journey, learning something else right now--more submission, more deference. But Valancy hit me where I am with learning boldness, and gave me a good catalyst for this blog article. I feel like words are so insufficient for this huge, huge topic. But I think it's one that needs to be talked about more--and perhaps I'll be able to write on it again sometime in a way that feels more satisfactory.

Whew. I'm going to send this into the wide web and go grade more homework. But tell me: where are you at? What do you think of this issue of adulthood? What's a gracious way to balance wise counsel and individual opinion? Let's discuss together!
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