Literature, Uncategorized

Bookshelf Tour: Journeys to Fayrah by Bill Myers

In case you haven’t quite caught it, we read a lot around here. Lately, I’ve been introducing my kids to Bill Myers’ Fayrah series (co-creator of McGee &Me, if you remember that series). It’s been a favorite of mine for a long time. The stories are fun and provide lots of opportunity to talk to your kids about spiritual concepts (or to be reminded of them for yourself!). Three main characters (Denise, Nathan, and Joshua) are transported to an alternate world in an alternate dimension so they can learn about Imager (similar to Narnia).

I really love how Myers uses analogy to talk about spiritual concepts. I could talk about each of the characters and their growth, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on Denise. For example, in book two, The Experiment, Denise is struggling with Imager’s love–in large part because her father left her at an early age. The Fayrahnians take her to a machine that’s been infused with Imager’s breath and is able to create life in this miniature world. She’s instructed to create some beings so she can experience Imager’s love for His creature and then left alone. She creates two cute little humanoid creatures and in the end, sacrifices herself to save them. She learns experientially that God loves her because He made her. She also has some interesting revelations with the creatures putting themselves in situations where they’re unable to hear her.

Another little fun analogy he has going throughout the series is the water in Fayrah–it’s made up of Imager’s words. For humans (upside-downers), it’s the only way to be able to see or hear anything correctly. Denise, Nathan, and Joshua all have to pour the water in their ears and eyes to be able to function.

In The Whirlwind, Myers describes the feeling of being re-breathed (saved) thus: “Immediately, [Denise] was struck with a feeling of lightness. First it started in her head. it felt as if a heavy darkness were being drained from it. All of the confusion and muddled thinking that had plagued her mind as far back as she could remember was suddenly being drawn away…Next she felt her neck and shoulders start to grow light. A heaviness was being drained from them and out her feet into the pool. As the weight slipped away, she noticed her fears were also slipping away. Fears that she wasn’t loved. Fears that no one cared, that she really was on her own. Now, suddenly all those fears began to drain away…Next Denise felt the darkness leave her chest. Gradually, all the guilt over all the wrongs she had done was drained away. It felt as if a giant weight were removed. For the first time in her life, she felt like she could breathe. Really Breathe.”

It was a lot of fun to read Denise and Nathan’s conversion experiences and to remember my own. Sometimes, in the bustle of life, it’s easy to forget what things were like pre-Jesus. My life was pretty rotten. I definitely lived in fear, despair, shame, guilt, etc., etc. Reading this section to my kids reminded me that, as Christians, we really don’t have anything to worry about. Our sin is redeemed–taken away and the consequences are transformed. We’re loved–so loved that God died for us. As Romans 8:32 puts it, how will he not also along with this graciously give us all things? The God who sacrificed Himself for us and owns everything isn’t going to grudge us food to eat or a place to live–He provides for us abundantly and joyfully (Matt. 6:25-34).

I also really love at the end of The Whirlwind where Denise is put in a situation where the accuser is reminding her of everything she’s ever done wrong and it’s up to her to hang onto what’s true. So hard to do in real life!

If you’ve never read them, they’re definitely worth checking out!

Literature

Bookshelf Tour-A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I feel like I should probably just make a blanket statement that the vast majority of the books on my bookshelf are ones that I adore. I’ll try to keep the raptures to a minimum though.

A Little Princess was the first chapter book that I ever read by myself (at least that I remember), and I still love it. Not only is the writing brilliant, but the themes are amazing.

If you’re not familiar with the book, it tells the story of Sara Crewe. Her mother dies at a young age, so she’s raised by her father in India. He’s a captain in the British army. At age seven, he takes her to a boarding in school in England–Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies, run by Miss Minchin and her sister, Miss Amelia. She’s the star pupil there–being a girl who loves to learn and being an heiress–so Miss Minchin treats her well. Sara befriends a couple of the school outcasts, including the school maid. She has quite an imagination, so she makes up stories which she then tells to the other pupils. She also uses her imagination to make history come alive for Ermengarde, one of the outcasts that she is friends with. She also uses her imagination to pretend that she’s a princess, and she tries to act like she believes a good princess would. Things are good for her–other than the fact that she desperately misses her father.

And then one day everything falls apart. Her father’s best friend convinced him to invest in diamond mines and then ran away–leaving her father penniless. Her father had been sick at the time and the news was the final blow. He dies, believing that he and his darling daughter are ruined.

When Miss Minchin hears the news, she’s furious. She’s never particularly liked Sara for various reasons and has made a significant outlay of cash for Sara’s special maid and Sara’s birthday party, etc., etc. So, she responds by giving Sara the “kindness” of making her a maid. She takes everything Sara owns other than a single outfit and the doll her father bought her to try to pay off some of her debts. She moves Sara into the attic where there’s no heat. Sara is worked to the bone and miserable and hungry most of the time.

Sara responds by using her imagination to pretend that she’s a prisoner in the Bastille or other similar situations. Throughout it all, she continues to try to treat others like she’s a princess. For instance, one day when she’s starving, she finds a fourpenny. She goes into a bakery to buy herself something to eat (six buns), but instead of eating all of them, she gives five of them away to a beggar girl who appears to be hungrier than her because every good princess should give largesse to the populace.

In the end, it turns out that the diamond mines weren’t a failure, and Sara is given someone to love and be loved by and returned to her former richness. But she’s been tested and tried.

I love how this story talks about perspective. Sara is able to turn the most awful circumstances into an adventure merely because she chooses that perspective. It’s a lesson that I have tried to apply to my own life since I read this book. We all have a choice. We can choose if we’re going to be kind to others or not. We can choose to sacrifice for others or not. It’s all based on what kind of people we want to be and how we see our circumstances. Because Sara wanted to be like a princess, she chooses to be kind and sacrificial even when her circumstances are brutal.

Literature

Bookshelf Tour: An Ever-Fixed Mark by Sabrina

Growing up, we moved regularly, so, when I was a child, books were my dear friends. Every year (usually around New Year’s), I would re-organize my bookshelf–make sure that all the books were alphabetical by author’s last name and grouped into series. We recently rearranged our book area. We had four bookshelves that were double-stacked in places, so we bought another one and sorted through out books to weed out any duplicates/unwanted. Sadly, we still need to buy a sixth bookshelf to finish our project. Re-organizing the books though was like going to a reunion of old friends. Some of those books I have read regularly since I was in elementary school. My husband was quite entertained listening to me wax eloquent over my various books.

I also (finally!) moved all my fan fiction bookmarks from my old phone to my new phone. I’d never read fan fiction prior to a year and a half ago, but I’ve found quite a few gems in that time. I had about 150 bookmarks I had to copy.

Anyway! It was so fun to go back through my books that I thought I’d take you on a tour of my bookshelf so I get to talk about them some more. 🙂

Today I’d like to talk about a story on my virtual bookshelf: An Ever-Fixed Mark by Sabrina. It’s a Pride & Prejudice fan fiction posted on Dwiggie.com. I like to start my year with Pride & Prejudice and even though I haven’t read the original yet, I did read this version again.

This short story takes Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 as its theme, particularly this well-known section:

Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
It is an ever fixed mark
Which looks on tempests and is never shaken.

Fan fiction takes a well-known story/characters and basically changes something and then writes out the results of those changes–sort of like throwing a rock in a pond and then taking a picture of the resultant ripples. The “rock” Sabrina chose to throw is that after Darcy’s disastrous proposal and subsequent letter to Elizabeth, Anne de Bourgh asks to speak with Darcy and gives him some solid advice about how he should propose to Elizabeth. It prompts him to think back over why exactly Elizabeth had rejected him and he realizes that it was his own fault. He repents of his pride (gotta love that about Darcy!). I will say that I think Sabrina speeds up his character shifts beyond what’s realistic, but at the same time, she keeps with the logical trajectory of his repentance and there have been times in my own life when something just hits me and I’m able to see things differently–so it’s at least plausible, even if the real battle is whether those character changes play out long-term. When Darcy finds Elizabeth distraught over his letter, he comforts her. They end up having a conversation about the nature of love, and it’s just beautiful.

Sabrina also addresses something that has gradually driven me nuts about P&P: Bingley’s lukewarm behavior. Now maybe you don’t think Bingley was lukewarm. Maybe you think the poor guy should get a pass because of his temperament or the situation he was in or whatever. I personally think Jane should have made things a little harder on him when he came back. He’d proven that he wasn’t his own man–he let other people run his life. I love that Pamela Aiden addresses this character flaw in her Fitzwilliam Darcy trilogy.

Yes, I do realize that it wouldn’t be realistic or politic for the timeframe if Jane had made Bingley work for her. Women were dependent on a good marriage to secure their livelihood–we clearly see this evidenced in Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins (ugh!). But then, Austen contrasts Charlotte’s more practical approach with Elizabeth’s unwillingness to settle for a marriage of convenience. Jane and Bingley are kind of the middle ground. Jane is in love with Bingley, and Bingley is in love with Jane (supposedly). But their love isn’t tested the same way that Elizabeth and Darcy’s is. Maybe it really does come down to different personality types.

I had an interesting conversation about literature and personality type the other day. I gravitate towards strong female characters because that’s my personality type. But a friend of mine is turned off by those types because they grate on her personality type. It really emphasizes how genius Jane Austen was to be able to portray multiple personality types realistically and winsomely. I find myself writing the same personality type for my main characters (my own) because it’s easy for me to do so realistically. But Austen has a broad base of personality types.

Anyway! If you’re an Austen lover, An Ever-Fixed Mark is a treat to read and, as I said, deals with some really great themes about the nature of love. You can also check out Dwiggie.com for more great fan fics. It’s a fun genre to get into!

Literature

The Hawk and the Dove

If you’ve never read Penelope Wilcox’s triology, The Hawk and the Dove, well, you should. It’s one of those books everyone should read, especially anyone who has ever suffered or struggled with the problem of evil. I just happened to be given a copy of The Hawk and the Dove in college and it changed me. The book is comprised of a series of short stories that take place around the 15th century in a monastery. The main character, Father Peregrine, comes on the scene as a self-possessed, capable monk with strong hands. He is artistic, does beautiful illuminations, intelligent, able to debate theology…. yet somehow in the midst of this, his very self-sufficiency keeps him at arm’s length from the rest of the monks. Shortly after becoming the Abbot, enemies of his family find him and beat him, shattering his hands and kneecap. He spends the rest of his life as a cripple. Initially, he tries to maintain his self-sufficiency, to deal with his grief and fear alone. One of the brothers breaks through to him and beholds his suffering. The rest of the stories are about how the Abbot becomes the hub of the community. His weakness enables him to relate to the brothers on an intensely deep level, to soothe their fears and their weaknesses. He becomes truly a father to them all. And in the midst of his suffering, he falls in love with Jesus as the suffering savior.

I could never understand why the Catholic church portrays Jesus on the cross, until I read this book. Yes, I want to continue to celebrate His resurrection as verification of all He promised, but beholding Jesus as the suffering Savior has changed me in ways I can’t even explain. The Gospel is Christ crucified… God’s love revealed through sacrifice and suffering. He is not unfamiliar with our pain. He is not putting us through hoops, as though we’re rats in a maze. His suffering can comfort us in the midst of ours. Our suffering can connect us with Christ. Stop and think about that for a moment. Just turn it over a few times. Jesus is the suffering Savior and our suffering can connect us with Him.

He has empathy, not sympathy, for us in the middle of our suffering. As we suffer, we have empathy, not sympathy, for what He went through for US. for us! Jesus went through suffering for us. As I suffer, I come to a greater appreciation of God’s love for me–the cost He paid for me. This is the answer to the problem of evil–the cross.

Our suffering can connect us with others. This also blows my mind. I love how Wilcox shows the transformative power of suffering. Before his infirmity, Father Peregrine is self-sufficient and is able to command the respect of his brothers. Afterwards, he is broken and needy and earns their love. Before, he is able to guide them on an intellectual, surface level. Afterwards, his brokenness opens doors into their hearts and there is deep dealing experienced. It’s so easy for me to gloss over this concept. Maybe it’s the performance-oriented, perfectionistic part of me. I don’t know. But in my weakness, my first reaction is to conceal it, and when I can’t hide it, I try to minimize, and over the past few years, when I can’t even do those things, I feel isolated and like dead weight, dragging everyone around me down. Father Peregrine doesn’t hide his weakness–he can’t. And he’s a better Abbot because of his weakness, not in spite of his weakness. Just as Christ is a better high priest because of his weakness.

What would it be like if we all lived with our weaknesses and brokenness in the spotlight? Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? But maybe we would be more intimately connected with God and with others, maybe we would have healthier souls. Maybe we would be better tools for the good works God’s prepared in advance for us to do. Maybe I am a better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better sister, a better daughter because of my illness and brokenness, not in spite of it. Maybe you are too.

Literature

Sovereignty and the Betrayal of the gods

When I was at Moody Bible Institute, I used to hear students talk about how they couldn’t understand folks’ problems with “the problem of evil.” “Just have more faith.” “It’s just an excuse to rebel against God.” I will say that there are different versions of the problem of evil–the purely logical/mental one and then that deep, down anguish that comes from experiencing evil. To a girl coming face to face with the depth of brokenness in my own childhood, their naivete was almost obscene–but maybe those students were inexperienced or perhaps running from the reality of their own lives. Who knows?

The past several years as I’ve tried to come to grips with being chronically ill, I’ve found myself coming back to God’s sovereignty, His love, the pattern He’s working–one that I’m often too close to see. One of the books that always brings me back to myself is The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. If you haven’t read it yet (or her other books), you should check it out!

**Spoiler Alert**

The series revolves around Eugenides, the royal Thief of Eddis. Eddis is a mountainous country smack dab between two other countries: Attolia and Sounis. The Medes are a larger country who are trying to absorb these three countries into their empire. The Queen of Attolia opens with Eugenides in Attolia on a fact-finding mission: has Attolia allied herself with the Medes? Unbeknownst to Queen Attolia, Eugenides has been in love with her for many years, ever since he saw her dancing in a garden alone and watched her go from being a lonely, shadow princess to a queen, apparently with a heart of stone. While in Attolia, however, the Queen somehow discovers his presence and captures him. She enacts the traditional punishment upon the Thief, cutting off his right hand. Eugenides is then returned to Eddis. Eddis promptly goes to war with Attolia (and eventually with Sounis). The Medes continue to press Queen Attolia for a treaty, providing a gift of gold to fund her war while busily subverting her barons. Eddis is about to lose the war when Eugenides devises a daring plan–he can steal Queen Attolia and marry her, thus providing Attolia with a stable, friendly-to-Eddis government. He steals Queen Attolia, but the Mede ambassador somehow hears of his plan and is able to retrieve the queen. The Mede also captures Eugenides and kills the last of Attolia’s loyal barons. Attolia is forced to either ally herself with the Medes or with the Eddisians. She chooses to marry Eugenides, and together the Eddisians and the Attolians drive the Medes from the continent. Marriage preparations are underway when Attolia informs Eugenides that she wants no involvement of the Eddisian gods in their ceremony because they were the ones who betrayed his location to her and to the Mede ambassador. Eugenides sets up an impromptu altar to the gods and demands to know why:

“You betrayed me,” he shouted, his voice muffled  by his arms. He remembered the Mede who had appeared on the mountainside without any explanation. “Twice,” he wailed. “You betrayed me twice. What are the Medes, that you support them? Am I not your supplicant? Have I not sacrificed at your altars all my life?…Have I offended the gods?” he asked in despair before rage burned the despair away. “And if I have offended the gods,” he yelled, almost unable to hear his own words, “then why didn’t I fall? It is the curse of thieves and their right to fall to their deaths, not–not–” He folded his arms across his chest, tucking the crippled one under and curling over it, unable to go on.

“Who are you to speak of rights to the gods?” the voice asked, gentle still.

The room was dark around Eugenides, and the darkness pressed him until he couldn’t breathe, until he was aware of nothing but the pressure. He was nothing, the smallest particle of dust surrounded by a myriad of other particles of dust, and put all together, they were…nothing but dust. Alone, separated from the others, in the eye of the gods he may have been, but he remained, still, dust. He struggled to inhale and whispered, “Have I offended the gods?”

“No,” said the voice.

“Then why?” he sobbed, clutching his arm tighter, though the blisters under the cuff were individual pains as sharp as knives. “Why?”

…”Little Thief,” [the goddess] said, “what would you give to have your hand back?”

Eugenides almost lifted his head.

“Oh, no,” said the goddess. “It is beyond my power and that of the Great Goddess as well. What’s done is done, even with the gods. But if the hand could be restored, what would you give? Your eyesight?” The voice paused, and Eugenides remembered begging Galen, the physician, to let him die before he was blind. “Your freedom?” The goddess went on. “Your sanity? Think, Eugenides, before you question the gods. You have much  still to lose.”

Softly Eugenides asked, “Why did my gods betray me?”

“Have they?” asked the goddess as softly.

“To Attolia, to the Mede…” Eugenides stuttered.

“Would you have your hand back, Eugenides? And lose Attolia? And see Attolia lost to the Mede?”

Eugenides’s eyes were open. In front of his face the floor was littered with tiny bits of glass that glittered in the candlelight.

“You have your answer, Little Thief.” And she was gone.

~~~~~~~~~~

I love this passage! You have to read the whole series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings) to see how the tapestry of events plays out–the gods use Eugenides to save Eddis, Attolia, and even Sounis; Eugenides and Attolia end up with a happy marriage; and the whole chain of events is triggered by the cutting off of his hand.

Whenever I find myself starting to feel betrayed by God I come back to this. Did God want me to go through suffering and to be hurt by others’ (and my own) sin? No, He designed the world to be perfect, without pain and without sin (see Genesis 1-3). One day He will return it to that condition (Revelation 21:1-5). In the meantime, He has allowed difficult things for my good (Romans 8:28). What would I trade to have my health back? Would I give up writing? What about those people who have told me God used my book, Tales from a Spacious Place, to change their lives? Would I trade the good He’s worked in their lives? Would I trade the growth He’s worked in my life through my illness?

No. Those are things I’m not willing to give up, despite the anguish of being here. I have my answer: God hasn’t betrayed me; He’s brought me out into a spacious place.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. ~ Psa 18:16-19 NIV