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.


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!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Jane Austen Week Tag

We have a deep review coming on The Blue Castle and adulthood, but I'm taking my time as I write it. I want to think, pray, and make sure that I am expressing opinions with appropriate biblical thought. (Really, I want to blurt out all I think, but I also want to be cautious. It's a tricky topic and one easily misunderstood.)

So while I craft it, (you'll hopefully see it Tuesday, but if not, then by next Friday) I saw a really fun Jane Austen tag on Elisabeth Grace Foley's blog courtesy of Hamlette, and I thought I would join in!

1.  Which did you experience first, a Jane Austen book or a movie based on one?

Guys, it was Pride and Prejudice. The Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice (high five to my parents, everyone). On Sunday nights we would watch an episode of it while eating dinner (Sunday night has always been movie and popcorn night). It was back when we were young. We sat on the floor on giant beanbags and balanced our plates of popcorn using small children's chairs for tables.

I just had a nostalgic moment. 

Those cliffhangers were killers, though. Who hates the end of episode 4 with me?

2.  What is your favorite Austen book?


3.  Favorite heroine?  Why do you like her best?

Fanny. She's one of the best examples of someone who is moral granite--absolutely will not be moved against her conscience--and yet doesn't have a particle of insistence where her personal preferences are concerned. She will stand for principle, but not for inclination. 

4.  Favorite hero?  Why do you like him best?

I would probably be torn between Mr. Knightley and Henry Tilney. Mr. Knightley is a super kind, friendly, normal neighbor who I think would weather marriage well. I especially love his sarcastic quips in the newest Emma adaptation. Henry Tilney is funny, but also incredibly kind when he finds Catherine in a vulnerable position after her imagination runs away with her. He has a gentle touch dealing with embarrassment and shame that endeared me to him from the first read. 

5.  Do you have a favorite film adaptation of Austen's work?

That's so hard. I love the new Sense and Sensibility (though the dresses aren't always modest), and the newer Emma. I think I'd always pick a Dickens movie as my first choice, but Jane Austen is very nice to relax with.

6.  Have your Austen tastes changed over the years?  (Did you start out liking one story best, but now like another better?  Did you think she was boring at first, then changed your mind?  Etc.)

I've always enjoyed her, I think, though it's been years since I've read some of the novels. Now we like to watch the movies a lot, and I've kind of fallen to relying on them for my Jane Austen fix. I still have the same favorite books, though. (See Question 1.)

7.  Do you have any cool Austen-themed things (mugs, t-shirts, etc)?  (Feel free to share photos if you want.)

I don't. I have a bunch of beat-up old Austen books that I got at book sales (and a new copy of Mansfield Park). I own the 1980s Mansfield Park movie, which is excellent, sans language (great will the family's woe when we have to split up our movie collection), but I don't think I have any Austen paraphernalia beyond that. This is a sad thing that must be remedied.

Wait. Yes, I do! :) Some lovely friends made me a notebook with a Jane Austen theme. It contains all the plottings for War of Honor inside it. Delicious secrets....

8.  If you could ask Jane Austen one question, what would you ask her?

"What is your personal religious worldview, and how does it affect your writing?" 

I know we can deduce, but I would love to have it settled once and for all from her own lips. 

9.  Imagine someone is making a new film of any Jane Austen story you choose, and you get to cast the leads.  What story do you want filmed, and who would you choose to act in it?

Mansfield Park. It has never, NEVER been done properly with modern cinematography. It would be hard to beat the original Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell, but let me put on my thinking cap. Fanny needs to be kind, and able to pull off someone shy but morally strong. I think Claire Foy could pull her off. Holiday Grainger would make a very good Mary Crawford. I have no idea who could do Edmund Bertram.

10.  Share up to five favorite Jane Austen quotations!

Some that are quoted quite often at the appropriate sarcastic moment in our house: 

"What do we live for but to make sport for our neighbors, and to laugh at them in our turn?" ~Mr Bennet. 

"Your hands are cold." (2005 Pride and Prejudice. It makes me snicker.) 

"Deal the cards for me, Fanny." ~Lady Bertram, 1980s Mansfield Park 

I'll cheat and share a favorite movie scene, too. The scene with Mr. Knightley and Emma dancing is the perfect dance in the history of ever. It beats out Cinderella, and that's saying a lot. 

I can't think of five. -.- I'm sorry. 

Hope you have a happy weekend, folkies. Curl up with a book and relax for a while this evening. And join in the celebration over at Hamlette before the 18th to get in on the Jane Austen celebration! 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Perfect Novel for Valentine's Day

If you have a little extra time to celebrate tonight, (and a chocolate bar to keep you company) then of course you'll want a book to curl up with.

I have the perfect one for you. If you love Jane Austen, this one is for you.

I first heard of Old Friends and New Fancies whilst talking to my friend Carly on the phone. We talked about art and life, and books (of course), and she recommended a really sweet Jane Austen sequel. Of course, I was intrigued. It's also free on Project Gutenberg, which is just my price.

On Saturday I collapsed into a chair with said novel and pretty much didn't move unless forced until it was all done.

The Book 
The Darcys enjoy their idyllic establishment at Pemberly, until Georgiana Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam decide that their idea of domestic happiness is not wrapped up in one another. After their engagement is broken--greatly to the ire of Lady Catherine de Bourgh--they are left with the question, who in the wide world will make them happy?

Filled with plottings, friendships, dancing, and old scandals relived, Old Friends and New Fancies weaves together the lives of the Crawfords, the Wentworths, the Ferrars, the Knightleys, and the Darcys in a way that is at once plausible and deeply satisfying. While I've read other sequels that aren't nearly as good, this one, written in 1914, has all the vintage charm and reserve that made Jane Austen herself a favorite author of the last couple of hundred years.

My Thoughts 
Everything about this book is charming. From beginning to end, the character interactions intertwine with tight cause-and-effect plotting that leave nothing dragging or implausible. It's like a stack of dominoes that collapse one onto the other to bring about the character interactions and feelings.

Georgiana's character was my favorite. She's sweet, with a genuine growth of maturity and kindness under her shy exterior, and I think we see into her very lovable heart in a very lovable way. Jane and Lizzy with their respective establishments are perfectly satisfactory, and while Lizzy takes on some Emma-like qualities, at least she knows where to meddle. The other character I especially loved was Mary Crawford--who has some of the same imperfections and pride as we know in Mansfield Park, but which have been tempered by the Bertram scandal into something more refined, with hope for a better future. I am heartily glad to have made their acquaintance and followed them a little further down the road than Jane Austen took them. We also get cameos of Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Jennings (though not in the same scene). You'll love how the characters all intertwine.

Old Friends and New Fancies contains very brief language, comparable to the original Jane Austen novels. There were a couple of characters I didn't quite like the interpretation of, namely Thomas Bertram and Emma Knightley. Emma seems almost sharp and grudging at times towards Georgiana, and Thomas Bertram, in getting inveigled with Isabella Thorpe, can't recommend himself to anyone's good taste. Personally, I think Tom had a complete reformation at the end of Mansfield Park, and it does him a discredit to present him as a rather selfish, shallow, rich heir in this book. But they were small, needlesome elements in an otherwise perfectly lovely book.

Old Friends and New Fancies is a lovely way to binge-read on a Saturday, or even on a quiet Valentine's evening. I highly recommend downloading it to your Kindle and enjoying a further glimpse at the world of Jane Austen in a way that is sweetly satisfactory. It's free over on Project Gutenburg. 

Best enjoyed in company with chocolate cake and tea.

Friday, February 10, 2017

No More Faking Fine

Think for a moment about something painful that you've been carrying for a while.

Maybe it's something you had forgotten about until now. Or maybe it's an angst that has eaten at your soul 24/7 since it first reared its head.

Maybe it's a wrong someone did to you...something you grew up with...maybe it's a disability or a mental illness, a broken friendship, or a broken marriage. Maybe it's a sin you just can't let go of, or something you've tried to forgive fifty times, and fifty times the pain is still there. Maybe it's a dream your family never supported.

Maybe it's something you never acknowledged was a wound, because you thought someone else's wound was deeper or more legitimate.

Open up that wound, and come read this book with me.

Official Book Description
If you’ve ever been given empty clich├ęs during challenging times, you know how painful it can feel to be misunderstood by well-meaning people. Far too often, it seems the response we get to our hurt and disappointment is to suck it up, or pray it away.

But Scripture reveals a God who meets us where we are, not where we pretend to be.

No More Faking Fine is your invitation to get gut-level honest with God through the life-giving language of lament. Lament, a practice woven throughout Scripture, is a prayer that God never ignores, never silences, and never wastes. As author Esther Fleece says, “Lament is the unexpected pathway to true intimacy with God, and with those around us.”

Esther learned this the hard way, by believing she could shut down painful emotions that haunted her from a broken past she tried to forget on her fast track to success. But in silencing her pain, she robbed herself of the opportunity to be healed. Maybe you’ve done the same.

No More Faking Fine is your permission to lament—to give voice to the hurt, frustration, and disappointment you’ve kept inside and silenced for too long. Drawing from careful biblical study and hard-won insight, Esther reveals how to use God’s own language to draw closer to Him as He leads us through any darkness into His marvelous light.

My Thoughts 
I got this book one night when I was trying to work through a cocktail of hard things. One morning I read almost 1/3 of it, and the rest followed not too long after. It's the kind of book that you literally can't put down because it's a message of grief that just hasn't been offered in the same way before. And it is so needed for a bunch of dying, hurting, festering wounds that Christians are carrying around alone. 

Esther Fleece went through hard things in her childhood and was told to get over it. As a child, she determined that she would--and poured her soul into excelling at school and church. She was never vulnerable with anyone. After a while, she thought she had healed. Then God brought her to a grinding halt in the middle of a successful career, and she realized she hadn't healed at all. 

She had just coped with hard things and tried to move past them, lying to herself and others that she was doing fine. But God doesn't let us cope forever. He wants us to be a whole people (spiritually healthy), and we can only be whole when we face inner pain and go through the healing process. 

I cannot begin to express the grace contained in this book's pages--the absolute necessity of believers reading it. We must, must, must learn to pause in our pain--not to let busyness and life act as an anesthetic. God's people find wholeness by bringing their brokenness to him. I am finding more and more a holy discontent with coping, and a deeper desire to face, uncover things, and become healed. 

Part of being whole is lamenting your hard things. Even if that means leaving your job or your ministry and trusting God to provide so you have time to do that. 

Part of being whole is lamenting the pain you have undergone before you try to forgive someone. Or lamenting the pain you have caused in someone else's life. 

Part of being whole is lamenting the pain, and then going to God and lamenting again--as many times as you need to until the infection of pain is gone and a song of joy comes in its place. 

Part of being whole is lamenting in community, so that your lament doesn't consume you alone, and others can help carry the burden of the hurt you're undergoing. 

God will give you a new song. He will restore. But the strong emotions of anger and sadness and betrayal are not meant to be stuffed down somewhere in your soul and forgotten. They are designed to be brought to him, just like countless people did in the Psalms, so that you and he can grow closer together through every emotion you experience--not just the safe and pretty ones. Moses did that many times, and he was considered a meek man. 

Those are reminders I so desperately needed. I have some lamenting I need to do. I suspect a lot of us do--and I highly recommend getting this book to help with your own soul-healing. 

You can download a free study guide that offers some Scriptures and types of lament you might need to make. Just visit www.estherfleece.com to get your own copy. 

I received a copy of this book from Book Look Bloggers. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On the Mail Stack: February

A short post today. I'm tackling a stack of work things. And I was tackling them yesterday too.

Adult life.

schuyler, all ages have lots of work things to do. don't be a snob. 

But I wanted to leave you a little something to tide you over until Friday, when we're going to have an epic book discussion (I'm still deciding between a couple of books--they're going to be good.)

While we wait, I thought you might enjoy some missives I received recently from a couple of fictional characters.

From The Book of Lost Tales II, by Tolkien 

To her ladyship, from King Turgon

I noticed your presence on the towers of Gondolin last week, after weary years of delay. Unfortunately, your presence did not turn the tide of battle. Neither the fire drakes nor the balrogs were excessively dismayed by your presence, and I was sorely dismayed to find that you did not come bringing reinforcements with you.

Please bear in mind that if you had not left my fate on the TBR stack since 2014, Gondolin might not have fallen. An elf king can only hold Melko at bay so long.

I write this hasty line with the sound of cries outside my walls. I hope they echo in your conscience.

Turgon, lord of Gondolin

From Kilmeny of the Orchard, by L.M. Montgomery 

Dear Miss Schuyler,
Eric here. I'm flattered that you remained glued to the fate of my wooing while making dinner for your family Friday night. It was sheer luck that nothing burned. (The hash browns on Wednesday were a bit tough, though you weren't reading at the time.) Our love story was a literary feast before dinner, wasn't it? Even if you did have to stop one page away from The End because dinner was ready. I couldn't help laughing, but Kilmeny sympathized. I don't think you should make reading while cooking a common practice. Your family will probably thank you.

Eric Marshall

PS. You also burned the toast Friday morning because you were reading, but I won't cast it up to you. After all, it was only your toast and not anyone else's.

really, i think i deserve more respect from fictional characters  

Friday, February 3, 2017

How Writing Offers Healing

A pastor's daughter had everything she ought to need to be happy--a loving husband, sweet children, a stable home life. She had had painful sadness in her past. Everyone does. But for some reason she couldn't explain, she had spiraled down into a serious depression.

It went on and on and on. They couldn't find a way to cure it. Her husband got worn down trying to hold the family together. At last, he was contemplating using up his savings to send her away to a quiet place where she could find healing.

When she heard of his plan, that sounded like the worst possible ending to her struggle. Before that happened, she saw another doctor. He made one request: an experiment. He asked her to write him one letter every day and tell him how she was doing.

Gradually her letters got longer and longer. She felt guilty spending so much time and feeling so much joy writing a man who wasn't her husband. But she was getting better. What had happened to her? One day, the clouds lifted, and she had her answer.

She felt better because she was writing again.

When this pastor's daughter was younger, she loved writing. But somehow the writing got lost amid growing up, and depression had come in to take its place. For her, writing had a direct affect on her mental well-being.

Her name is Thyra Ferre Bjorn. Her heart-warming biographies, Papa's Wife, Papa's Daughter, and Mama's Way, are lost classics.

But her story makes me think.

The Necessity of Writing 
Thyra isn't the only person to come to that conclusion. I was browsing through the Internet wilderness one day, and while I don't remember the title of the author or the book, the story was extremely similar. The author went through a period where her health wasn't good. After trying to find out what was wrong with her, the thing that cured her was her long-abandoned, stifled love for writing. Writing mattered in maintaining her personal health.

Over the last two or three years, I've been through my own share of difficult events. (Just like everyone, really.) Some are small and some are large, but I am beginning to realize that for me, the same principle of writing and health applies.

I've never been one to journal. It drives me crazy to write about my day and my feelings in a cohesive paragraph form. But I have always been one to write stories. And in those stories, I explore everything from questions I have (sometimes I find answers) to processing pain and life. Processing is so very, very important for any human being. If you don't process, the things don't go away. They just wait, layering up like a stack of unsorted mail, until the day you're finally going to surrender and deal with them. If you wait to deal with them too long, they layer up until they choke and debilitate you.

Some people process through talking--art--service--music. Or writing.

As I looked over hard events last year, I realized that some of them were handled without meltdowns, and some of them were handled with a lot of tears and despair. I couldn't understand how some I had gone through without being debilitated, while others left me sidelined. God was with me in both places. Prayer or lack thereof was certainly a factor in it all. But one of the missing links in the hard times was when I stopped writing.

I was busy. I was trying to get certified in a writing curriculum. Writing would just have to go on the back burner for a while. Making that drastic of a cut to something I loved was a bad decision. After a month of not writing things I loved, I was burned out. Story writing was an "if time" activity, but I was keeping up pretty decently on blog posts. That burnout continued into the fall. I had lots of writing inspiration, but only enough energy to follow through in small ways. A plateful of social and work events turned the weeks into a whirl of activity. It wasn't that I never wrote. I worked on stories, planned stories, and went to writer's conferences. But I wasn't writing intentionally to keep myself in tune. Writing had turned from "important" to "optional" because I was overbooked and overbusy.

I had laid aside my means of processing life, and that started to show. I would sometimes mention that I didn't have time to write very much. People would tell me "It's OK, life happens." But what I needed in retrospect was for someone to look at me and say, "I know these things are important, and you are growing older and have different responsibilities. But you need to make time for writing too." Even though that might have helped, it's OK that neither they or I knew. This season had its purpose. Like Tyra and her husband, sometimes you just don't know what would help, and you have to walk through the pain to find out.

One Sunday afternoon, I turned on Scrivener. I had never written on Sundays up to that point. It was a day I strictly observed for rest, because I wrote so much during the week. (That's me, not a principle I think everyone has to observe.) But I was sad that day, and it was growing so overwhelming that I pulled out a story. It was a Schuyler story: filled with pain and quirk and worship and bonfires, and yummy descriptions of food. It felt like just what I needed.

I was processing again on paper.

It felt like getting a drink after a long time of being without water.

The Question 
It begs the question: does writing dull pain? Is it like a narcotic that makes you forget your troubles? That can be the case. Writing can encourage you to avoid facing real life by fixing your problems on paper, or it can be an idol of self-fulfillment. But I think there's two sides of the coin to that: There's a method of dulling pain that is sinful, but that doesn't mean all pain killer is sinful.

If you're trying to use writing as your only means to achieve mental health, then that's not healthy. There were ways of processing outside of writing that I needed to grow in. Over last fall, I started learning to talk to people, not just paper, about painful things. I even journaled a bit (it's sporadic, but once in a blue moon it happens.) I started memorizing a lot more and praying a lot more. Those are all part of the mental/spiritual health equation. Writing can be a crutch if you're not talking to God and not talking to people. I learned more balance in those areas. When writing is a coping mechanism that helps you avoid real life, that's the tare among the wheat that needs to be refined away.

But processing through writing can also be a good thing. Ann Voskamp, in an interview on YouTube, said that she has to write to understand her life and what God is teaching her. It clarifies the picture, invites others into her personal pain, and shares the journey of healing with them.

I like to think that's the good side of processing through writing. Stories are a means of tracing themes through my own life: Friendship. Pain. Broken relationships. Loss. Joy. Worship. When I am not tracing those themes through the lives of characters, my soul starves. The gift of being able to feel and express inner pain on paper is something that not only blesses me, but blesses those who read my stories as well.

Late last year I knew writing helped with pain, but I was afraid that it was an unspiritual means of doing it. Sometimes I would tell my sister that I didn't want writing to be a crutch. But I had a messed up balance. I was worried that as a Christian I shouldn't need writing to be a whole person. But God created me to be a whole person with writing. It's not a crutch--it's an important part of my life goals, my love, and my mental wiring.

Perhaps in some ways it requires humility to say "I don't understand all the reasons why I need to write. But I do understand that along with wise counselors, Scripture, prayer, and memorizing, writing is one of the requirements to my being a healthy person. And I need to listen to that need."

Perhaps, too, writing is a crutch. But perhaps I am, after all, a cripple, and that is God's instrument of grace to me. Or perhaps it's not a crutch at all. It's a calling, and when I am not fulfilling that calling, then my soul feels sick.

In Conclusion
For some of us who process by means of writing, it should never be completely cut out. If you know writing correlates with your well being, then cutting it out is like cutting out an important medication, or losing an hour of sleep every night, or forgetting a certain nutrient in your diet.

You're going to be left feeling sick and out of balance. And depressed. Health cannot be gained without intentionally knowing and providing for your needs. You are not infallible. You need to take care of your soul as well as your body. That includes using the writing ability God has given you to keep your mind, soul, and body in tune. Processing through writing can not only be a good thing for you, but a blessing to those who get an intimate look at your spiritual walk.

Make the time to avail yourself of an instrument of God's grace to you.

For the last few days, I haven't done any story writing. I've been--you guessed it--too busy. But I have dubbed today story day in celebration of a long week's work completed.

That's a part of my health equation that I want to make sure I pay attention to.
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