Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Struggle of Art

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

He turned the stars into swirls of beauty on canvas, yet his own life was a personal hell of mental illness.

The seeds for my budding obsession with Vincent Van Gogh started a year ago. While every kid does a rendition of "Starry Night" in art class, painting and artists weren't something that stuck with me in the years since. It actually started at a writer's conference, when a presenter, to illustrate his talk, showed the Doctor Who clip where the Doctor and Amy Pond take Van Gogh to the art gallery. Watching the moment where he gets to see the success he never saw in his lifetime touched something deep in my core. At the time, it gave me a deep desire to watch Doctor Who (which I have since indulged.) Since then, it has developed into something more.

Sometime later, a Facebook Memory popped up that I had forgotten about. It was an article about a movie releasing called Loving Vincent. The movie had been entirely hand-painted in the style of Van Gogh's paintings (phenomenal!) but I forgot about looking it up. Turning to my local library, I found it was actually available to check out on Hoopla. It follows a fictionalized story of the son of Vincent's postman trying to deliver a last letter to Theo Van Gogh, while investigating the mysterious details of Vincent's death. I came for the art, enjoyed the actors (Aidan Turner of Hobbit and Poldark fame is in it) and loved the way they turned this into a historical mystery about his life. As a side note, there's also an intriguing making-of documentary which I just discovered this morning and hope to watch asap.

After that, my interest in Van Gogh was firmly fixed. Perhaps it was just the interest of a human soul; perhaps it was the combination of his artistry, his mental illness, and the unfulfilled yearning of his life. Either way, I wanted to read a biography next, and I thought it would be best to start with children's books. Children's books are wonderful because they give you the basic facts to get a foundation under your feet before jumping off into the deeper details and themes. Our local library offered several contributions, which I enjoyed.
  • Vincent's Colors offered a simple presentation of some of his paintings with extremely brief lines describing the colors in his works. It was good to thumb through to get familiarized with his art. 
  • Vincent Van Gogh and the Colors of the Wind presents his biography along with a gentle, subtle portrayal of his mental illness. It is wistful, and I loved picking out the portrayal of his and his brother's personality differences through the picture on the first page. While his death is alluded to, the word suicide isn't mentioned. 
  • Vincent Van Gogh, by Patricia Geis, was by far my favorite. This interactive book has pop-ups, things to lift and open, and helpful information about the style of painting he was influenced by. It felt like a tactile discovery of his life. I loved this book so much that I hope to order the other artists in the series to keep learning about more of them. 
My latest installment in an obsession with Vincent came when a Facebook friend posted a link to a documentary about him starring Benedict Cumberbatch (OK, the actor was a definite draw, because normally documentaries are not my cup of tea.)  I couldn't believe (but it's true!) that the producer, Andrew Hutton, had posted the entire documentary on Vimeo to watch gratis. Vincent Van Gogh: Painted With Words, is an 80 minute production in which the actors give word for word renditions of letters and conversations from Vincent's life. (Side note for Victoria fans: Frankitelli makes an appearance acting out the lines of the only man to give Van Gogh a review in his lifetime.) This documentary is wonderful. It explores his episodes of mental illness, his ill-advised moments of compassion, and the solace that his art brought him, as well as his frustrated relationships with family and friends. It tugged at my heart to watch him struggle with mental illness without much real, fruitful help as he tore from one relationship and place to another. But I also found it fascinating to see his journey as an artist as he imitated and then abandoned different favorite artists in his own work (including Japanese art.)

The next thing I'm hoping to tackle is a full length biography. This will be a step up (Van Gogh: The Life appears to be an exhaustive look at his journey.) The audiobook clocked out at 44 hours, so I chuckled and put the print copy on order. Whether I'll finish it or not, we'll see. But I'm looking forward to learning more.

Even though this journey has nothing to do with WW1, historical fiction, writing, or an art form I hope to practice, I still love exploring it. Not all art has to feed directly into one's work (according to the excellent advice of Austin Kleon) and this journey has expanded my mind with new knowledge, new beauty, and a new landscape of a human soul. I am the richer for it.

What have you always wanted to explore? Who's someone you'd love to read a biography about? I'd love to know!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Swing By the Shore {agatha christie and austin kleon}

Sometimes, it takes until you're twenty-four to learn how magical a swing is.

There's a beach, and a Sunday afternoon, and waves that have crept up on the shoreline year after year. A swingset perches on the sand just yards from the water. I've never sat there; never thought about it. Most Sunday outings I make a beeline straight towards a swing in the shade and stick my nose in a book. But today--

Today a dark-haired friend slips up on a swing, and in the spontaneity of the moment, I follow her. There will be time enough for Egypt and murder and Agatha Christie in an afternoon traffic slump. For now, we swing back and forth, back and forth, and slowly the rhythm returns. I pump my feet to gain height. Gradually, I realize she leans back on the downswing to gain even more height--an old memory from the past that went to the memory dump long ago. I try it, my gauzy skirt fluttering pink in the wind and the sun. My pointed toes reach out--out towards the blue water and a boat on the horizon. A weight presses down on my heart. This is a beauty I never knew about before, the magic of swings by the shoreline. It is the weight of a heart crying without tears because in this moment there is an unquenchable draught of satisfied Sehnsucht, and moments like that should stretch on for an eternity.

We wind our way home, intent on a downtown photo shoot, and as we sit in traffic, Poirot and I continue our reacquaintance in Death on the Nile. I picked it because of the upcoming movie, after being enchanted by Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie and I have a current feud, one I still nurse good-humoredly, about trying to see whether I can beat her prowess or whether she will hoodwink me. When I read on the jacket flap that this is one of her favorite mysteries, I'm even more determined to win. Christie's mysteries are perfect for a mind eager to sharpen itself with a new hobby, following the twists and turns of an investigation, but also relaxing enough to give the mind some rest in the middle of summer vacation. The characters emerge from the shadows. A rich American heiress; an adoring husband; a sullen young woman; a conniving lawyer; a mother and her son. Slowly the shadows fall away and I see the missing puzzle piece. Though I don't get it all this time, I'm proud of myself for catching some parts of the solution, and I want to try again.

A book for leisure provides an undercurrent of challenge and indulgence to the week, but a book for artistry provides something else--soul food. "You should read Austin Kleon," my mom tells me, as I agonize over homework about author branding and how to stay true to my heart while learning useful industry trends. So I pick up her new library book, Keep Going, in the middle of an enforced week of making my mind not obsess over questions. Instead, I read Kleon's thoughts about creativity and mind nurture. They're simple, interspersed with art and poetry, pages of profound mentorship tucked in a tiny square of a book.

While the questions about writing direction buzz in the back of my mind, I go to another coffee shop to drink a life-changingly yummy blend of pomegranate kiwi boba tea and plot another story. It's a spur-of-the-moment challenge. "We should all give each other a prompt," we say, and scuttle off to Pinterest to find something slightly weird and wonderful to inspire each other with. My picture has a man and a woman on the beach with a crack running through them. The story plan that comes out, scribbled on the back of an old letter, doesn't fit in a schedule, a genre, or a line-up. It's a fantasy about a Greek Orthodox female scientist who loves stargazing and pipes and purple hair. I don't know when it will be begun or if it will be finished, but the joy of blending disparate elements into a living, breathing character are water to my soul. She is mine, and I love her.

It is a week of story binging, both individually and together, as our friend introduces us to Marvel. (We clear seven movies while she's here.) Sometimes there is nothing quite so healing as prayer time and a story binge when my heart is tired and frail. In between stories, we experience the joy of cityscape photo shoots in leather and softer photoshoots with pink and sand. Of window shopping, that ends up with respective prizes of jewelry-making supplies, sushi and macarons, and big, pink peonies. Of nights talking about Enneagram personalities and a Bible study of how to walk through hard life emotions.

These are the smallest graces that weave together into largest grace. They are straight from a kindly Father who has led us into desert and promised land this year in equal measure. This week, as in every week, he feeds my mind with truth and my soul with beauty and my heart with gladness. This week he touches everywhere my eyes see with joy.

Perhaps I have underestimated too long the magic of a swing by the shore.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

You are the Hearth Fire {a birthday tribute}

A birthday tribute to Ben from War of Loyalties, a WW1 spy novel available on Amazon

Image by Jörg Peter from Pixabay

Hey, man.

We're a few days late celebrating all 127 courageous years of you, but I suppose a day doesn't matter when we've been friends as long as we have. It was you and I and a beat-up orange folder writing on a childhood bed we got rid of years ago. And it was all a joke once when someone asked what I kept in there--a boyfriend? I suppose in a funny, platonic way it kind of was, but you and I aren't each other's type, and I gave you a much better girl.

I don't remember when you first came, but it was somewhere between twelve and fourteen, so at the very least you and I have known each other for ten years. It's ten years' worth of quiet perseverance. I hope we're friends until I'm ninety-nine and you're old enough to need a calculator that I don't have the time for.

You measured up through each bloody, gritty draft that polished away the funny edges of our childhood. And we got tired trying to figure out this spying business sometimes, but it was a good, bone tired that showed up and tried again the next day and never looked back. And we're still showing up until the last spy is captured. We're going to see this thing through together.

You were quiet, and never much wanted to talk about yourself--more awkward than brave. But you never walked out. You never get annoyed with the people who matter most to you. You're a safe person in a wide world. And everyone fighting spies with you knows they could knock on your door in the dead of night and always find a refuge. Even though you're not real, I would fight anyone to say your love is real. We know.

It made me glad when there was pie in the fridge on your birthday, waiting. I didn't even remember. But grace showed up around the corner like it always does. Your actual birthday was one of those stretches where life punches you in the teeth and then kicks you again in the stomach and you only remember celebrating when you're too tired to do it. But I've seen you kicked in the teeth multiple times, and someone funny and wise once told us that brave will run itself until we get back on our feet again. And you and I, we have all these good people helping us sort life out. We know what that funny, wise person said is absolutely true.

Here's what I admire most about you: You chose kindness and courage when you got the metaphorical slap in the face. There's nothing you hate more than taking up a reproach against a friend. And you've proven over and over in this draft that you'll swear to your own hurt and won't change. I think your 127-year-old self can look back on your 26-year-old self and know that in spite of the earth giving way under your feet, you will not be moved.

I know you want nothing more than home and peace in your world. It isn't time for peace yet, or that little house with the dog you always wanted, but maybe someday there will be a Shire in Great Britain.

You're the anchor that keeps all these spies in order, and you're the hearth fire that wild hearts come home to. And I don't know, but I think I was the luckiest girl in the world to end up with a friend like you.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Feast of Summer

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

It is midnight, and I cannot sleep. The grades for the school year are all nicely turned in, the work for the week is done, and my mind, free of normal responsibilities, runs at a wild pace. So I stumble downstairs to where the bookshelves are.

Bookshelves. Quiet, simple, sometimes perhaps a little stuffy standing there in prim, orderly rows. But just underneath the surface, they are the Tardis of the real world, crammed with joy and fear and imagination. Much bigger on the inside.

Like any sane person at midnight (cough, cough) I scan the shelves and allow myself the delicious experience of pulling off anything that grabs my eye. The school year is over. It is midnight, and I cannot sleep. Why not do it? Voskamp slips to a stack on the floor. A devotional on trust joins her. A book about story writing merrily befriends this baby TBR. And last but not least, a thick, black-clad volume of the complete Richard Hannay novels dwarfs them all. They are set during WW1, spy novels, and perfect for research, I tell myself.

Creating a new book stack is delicious. I have rarely been able to make it all the way through lists. Some idealistic stacks (looking at you, Winter TBR) never really get off to a healthy start. But perhaps it is not always the finishing of them that really matters. In the first breath of creation, there is only the fresh, wild intoxication of a blank slate, a suspended moment of time, and a mental thirst that demands quenching.

Slipping from book to book in the midnight hour is akin to eating a stolen feast. This is a rich spread of history; of intrigue; of spiritual counsel and practical how-to. And here, here is why the beginning is as important as the ending. Because after a season of steady faithfulness and pouring out (essential pillars of the adult life) one must snatch--force--bend--time to make room for a season of dreaming. This is not the time for application. It is time for rest. For renewal. For feeding those "little gray cells" that have been exercised so intensely in writing final papers or finishing a deadline at work, or ending a busy season of shipping orders, or publishing a book. One cannot always be planting and watering and harvesting. One must sometimes sit down to the table with a full plate and a groan-worthy array of good flavors, and a deep sense of joy. So it is with the brain. One cannot always be honing and polishing ideas, learning new concepts. One must sometimes read for the discovery, for the exhilaration, for the freedom.

The beauty of the summer is the joy of the feast.

It does not always look like piles of nonfiction by midnight. Sometimes this feast turns into gobbling down an Agatha Christie in bed on a Saturday (scandalously late morning, I might add) rejoicing in the redemption of picking up an author that anxiety and mental illness shut out years ago. (It's a long story, which I'm happy to talk about via message.) I might add that I guessed the murderer correctly.

i was going to throw a tantrum if i didn't. 

Sometimes the feast means looking at another book when you've started six new titles and thinking, This--this too looks good. I need to read this. It doesn't always have to be in bed, either. This afternoon I gulped down the introduction to Sarah Clarkson's Book Girl, full of courageous, full-blooded ideas of womanhood and scholarship that fertilize dreams already shooting up buds and leaves in my soul. That feast was enjoyed standing on an exercise mat, sweating during surreptitious breaks from leg lifts.

They may all accompany this Book Girl all the way to the last page. Or they may not. It does not even matter. The point that matters is that they are the feast for the moment, and whether that feast is pages or chapters or the entire book, it will give my mind, weary in the pursuit of good endeavors, the rest and fresh heart it needs. After a season of output, the nutrients are depleted and the brain is starved. Sarah Clarkson touches on it in Book Girl, stating when you're stuck, go back to the books you love most (pg. 25). Another student mom I talked to said the same thing about physical health. Your body knows what it needs. And last Friday, between the hour of midnight and one, I found this to be true. My eyes and hands sought out the pages] my soul most craved.

So here's to the feast of summer. May it be gentle and glorious.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

of cake and jane austen and joy {currently}

Hi friends! I've missed you so much. Shall we have a cup of tea and chat for a bit? I'd love to hear what's been up with you for the last few weeks!

Image by Надежда Дягилева from Pixabay

Persuasion. I've been meaning to read it and host a read-along for years. I don't know if I'm knowledgeable enough yet to host a read-along. But I have been enjoying it immensely. The small observations about human nature. Realizing I don't think any of the movie adaptations quite match Captain Wentworth's sense of youthful joyousness (even though Amanda Root makes a wonderful Anne.) I think there's a sense of young, vigorous manhood about him coupled with a slight inexperience in regards to relationship navigation that isn't captured by Ciaran Hinds' crip authority or Penry-Jones' introverted reserve (though I love P-J, too.) I kind of want to see another version of it now.

Image by peachknee from Pixabay

In the mornings, I fill a mug with cereal and milk and bring it downstairs to my office/den. There, in the middle of ungraded papers, I wrap myself up in a fleece snowman blanket and wake up to face another day--sometimes with a Bible and The Valley of Vision. Sometimes with quiet. Sometimes--to my shame--with my phone.

I've finished catching up on random BSF lessons I missed throughout the year. Proverbs. David. The life of Solomon. One of the things that stood out to me from 1 Kings chapter ten and the questions we are asked is that in the midst of the list of Solomon's building and exploring, worship is also mentioned. Projects must be wound in and through worship. As I face school books to read for next year and dreams further in the future, worship cannot be lost. It must be the refrain, winding in and out. The accompanying plumb line of faithfulness. The companionship with a heavenly Father that, without which, all this learning and dreaming would be meaningless.

Image by peter_pyw from Pixabay

So much goodness. If you sign up for the McConkey Press newsletter, there will be a missive chock-full of historical fiction goodness coming in movie recommendations, as well as updates on research for the Folkestone Files. So sign up (see the top of this page on the right-hand side) and get even more fun chat there!

But the day I finished teaching for the year, we made stuffed crust pizzas and checked out a DVD of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.

It made me feel alive. It was pure and good and beautiful. It was a story of adventure, of taking risks. The little scenes at the beginning of the movie set up for big plot moments at the end in satisfying mirror moments. Watching Clara made me feel as if I was watching a conglomeration of my creative writing students, who I deeply love, as she struggled for her place and who she was. And in a way, it makes me feel as if it is me, too. At twenty-four, I am looking for what my place in this season, and I love how Clara found hers. It was full of creativity and chivalry (the mouse!) Of friendship and yearning. Of love (the mother!) and of purple color schemes, which is my very favorite color.

Image by Amna Sayeed from Pixabay

My dad's birthday. We tuck cinnamon rolls into pans and layer cream cheese frosting over spice cake and give surprises that fill us with joy. It is a milestone birthday, and it is a day of rest, just being together and taking a breather from everyday work in a glorious long weekend.


The realization of things that I enjoy. Figuring out how to scrub a dirty cement floor. Folding peanut butter frosting over a double-layer chocolate cake. Turning up Disney song covers and baking brownies and cookies. Which kind of delights my soul as it reminds me off odd hobbies I love. They are beautiful in themselves for the sheer joy of creation.

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

if you fall // It reminds me that in the midst of tough love, tough love is still worth it.

fall on me // Could any lyrics sound more magical? This is on repeat as I type, filling my heart with beauty so deep it hurts.

speechless // I don't know what to think about this yet, but it provided adrenaline for paper grading, which was a kind of grace.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

The most amazing peanut butter trail mix that a student gave me as an end of year gift. It's gone now. It had pretzels and peanut-butter m&ms, and rice squares coated in a peanut butter coating. It was incredible. Another student gave me a package of Apple Jacks, and there is nothing sweeter than a package of Apple Jacks from a student. I enjoyed them immensely.

schuyler, this whole post is delightfully full of cake and peanut butter. why thank you, darling. i thought so too. 

waiting for

Painful things. A sense of freedom. A sense of security. A sense of enough. A sense of restoration.

This pain controlled by the hands of a very compassionate Father is teaching me good things.

Image by Anastasia Kuleshova from Pixabay

dreaming about

All the books I want to read this summer: biographies about Vincent Van Gogh and Mary, Queen of Scots, and L.M. Montgomery. Books about stargazing and enneagrams and chess strategies.

All the ways to grow as an author, thanks to a fabulous course by Katie Phillips. (Do check it out!) I'm studying authors in my genre, who I am writing to, and how to set clear goals for a business.

Writing a magazine article about hygge. Taking a road trip later this year. Seeing For King and Country in concert, Lord-willing.

Image by freestocks-photos from Pixabay

grateful for

Passing a test. Free nights to sit under twinkle lights and write and text and watch the last episode of Les Miserables again. Sunshine in the mornings. Counseling that digs into hurt. Summery white skirts. Chances to give final words of encouragement to students. A bouquet of purple flowers. Chick-fil-a sauce twice in one month. Hard conversations with a very patient God. Cozy nights visiting with family and eating burgers and potato salad. Octonauts on a sleepy Saturday morning. Naps under a fluffy gray and pink comforter. Encouraging messages from a blog follower. A comment from a stranger who enjoyed War of Loyalties. So much goodness here.

Will you tell me what's happening in your life right now? I'd love to know! Feel free to grab one of these prompts (or more!) and answer them in the comments! 

(prompts taken from here and here)

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

War of Honor // sneak peek II

War of Honor is coming, slow and sure. Camp NaNoWriMo added another 25k words. 

Here are some of them. 

The girl got up, still holding the object in her hand. It dangled down, a string of beads that flashed in the light of the moon, with a heavy cross underneath it. She paused at the foot of the steps, and he could hear clearly enough to make out her words now. “Je vous salue, Marie, pleine de grâces.
Hail Mary, full of grace.
She grasped the cross firmly and pulled something else from around her neck. Ben pressed further back, ignoring the ache in his heels.
It was time to reach for the gun now. 

“What is the end of it all?”
Jaeryn. Charlotte. Matthew. Terry. An earnest, dark-haired girl in France.

There was no happiness in this for all of them.


When he came the next night, Terry sat on the edge of his mattress smoking and looking in a dreaming sort of way across the room. Jaeryn followed his gaze to a polished wooden baby cradle standing alone in a shaft of sunlight. He choked. “What is that?”
“It’s for babies to sleep in, doc. You’ve seen ‘em before.” Terry grinned and blew smoke.
“But why do you—please don’t tell me you promised to look after a baby for someone.” 


He picked up the chair and smashed it through the beautiful stained glass in a rain of tinkling ruin. The blue and yellow shards fell like a shower and Gina ducked, throwing her arm over her face. Jaeryn smashed it again and dropped the chair, then picked her up by the waist and raised her to the sill. “Get out and run. Don’t let them see you.”


Far away in the grass, a boy tumbled with his golden puppy, shrieking with laughter. Ben’s face softened as he watched him. If he had a son with curly hair like that, and he could come home after work to family and a puppy and unadulterated joy—
It would be wonderful. 

He dropped the crusts into the crumpled brown paper parcel and pulled something else from his pocket—something worn and smooth and wooden, beads that had been between his fingers since he stood in church on tiny legs, looking up at the gray-haired, imposing hero beside him.
Sé do bheatha, a Mhuire, atá lán de ghrásta,” he breathed, “tá an Tiarna leat.


Closer to the house, a gray cat sat on the porch as the cab pulled to a stop, crouched into fighting stance with Percy. Percy crouched low, his fur melting over his paws and shoulders like blue-black ebony. Jaeryn ran up past them both, causing them to break their glare and hiss at him.


He took her out to the cabby. “I may need you to kidnap someone. Or break in somewhere.”
Gina shot him a sideways glance. “When have you ever known me to have a compunction about kidnapping?”
Jaeryn smiled in spite of himself. “Never.”

Ernest picked up the basket and threw back the lid. Inside was a wooden box, two thin books, a dirt-stained hand trowel, and a Browning handgun. He picked up the Browning. The chamber was empty. His eyes met Nathan’s, and Nathan glanced again at the precious bundle of exhaustion lying on the bed. Wordlessly, Ernest picked up her hand and kissed it. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” he whispered. “You are worthy to be saluted.”

All words copyright 2018 by Schuyler McConkey, McConkey Press. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Of Books and Breaking Points

via Pixabay
Our pastor holds a stick during the introduction of his sermon and places it against his knee. "Apply the right amount of pressure," he says, "and there's a breaking point." (Watch here.)

This season has been a season of pressure and breaking points. In early January on the way to work, I banged into the back of another car. It left pocketbooks lighter, a sense of innocence lost, and our family without a second van.  (The poor dear was too old to sustain injuries.) That day my employer kindly picked me up and took me home.

One month later, I was in another accident on a busy evening. While no one was physically injured either time, that has been harder to recover from.

I spent the day before the second accident with a book; looking over one dear to my childhood and thinking about using it in a 4-6th grade class. The Black Stallion held an iconic, endearing friendship that I've never forgotten and a sense of wild independence that the Jaeryn deep down in me relates to. That evening I can't remember what I did, except I was sitting under twinkle lights with my computer, crying. The stiffness in my arms went away in a day or two. Sitting in the back seat traumatized when drivers have to brake or turn has not.

When Elijah headed into the wilderness, exhausted and emotionally depleted, our pastor pointed out from 1 Kings 19 that the Lord fed him and he slept. These physical needs were what he needed in the moment to heal his spirit.

The next days after the accident I slept more than I had in a while, trying to find a sense of balance in the tailspin. I had already started a collection of Spider-Man comics the Sunday of the time change, and I read them on my phone in between sleeping, too numb to grade homework. Spider-Man comics don't have much to them, though I was surprised by the emotional depth of his battle with the Lizard. But in spite of that, they were a kind of grace as I swiped through them and found rest.

That week my favorite Christian book store hosted their Customer Appreciation sale. In some ways, it felt irresponsible to go after everything that had happened. In other ways, it felt like I could not take more loss and wanted to stem it somewhere. I had already saved some money, and bought a brand new copy of Stephanie Morrill's historical fiction, Within These Lines--a tale of America's Japanese internment camps during WW2. I started it the next morning, and it is beautiful. That was one of the books. Joanne Bischof's tender Sons of Blackbird Mountain was another. I binge-skimmed it the following morning when both parents were out and the house was quiet.

ain't never heard of binge-skimming, schuyler

They are both beautiful, and the kindness of my mother helped that and another book find their way into my basket as well.

The next day I take my first ride to the library to get a research book--one of the first simple drives I took as a young driver. Later again I go to the store. Both times are hard. It is almost impossible to comprehend how something you did for so long will ever feel feasible or comfortable again. But while that is still broken, there are other moments of grace. A student who reads the bio on your book and promises to bring you a chai latte. A conversation with another student who expresses such a hunger for writing well. Time to pray before the school day starts that never would have happened before the crash. Warm tea and writing in the car on the dark, early mornings of teaching days. Reassuring texts and emails from friends saying hurt is understandable, and to take grace and time to heal.

Sometimes I listen to music and cry. (Scars by I AM THEY and Fear No More by The Afters both touch a tender spot.) Sometimes I cry a lot. It feels like a regression, and it hurts. But out of the brown grass of spring, green shoots of dreams are spreading strong roots, and other root wants that need to die are being tugged at by the Holy Spirit. And just as my paster taught us that God brought comfort to Elijah through nourishment, conversations, and his presence, so I have received comfort through my parents, my sister, extended family, and friends--and being able to talk to Him.

We all have breaking points, my pastor says. But as he speaks, he reminds us of God's tender care and comfort in the breaking points. We are finding this to be true.

On our drive home that Sunday, a man and a woman pick up sticks in their front yard. To me, it's a picture of grace.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Celebrating the Irish {+ Kristy Cambron giveaway ends tonight!}

Friday night I heated leftovers for dinner with the accompaniment of Irish music. Celtic Thunder is a love of mine. Their songs have kept me company through book climaxes, drives to work, and dishes, and are closely intertwined with the journey of War of Loyalties. It's the perfect weekend to pull their music out again. (Check out Phil the Fluter's Ball!)

Today we put potatoes and meat in the crockpot for Dublin Coddle, and last night as I caught up on late homework grading, my dad made Irish soda muffins. It's a good time of year to have a name like McConkey. Though, to be honest, that's good any time of year.

Music is good and food is good, but I have a treat to recommend along the bookish line if you're hoping to celebrate tonight! It's book 2 in Kristy Cambron's Lost Castles series, but don't let the #2 throw you off. It's my favorite, and you could probably pick it up without having read the other one.

(Head on over to Amazon for a little Irish fun?)

This December I spent a late night when I couldn't sleep escaping to the green hills of Ireland. Castle on the Rise entwines three plots from three time periods: a divorced antique dealer seeking for healing as she explores an Irish pub and castle; a young Irish gentlewoman taking photographs during the Easter Rebellion; and a 1700s Irish heiress risking safety to hide an Irish rebel on her estate.

Three plotlines is ambitious, but this story fully carries them through. Each story has empathetic characters (Eoin was a dashing hero), an immersive plot (feeling like I was in the streets during the 1916 Irish revolt) and heart-throbbing details of life, love, and suffering. This book held drama and beauty that deeply satisfied my bookish soul.

Castle on the Rise provides beauty and excitement and was a novel I really appreciated spending time with. I am so glad to have this Irish beauty on my shelf, and I definitely want to read it again. Starting it would be a fantastic way to treat yourself to some St. Patrick's Day fun--and there's even a giveaway you can enter by clicking the picture below! (But hurry! It ends tonight!)

I received Castle on the Rise as part of the Kristy Cambron launch team. All opinions are my own and honestly expressed. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Coming of Age {wives and daughters}

Photo Credit--Jill Wellington/Pixabay
We came to the final, poignant moments of Wives and Daughters Sunday night. The last episode struck me deeply. It's a story both peaceful and full of depth, with much fodder for discussion and thought. The relationships of husband and wife, mother and daughter, neighbor and neighbor, father and son, fill each moment. But this time as I watched the climax, I was struck by the themes of coming of age, both in individuals and in parent/child relationships.

Molly Gibson's coming of age is especially striking. She starts off in her idyllic girlhood world where she and her widower father have been all in all to each other. She can read her book and talk to the servants, eat bread and cheese by the fire, and remain happily ignorant of the love of one of her father's apprentices. Her life is sweet, but it is a child's life. And as the story pages turn, she gradually has to become a woman.

It starts like many journies to adulthood: she leaves home. It's a safe visit to someone in the community, like most little forays into independence begin. She picks her own dresses for the first time (not entirely correctly, in an endearing and relatable way). There she learns of the local squire's family's trials and is quick to judge Roger for coming home and telling of his brother's failure at college. It is a girlish judgment, made out of her own limited understanding. There her girlhood world is also rocked when her father engages himself to be married again. After that, Molly will change gradually, but she will never be the same.

Gradually she faces the first sandpaper of adulthood--learning to live with something that irks; something wrong in the form of her step-mother. She yearns to go back to the way things used to be. Hyacinth's silly selfishness and "proper" behavior grate against Molly's honest compassion. Molly speaks out against change as her mother starts regulating her visits and making over her room. But throughout the story, Molly keeps holds true to her beliefs even in the midst of trying relationships.

Molly is also faced with another step towards adulthood--learning that the world is bigger and more broken and complicated than she thought. As she becomes fast friends with Squire Hamley's family, the squire's wife dies, leaving Molly with the hard maturing that grief brings. A young woman already well on her way to compassionate adulthood, and shaped to handle things compassionately through her father's profession Molly digs into her reserves and love to minister to a family without a mother. At lose moorings, and at odds with each other, the squire's family recognize her integrity and lean on her for help in ways that were probably too heavy for her young shoulders. As Molly learns of the oldest son's secret marriage to a French Roman Catholic girl, she does not know what to do, but she keeps seeking to spread healing between them.

Molly's compassion betrays her when her step-sister, too, leans on her for help. Pretty Cynthia comes to town with a secret engagement of her own, and wanting to handle it without the knowledge of her mother or step-father, ropes Molly into secret meetings with a man determined to marry his unwilling fiance. Molly, compassionate and wanting to help, doesn't refuse something that she is uncomfortable with and agrees to meet him privately on Cynthia's behalf. In this Molly makes a common error that all maturing people face: knowing which secrets shouldn't be kept, and tackling something too big by themselves. Putting her own reputation at stake and enabling Cynthia's behavior, Molly ends up with some uncomfortable weeks of shame and gossip in the face of her inexperience. But like all coming of age, she heals from and survives the experience.

Molly's arc resonates with me because I feel as if I am coming to the end of one chapter of growth and beginning a new one. Like Molly, I have traveled from an ideal and simple world and had to deal with brokenness in my own heart and in those I love. Like Molly, I have been entrusted with brokenness from other people to steward and care for. And like Molly, I have sometimes fumbled  (and still do fumble) from inexperience. But I can also see where God's grace and wise people have grown me.

The coming of age in Wives and Daughters resonated this week especially. On Wednesday we discussed past trauma in Bible study. We are reading through a book called Twenty Things We Tell Our Twentysomething Selves by Peter and Kelli Worrall. Trauma, they say, is not just abuse or deep trauma, but those events big or little, which still linger with you later. As I listed some of these in my own life, some of them had been healed and worked through with the help of wise, compassionate, experienced counsel. And some of them I have still left to face. But I no longer feel like the terrified, helpless, inexperienced girl of seventeen who graduated from high school hiding from her hurts, with no idea where to start in handling family and friend relationships. I have not arrived, but as God has grown and stretched and imparted wisdom to this child than I had a few years ago, and will continue to grow and stretch and impart more wisdom in more years to come. I still have a great deal of growing and stretching and blindness and wisdom ahead of me. But like Molly, I also see in myself a girl who started at seventeen and is growing over time in her ability to handle challenges.

Wives and Daughters explores the coming of age of individuals, but it also discusses the fascinating coming of age of parent and child dynamics as well. Molly and her father trust each other so deeply that when her father discovers her secrets, he keeps trusting her through the aftereffects of them. Her neighbors the Hamleys weren't so fortunate. Squire Hamley finds after Osbourne's early death that his son never trusted him. "Two people to live together," he says, when he learns of Osbourne's secret marriage, "and one of us with such a secret." Later, still processing his son's secret life, he says in a chilling realization, "he was afraid of me."

One of the questions we discussed this week in Twenty Things was if we processed trauma with our parents. Squire Hamley realized he wasn't the safe person his son would come to with trouble. Molly, in spite of her inexperience, was. Part of coming of age in a relationship is becoming a place of trustworthiness for each other. But Osbourne, too, never grew past his ability to face conflict. He could never bring himself to start the conversation between his father's expectations and his own wishes. And part of coming of age in a relationship is also the ability to face and graciously handle difficult conversations with each other.

Molly has a different story. Though she and her father go through struggles, and both of them make judgment errors that damage each other's trust (Doctor Gibson with his second marriage, and Molly with her private errands to Mr. Preston), their years of trust and proven maturity in their relationship are able to weather these trials. They know and want what is best for each other, even when they both sacrifice to make that happen. Mr. Gibson trusts his daughter's judgment, allowing her to know private information about Osbourne's health and letting her help the Hamleys as they face various crises. Molly trusts her father's love by making room for a new stepmother and calling her Mama because he wished her to. They are close in heart, so much so that when it comes time to give his own daughter away, Doctor Gibson recognizes the man who would be good for her and gives his blessing, in direct contrast to the squire.

Osbourne falls and Molly rises, but it is Cynthia, Molly's step-sister, who goes through perhaps the greatest transformation when it comes to parent-child relationships. Cynthia has kept secret trauma of her own--the neglect of a mother that later contributed to a hunger for love and an unwise relationship with Robert Preston. That trauma has followed Cynthia all her life and affected her ability to treat young men well as well as shadowing her with a crippling amount of inner fear. But as she comes to live in the Gibson house, she recognizes and trusts Mr. Gibson. And though they too have their difficulties in understanding each other, contributing to some of those tough family evenings that every household faces, Cynthia reaches out to him as a father-figure, and through him and Molly, confesses her past with Robert Preston in her own coming of age moment.

Mr. Gibson's head-scratchingly unwise marriage leads to the transformation and healing of a young woman who might have ended up with a very different story, proving that even our errors can lead to much grace. We love Molly here (my dad especially), and this time more than any other watching her story, it wasn't just a relaxing and dramatic period drama, but a rich story of maturing, healing, and growth.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Moments of Hygge {sutcliff + doyle}

Image by MarPockStudios on Pixabay
Today was a hygge day.

Hygge is a Danish word basically meaning comfort and coziness. Ever since encountering the hygge mindset, I've been looking for ways to add moments of it into my life. Hygge is both a relaxation from the urgency of work and the intentional looking for things to do outside of scrolling my Facebook and Twitter.

In light of searching for life outside of work, I have dubbed Tuesday nights "Hygge Night." My first hygge night was spent in the company of Rosemary Sutcliff's Black Ships Before Troy. I was reading it for a class literature option and reluctantly decided on another selection. But the gorgeous hardback with its margins decorated in Alan Lee's wonderful, terrible depictions of war and heroes spread beauty all through the beginning of February. Black Ships Before Troy re-tells the Iliad, and if you like fantasy or mythology, you won't want to miss this one. From Thetis' deep love for her son Achilles to Achilles' terrible vengeance for his bosom friend Patroclus, it's gorgeous and heart-stirring. I haven't read mythology, but this introduction (especially the illustrations) had so much beauty to offer. I think we should discuss it more sometime.

Saturday mornings are fast following as hygge moments. Friday is my climax day of the week, and after it's over, I'm often tired out and encouraged to take it easy just a little bit. This Saturday morning was the best of hygge days. The sort of morning where you grab tasty leftovers from the fridge for breakfast and pad downstairs to your desk where devotions and prayer journal await. Early 2019 has given me a sense of steady rhythm which I didn't realize how much I was deeply craving. There is something beautiful about the regularity of work, rest, and devotions that has been good for heart and soul. Afterward, I trotted off with mama for a very disappointing book sale and a very wonderful time wandering through Trader Joe's.

It was a happy morning spent looking at fresh displays of tulips, shamrocks, and pussy willows. Listening to Tenth Avenue North and munching on aquamarine-themed gummy candy. Stopping by a friend's and chatting over Earl Gray tea with cream. Watching a furry kitty sit in a paper bag, finding its own moment of hygge. Admiring patches and dashes of sunshine and rainbow on a bright afternoon hardwood floor. Resting in the afternoon with Kate Breslin's For Such a Time.

It was also an inspiring day to pick out a new book to read. I'd just finished one of my favorite Conan Doyle mysteries: The Valley of Fear. (Why that was my favorite I don't know, except it's extra angsty and has an Irish hero.) But one friend started a book group and inspired me to pick up a Jules Verne, and another friend was enjoying The Brothers Karamazov so much that she motivated me to pick it up too. Last night before I went to bed, I read the first chapter of each. And today, if I don't start reading The Golden Goblet for school classes, I'll probably read more.

How have you been filling your life with hygge lately? What are you reading this winter? I'd love to chat with you! :) 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

What's Up With War of Honor? {snippets included}

via Pixabay
We flip on The Man Who Invented Christmas. It's a Friday night a couple of weeks after Christmas. We're already sleepy from a long work week, but I've been saving this treat as a reward for being diligent in homework grading and class prep.

Charles Dickens, too, is writing a novel. He has six weeks to finish it. He's paid for it on his own, putting him in a precarious financial position. And he can't write the last scene.

"I can't. The characters won't do what I want." On the verge of tears he finally admits to his friend, "And I'm afraid."

I understand you, man. I understand you.

Looking at you, War of Honor. Looking at you and the muddle-headed young visionary who thought you could be done and off to an editor five months ago. (She was a bit off in her timescale.) 

I have not had the kind of productivity I envisioned in my writing life in 2018.

One summer an author-girl set a goal, only to realize that a job would take more time than she had anticipated. One month she set a deadline, only to come down with the worst cold she had had in a long time. One evening early this year she sat down to write and grief thwacked her in the teeth, slamming her mind numb. 

McConkey Press, however, is still finding its way forward. We waded through sales tax forms. We sold sixteen copies of War of Loyalties (book 1) at a homeschool convention, and seven at an anniversary party. My dad sold another eight while I lay in bed sick watching movies. We ate celebratory first birthday pies half-asleep in a hotel room (I snuck a second one earlier that day on lunch break.) And, you know, it's still 99 cents on Amazon because I haven't taken it down yet. (But I will be very soon!)


Inside lay a uniform, carefully rolled up and put away. And between the heavy fabric, he found a framed photograph of a white-clad young woman with a strong brow and chin, looking up at Ernest himself. 

“So you’re the fräulein of sun and fire,” he muttered.


And War of Honor has also made progress. I have read research books, corresponded with a man who helped me find a good wireless transmitter for my book, and stopped to re-do a first act that didn't have enough spying in it. Part of it is due to "Tell Your Heart to Beat Again" by Danny Gokey, and part of it has "Soldier" vibes from Fleurie (now you'll know). I readjusted time goals, didn't meet them when life took some tailspins and readjusted (and didn't meet them) again. I finally put in another gun besides a Webley, and I still for the life of me have to check to see if Webley has one b or two. 

My mind is healing. Healing from November sickness, five trips in six months, and the learning curve of a new job. 


Warm tobacco smoke.

Fact collided with his brain like a burst of light. He snatched up the lantern and closed the thin shaft of flame, then shoved letters back into the leather pouch and frantically pushed them into a straight stack again. Reaching for Lucie’s hand, he gripped her small fingers and pulled her towards the door.

Out. Out now. Out now.


On Monday night, January 28, I pull out my book and feel the tension of frustration grip my mind. How to keep writing? How to keep writing, when I pull it out and have to skim through a chapter just to get in the groove? I rearrange where the chapters fall, and wonder if I've made a mess. 

That night after supper, I set my timer for fifteen minutes and write what comes to mind. A young spy pulls a box of love letters off a shelf in the house he's visiting. And those love letters turn into part of a missing chapter. 

That night, writing takes a turn. 

“Will you talk a minute?” She tugged him away from Wolf into the quiet, empty pantry, full of hanging dried spices. Nathan breathed in the sharp tang of basil and rosemary, and for a long while afterward, when he closed his eyes, he smelled it and thought of her bright, young face.


The last week of January, snow fell over Michigan with a vengeance. Bucketloads, hours of snow. Everything shut down. Bible study canceled. Work canceled. Our van sat at the end of the driveway, unused. I worked on getting ready for classes and organizing first semester grades. Then classes canceled.

I grabbed a pillow and sat under twinkle lights in our room and wrote and wrote and wrote. I shifted to the chair and made Assam tea very badly and wrote and wrote some more. I made Paris tea and soaked in the sunshine coming through the window and kept writing.

When you have a day off, there is no guarantee the writing bug will hit. That day, by the grace of God, it hit with a vengeance. And I caught a glimpse of how to move forward.

You wouldn’t have to tell them. You could save one precious, shining thing out of all of this wreckage to come.

He pressed his hands to his ears.

How could you betray something so good?

He yelled and picked up the candle, hurling it against the whitewashed wall opposite. It blew out, leaving him in the dark.


You could write, Schuyler. You could write every weekday morning from 9:00-9:30. In the midst of the brick wall and the questions, God opened a door to be faithful, and since then, he has provided the words to go with the time. There are no answers. No end dates. But in the comfort of forward movement, I find for now that I do not need them. I show up. He sends grace. I find fresh joy in words that come. Will you pray with me for this project? For words and courage, for peace in God's timing, and the knowledge and sources and patience to do it well? I would be so grateful for your prayers.

One year an author-girl felt stalled. And she may feel stalled again, and some dreams take a time-shift. But for now, her dream is moving forward again. And the journey of dreaming is always part of the gladness--even more, perhaps, than reaching the end.

What writing project are you working on? How is it going? 
I'd love to know!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Stories Which Remind Us of the Preciousness of Life

via Pixabay
Sunday night we turn on the latest season of Relative Race. Amid the banter between teams blue and green and the endearing naivety of team black, people carry private questions about life. They are eager enough for answers to bare their pain on television. "I was adopted." "I knew I was black and my sisters had blonde hair and blue eyes." When they talk, some of them cry. Their questions won't have easy answers. Underneath it all, some of them just want to know "Who gave life to me?"

Earlier in the past century, Gene Stratton-Porter writes of similar themes in Freckles. An Irish orphan contracts himself to guard a stretch of forest in Midwest America. He is young, Irish, and one-handed, but he is determined. And in his soul, similar questions about life have festered until infection has set in. His parents obviously didn't want him, just like no one has ever wanted him.
"Me, whose people brawled over me, cut off me hand, and throwed me away to freeze and to die! Me, who has no name just as much because I've no right to any, as because I don't know it. When I was little, I planned to find me father and mother when I grew up. Now I know me mother deserted me, and me father was maybe a thief and surely a liar." (Stratton-Porter, pg. 304) 
Freckles' story holds the themes of resurrection in his body and his heart. While both of them seem broken almost beyond repair, it is not just the answers that raise him from the grave of his own pain. It is the people who show him they value his life. The young woman who gives him a drink and walks down the street with her arm in his. The rich man who gives him a job and a name. The sweet couple who provide him with a warm home and loving advice. They love him so much that they help him to healing, just like the supporting spouses and children on Relative Race.

Gene Stratton-Porter wasn't the only one to write of these themes. Four years later, another volume appeared in the literary realm celebrating the remarkable adoption of a red-headed orphan girl. She is still just as beloved today. While Freckles only starts to find people in his adult life who love him, Anne of Green Gables explores a child finding a home. Montgomery doesn't spend much time on Anne's inner questions about her parents, only having Anne remark that she's glad her father is named Walter instead of Obadiah. Instead, Montgomery focuses on the present goodness of Anne's new family as she winds her way around the hearts of the people of Avonlea. It isn't until her college years that she receives a clearer picture of her parents. When she returns to the home she was born in and receives the letters her mother wrote, Anne reads for the first time of the adoration her mother has for her. She tells her friend, Philippa, "I've found my father and mother. Those letters have made them real to me. I'm not an orphan any longer" (Anne of the Island). Years later, she names a son and a daughter after the people who valued and loved her, however briefly.

Half a century before these women, an Englishman fiercely contended for the value of human life. Charles Dickens confronted the world with the plight of neglected children and prostitution in Oliver Twist; as he said, bringing the mud of London right into the homes of the ignorant rich. He wouldn't stop. Oliver Twist explores the dark perils of an orphan child as he eventually finds a home where he is loved and welcomed. But Dickens' adults, too, are affected by whether or not they were valued as children. Arthur Clennam from Dickens' 1855 novel, Little Dorrit, contends with a mother who brought him up with sternness instead of love. As his friend Amy Dorrit, herself born to the Marshalsea Prison, learns more about his past, we learn that as a baby he was valued, but the grasping meanness of a shriveled woman blighted his life with harshness. Dickens upholds the sanctity of life in the young and the old, the poor, the mentally troubled. His heart beat for these people he so longed to see bettered. He doesn't only show the devastation of devalued life, but also characters who brought light to the oppressed. In A Tale of Two Cities we see life's value upheld through sacrificial love. In Our Mutual Friend, we see a woman generously reach out to help a suffering family.

In church this week we remembered Sanctity of Life Sunday. Our speaker said that there are many ways we can devalue life ranging from abortion to hurtful words. All of these stories agree with that. So also, they show there are many ways we can value life. In war. In home. In youth. In age. Even in the lives of the creatures we care for. There are so many literary characters we can name who demonstrate this value. Bilbo, who adopted a young orphan hobbit, little knowing he would change the world (Fellowship of the Ring). Bagheera, who saved a young boy from the jaws of a tiger (Jungle Book, live-action). The Scarlet Pimpernel, who rescues French aristocrats from the guillotine (The Scarlet Pimpernel). The father on Call the Midwife who accepts a black baby so clearly not his own. Hong-Joo and Jae-Chan, who fight for rightful life in the courtroom (While You Were Sleeping).

It is fitting that we salute these stories. It is fitting that we imitate them. I am keenly aware this week that life is precious. I am also glad our precious Creator, Jesus, ensured that each life has value. Let us live that life to the full. Let us defend others' right to experience it. Let us grieve the loss of it. Let us celebrate those who stand up for it. Let us thank our God who gives it to us.

Who are your favorite characters who value life? 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Denethor, Steward of Gondor // Saul, King of Israel

via Pixabay
Halfway into January, we are starting back to Bible study with Saul's descent to destruction. It feels vivid this time. Like a movie or a gripping story. We have followed Saul through madness, war, and his daughter's celebrity marriage to his main enemy. His sin has led him so far from God that he can no longer hear him. As Philistine armies close in and defeat stares him in the face, his panic mounts. I am pricked by Saul's temptation in this moment. When you have a big problem and God feels silent, you start wanting a solution. Now.

And then you are faced with temptation to create your own.

The silence continues. Desperate to hear something, anything, Saul slips away to a medium and asks for Samuel. "I had to do it," Saul probably thought. "I had no other option but to sin."

And yet, Saul is making the same wrong choice he's made before. Earlier in 1st Samuel, he's backed up against the Philistines again. Desperate for Samuel, with no sign of him coming, Saul caves to the pressure and offers the burnt offering. Samuel shows up just after and takes the kingdom from him. The lie, "I have to create my own solutions. I can't trust God," followed Saul to the end and drained the life-blood from him. He never repented, never surrendered, never turned back from his rebellion against God.

Now, a second time after his deep sin of mistrust, Saul walks away uncomforted. He's a startling reminder of self-reliance gone dreadfully, dreadfully wrong. In a tragic conclusion, this pagan-hearted warrior king fights his last battle. After his armies are overrun and his own body is torn by his enemies, he falls on his sword and perishes.

In the pages of a well-loved story, another ruler has fought off the enemies in his land again and again. As the power of Moria spreads over Middle Earth, Gondor's steward Denethor rallies his people against them. Minas Tirith stands between naive people groups and hordes of evil. But Denethor sees signs of Sauron's power growing. Minas Tirith no longer looks as impregnable as it used to. He has his own Philistine horde to contend with. And when a hobbit and a wizard show up on his doorstep with news of impending battle, Denethor, like Saul, has already embraced destructive decisions.

Like Saul, he is willing to sacrifice the son in the face of a rash decision:
"But I will not yield the River and the Pelennor unfought--not if there is a captain here who still has the courage to do his lord's will." (Tolkien, pg. 825) 
And Saul said, “Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today. For as the Lord lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But there was not a man among all the people who answered him (1 Sam 14:38-39, ESV).
Like Saul, Denethor's consult with evil leads down to his destruction: 
Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.”
So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night (1 Sam 28:7-8a, ESV). 
 Then coming to the doorway [Denethor] drew aside the covering, and lo! he had between his hands a palantir. And as he held it up, it seemed to those that looked on that the globe began to glow with an inner flame, so that the lean face of the Lord was lit as with a red fire, and it seemed cut out of hard stone, sharp with black shadows, noble, proud, and terrible. (Tolkien, pg. 864) 
Like Saul, Denethor meets his end: 

His servant refuses to kill him:
Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly (1 Sam 31:4a, ESV).

Then Denethor spoke in a low voice...."Bring us wood quick to burn, and lay it all about us, and beneath; and pour oil upon it. And when I bid you thrust in a torch"
[...] At the door [Pippin] turned to one of the servants who had remained on guard there. "Your master is not himself," he said. "Go slow! Bring no fire to this place while Faramir lives! Do nothing until Gandalf comes!" (Tolkien, pg. 836).
And Denethor ultimately takes his own life:
Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together (1 Sam 31:4b-6, ESV)

Swiftly [Denethor] snatched a torch from the hand of one and sprang back into the house. Before Gandalf could hinder him he thrust the brand amid the fuel, and at once it crackled and roared into flame. (Tolkien, pg. 865)
But like Saul, Denethor has a son. And his son is gentle-hearted and faithful and glorious. Both sons spend their lives courageously helping their father fight their enemies. And both sons want nothing for themselves but to do the right thing.

Like Jonathan, Faramir disobeys orders in order to do good: 

And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul's son, delighted much in David. And Jonathan told David, “Saul my father seeks to kill you. Therefore be on your guard in the morning. Stay in a secret place and hide yourself (1 Sam 19:1-2).
"Here, alas! I must do you a discourtesy," said Faramir. "I hope you will pardon it to one who has so far made his orders give way to courtesy as not to slay you or to bind you." (Tolkien, pg. 680)
"As for you, Frodo, in so far as lies in me under higher authority, I declare you free in the realm of Gondor to the furthest of its ancient bounds." (Tolkien, pg. 697)
Jonathan frees a future king. Faramir frees a little hobbit, carrying the fate of Middle Earth on a chain around his neck. And while neither of them enjoys the pleasure of their fathers, their hearts are strong and true. They hold a great allegiance to their earthly kingdoms. But they also hold a higher allegiance to a greater good.

Sis and I were riding home from Bible study when I said "Jonathan's like Faramir." We both fangirled. This time studying through the last four chapters of 1st Samuel, I felt to my soul how real the people and the battles, the sin and the struggles, God's justice and his mercy were. Biblical history came alive. Saul's descent to destruction both warned and taught me, and I love the Middle Earth correlations.

1st Samuel inspires hope and grief. Jonathan and Faramir are beloved heroes who win our allegiance, and Denethor and Saul win both warning and pity from us. But as we say goodbye to three of them, there are still two figures left to be compared in this breathtaking, grand scale of warfare on earth and warfare in the soul. Because as Saul King of Israel and Denethor, Steward of Gondor, fall to their own sinful hearts, and Jonathan and Faramir fight bravely against their Philistine foes, greater men wait miles away for the coming future.

One will be King Aragorn, ruler of a golden age in Middle Earth. And one will be King David, ruler after God's own heart in Israel. Aragorn will be the heir of Isildur. And David will be the forebear of the coming Messiah: the ultimate King with healing in his hands. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Winter TBR

via Pixabay
For a winter reading post one ought to have a snowy, cozy sort of picture that invites you to stay inside for fictional adventures. What better comfort than snuggling under a warm comforter with a book?

Problem is, we're not too snowy around here this year.

I feel like my midwest badge of honor has been snatched from me. 

But this picture is so pretty and cozy, we'll pretend it's snowy anyway and dive right in. I love writing these TBR lists. Even though I don't get to them all, or sometimes get to them in a different season than I planned, I love being able to collect books I'm excited about or want to learn from and just create the ideal list.

The Midwife, by Jennifer Worth
I just finished season 3 of Call the Midwife (after which I will probably skip to season 7 because there's a main plotline in 4-6 I prefer not to see.) Season 3 made me cry. Like, really cry. Be warned. Stock tissues and chocolates. Do not watch after a long workday, unless you want a headache the following morning.

After watching and loving the varied characters--the joys and sorrows and graces and victories--I would love to read the original memoirs the show is based off of, written by Jennifer Worth. (Just fyi, I saw in reviews on Goodreads that chapter 2 has a scene that should probably be skipped.)

The Iliad
I've wanted to read this one ever since Aimee Meester talked about it. It just sounds rather fun and ancient poemy and battles and that sort of thing. Plus, it's a classic. Plus it's mythology, which I'd like to study more through a biblical worldview lens.

100 Days to Brave, by Annie F. Downs
My friend Kate told me about Annie's online gathering of people reading this book together and asked if I'd like to join. I did want to, and Kate was so kind to send my mom and I books so we could get in on the fun. :) Every day has an encouraging bite-size Scripture verse, devotional, and question about bravery that I am very much loving so far.

I'm behind. Which just means I'm brave. *cheeky grin* 

The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis's fiction brought wonder and delight to 2018. I know his thoughts on friendship, love, charity, and affection will bring me closer to God's heart in 2019. I enjoyed reading some of this at lunch one day and feeling scholarly. ;)

On Reading Well, by Karen Swallow Prior
I think my mother's going to beat me to this (which you are most welcome to, mama). It looks to be full of thoughtful, inspiring bookish goodness, and just the sort of thing which is intellectually stimulating. On how to read well, obviously.

Middlemarch, by George Elliot
Starting off 2019, and not feeling in the mood for the next LOTR book (don't throw tomatoes) I decided to go with what sounded good instead. Middlemarch is the essence of period drama comfort reading. Will Ladislaw is the dearest fellow, and I love Mary, and I'd like to shake Reverend Casaubon. This book though long is an entertaining read if you love Dickens or Jane Austen. All the characters make me love, mourn, cheer for, and dislike them in due turn, and it makes me so happy to curl up and read at the end of a workday.

Not in the Heart, by Chris Fabry
Chris Fabry is the most wonderful, terrible writer I have encountered in contemporary Christian fiction. (I mean that as a high compliment. You'll understand if you read him.) His characters are real and varied. His stories are never cookie cutter. His characters' search for God is real. His angst is level 10. Not in the Heart deals with a man whose son needs a heart transplant, and as soon as I read the description I knew I really needed to know the end.

How to Write a Mystery (by various)
I really want to finish Schuylock this year, but I am realizing I don't know how to plot a mystery. I'm hoping this book will help me so I can make my story as glorious and heart-stirring as the nebulous idea of it in my mind's eye.

Queen of Scots, by J.A. Guy
I quickly realized another book of Mary Queen of Scots I had gotten from the library was way over my head and I needed to know some basic facts about her life before I got into the nitty-gritty. This book looks to contain much more of the introductory knowledge I need.

The Lost Girl of Astor Street, by Stephanie Morrill
Stephanie Morrill's 1920s mystery is my jam. I've read it twice and picked it up to flip through favorite sections at other times. But I feel in the need of just a touch more fiction on my list, because I've been wading through some heavy nonfiction and decision-making lately, and sometimes my brain just needs a rest. (Also, I can't wait for her new book, Within These Lines, releasing in March.)

Is it snowy where you are right now? What books are challenging/delighting you this month? 
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