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

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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? 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Reading Time of Year {audiobooks + magazines}

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This Christmas season was definitely a bit of an anomaly. With a trip at the beginning of December, and one of us sick with pneumonia, we didn't get our tree up until late and we were by no means ready for the holiday ahead of time.

The anomaly continued into Christmas day. Instead of listening to Christmas music while we traveled to see family, we turned on The Afters and Andrew Peterson. Somehow, it just worked. While the songs themselves weren't Christmassy, the memories and the joy they inspired captured the essence of the day.

With that kind of odd rhythm, it's no surprise that the reading, too, continued some new things that I had begun opening up to earlier this fall. Throughout the years I've loved reading, there are two things I've never really warmed to: audiobooks or magazines. Magazines I have always wanted to love but never been able to get into. And prior to this year, listening to audiobooks on my own was decidedly not my cup of tea. Give me a radio drama, give me a music CD, but no thank you audiobook.

Several months ago, as I was in the library parking lot listening to a soundtrack for the millionth time, I had a sudden craving for something substantial. Rosaria Butterfield's The Gospel Comes With a House Key had been on my list for some time, and an audiobook through Hoopla offered a free way to access it. Once I heard Rosaria's comfortable narration style, I was hooked.

In December, I finished the last two hours. As I listened to her stories and thoughts on hospitality, it gave me a hunger to open my home to more fellowship as I head into more firmly settled adult years. To have a deep warmth and heart for community, for Christian witness through conversations around the dinner table, for reaching out to the churched and the unchurched and showing them the love of Jesus in a home and meal setting. It is a gift and a passion that matches some giftings that I want to grow in. There truly is no inspiration and vision-casting like this book, and if you want to check it out, the audiobook is a real treat.

As soon as I finished that one, I thought, why not start another? Audiobooks on drives and during chores were really a nice cup of tea after all. I checked out a Hoopla copy of Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. Boundaries has long eluded me, mostly because whenever I started, I spent time reading ahead instead of where I was supposed to. It was also challenging to start because a book like that automatically brings to the surface some hard emotions, and it's good to be wise about when you tackle those subjects.

christmastime, schuyler. perfect time. holly jolly and all that. 

It was a funny time of year to begin it, right in the middle of the holidays. But we had some cleaning to do for a couple of days, so while I washed dishes, deep-cleaned a freezer, wrapped gifts, or drove an errand, Boundaries kept me company. The audiobook is working out a lot better. I'm almost halfway through (since I can't read ahead) and while it has raised painful emotions, I've also found a practical way to apply the principles.

Even with all the audiobook listening, there was still time to savor books. One of them is under wraps for now. (Stay tuned for a fun upcoming review!) But the best soul-exhale of literature to pick up around Christmastime was definitely Issue 18 of the Bella Grace magazine.

I've tried to read magazines. World Magazine has come the closest to being something I actually read, though I read their articles online rather than their magazine. I've tried other magazines and struggled. I want to enjoy them, but I always pick a book instead and keep putting them off.  But Bella Grace may just have opened a new door

Bella Grace celebrates the beauty of life. Every two-page spread of a gorgeous picture, every quote, every photograph illustrating their articles, invites you to slow down, linger, and live more gently. We live in a harsh, loud, and fast world. Bella Grace ushers in reminders of the opposite values. This lengthy, almost book-sized women's magazine stands for beauty, peace, and grace. I loved reading articles before I went to bed this month--how to live well through the snowy winter season, giving meaningful holiday gifts, writing letters, and little ways to make chores fun. I don't do those sorts of things well. Bella Grace does. Each article encourages you to have eyes for beauty and to nurture your soul, your mind, and your heart.

And who doesn't need more of that?

Do you have a favorite magazine? What do you think of audiobooks? I'd love your thoughts! Tell me about your Christmas holiday season this year. <3

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

In Which My Lady Bibliophile Turns Seven

via pixabay

Today it's seven years since I hit that publish on My Lady Bibliophile's first post. I was working downstairs on an old desktop.

It ran Windows Vista as an operating system, guys.

life has changed 

I've been out of high school seven years, too.

i mean, on the scale of big events that has to count somewhere

Shortly after high school, I wrote a five-year plan. It's kind of funny to look back on. I have not taken the courses, written the books, or done the things I planned. But the plans that I didn't see were some of the sweetest. I didn't have friends that I was to meet written on that plan, or BSF, or traveling to Texas. I didn't have sis's Bible Bee, or teaching, or a house help job. Nor, on the flip side, did I have anxiety or relational struggles or continued church loneliness. In the grace of the journey, God's unknown richness has been much better than my bullet points.

It's been a good seven years.

Looking Back: 2018

This year, I wrote 60 posts, which is about 2/3 of the content I normally write. Part of that was due to a new job this fall that required first priority. Part of that was due to sickness. But in spite of those circumstances, I feel like this year more than any other I found the kind of posts I love to write. Over the past seven years, I've written a mix of book reviews and articles. But my favorite posts this year started to be the ones where I could incorporate a chronicling of life happenings along with the books. Little details like trips or describing a visit where I got a book loan. They felt more nostalgic; more journalistic; a celebration of life along with the reading. Straight book reviews weren't getting as many page views. And while it isn't all about page views, it is about wise investment. I realized that the articles I loved to write were also loved in return--so why not shift to them instead? The books aren't going away, but I have found a new way to incorporate them with a rich, joyful description of the life happening around them.

This year was also the multi-week comment debacle where a glitch prevented me from receiving comment emails and I didn't think any were coming in. When a friend asked me and I checked on blogger, I realized there were thirty comments waiting. I cried. You were listening and loving even though I didn't know it.

On a reading note, one thing that worked this year which wasn't even really a big thing was to keep a small paper on my desk with a few books I wanted to read in 2018. It came to 21 books, and every once in a while I would dig the list out of a pile of papers and review. Because of that, I tackled things like a biography of Lord Melbourne, a biography of Queen Victoria, one of Nabeel Qureshi's books, and the Chronicles of Narnia. I didn't get to everything on the list, but it was fun to have some intentional goals to try to hit.

they made me feel so educated 

Looking Ahead: 2019

The beautiful thing about January is the fresh horizons stretching ahead. Anything is possible. Anything could happen. Everything seems interesting, and the ideas to grow and improve oneself are myriad. My brain is running like a freight train just trying to soak it all in and plan it all out. I'm talking people's ears off.

run while you can

Like last year, I'm starting a wee list of key books I'd like to tackle. So far it's tiny, but the books include Karen Swallow Prior's On Reading Well and reading a history book about the Romanovs. There are also a whole slew of authors I'd love to pre-order, which is the coolest thing ever, because there are so many living authors that I didn't know when I started this blog. (Nadine Brandes, Stephanie Morrill, Amanda Barratt, and more!)

I'd also like to try something this year that is not my idea, but rather the brilliant manifestation of brain glitter from Annie Hawthorne over at The Curious Wren. She thought it would be fun to read a favorite book and annotate it with thoughts, what's happening around you, etc. It would make a wonderful gift or even just a fun memory to have on your shelf. I'm thinking I'd like to try for three annotated books this year, which is probably ambitious, but possible. I'd like to get a couple of books I deeply love with some decent margins and at least give it a try.

But best of all, like I was talking about earlier, I think I've found the kind of posts My Lady Bibliophile is meant to offer in a big, varied internet world. Alexis De Weese, speaking at a writer's conference, described social media platform for authors as setting a table and inviting people to come for a conversation. My Lady Bibliophile started off as a blog to teach, but now, I would like it to be a friend. An iron sharpening iron friend that combines deep thinking with articles that are personable and real. I love the little, wonderful things in life just as intensely as I love books, and I want to share that love in each bookish article written here. The articles published over the last few weeks and even months contained this heartfelt celebration of life and literature, and I hope they've been mentally tasty.

Going into 2019, there are chairs for you at this table. There is good food and laughter here, there are deep conversations into the wee hours, and a literary delight in the beauty, knowledge, and soul-satisfaction that good books bring. There is a chance not only to read but also to pay attention to the life seasons happening around us while we turn the pages. I hope you feel warm and welcome here. I hope you feel well-fed and refreshed. Thank you for every time you pop in and share the table here. It is a gift I sometimes take for granted to be able to talk about books with you all. But I hope this year that as I share with you, you also feel a warm invitation to share with me what you are reading and what is happening in your life, whether it's on topic with the post or not. Please, always feel free. That is the sharing of books, a creative "fellowship of bohemians" as Allen Arnold calls it in his wonderful book, The Story of With. And that is the kind of community I would love to share with you all in 2019.

There are so many plans going into a new year. Tonight, as I sat on the floor of my office nook trying to find some space to ask God what he wanted me to say, Mary's heart from Luke 1 came to mind. "I am your handmaiden. Let it be to me as you have said." And though her words referred to the Messiah and meant something much greater and deeper than a book blog, they were my words tonight too. We are heading into a new year, and God alone knows what is in it. We'll see together what of all this comes to pass. But I hope along the way to hold his hand and delight his heart in the writing here.
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