About Barbara Harper


Surprised by Joy

I’ve read a few biographies of C. S. Lewis and recently watched The Most Reluctant Convert, based on his journey from atheism to theism to Christianity. It occurred to me while watching the latter that I had never read Lewis’ testimony in his own words, Surprised by Joy. So I got the audiobook version of his book.

I thought that, since these other sources all quoted heavily from this book, I’d be familiar with most of it. Much was familiar, but there was a lot I didn’t know. There were also some incidents missing that I thought came from this book.

Lewis writes that this book is not an autobiography of his whole life til that point. He focuses mainly on everything that led to his conversion. That story encompasses much of his early life and what went into his becoming the personality and type of thinker he was. As he goes on, the focus narrows to just his spiritual movement.

One fact that I don’t remember reading before was that both Lewis and his brother had only one workable joint in their thumbs. Trying to make models of things or cut cardboard with scissors ended in frustration and tears. Games at school were the bane of his existence because he could never play them well. He could write and draw, though, and he liked solitude, which factors led to his creating stories about “dressed animals” in what he called “Animal Land.” His brother drew and wrote stories about India and trains and ships. Eventually they combined their imaginary worlds into what they called Boxen.

It was quite interesting to follow all that made Lewis into the man he became, from being unable to reason with his father, to (mostly negative) experiences at school, to his time with a private tutor (the “Great Knock”) who demanded that he be able to defend every opinion he expressed. Then the books he read and people he came across and conversations he had with them at various junctions all led step-by-step to his becoming a Christian. His journey was driven by philosophy more than emotion.

Surprised by Joy was written after the majority of Lewis’ other books were published. He said he wrote the book partly to answer questions he regularly received and partly to correct some misconceptions. Some of his detractors assumed he came from a Puritanical background, but Lewis assures them that the family he grew up in was not religious at all. Then when he came to make his own choice about religion, he turned against it though he did not tell his father. It was only many years and much reading later, after he began his career, that he came to believe. He likened it to a chess game where God knocked down his objections and false beliefs one by one by one.

The joy in Lewis’ title was what he described as a feeling of longing. It first came upon him when his brother brought in a toy garden he had made in the lid of a tin. It was something beautiful but ineffable, a small glimpse into something greater. “Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing” (p. 86, Kindle version). At times through his life, he sought to recreate that feeling. After he became a Christian, he realized that what he thought of as joy was not an end in itself, but a signpost to point him to God.

A few quotes from the book that stood out to me:

The greatest service we can do to education today is to teach fewer subjects. No one has time to do more than a very few things well before he is twenty, and when we force a boy to be a mediocrity in a dozen subjects we destroy his standards, perhaps for life” (p. 137).

[Of his tutor, Kirk] Here was talk that was really about something. Here was a man who thought not about you but about what you said. No doubt I snorted and bridled a little at some of my tossings; but, taking it all in all, I loved the treatment. After being knocked down sufficiently often I began to know a few guards and blows, and to put on intellectual muscle. In the end, unless I flatter myself, I became a not contemptible sparring partner (p. 167).

I knew very well by now that there was hardly any position in the world save that of a don in which I was fitted to earn a living, and that I was staking everything on a game in which few won and hundreds lost. As Kirk had said of me in a letter to my father (I did not, of course, see it till many years later), ‘You may make a writer or a scholar of him, but you’ll not make anything else. You may make up your mind to that.’ And I knew this myself; sometimes it terrified me (p. 224).

I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myths. They had not the mythical taste. (p. 288).

There’s a verse of “Just As I Am” by Charlotte Elliott that is not as well known as the rest of the hymn, but seems to sum up Lewis’ journey of faith:

Just as I am, Thy love unknownHas broken every barrier downNow to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

I’m grateful God pursued Lewis and “broke every barrier down,” both for Lewis’ sake and our own. What a gift Lewis has been to us, even so many years after he lived. But his example gives me hope that God will do the same for dear ones I pray for.

The Power of God’s Word

When I was in college, the “Iron Curtain” separated the extended Soviet Union from the rest of the world. One campus group I participated in prayed regularly for Christians who had been arrested for their faith in eastern European countries under the rule of communism. Georgi Vins was one of the prisoners we prayed for, and it was a thrill when he was released.

One occasional guest speaker in chapel was an evangelist who made clandestine trips into the Soviet Union to encourage the Christians there. He may have smuggled Bibles and Christian literature in—I don’t remember. It’s probably a good thing that I can’t remember his name.

Once he told of a particular couple in one underground church. The wife was a Christian. The husband was not, but went with his wife to church meetings even though he was deathly afraid of being arrested.

The church didn’t have enough Bibles for everyone. It would have been too conspicuous for people to have Bibles in their homes, anyway. So when the church met in the woods, the leaders would tear out pieces of a Bible and hand the scraps to the congregants.

This particular man got a piece of Scripture that read, in part, “The Lord said to Jeremiah . . . ” Frustrated, the man thought, “Jeremiah? Who is this Jeremiah? Who has even heard of him?”

After a while, though, the man was encouraged. “If God can speak to this Jeremiah, who no one has even heard of, then God sees me and can speak to me, too.” This was the first step that led to the man becoming a believer in the one true God.

Such is the power of the Word of God that He can use even an obscure phrase of it to draw someone to Himself.

God’s Word is so powerful, He made everything in the world, except people, just by speaking. Over and over in Genesis 1, God said, “Let there be. . . ,” and there was. “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus healed, stilled a storm, cast out demons, and raised the dead all by His words.

Jesus resisted Satan with Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11). Ephesians 6:16-17 says the Word of God is our spiritual sword. As Luther wrote in “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:

The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

Jesus is the Living Word. The Holy Spirit breathed out God’s Word through the people He used to give us the written Word in Scripture.

God’s Word is so powerful that people who sought to disprove it, like Lee Strobel and Viggo Olsen, were instead converted by it.

God’s Word is powerful to convict of sin. When Peter preached it, men were “cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” (Acts 2:37).

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:18).

God’s power, though His Word, enables us to live for Him. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

God’s Word is so powerful, we can lean the weight of our entire soul upon it. It’s not a magic wand: it doesn’t promise healing or prayers answered just the way we want. But it promises God’s wisdom and grace. When it says we can be saved by trusting Jesus, we can. When it says He will meet our needs, He will.

God’s Word is so powerful, we can use it even when people say they don’t believe it. We shouldn’t club them with it or be obnoxious about sharing it. But as we share with people what God said, He will use His Word to open their eyes and shine His light in their hearts.

Don’t be afraid to rely on and share God’s Word. He promises it “shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Laudable Linkage

Here’s my latest set of interesting reads discovered this week.

The Courage of Confession. “The gift of repentance only comes to the penitent heart, providing the courage of confession. Yet instead of coming to God in sorrow and humility, we come bearing an armload of excuses for our sin, finding true confession and subsequent forgiveness difficult.”

The Gospel of Self-Forgiveness, HT to Challies. “Can you point me to one example of someone forgiving themselves in the Bible? There is no category of self-forgiveness in the Bible. And that is a freeing truth! Your shame and guilt is not dependent upon your ability to forgive yourself.”

See Me, HT to Challies. “We all have a need–a craving–to be noticed. And in the noticing, praised. Esteemed. Wanted. Loved. But too often our parents disappoint us. And our friends become our competition.”

Squinting for the Glory of God, HT to Challies. “Your greatest weakness may be the kingdom’s greatest asset since it can become an occasion for God to flex his might.”

Your Past Does Not Have to Be Your Future, HT to Challies. “Are you on the sidelines because you messed up? Have you checked out because something went wrong? Do you believe you are damaged goods because of your failures?”

Encouragement for Fainting Disciplers. It’s hard when you work with someone to help them come to know the Lord and grow in Him, and then they suddenly seem to lose interest. This article offers some help for that scenario.

Friday’s Fave Five

Winter has come back for what I hope is its last hurrah before spring settles in. We’ve had freeze warnings, but thankfully no icy precipitation. Meanwhile, it’s time to pause once again with Susanne and friends at Living to Tell the Story to look back at the highlights of the last week.

1. A Saturday outing. During the early part of the pandemic, Jason, Mittu, and Timothy went to explore Fort Loudoun. The visitor’s center was closed, but people could walk around the grounds. They wanted to go back and visit last week and invited us along. We ate a picnic lunch of egg salad sandwiches Mittu made and some chips. There were several picnic tables where we had a nice view of the Little Tennessee River and the mountains in the distance.

The weather was just a bit too cold–I had brought both my hoodie and jacket, not sure which would be best. I ended up wearing both and was still cold. But we warmed up when we started walking around.

The fort was originally built by the British during the French and Indian War in 1756. It was reconstructed in the 1920s and later made into a historical site. The visitor’s center was open this time.

We missed a live reenactment by a week. But we didn’t want to make the hour drive again so soon, so we’re not planning to go back tomorrow. Though it might have been fun to see, I enjoyed having the place almost to ourselves during our visit.

Due to missing our turn into the park area, we went past it and discovered the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum. We went and explored that after visiting the fort. I’m sorry to say that at first I thought Sequoyah referred to a tribe. Jim said no, Sequoyah was the Cherokee who developed a system of writing for his tribe. He was right (I didn’t feel so bad when my brother-in-law had the same thought I did).

This was a small museum, but exceedingly well done. The murals on several walls and life-like figures in places as well as the video presentations were really good quality and informative. I enjoyed learning about Sequoyah. It was fascinating that he not only worked for years to develop his system, but then had to convince the rest in the tribe that reading and writing would be valuable. But once he did, his system took off.

Sequoyah Museum

All in all, it was a fun day.

2. A serendipitous coupon. I got an email from Audible giving me a $10 coupon. I looked at their sale section and found two books I’d been wanting to read, one at $4.99 and the other at $5.99. With tax and the coupon, I only paid a little over a dollar for two audiobooks.

3. Bay leaves. We seem to get an invasion of ants once or twice a year. When Timothy was little, I didn’t want to use insecticides in the house. So I looked for natural ways to repel ants, and one site suggested bay leaves. We keep a few spread around in our cabinets now, and don’t have any problems with ants in them any more. I have to replace them with fresh leaves about once a year. This week, though, the little nuisances have been on our kitchen counter. So I spread a few bay leaves there for a few days. (As a side note, it’s not good for kids or pets to chew on bay leaves. When Timothy was young, we placed them where he couldn’t reach them. Now, of course, he knows better than to put them in his mouth). I’m thankful not only for a safe method of discouraging ants, but also that the leaves are not as messy as some of the other natural methods I read about.

4. Chocolate drizzled popcorn. Jason and Mittu brought a couple of types over last week. One even had peanut butter along with the chocolate. The sweet and salty combination was just right, and the calorie content wasn’t very high. I didn’t find the same brand they had when I went to the store, but the brand I found was just as good.

5. Brazi Bites Brazilian Cheese Bread. I can’t remember which store I found these in, but they were gluten-free, so I thought we’d give them a try for those in the family that have gluten issues. The flavor I got was Garlic Asiago. We warmed them up last night, and they were so good. I will definitely be looking for them again.

Bonus: It’s been another light cooking week.Jim was out of town most of the week, and I got take-out one night and then just made easy stuff the other nights.

We missed Pi Day (where we eat pie on 3.14) partly because Jim was away and partly because I was working on a project. But Mittu offered to make a belated Pi Day dinner tonight, so we’re looking forward to that.

That was our week. How was yours?

Becoming Free Indeed by Jinger Duggar Vuolo

I didn’t watch any of the TV shows about the Duggars, an ultra-conservative Christian family with 19 Children (19 Kids and Counting, Counting On). But I’d heard about them. I knew people who were caught up in the same teachings they were, though perhaps not to the same extent. I didn’t realize, at first, that those teachings came from Bill Gothard. I had heard of him, too, and knew he was some kind of Bible teacher. But somehow I never heard him speak or read anything he wrote.

Jinger Duggar Vuolo is the sixth of the Duggar children, the fourth girl. It wasn’t until one of her sisters married a man who was a Christian who loved God but didn’t hold to all the things the Duggars did that Jinger began to question her own beliefs. She discovered some of what she had been taught was not in the Bible. To her credit, she didn’t “deconstruct” her faith and throw everything out, good and bad. She sought counsel and studied the Bible for herself. She tells about her journey in Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear.

There are areas that the Bible doesn’t speak to directly and that Christians can differ on and follow their consciences. But Gothard made those issues concrete right or wrong, which produced a kind of legalism. Those convictions also produced a lot of fear for Jinger.

So much of my fear and anxiety after I became a Christian was tied to my overactive conscience. I had created false standards of righteousness: standards that were impossible for me, or anyone, to measure up to. But where did those false standards come from? At the time, I thought my convictions came from the Bible. Now I know that wasn’t the case. Now I know that instead of coming from the perfect Word of God, they came from the mind of an imperfect man (p. 23-24).

According to Gothard, following his principles was the same as obeying God (p. 28).

But even worse was Gothard’s misinterpretation of the Bible.

I believed that God had a specific, individualized interpretation for me. Bill Gothard called these personal interpretations of Scripture rhemas—communication from God to one person and no one else. The IBLP website defines a rhema as “a verse or portion of Scripture that the Holy Spirit brings to our attention with application to a current situation or need for direction” (p. 111).

I assumed the same thing was supposed to happen to me when I read the Bible. I was hoping to discover a hidden meaning that would be revealed not through words but through thoughts I would have as I was reading those words.

Gothard’s rhemas weren’t limited to the Bible. He also saw God communicating His will through personal experiences (pp. 111-112).

When I was younger, I didn’t realize that when Gothard told stories, he was finding truth in analogies, not in the Word of God (p. 113).

Gothard was eventually accused of sexual harassment. Jinger writes that he surrounded himself in his offices with young blond women, many of whom did not have a father or grandfather. Even though girls working in an office “outside the home was forbidden among IBLP families” (p. 167), somehow Gothard followers just thought this a quirk. Only later did stories of his misconduct emerge.

I appreciate Jinger’s use of the word “disentangling.” That’s just what she had to do as she studied the Bible for herself: disentangle the false things she had been taught from what the Bible actually said.

Jinger is very gracious and doesn’t throw her parents under the bus. She credits her mom, in particular, with pointing her to grace. But Jinger does firmly expose Gothard’s false teachings and actions. She does so not only to share her story, but to be a help to anyone caught up in his teachings or the false teachings of anyone.

But this book is helpful even for those of us who weren’t Gothard followers. It helped me understand where some of my friends caught up in these teachings were coming from. And I could identify with a good deal of what Jinger wrote, even though my issues were not exactly the same as hers. I think as we grow in the Lord, we all have to disentangle some of the false ideas we’ve encountered from the truth of God’s Word.

It took a lot of courage for Jinger to speak out against the false teachings and actions she grew up with. I’m thankful God led her to a right understanding and that she shared what she learned for the benefit of others.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Grace When Others Fail Us

Grace when others fail us

As I puttered around the kitchen, the radio preacher shared a hypothetical story.

In the context of teaching women to love their husbands from Titus 2, the speaker told of a man whose main conversations with his wife at home centered on her telling him what needed to be done around the house. Then when the man went to his workplace, his pretty young secretary built up his ego by pointing out how well he did his job, how capable he was, etc. Since the husband felt starved for attention and affirmation, he was ripe for at least an emotional and perhaps even a physical affair with his secretary—and it was all his wife’s fault.

Now, a sermon illustration by its nature is sometimes oversimplified. But this one stirred a few thoughts.

First of all, should women be careful how they speak to their husbands? Of course. When Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves, our family members are our first neighbors. All the Bible says about speech being kind, gracious, and edifying needs to be applied at home before anywhere else. Sometimes we’re on our guard when we speak to others outside the home, but get careless within our own walls.

When the honeymoon is over and life gets busy, it’s easy to fall into utilitarian conversation and forget to talk just to enjoy each other. We need to remember to thank each other for the things that are done and not take each other for granted.

We need to treat our husbands respectfully (Ephesians 5:33). I cringe when I hear women talk to their husbands like children or give them a dressing down or ridicule or belittle them.

So yes, I agree, how we speak to our husbands is a big factor in how we show love to them. And building them up at home will help them be less susceptible to the flattery of others.

However . . .

A husband is not justified in seeking attention elsewhere if he feels he’s not getting enough at home.

When we stand before God some day to give an account of our lives, we’re not going to be able to point to anyone else and blame them for our sins.

God provides a way out of temptation. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

God’s grace is sufficient for whatever He requires of us. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

God has given us everything we need to live godly lives. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

The Bible warns us about flattery, particularly the dangers to men of a flattering woman.

“Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words” (Proverbs 2:16, NIV. Other translations say “smooth” words or “flattering” words).

With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.”

“And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:21-27).

For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” (Proverbs 5:3-4).

If one of my kids or grandkids or any other young person under my influence came to me with the situation in the sermon illustration and asked what to do, I’d advise two things.

First, at a relaxed time, talk to your spouse. Don’t accuse or act defensive, but just honestly state you’re feeling more like a handyman than a husband (or, if the situation is reversed, feeling more like a maid than a wife). Perhaps say, “I don’t know if you realize it, but all of our conversation lately is about stuff that needs to be done. I’d like to talk about more.”

Second, take the initiative. Talk to her as you want her to talk to you. Ask how her day was. Ask what she thinks about something in the news. Find out her “love language” and express it to her. Let her know you care about her beyond what she does for the home and family. In fact, this could possibly be the first or only step.

All of these principles—the fact that we’re responsible for our own reactions and can’t blame anyone else for our sin, that God provides a way out of temptation, that He gives grace to do right, that we need to guard against being led astray by flattery, that we can look for ways to rectify the problem rather than responding negatively—are true for men and women in multitudes of situations.

If we’re feeling unappreciated or uncared for, the first thing to do is go to God and ask Him what to do and how to respond. Even our dearest earthly loves will fail us sometimes. But He never will.

2 Corinthians 9:8 God's grace

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Laudable Linkage

Here’s a list of some of the good reads found online this week:

The Scariest Thing Jesus Ever Said, HT to Challies. “Both Jesus and James are putting a spotlight on our inclination to replace Jesus’ call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him. We replace his call with a self-serving path in which we deny our neighbors, take up our comforts, and follow our dreams. When we do this, we exchange true faith for a counterfeit.”

Don’t Be a Fig Leaf, HT to Challies. “The inadequate fig leaves of ‘don’t beat yourself up,’ ‘you did your best,’ or ‘It’s okay’ pale in comparison to the robe that Christ puts on us.”

Hurt, Injustice, and Dealing with Reality, HT to Challies. “As much as I don’t want to diminish the reality of bad experiences, I also think there is some balance needed in how we think about these things. None of what I am about to say is meant to undercut real experience of hurtful things. None of what I am about to say is intended to say that when people have hurt us it isn’t real. But, nevertheless, I did want to make some broad observations.

Bible Engagement for Those Who Struggle to Read, HT to Challies. “When I first became a Christian, I was told that reading the Bible was like food and prayer was like breathing. That was great advice, but there was a problem. I’m not a good reader. I have gotten better over the years, but I wouldn’t say I’m a great reader even now. So how do I and others like me get the Bible into our minds, hearts and spirits?”

Whining vs. Biblical Complaint in Caregiving, HT to Challies. Though the context is caregiving, the principles can apply to distinguish whining vs. Biblical lament in any situation.

The Grandmother Who Helped a Child See. I’ve read and heard hymn writer Fanny Crosby’s biography, but don’t remember anything about her grandmother’s influence. I’m glad someone shared about her.

Never Underestimate the Power of a Handwritten Note, HT to Challies. “We live in a day and time where life is lived digitally more than ever before. We communicate primarily through apps, texts, and emails. Businesses increasingly send advertisements, bills, and communications via email than snail mail. Even birthday cards are now sent virtually. This means, a handwritten note is a rare gift.” Christina includes some tips for what to write in notes.

Friday’s Fave Fives

Here we are at the second Friday of March already. I enjoy pausing the merry-go-round of life to share the blessings of the week with Susanne and friends at Living to Tell the Story.

1. My husband’s birthday.

2. Fun birthday accessories. This was a “milestone” birthday, and the cake topper says, “I’m not old, I’m classic.” 🙂

I was also excited to find these paper birthday plates:

3. Lunch with Jason, Mittu, and Timothy. Jim was out of town last Friday, and my son and his family invited me to lunch at a Mexican food restaurant. Good food and company. 🙂

4. Flowers from my middle son’s family. This was actually from last week, but I forgot to mention them. They are still looking good!

5. Girl Scout cookies. My husband brought some home one day. I like the Tagalongs–chocolate and peanut butter combination. They had a new one this year that had a chocolate base with a caramel and sea-salt topping. It would have been better if the chocolate cookie part was soft rather than so hard it scattered crumbs whenever you bit into it. They also had one gluten-free variety, Toffee-tastic, that he got for Mittu.

That’s it for my week. How was yours?

Wrestling with an Angel

Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability, and the Lessons of Grace

When Greg Lucas and his wife adopted a baby that had been abandoned to the hospital where his wife worked, they had no idea what was ahead of them. Their son, Jake, seemed normal, healthy, and happy at first. But after his first birthday, he began having seizures where he’d suddenly stop breathing. Various doctors and medications were tried. The seizures eventually stopped, but Jake was left with a series of issues: Sensory Integration Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and autism—just to name a few.

I had read a few of Greg’s blog posts at Wrestling with an Angel via links from Tim Challies. Then in 2010, Greg’s book was published as Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability and the Lessons of Grace. I’ve had the Kindle version for a while, but just recently the audio version was included free with my Audible subscription.

Greg tells of what he’s learned through helping Jake over eighteen years. Jake operated at the level of a two-year-old. Every bath time became a wresting match due to Jake’s severe sensory issues. As Jake got older and stronger, taking care of him became harder.

How do you care for someone who resists your love with violence, who opposes your very presence even when that presence is necessary for his good? How do you keep on loving when the person you are devoted to seems incapable of affection? The only way to make any sense of this kind of relationship is to experience it through the truly unconditional love of the Father (p. 23, Kindle version).

Over and over, Greg and his wife were brought to the total end of themselves in caring for Jake. But they found that a good place to be, because there they could only lean on God’s grace.

Greg writes with raw honesty but also with great sensitivity and beauty. He writes of the grace of an occasional easy day, a glimpse of his son as normal; how humiliation leads to humility, how they found ways to communicate when Jake had only five words in his vocabulary, how dangerous it is when someone can’t express himself, concerns over whether and how much Jake can understand about Jesus and salvation, Jake’s tendency towards injury, concerns about how to take care of Jake as he got older, agonizing over whether to send him to a specialized residential school away from home.

I think this would be an excellent book for someone with a mentally or developmentally disabled child or relative or friend. But I found it beneficial as well, even though I don’t know anyone with problems as severe as Jake’s. The lessons of faith and grace shine through as we realize the spiritual disabilities we all have and our Father’s abundant love in caring for us.

Dakota December and Dakota Destiny

Lauraine Snelling’s Dakota Plans series is made up of five novellas about Norwegian immigrants to North Dakota in the early 1900s. The first three, Dakota Dawn, Dakota Dream, and Dakota Dusk, were packaged together in an audiobook I reviewed here.

The last two, Dakota December and Dakota Destiny, were packaged together in a separate audiobook.

In Dakota December, Sheriff Caleb Stenesrude’s dog needed to go out during a Christmas Eve blizzard, but then stayed out yipping instead of coming back in. Caleb went out to see what was wrong and found a woman collapsed on a horse. He caught her as she fell and discovered a young child clinging to her. When he brought them into the house, he saw that the woman was with child. Her cries let him know she was in labor. He was in for a unique Christmas Eve.

Later, the woman, Johanna Carlson, is ensconced with her children in a widow’s home until she can recover and the weather settles down. She’s reluctant to tell these good people her troubles. But she needs to get away as soon as possible, before her angry and violent husband finds them.

In Dakota Destiny, Pastor Moen’s daughter, Mary, is grown up and in a teacher’s school, thanks to a wealthy benefactress. Mary is in love with Will, the blacksmith’s apprentice we met in the second book, who is also now grown up. But when World War I begins, Will feels he must enlist. Mary spends the summer taking care of a sick woman’s children while Will goes to training camp and then out to sea. When Mary goes back to school, she receives the devastating news that Will is missing and presumed dead.

She carries on with her school and finds her first job as a teacher. A year later, another man seeks her hand. But she can’t shake the feeling that Will is still alive.

The last book was much shorter and seemed a little underdeveloped. It was odd that characters in books 3 and 4 had the same last name, but didn’t seem to be related to each other. The narrator of all the books was really good, but used a different voice for the pastor in book 4 than in the rest of the books. And I disagreed with a statement in the last book that we are all God’s children (we’re not).

But otherwise, I enjoyed both these books. A few characters from the previous books were rarely mentioned again, but others played prominent parts. I’m going to miss this little community. I especially appreciated an older lady, Mrs. Norgard, and the ways she found to help and encourage people.