About Barbara Harper

https://barbarah.wordpress.com

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

You don’t have to be a fan of Downton Abbey to enjoy Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle. If you enjoy British manor houses and history, especially the Edwardian era, you’ll like the book whether you’ve seen the series or not. But if you are a Downton Abbey aficionado, you’ll probably enjoy some of the behind-the-scenes information about the setting for the series.

The fictional Downton Abbey is set in a real castle called Highclere, home to the current eighth Earl of Carnarvon and his wife, the author of this book, the Countess of Carnarvon.

An able historian, the Countess draws from diaries, letters, and other information to tell of one of her predecessors, Lady Almina, who married the fifth Earl of Carnavon in 1895.

Almina was the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, a wealthy banker. Though she had been presented at court, “she had not been invited to the highly exclusive, carefully policed social occasions that followed. Almina’s paternity was the subject of a great deal of rumour, and no amount of fine clothes or immaculate manners could gain her access to the salons of the grand ladies who quietly ruled Society. So Almina had not attended all the crucial balls of her debut season, occasions that were designed to allow a young lady to attract the attentions of an eligible gentleman” (p. 4). But somehow she drew the attention of George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert. Apparently her beauty and large dowry overcame the circumstances of her birth. But from all accounts, Almina and George were fortunate to have a genuine marriage where they truly loved each other.

One of Almina’s main functions was to plan and host dinners and gatherings, even for the Prince of Wales, her husband’s friend. She was a master of organization and a charming hostess.

Unlike many women, she traveled with her husband, a man of many and varying interests.

But life changed during WWI. Almina had found a knack for nursing during one of her husband’s illnesses. During the war, she converted part of the castle into a hospital. She wanted the soldiers to feel like guests at a country estate. She knew they needed respite for the mind and soul as well as the body. But she wasn’t just a distant financier: she donned a nurse’s uniform, made rounds with the doctor every morning, and helped in various ways, even bathing gangrenous feet.

After the war, when travel could resume again, Almina and George traveled to Egypt. George had been to Egypt many times, because of his love for travel and the area, but also for his heath. The damp winters of England were unhealthy for him, so he often spent winters in Egypt. He had financed several excavations over the years without finding much for his efforts. He was going to give up, but then his partner in the work, Howard Carter, wanted to go one more time. George agreed, and this time, to their amazement, they found the tomb of Tutankhamun (not a spoiler as this is mentioned early in the book).

Between these major events, the book tells various details about George and Almina’s family, upstairs vs. downstairs life, the progression of the war and its aftermath, details around the Earl’s discovery of King Tut’s tomb, and Almina’s long-term legacy.

Almina grasped early on “that she was only one part of a machine that would long survive her. Part of her initial task on arrival was to understand the history and community that she was becoming a part of” (p. 15). “Everyone at Highclere, whether they worked above or below stairs, on the farm or in the kitchen, had a role to fulfil, and Almina was no different,” (p. 11).

In shows and films about this era, we often see lords of the manor not doing much besides hosting lavish dinner parties and going hunting. But, in fact, they had a lot of responsibility. Before the war, the Earl had an idea where things were going, and took a large sum of money out of the bank. “Considering that he was morally responsible for the welfare of the entire household, as well as the tenants, he refused the offer [of selling some of his land to the government] and set about adding to his flocks and herds. He also bought one and a half tons of cheese and an immense amount of tea. . . Once he had deposited the gold in his bank in Newbury, he was in a position to provide 243 men women and children with all essentials for at least three months” (pp. 125-126).

The current countess adds in the epilogue that even now, “The challenge for Highclere is to ensure that the Castle and its estate businesses remain strong enough to preserve their rich heritage. It is the same need to balance business and conservation that confronted Almina” (p. 292). “It was the economic fallout of the Second World War, combined with new tax structures, that made it impossible to maintain the opulence of previous generations at Highclere Castle,” (p. 301). When Almina’s son became the sixth earl, he had a reduced staff. WWII took a further toll on the whole country in many ways. The current earl and countess live at the castle part of the time and in a cottage at other times. They offer the house for various gatherings and other purposes (like settings for films) not only as a means of upkeep, but to preserve the house’s legacy.

The countess says in the prologue this book “is not a history, although it is set against the exuberance of the Edwardian period, the sombre gravity of the Great War and the early years of recovery after the conflict. It is neither a biography nor a work of fiction, but places characters in historical settings, as identified from letters, diaries, visitor books and household accounts written at the time.”

It took me a little while to get into this book. The first part was largely informational. But by the time the book got to the war and the castle becoming a hospital, my attention was more engaged. Overall, I really enjoyed it.

I got the Kindle version of this book a while back during a sale, but got the audiobook recently during another sale. Wanda McCaddon is a wonderful narrator for the book: I had previously heard her narration of several other classics.

There is a sequel to this book which I don’t have yet but would like to read some day: Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey. Lady Catherine was Almina’s daughter-in-law, an American who was not an heiress and wasn’t raised in anything like the society she married into. Her husband inherited the estate at a fairly young age, so they were both thrust into big responsibilities sooner than expected. Then they had to manage during WWII and the subsequent changes to the country and their lives.

If you’re interested in the castle, the countess has an Instagram account for it here: https://www.instagram.com/highclere_castle/. She shares some of the hidden nooks and crannies as well as the gatherings they currently host and other interesting details.

This book could fit in the Celebrity category of the the Nonfiction Reader Challenge. George and Almina were celebrities in their day, Downton Abbey has brought a new celebrity to the castle, and the current The Earl and Countess are celebrities now.

Why Keep Reading the Bible?

Do you reread books?

Little Women is one I’ve read several times. As a child, I identified with Jo. Even though we’re different personalities, I could relate to getting into “scrapes” despite one’s best intentions, the angst of growing up and learning self-control, the desire to write. But in some ways, I felt more closely aligned with Beth, the shy, quiet sister.

In early married days, I could empathize with Meg, especially her kitchen disaster on the day her husband brought home unexpected company.

After I had children, I could see myself in Marmee.

I’ve read Mere Christianity three times, I think, and I still haven’t mined its depth. I get a little more from it each time. But I could probably benefit from rereading it once every few years.

I’ve read some of my favorite biographies three or four times: Isobel Kuhn, Amy Carmichael, Rosalind Goforth, Through Gates of Splendor, and others. Each time, I am inspired by people’s life stories.

I don’t think I’ve read any book more than five times, though.

Except the Bible.

Someone asked me recently why I keep reading the Bible. He suggested that since I have read it through several times over, I must be pretty familiar with it by now.

Some years ago, I posted 13 Reasons to Read the Bible. Since then, I’ve added to that list as I have found more reasons within God’s Word that encourage me to read it. In fact, I have about fourteen typed pages of reasons in a Word document. I am trying to wrestle them into one chapter for the book I am working on. But suffice it to say, the reasons I have for reading the Bible in the first place are also reasons to continue reading it. It provides light, joy, comfort, encouragement, encourages my faith, helps me fight sin, tells me more about God.

But for this post, rather than going into general reasons to read Scripture, I’m just going to list reasons to keep reading it once we’re fairly familiar with it.

There’s always more to learn. I’m sometimes surprised at things I seem to have overlooked in previous readings. For instance, Michele recently wrote about Paul’s admonition to “come together for the better.” How had I never noticed that phrase, “for the better” before?

I notice different things each time. As with Little Women or Mere Christianity, each time I read through the Bible, I build on previous readings and have weathered different life experiences to perceive things I didn’t before.

I need to keep eating. The Bible is often compared to food. Physically, if I didn’t eat, I might last for a while on the strength of what I have eaten in the past. But at some point I am going to weaken severely if I don’t take in new food. I need to keep partaking spiritually as well. Hebrews 5:12-15 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 talk about progressing from “milk” to “meat” spiritually as we mature.

I need to be reminded. God often told His people to remember what He had told them—and they all too often forgot. As the old song says, we’re “prone to wander.” Peter says in his writing “I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1).

God says to meditate on His Word day and night in Psalm 1, Joshua 1, and many other places. To meditate on it—to keep turning it over in my mind—I need to keep reading it because (see above) I forget.

Anticipation. When we reread a favorite book or rewatch a favorite movie, we look forward to our favorite parts all over again, even though we know what’s coming.

Relationships thrive on communication. We are often told that Christianity is not just a list of rules, but it’s a relationship with God. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). My husband and I have been married for 42 years. We know each other’s opinions on many things, and we know what the other will say in some circumstances. But we’re not bored with each other, and we haven’t run out of things to talk about. Similarly, I don’t get tired of hearing what my heavenly Father has to say.

Recalibration. My husband uses microscopes both in his work and as a hobby. Every now and then, his microscope has to be readjusted. It hasn’t gotten totally out of whack, but continued use, gravity, dust and other things affect its function. It has to be fine-tuned in order to work correctly. The same could be said for cars, pianos, guitars, and other things. As I wrestle with the flesh and am exposed to a range of ideas in the world, I need to fine-tune my thinking regularly and line it up with God’s.

The Bible meets my needs. The Bible says it gives enlightenment, joy, comfort, guidance, and so much more. I don’t know how many times I’ve been thinking or praying about something just before I open my Bible to read, and then I find the very thing I was thinking about in my scheduled reading for the day.

I need to be filled up in order to pour out. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If we compare the passage about being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly, we find many parallels. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to enable us to minister to others.

God’s Word enables me to do His will. “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). I remember marveling the first time I “discovered” this verse. All things that pertain to life and godliness–through the knowledge of Him–by His great and precious promises.

I still need to change. I haven’t “arrived.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 says we’re changed to be more like Christ as we behold Him. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” I still need to behold Him every day. Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). I still need to hear truth to be sanctified. I still need to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Reading the Bible is still necessary. In the famous Mary and Martha story, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion [sitting at Jesus’ feet to hear and learn from Him], which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42). “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'” (Matthew 4:4).

God wants me to continue in it. Paul told Timothy: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17). I still need all those things the Bible is profitable for.

I need God’s Word to flourish. Psalm 1 says the person who meditates on God’s Word day and night is like a tree planted right by the water, a continual source of nourishment and refreshment. That tree “yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (verse 3). I want to be like that.

I love God’s Word. “I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” Psalm 119:47-48).

I’ll admit, every day’s reading isn’t thrilling (I’m in Chronicles right now). But even though every “meal” in the Bible isn’t a Thanksgiving feast, it all nourishes me. Most days, God gives me something to take with me through the day.

If I do find myself feeling like I’m in a rut, reading from a different translation helps jolt me out of familiar wording. I had not used a study Bible until the last few years, and the notes and observations helped me glean more from a passage than I did on my own.

When I first started reading the Bible as a teenager, I felt it was my lifeline. I still do. I can’t imagine not reading it regularly any more, it has become so much a part of my life.

How about you? Do any of these reasons resonate with you? Do you have other reasons I didn’t mention?

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

Laudable Linkage

Though I’m a little behind on blog reading due to the online conference I’m attending, I still found lots of great stuff to share.

My Biggest Struggle with Daily Devotions, HT to Challies. “My biggest struggle with daily devotions is not carving out the 20 to 30 minutes needed to read the word and spend time with God. The most difficult part is slowing down my heart and mind enough to get anything from it.”

How Should We Apply Biblical Narratives, HT to Knowable Word. “A biblical narrative’s presence doesn’t necessarily imply approval of its contents. Description is not the same as recommendation. But in the absence of explicit commentary from the biblical author, how can we sort out what to apply from each story?”

From Rage to Repentance, HT to Challies. “Hamid* unexpectedly walked in just as the service was beginning. At once I felt anxious chills in the back of my head and neck, my body’s way of telling me that it feels threatened. The last time I had seen this man had been five years previous – and he had been screaming at me in the middle of the street . . .” Wonderful and encouraging story of God’s grace.

Why It’s Right for God to Seek and Demand Glory, HT to Challies. Way back in college, one of my Bible professors brought up the question of why it’s ok for God to seek to be glorified, but it would be selfish on anyone else’s part. Unfortunately, he didn’t answer the question, and it has troubled me from time to time over the years. I knew God deserved glory, and because He is inherently good, it’s not wrong for Him to seek it. But the thought that helped me most was that we’re changed by beholding His glory (2 Corinthians 3:18)–one reason He wants us to see His glory is so we might become more like Him. There’s a quote I can’t find right now, I think from John Piper, that says God doesn’t “need” glory, but we need to glorify Him. This post brings up another couple of reasons.

The Value of Knowing Both Sides, HT to Challies. “This skill—the skill of articulating both sides of an issue—is one that is in short supply in American culture. Most debates that we observe on television consist of two people trying to outshout and demonize each other. This is because it is much easier to dismiss opposing arguments than it is to understand them.”

When the Same Sin Comes ‘Round Again. This post brings out some good conclusions concerning Abraham’s repeated sin of lying about his relationship with his wife. But it’s also a good example of using observation and considering context when studying the Bible.

Entrusting My Treasure. “I wanted to require God to insulate my family from hurts in exchange for our sacrifice and service. This would not do.”

Be Careful About the Multiplying Attacks on Christian Nationalism. “There are those that are conflating conservative politics and Christianity, but the political left is conflating all conservatives into one category in order to dismiss them all.”

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s August! Many schools here have started or will next week. But to me, August still seems like summer. We seem to be in a pattern of high heat during the day and thunderstorms at night.I’m thankful we didn’t lose power one night during a torrential rain storm, though it blinked off for a few seconds several times. I wish I could send some of our rain to friends in TX.

We pause on Fridays with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story to think over the blessings of the week lest they slip by without notice or thanksgiving.

1. A government phone call went well. Odd how you have to go to an agency, then have a phone appointment, then they send you a form, instead of doing it all at once. But it all went well and didn’t take very long.

2. Hummingbirds. We got our feeder up late this year, and it usually takes them several days to find us. But right away we had a little family of them (at least I think it’s a family) visiting several times a day. I see two flying around together frequently. Another one looks like a youngster since he’s smaller than the others, and he’s not as skittish as they are. Most of the time, the adults are flapping their wings and darting in and out as they drink. But the little guy lands and sips and looks around and sips some more. It’s fun to watch them.

3. A virtual conference. The Kauffmans of Lighthouse Bible Studies and Refresh Bible Study Magazine are hosting an Enrich Conference Thursday-Saturday this week for both in-person and online attendees. Katy Kauffman is one of my favorite writers at The Write Conversation and Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference Blog, and I’ve taken one of her classes at the Carolina Christian Writer’s Conference. For all the negatives of the pandemic, one of the positives is being able to attend conferences online.

4. Feedly is working again. Feedly is the blog aggregator I use, and it was leaving out several blog posts over a few days. Then one day all the backlog came flooding in.

5. Our Ring camera. Jim was away one night when the Ring app alerted him that someone was at our door at 3 a.m. He called me and had me call 911 to have the police check around. As we looked at the Ring camera video, we saw a woman leaving something on our porch. When it became clear she wasn’t still around, while still on the phone with Jim, I opened the front door to find…a Door Dash delivery for someone named Elizabeth. Either Door Dash was given the wrong address or the driver didn’t find it. But while it was scary to wake up to news of someone on the porch in the wee hours, it was a relief to find out the situation was not threatening.

And I did turn my own Ring notifications back on!

Have a great weekend!

The London House

In Katherine Reay’s novel, The London House, Caroline Payne was working through an ordinary day until she received a phone call from an old college friend, Mat. He wanted to meet with her about her aunt, of all people. Caroline had been named for great aunt, the twin sister of her grandmother. But the older Caroline had died of polio when she was a child. What could Mat possibly want to know about her?

Mat was working on an article where he inadvertently uncovered information claiming that Caroline’s great aunt had been a Nazi collaborator who ran off with her German lover. As Caroline refutes Mat’s claim, Mat brings up evidence that looks genuine.

Caroline asks for time to research the issue on her own. She flies to London to the home of her late grandmother, now occupied by her mother. They find letters between the twins and diaries of Caroline’s grandmother, Margaret. As Caroline wades through them, she is taken back to the 40s and the twins’ coming of age in a life of privilege before war hit. But life-threatening illness and family tension separated them. Some of that tension remained to the current day in the distanced relationship Caroline has with her own parents. Will Caroline’s discoveries heal old wounds or make them worse?

I don’t know if this would be classified as a time-slip novel, but with some of the letters and diaries, we’re transported back to the setting and activities of the twins’ earlier days. In that sense, it’s also partly an epistolary novel. Katherine has a note at the end of the book sharing what elements were true or fictional.

I enjoyed the uncovering of clues in the older Caroline’s letters and the dynamics that brought healing to the younger Caroline’s family. Although WWII seems to be the setting of more novels than any other era, I do enjoy them even while I sometimes long for glimpses of other time frames.

It’s funny how certain themes seem to go around at the same time. For instance, I had never heard of the Monuments Men (who recovered art stolen by the Nazis) until the movie made about them a few years ago. But just this year I’ve read a book about them and seen them mentioned in others. Now there seems to be a theme of dressmakers involved in WWII, with The Paris Dressmaker by Kristy Cambron and this one and others. I hadn’t realized this book was going to involve haute couture and dressmaking until I got into it.

All of Katherine’s other books that I have read have been Christian fiction to some degree. I didn’t know that this one was not until I saw a review on Goodreads noting that this book was published under the new Harper Muse imprint and not Christian fiction. That’s not a problem in itself. Christian authors have many reasons for writing stories that aren’t blatantly Christian. Katherine does mention C. S. Lewis’s radio talks of the time which were later transformed into Mere Christianity.

But I was disturbed by a couple of elements in the book. One of the older Caroline’s letters describes her first sexual encounter. Thankfully, it stops before it gets too explicit. But the younger Caroline suspects her grandmother tore the rest of the description out of the letter because she was a “prude.” Then, the older Caroline was employed by Elsa Schiaparelli, a rival to Coco Chanel. She mentions the sexual innuendoes of some of the designer’s work, especially those in collaboration with Salvador Dali—and then proceeds to bring one beyond innuendo and spells out the sexual connotation of it. I could have done without that.

So, I have mixed emotions about the book. The story overall was good, but I was disappointed the sexual elements. Even though they probably would be considered tame by most other modern secular fiction, they were still too much for me.

I listened to the audiobook nicely read by Madeleine Maby, but then also caught the Kindle version on sale and read parts in it as well.

Something Good

The tagline for Vanessa Miller’s novel, Something Good, is “Three Women. Two Mistakes. One Surprising Friendship That Changes Everything.”

Alexis Marshall seemingly has it all: a good husband, family, home, and a generous source of income. She appreciates her husband’s rescuing her from an unstable home life. But it’s a strain living up to his standard of perfectionism.

Then the unthinkable happens. While fumbling to respond to a text while driving, Alexis loses control. The resulting accident leaves a young man paralyzed.

Alexis is consumed with guilt and wants to do something to help the young man. But her husband is about to make a lucrative deal selling the tech company he built. If it becomes public that Alexis caused an accident, the sale would be in jeopardy.

Marquita Lewis is a mouthy teenager who doesn’t understand why she can’t keep a job. She’s determined not to live in shelters as her mom did. She wants better for her baby son. When she loses her latest job, she decides maybe it’s time to confront the baby’s father.

Trish Robinson’s life was turned upside-down when her son, Jon-Jon, was paralyzed. He was in college on a football scholarship with a good chance of going pro. But that potential bright future is gone now. He is so depressed, he’s not even trying in his physical therapy sessions.

Trish’s husband, Dwayne, is enraged at the woman who caused the accident and feels she should be doing more. Trish thinks they should forgive and forget and move on. She’s doing all she can to help Jon-Jon, and now Dwayne is pressuring her to get a job. But how can she leave Jon-Jon alone when he can’t take care of himself?

Trish prays for something good to come from all their trials. But the answer comes in a surprising way.

It was enjoyable to read of friendships that crossed so many differences–race, economic status, personality. etc. It was difficult and took time, but the characters learned and grew through their interactions.

And it was especially refreshing to see a Christian fiction book that was all-out Christian. I know some stories call for subtlety, but some are so subtle that it’s not clear who the characters have faith in or what kind of faith they have. I’m thankful Vanessa created her characters to express their faith in natural and believable ways. Even though the faith element is clear, it’s not heavy-handed.

A couple of sub-plots deal with mental illness in a couple of the families.

My favorite quote from the book: “Sometimes our greatest tragedies become the greatest gifts we can give back to the world” (p. 298, Kindle version).

I had not heard of Vanessa Miller before seeing this book on a Kindle sale, but I am glad I did. I enjoyed this book quite a lot.

Where I End

Katherine Clark was visiting her son’s school, playing tag with some children on the playground. One boy climbed up on the jungle gym and jumped off onto Kate’s head. They both fell to the ground. The boy’s arm was fractured, but Kate’s neck was broken, and she was instantly paralyzed from the neck down.

Kate tells her story in Where I End: A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope. She writes, “Strictly speaking, this is not an autobiography, nor is it a piece of journalism about a particular event. Rather, it is a series of reflections—broadly but not strictly chronological—in the wake of an event that has shaped my story as well as the stories of those who love me” (p. 10).

I appreciate that she says her story does not have a fairly-tale ending and she’s not a fairy-tale heroine. “It’s a tale penned in grief and sorrow. But is also a story abounding in hope, beauty, and the miraculous. It is at times humiliating” (p. 13).

Kate intersperses the details of what happened to her on that fateful day and the aftermath of surgery and physical therapy with reflections of the effects of her injury on her children, the inevitable “why” question, coming to terms with the label “quadriplegic,” wrestling with God’s will and His mysteries, and so on.

Her doctors had said she would never walk again. But as her healing surpassed what was expected, she felt almost guilty that she was progressing while so many others she had met in the hospital were not. When someone urges her to tell her story in a small group, often the next person will say something like, “Well, I don’t have anything to follow that,” as if testimonies were a contest. Kate writes, “I hate when the story severs discussion. I hate when the story culminates in a comparison of cross bearing, and as a result, a chasm between us” (p. 198). Kate didn’t want to draw attention to herself, yet her injury and partial recovery were part of her story, her life now. Her history was divided between before and after the accident. As one friend told Kate’s husband, “The only faithful response to living this story is to tell it’ (p. 9).

When one suffers an injury such as Kate’s, the big question is whether the patient will walk again. If that milestone is reached, the patient is thought to be healed. But the patient can still experience life-altering symptoms. In one chapter, Kate details the symptoms she still experiences and the things she still can’t do. She had been in good shape before the accident, a runner, and could no longer count on the body she was once so sure of.

It wasn’t until this chapter that I realized some parallels between my situation and Kate’s. When I had transverse myelitis, I could walk again after a few months of physical therapy and a lot of prayer. But I still have balance issues and numbness in both lower legs and my left hand. I knew exactly what she was talking about when she mentioned her hands feel like she has gloves on all the time, making fine motor skill difficult (though in my case it’s just my left hand, which is not my dominant one, thankfully).

Kate writes also of the mix of feelings she experiences: joy for the amount of healing she has recovered, yet lament for the loss. “I live in the midst of this tension—gratitude and grief—every day” (p. 212).

Though grief remains a part of us, we should not need nor should we desire to be continually affirmed in our sadness. That doesn’t mean we won’t sometimes speak of our sorrow or that we won’t continue to grieve. Some wounds we bear until heaven. It merely means that grief takes its proper place in our stories, and its role is never that of the star, nor does it play the part of the savior.

We live in the shadow, dear reader, but the darkness cannot overcome the light (p. 127).

God shined His light through His Word and His people as they came alongside to help in various ways and to share truth.

I so appreciated Kate’s testimony of God’s grace in hard circumstances.

This book fits the Medical Memoir category of the Nonfiction Reader Challenge.

Labels and Lenses

When I was in college, a story made the rounds about a student who asked a preacher who was a frequent chapel speaker to meet with him. The young man wanted permission to date the preacher’s daughter—not in the sense of taking her to lunch or a basketball game, but in the sense of pursuing a serious relationship.

As the student and the preacher sat down together, the preacher said, “Well, son, are you a Big B baptist?”

The young man responded, “Well, sir, I am a Big C Christian.”

The preacher was not amused.

I don’t know whether the guy got to date the girl or not.

That story may have been the campus version of an urban legend. But it stuck with me because I have known “Big B Baptists.” Some friends, associations, institutions were not only distinctively Baptist, but aggressively Baptist.

In one group discussion about doctrines that Christians could differ on, one man had a hard time placing mode of baptism in that category. All of us in the discussion felt that immersion was the best mode and most in line with Scriptural teaching, but we agreed this wasn’t a decision that would make us question a person’s salvation. We understood how people could believe in other modes, even though we didn’t agree with them. But this man struggled with that thought, though he finally conceded.

I’ve known people who were “Big R Reformed” Christians or “Big C Calvinists.” My first introduction to Calvinism was from college Bible majors who constantly wanted to debate election vs. free will. One was even asked to leave campus, not because of his beliefs, but because he was “sowing discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:19), constantly stirring up debates. I know some on Facebook like that now.

Of course, not all Reformed people are that way. But I’ve seen some that do not speak of the Christian community, but the Reformed community. They only buy books from Reformed publishers and only quote Reformed writers and preachers.

These defining labels aren’t limited to theological persuasions. I’ve unfollowed some sites that were “Big I Introvert” sites, even Christian ones. Reading about introversion has helped me understand the way I am made and the way I think and react. But some sites are so immersed in looking at life as an introvert that they can seem antisocial. I can lean that way, so I needed to stop feeding that tendency into my thoughts.

And, of course there are many other labels through which people define themselves and look at life. There are “Big R Republicans” and “Big S Sports fans” and “Big E Enneagram” experts (followed by numbers and wings). There are “Big M Moms” who can talk about nothing but motherhood, making single women feel left out of the conversation.

Labels aren’t bad in themselves. My husband’s father worked in a grocery store and was allowed to bring home cans which were missing labels. When Jim’s mom said she was making a surprise for dinner, she wasn’t kidding.

When my husband and I looked for a church to attend here, we wished that church websites would label themselves more distinctly. We put our preferences in our browser’s search bar and got hundreds of responses. The ones we looked into sounded almost the same, even down to their statement of faith and constitution. If they were trying to make themselves sound generic, they were going to disappoint some who came and found they held certain positions. They were also going to miss out on those who wanted to find churches that held particular positions.

So labels are helpful, even good and necessary. I use some of these labels myself.

But labels can lead to two problems.

One problem is looking at everything, especially Scripture, through the lens of our label instead of looking at our label through the lens of Scripture. I’ve known people who did not come to their positions from their reading of Scripture, but from books they read and sermons they listened to. Then they began trying to fit Scripture into their theological grid rather than adapting their theology to Scripture.

In one book I read about introversion in the church, the author said that the reason Jesus climbed into a boat once to speak to the crowd was because, as an introvert, He wanted to put some distance between Himself and the people. That would have been the author’s motivation in the same circumstances, and he projected his thinking onto Jesus’ actions (even though he later wrote that Jesus was the perfect balance of introvert and extrovert). I think that Jesus chose that venue rather because it was the best place for the crowd to see and hear Him.

The second problem is this: what label do we want to be known by first and foremost? When people see our names, do we want their first thought to be, “Oh, yeah, she’s an Enneagram 6” or “staunch Republican” or whatever?

Before people know my personality type or theological persuasion, they need to know that I love God and want them to know and love Him, too. Though I have several sub-labels, I want my biggest labels to be “Christian,” “Christ-follower,” “child of God.”

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1a).

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

Laudable Linkage

I have just a short list this week of good reads found online:

What Questions Do You Have About Your Faith? HT to Challies. “It can be uncomfortable to wrestle with hard-to-answer questions, can’t it? A child is still figuring life out, so that seems more palatable. But what about us as adults? How do we perceive asking questions about what we believe? Is it a lack of faith when we put words to our confusion about what God is doing in our lives? Is there value in voicing our questions?”

Even the Darkness, HT to Challies. “It doesn’t matter how you find your way into darkness. You may be suffering with chronic pain. You may have succumbed to the same sin over and over and now realize you’ve backed yourself into a dark corner with no conceivable way out. You may just be under a heavy cloud of despair, unsure where it’s come from. Whatever it is, wherever it’s come from, you can take courage that God sees your situation from a different perspective.”

Which Sins Are Feeding Your Sin of Lust, HT to Challies. The sin we’re most discouraged about may have others that contributed to it.

Thinking Sensibly About Ourselves, HT to Challies. “When walking the narrow road of the Christian life, many of us fall into one of two traps when it comes to our gifts: viewing ourselves too highly or too lowly. Some of us have permanently taken up residence in one of these ditches and refuse to move.”

Friday’s Fave Five

I’m thankful we’re at the last Friday of July. I know we have several weeks before temperatures start cooling off, but each day brings us closer! We pause on Fridays with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story to think over the past week and commemorate the blessings, large or small. Otherwise, we’d too easily overlook or forget them.

1. Lunch with a friend at Red Lobster. Great fellowship and wonderful food.

2. Gift cards from my family that I save up for lunches with friends.

3. A good haircut. I go to a walk-in place because it works better for me to go when I can rather than making an appointment. But even when the same person cuts my hair several times in a row, and even though I’ve had the same style for eons, the haircuts can vary. I was especially pleased with this one.

4. Good weather. Last weekend, my weather app showed potential thunderstorms every day this week. Thankfully, we’ve only had one, and it wasn’t bad.

5. Providence. My oldest son’s good friend went to the ER, and the doctor who “happened” to be there that day was an expert in the young man’s particular issues. It was a situation that could have gone undiagnosed and gotten much worse before anyone figured it out. Though the situation is quite serious, getting immediate help and treatment is a major blessing.

What’s one good thing from your week?