About Barbara Harper

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Be Determined

Nehemiah is one of my favorite Old Testament books, and Be Determined (Nehemiah): Standing Firm in the Face of Opposition by Warren W. Wiersbe was a good companion on this read-through.

Nehemiah was a captive Israelite in Persia (formerly Babylon). Most of Judah had been deported to Babylon in God’s judgment after years of worshiping idols, committing injustices against their neighbors, and more.

After 70 years, as Jeremiah had prophesied, many of the Israelites were allowed to go back to Judah. Ezra and the people with him had rebuilt the temple and reestablished their worship practices.

Several years later, Nehemiah was still in Persia (formerly Babylon) as the king’s cupbearer. When one of his friends comes back from Jerusalem, Nehemiah asks how things are going there. The answer: not good. Its wall, a city’s main defense then, was broken down and its gates burned.

Nehemiah was so troubled, he “sat down and wept and mourned for days” (1:4). He prayed, confessing the nation’s sins and reminding God of His promise to gather His people back together again. He prayed for favor in the sight of the king and then asked the king for permission to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city wall and gates.

The king not only granted permission, but supplied materials and an escort. According to Wiersbe, it would have taken about 55 days to travel between Susa and Jerusalem. Before Nehemiah said anything to anyone else, he quietly inspected the area by night. Then he told the people his plan, how “the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work” (1:18).

From the outset, the project had enemies, especially Sanballat and Tobiah. First they jeered and mocked, then they “tattled” to the king that the Jews were really trying to start a rebellion. They they tried to distract Nehemiah, and even plotted against his life. When they tried to lure Nehemiah away, plotting to do him harm, he replied, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (6:3).

One of the main features of Nehemiah is his prayer life. He took the whole problem to the Lord in prayer at the beginning. He shot up quick prayers when he was about to speak to the king and when problems came up. He prayed against his enemies and trusted God to take care of them, while also preparing the workers to defend themselves if need be.

God helped the people to build the wall in just 52 days. The Ezra came and read the law of God while the Levites “gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (8:8). The people mourned over all the ways they had failed. But Nehemiah encouraged them that this was a time to celebrate God’s mercies. “This day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10). The people reestablished their covenant to obey God’s Word. They dedicated the wall to God with singing.

Nehemiah had to go back to the king for a bit, and when he got back, some things had slipped–things the people had just promised to do before he left. This spoke to me that it’s important not just to make a decision to obey God, but to implement plans to carry it out. For years I’ve heard laments that people make good decisions at camp or during revival services or special meetings, but then when life goes back to “normal,” they go back to their old ways. I think that’s because the decision is not the culmination of their conviction: it is just the beginning.

Nehemiah reminded the people that some of their practices were what got them into trouble and exile in the first place. Then he initiated reforms to help them do right.

Here are some of the quotes from Wiersbe’s commentary that stood out to me:

Like large doors, great life-changing events can swing on very small hinges (p. 20).

Nehemiah is a good example of how believers should relate to unsaved officials as they seek to do the work of God. Nehemiah respected the king and sought to work within the lines of authority that existed in the empire. He didn’t say, “I have a commission from the Lord to go to Jerusalem, and I’m going whether you like it or not!” When it comes to matters of conscience, we must always obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), but even then, we must show respect (see Romans 13 and 1Peter 2:11-25) (pp. 34-35).

Satan wanted to use these problems as weapons to destroy the work, but God used them as tools to build His people (p. 59).

He was a leader who served and a servant who led (p. 68).

But the joy that comes from the Lord is real and lasting and enriches our lives. God doesn’t give us joy instead of sorrow, or joy in spite of sorrow, but joy in the midst of sorrow. It is not substitution but transformation (p. 115).

Nehemiah is an example of someone whose heart is in the right place, who was concerned for others and for God’s glory, who took everything to Him and prayer and depended on Him, and then put feet to his prayers. He was willing to travel far and work hard and face opposition to get the job done God had given him to do. He had initiative, but he couldn’t do the work alone: he was able to inspire others with his vision. “One person can make a big difference in this world, if that person knows God and really trusts in Him” (p. 31).

Joy: A Godly Woman’s Adornment

Once when a friend and I were heading toward the same door at church, she called our in her usual cheery voice, “Good morning, Barbara! How are you?”

I replied, “Doing okay. How about you?”

Just okay?” She sounded really dismayed that I wasn’t more than okay.

Well—to my thinking, okay was pretty good. Nothing hurt, nothing was wrong. I’m not an effusive person, so I wouldn’t generally respond in a really excited way unless something spectacular was happening.

For a while, I wondered if there was something wrong with me that I wasn’t more like my friend. In fact, the thought of always being so enthusiastic sounded exhausting to me. I finally attributed our responses to our very different personalities.

Still, I sometimes wondered if joy was always a bubbling brook, or if it was sometimes a steady undercurrent.

Those thoughts, and the fact that I had read and enjoyed some of Lydia Brownback’s other writings, encouraged me to get her book Joy: A Godly Woman’s Adornment.

This book is one in a series of “On the Go Devotionals.” Each entry is short, two to three pages in my Kindle app. There are forty-two devotions which concentrate on a different Bible verse about joy.

While we might go through times of sorrow and trial, gloominess and moodiness usually come from “looking at what we lack rather than all we have” (p. 9).

Even those of us going through a season of darkness can pursue joy, trusting that God designed us for it. Sooner or later, in Christ, we will find it. The trick for some of us is to change our self-oriented, worldly focus to Christ, and for others it is to take fresh hold of God’s promises that no matter how dark life seems, he is going to push you out into the light. . .

Our moodiness dishonors God and robs us of the happiness that lies right at our fingertips. If we want to change—to live with perpetual joy—we must pursue it, and in Christ we are guaranteed to find it. (p. 10).

In the very first entry, Lydia declares, “Self-surrender leads to joy” (p. 15). That doesn’t sound very joyful, does it? We think we’d be pretty happy if everything went our way.

We cannot imagine how we will survive without that certain relationship or plan. It feels like death. That’s because it is death. It’s the losing of our lives that Jesus was talking about [in Matthew 10:39: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”].

When we are facing the death of self, the costliness of discipleship, we are likely to pull back unless we remember the promise we have been given about how it will all turn out. The man in Jesus’ parable wound up owning the field. And Jesus said that those who lose their lives—all the earthly things they lean on for happiness and security—will find what they have been looking for all along. God will see to that (pp. 15-16).

I have many more quotes marked than I can share, but here are some that especially stood out to me:

Each trial is a gift. It’s a chance to know God’s strength and supernatural joy and to show that following him is worth everything (p. 24).

It is impossible to keep an eye out for God’s blessings while harboring a complaining spirit (p. 28).

We will never know lasting joy in the Lord if we seek to understand him by what goes on in the world or by our circumstances. The only way to joy is to interpret our circumstances by God’s Word rather than to judge God by our circumstances (p. 40).

Joy is the outworking of worship (p. 43).

We don’t need ten tips to a better spiritual life. What we need is to put God out front in our thoughts, priorities, time, and activities. If we allow his Word to govern us, we will see that he delights to show us “the path of life” and the path for our life (p. 45).

The joy promised in Scripture is different from the joy of personal expectation, our hope of some good thing we want God to do in our lives. While it is natural to hope for a good outcome in our difficulties and to trust God for it, we set ourselves up for a spiritual crisis if we expect that things will work out as we think they should (p. 60).

Joyful feelings are also not a yardstick to be used to determine how well we are doing spiritually. Feelings of closeness to the Lord are a wonderful blessing, but they are not an indicator of God’s acceptance of us. Christ is the only indicator. If we blur the distinction, we are going to worry about our spiritual standing whenever the good feelings aren’t present (p. 60).

God wills that we live in constant expectation of his appearing. We are to look for him in his Word, in his providences in our daily lives, in our sorrows, in our needs, and in our failures. He comes to us in Christ in all these things, but we miss him because we aren’t looking for him (p. 71).

The Holy Spirit doesn’t give us more love or more faithfulness or more joy. He gives us Christ, and as he does, joy and all the rest are produced within us as the fruit of that union (p. 73).

The joy of trials is rarely found in the circumstances of our difficulties. Rather, it is found when we stop fighting against what God is doing and seek his purposes and priorities, which always without exception are designed for our welfare. Whatever the difficulty—even one brought about by our sin—we can leave the outcome in God’s hands (p. 76).

How can we help what we feel? We just can’t muster up joyful feelings; that’s true. But we can rejoice, which sooner or later leads to joyful feelings. Rejoicing is not a feeling. It is joy in action. It is the humble willingness to offer God praise and thanks in all things, regardless of how we feel at the moment (p. 98).

We can experience joy in the Lord despite our circumstances. After reading this book, my thoughts ran to Psalm 43:3-5, a passage Lydia didn’t use:

Send out your light and your truth;
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
    and to your dwelling!
T
hen I will go to the altar of God,

    to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

That passage in turn reminded me of this song, based on this passage. The words and story behind the song are here.

The Meekness of Wisdom

“Don’t try to fix it! Just listen.”

Sometimes we just want people to listen and sympathize. We may even know what to do about our problem, but we just want to be heard.

Sometimes we resent “fixers” because they haven’t taken the time to listen first. They start spouting solutions before they even know what the problem is. James warns us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). Proverbs 18:13 tells us “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”

Sometimes people with a lot of knowledge come across as arrogant know-it-alls. Some of them just want to show off or one-up their listeners. James says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:14-16).

By contrast, James says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).

That phrase, the meekness of wisdom, stood out to me. Meekness is not wishy-washy weakness. Moses was called the meekest man on the earth in his day (Numbers 12:3). Yet he faced down Pharaoh, led thousands of people out of Egypt, spent 40 days and nights alone with God when others were afraid to approach Him. Jesus said He was “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:28-30). Meekness is strength under control.

Galatians talks about restoring a fallen brother or sister in Christ “in a spirit of gentleness” (6:1-3). And Paul tells Timothy “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24).

A truly wise man knows the answer and can give good counsel. But he doesn’t share it in pride or superiority. James goes on to say this wisdom is “from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (verse 17).

A few weeks ago in our writing critique group, one member’s piece was on the way men and women think differently. One of the ladies mentioned this video, a hilarious depiction of someone with an obvious and easily repairable problem who wants her hearer to listen and not rush to “fix” it.

When I posted a link to this on my Saturday “Laudable Linkage” a couple of weeks ago, one commenter shared that someone she loved recently accused her of “fixing” instead of listening. She lamented her inclination to want to change others instead of examining her own motives.

While it’s true we need to listen first and not rush in to tell others what to do, the opposite of the coin is true as well. When we have an obvious problem and someone offers a workable solution, how wise is it to rebuff them just because we’d rather wallow in “venting” than finding an answer? The meekness of wisdom can apply to receiving as well as giving wisdom.

Proverbs is full of references about listening to wisdom, instruction, and even reproof. Just one example: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). Fools don’t listen to advice, but wise men do.

The prophets lamented that people would not listen to their wise counsel. Jeremiah said, “the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the Lord persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets” (Jeremiah 25:3-4).

God told Ezekiel that people would regard him “like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it” (Ezekiel 33:31-32). What God had given Ezekiel to say in the previous verses was not beautiful music–it was a stern warning of judgment to come for their sins. Yet because the people would not listen and obey, they deceived themselves about the nature of what Ezekiel said.

By contrast, Moses accepted wise–and unasked for–advice from his father-in-law, Jethro, when Jethro saw that Moses was being worn out and needed assistants (Exodus 18).

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance” (Proverbs 1:5). Wisdom says in Proverbs 8:33-34, “Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.”

Sometimes silence is indeed the wisest option. Sometimes people just need to know they are cared for, heard, and not alone. We need to listen with sensitivity and empathy and offer counsel in dependence on God’s guidance. And we need to receive good counsel prayerfully, humbly, and gratefully, testing it against Scripture. We need meekness both to give and receive wisdom.

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

Laudable Linkage

I am way behind on my blog reading. But here are a few posts that ministered to me this week:

Your Spouse is God’s Creation: Celebrating Differences in Marriage, HT to Challies. “God created every aspect of your spouse’s personhood. He administrated every choice of hardwiring, tone of voice, innate personality, natural gifts, and whether he or she is mechanical, analytical, or relational. Neither you nor your spouse chose any of these qualities.”

Gradual Emancipation: A Parent’s Sacrifice. “Parenting is the long goodbye. It is a gradual emancipation, because chicks were never created to stay in the nest. Everything about their growing years is preparing them for the day they will leave the nest. But as parents we have a choice. We can allow our fears to create a cage for our children.”

A Workaday Faith, HT to Challies. “How do we deal with the fact that most of us will live our lives and then go to our reward without anything impressive to be rewarded for?”

Money Problems? “I firmly believe the ‘labourer is worthy of his hire’ (Luke 10:7, KJV). You and I earn our wages. There is no entitlement or handout. If I represent a weak project, it won’t sell; and I won’t be paid. If you write a weak project, it won’t sell either. The problem comes when money, usually a lack thereof, becomes a distraction.”

President Lincoln’s Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day. Part of this was referred to in the post above about money. I looked up the rest. These lines in particular stood out to me:

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Friday’s Fave Five

Just like that, we’re into December and Christmas preparations. I love these brief pauses on Friday with Susanne and friends at Living to Tell the Story to reflect on what God has done in our lives this week.

1. Getting a Christmas tree. So far, we still go out each year to choose a live tree. I think Jason and Mittu have come with us every year since Timothy was little, and maybe before. Past Christmas photos showed one with Timothy bringing his little toy chain saw one year. 🙂

This year Jason arrived first at our usual place only to find an empty lot. So we looked at another place we went last year because it was nearby and run by a local church. We didn’t like the experience, but it was the only other place we knew of.

But their prices were really high and the experience was really nerve-wracking. They had way too many helpers there–we couldn’t take a step without someone asking if we had any questions. No, we just needed to look and see which one we liked, and no sales person could tell us that. Jason heard a guy behind us ask one of the salespeople if anyone was helping us. She said we wanted to just look around. The guy said, “You need to use more force!” Force? For selling Christmas trees? We got out of there as soon as we could. Fortunately, Mittu saw an opening the back way so we didn’t have to run back through the gauntlet of smiling faces asking if we had any questions.

I searched for Christmas tree lots on my Google maps app, and it brought up a tree farm about ten minutes away. So we caravaned over there. It was a delightful little place open for business for the first time (in which case, I am not sure how they showed up at the top of my search results. But I am glad they did). They told us how things were laid out and left us to look around. They had a gift area, and I think they may have had hot drinks. They also had a little picture-taking station.

Their prices weren’t any better than the other place–but the experience was far superior. We may have to break down and get an artificial one before next year.

Then, there was a very old blue truck in the lot with a tree in the back. I thought they had it there just for effect—you see truck with a tree on a lot of Christmas decorations and cards these days. But then an older couple, the man with a long white beard, got into the truck and drove away. The guy tying our tree to our car roof said the older man dresses up as Santa and takes a tree and presents to Cade’s Cove every year. So that was fun.

2. Tree decorating. Even though Jason and Mittu decorate their own house for Christmas, they help decorate ours as well. Jesse came over, too, and was a big help getting boxes down from the attic. For the past few years, Mittu has made lunch for us all on tree decorating day. I’m so thankful they all do this. With everyone pitching in, it only took a couple of hours to get everything up, not counting transporting the bins to and from the attic.

I wasn’t feeling Christmasy until we got the house decorated. Now I am ready to start the holidays.

3. Lunch with Melanie, a dear friend, at Cracker Barrel, one of my favorite places. None of the rest of my family likes Cracker Barrel, so I am glad I can indulge with Melanie. We both had the maple bacon chicken, which was excellent. We had a great waitress who, when she found out Melanie’s birthday was the next day, gave her a free piece of cake. And they let us sit and talk as long as we wanted without kicking us out. 🙂

4. Encouraging words. It’s such a blessing when someone says something that encourages you right where you needed it, when they could not have known that their words were needed. I feel God orchestrates those things. How we need to walk closely with Him so He can use us that way.

5. Timothy recordings. Jason and Mittu were here for another marathon cooking session to make up microwave meals while they are still painting in their kitchen. At one point Timothy started playing some old recordings on their iPad–some of them were him singing when he was about four. So sweet.

I hope your week went well!

November Reflections

November has been another quick and busy month. We’ve had some frigid days and frosty nights interspersed with temperate ones.

We started the month with a couple of big gatherings. The church we’re visiting had a joint service with a “sister church” in another area. It was a wonderful day of worshiping together. Then our neighborhood had its first big get-together in a long time, something we used to every year.

We were thankful for the privilege of voting earlier in the month. We had some fun get-togethers with the family, including some dry ice “experiments” that Timothy loved.

We got to experience a couple of Thanksgiving testimony times in the church we’ve been visiting. I mentioned last Friday that churches we’ve been in used to have testimony times regularly, especially right before Thanksgiving, and I have missed them. Especially being new to this church, we don’t know everyone’s backgrounds. What a joy to hear how God has worked in lives.

Then, of course, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving with all the kids except our out-of-state one, and he had “piesgiving” with friends (all the food was in the form of a pie).

Creating

We had no birthdays this month, but I made these for a couple of friends going through different trials.

The message for both cards was made with a stamp. The leaf shapes were made with the Cuttlebug, which usually just does embossing. But I have a couple of folders which actually cut out shapes.

The strip of leaves is one of my favorite things. I have a square stamp with four leaves on it, and I use a multi-colored stamp pad and turn the stamp a quarter-turn each time. I didn’t come up with this idea; I saw it demonstrated somewhere.

I had wanted to use another leaf strip on this one, but the one I had got messed up when I touched it with damp hands. It takes a long time for that kind of ink to dry, so I looked for another idea to use instead. The roses were from a small embossing folder for the Cuttlebug. The color of the paper reminded me of some beautiful off-white roses I saw in a fall wedding once.

Watching and Listening

I enjoyed the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, though the player I was rooting for was robbed. You may have heard about the Bible question used for a final Jeopardy! round that the writers got wrong (if not, you can read about it here).

We enjoyed watching Disenchanted with the family, the sequel to Enchanted. In the first movie, an animated princess finds her handsome prince and is about to start her happily-ever-after when the stepmother of her groom-to-be pushes her down a well into the real world, which is quite a culture shock. The people in the real world don’t know what to make of her, either. But over time she discovers a handsome lawyer and finds that fairy tale love is shallow compared to the real thing.

In the sequel, the little daughter from the first movie is now a teenager, and daughter and stepmother clash. The stepmother, Giselle, thinks a move to a castle-like house in the suburbs will help. But it makes relationships with her stepdaughter worse. She finds the means to make a wish and desires a “fairy tale life.” Immediately, people are clothed with fairy tale attire and start singing and dancing in the streets. Giselle’s husband goes on a quest to find some way to display heroism. But Giselle forgot that stepmothers in fairy tales are evil. Her family and friends have to find a way to reverse the wish before it becomes permanent.

The second movie wasn’t as charming as the first, but I liked the twist on the usual fairy tale arc. I loved some of the nods to other fairy tale movies. But I thought some of the song lyrics were silly.

I’ve been listening to the Literary Life Podcast episodes on Dracula–not my usual fare, but I read it along with my son through Dracula Daily, which sent out the diary entries, letters, newspaper articles that make up the book on the dates listed. It was a fun way to read it, and the podcast has brought out much more than I gleaned on my own.

Reading

Since last time I have finished (linked to my reviews):

  • Three Fifty-Seven: Timing Is Everything by Hank Stewart or Kendra Norman-Bellamy. An elderly widow finds new purpose in making herself available to help various neighbors. This was a really sweet story but was marred by too much detail in a couple of the characters’ bedrooms.
  • Bringing Maggie Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer. Hazel’s little sister, Maggie, was lost when Hazel was ten, and Hazel has borne the guilt of that for sixty years. Her losses cause her to be perfectionist and anxiously controlling, which causes her daughter to rebel. She hasn’t told her daughter or granddaughter, but the latter accidentally stumbles across some old photos. The granddaughter, Meghan, is a cold case detective who investigates Maggie’s disappearance. This is one of Kim’s best.
  • Worthy of Legend by Roseanna M. White, the last in her Isles of Scilly series. Two background characters from the previous books come to the forefront in a race against another group to find a long-hidden artifact. Excellent.
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker.
  • Be Free (Galatians): Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality by Warren Wiersbe. I reread the book this month, but the review is from a couple of years ago when I first read it.
  • Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth. A good book of a midwife’s experiences in the 1950s, but marred by graphic descriptions of a dancer in a brothel.

I read the section on Ezra in Be Heroic (Minor Prophets): Demonstrating Bravery by Your Walk by Warren W. Wiersbe. Ezra is usually grouped together with Nehemiah, which follows on its heels in history. Wiersbe put Ezra in with the minor prophets instead, since the timeline does fit there as well. I had read the rest of this book a while back when reading through the minor prophets–but didn’t review it then because I hadn’t read the Ezra section yet.

I’m currently reading:

  • Joy: A Godly Woman’s Adornment by Lydia Brownback
  • Seasons of Sorrow: The Pain of Loss and the Comfort of God by Tim Challies
  • Writing for the Soul: Instruction and Advice from an Extraordinary Writing Life by Jerry B. Jenkins
  • Be Determined (Nehemiah): Standing Firm in the Face of Opposition by Warren W. Wiersbe
  • Snowed In for Christmas by Cami Checketts (audiobook)

I’m looking forward to some Christmas reading in the next few weeks!

Blogging

Besides the weekly Friday Fave Fives, Saturday Laudable Linkage, and book reviews, I’ve posted these since last time:

  • Careful of Our Strengths as Well as Our Weaknesses. We’re often concerned about our weaknesses tripping us up. But we can fail in areas of strength as well. We need God’s strength and guidance for both.
  • You Don’t Have to Choose a Word for the Year. Many people benefit from the practice, but it’s not a must. What’s most important is regularly spending time with God in His Word, seeking His guidance for the day.
  • Hope in Darkness. The time change caused darkness to descend earlier in the evenings, which can be depressing for some of us. I did a quick Bible study on darkness and found the Bible had some encouraging things to say about it..
  • God Is Always Working Even When We Don’t See. It’s discouraging when we pray for a long time with seemingly no response, especially when praying for spiritual needs. But God is at work under the surface.
  • A Confession of Praise. One Hebrew word can be translated as either “confess” or “give thanks or praise.” When we thank and praise God, we’re confessing that He is who He proclaims to be.
  • Benefits of Giving Thanks. Our US Thanksgiving holiday reminds us what we’re supposed to be doing every day and how much we have to be thankful for. I found several other benefits to giving thanks as well. Let thanksgiving continue!

Writing

I dug into my work-in-progress a bit this month. I’m not sure there will be time to work on it any more through the holidays, but we’ll see.

I continue to enjoy our writing critique group. We’re about to take a break for the holidays.

Several months (maybe even years?) ago, I saw a free online conference for hope*writers, so I signed up for it. As it turned out, it wasn’t really a conference. It was a replay of some of their teaching videos. Since I was on their mailing list, I began to receive invitations to membership as well as more videos and even a free class. I decided not to join them, for several reasons. But I’ve been working my way through the things they sent me so I can clear them out of my box and then unsubscribe from their mailing list.

One common theme that emerged from the videos for me was that we can’t do everything aspiring authors are supposed to do all at once. One video encouraged us to just work on the thing at hand and take everything else as it comes. That was a help, as it’s easy to feel overloaded with everything else to the point that we can’t even make time for writing the book.

As we turn the corner into holiday season, may we each have some quiet moments to reflect on the greatest gift God could give: His Son.

Mixed Emotions About a Book

I’ve been conflicted about whether I should even mention a book I recently listened to. But I finally decided that others might appreciate being forewarned, as I wish I had been.

I have not watched the Call the Midwife series on PBS. I like period pieces, but I had the impression this would be something like a “birth story of the week.” Each birth is its own miracle—or tragedy if things go wrong. But I didn’t necessarily want to watch a show about births in the 1950s.

But when I saw the audiobook by the same name was in a “two books for one credit” sale for Audible, I decided to check it out.

As it turns out, the book is a memoir about the life of a midwife in the 1950s in London’s East End, based on Jennifer Worth’s experiences.

Jenny Lee, as she is known in the book, became a nurse and then a midwife in the 1950s. She worked with other midwives out of a convent though they were not Catholic. The East End of London was a poor area, with most of the men working at the docks. Though crime was common, the midwives were respected and untouched though they rode their bikes alone day and night.

In past millennia, women were helped in giving birth by neighbors or a woman who was a midwife by means of experience gained in helping with deliveries and not through formal training. Normally, such help was fine, unless there was a problem.

Infant and mothers’ deaths finally led to midwifery becoming more of a science. Births still took place at home most of the time. But midwives in the 1950s had more training and tools to handle problem situations.

Though all of Jenny’s clients were poor, they varied greatly. Some homes were cheerful and neat though bare; others were in terrible condition.

As you might expect with a book like this, a number of birth stories are shared, both the happy and the tragic ones. Jenny shares what happened in graphic clinical detail, so if such things make you squeamish, you might not enjoy this book. Or you might skip through portions.

But the book is not all birth stories. Jenny tells about the different nuns at the convent, one of whom was brilliant but whose mind was failing. She tells about some of her coworkers and friends.

In one lengthy section, Jenny tells of a teenager named Mary who ran away from an abusive stepfather in Ireland and ended up roaming the streets of London. Mary was fourteen and evidently either didn’t know about places like the YWCA, where she could find temporary shelter, or didn’t know how to find them.

One day while Mary was looking longingly in a bakery window, a handsome young man saw her and offered to buy her breakfast. He was very kind, and soon Mary’s story came out. The man told Mary his uncle owned a cafe where they had “the best entertainment in London.” Perhaps his uncle would give her a job running the coffee machine.

In her naivete, Mary thought this man was romantically interested in her. She went with him to his uncle’s cafe—which turned out to be a brothel.

I don’t have a problem with this story being part of the book, because these kinds of things happened—and still do today. Young people, particularly runaways or orphans who have no one to call for help, are either lured with promise of food and shelter or outright kidnapped. Then they are trapped in a system they can’t get out of.

What I did object to, however, was a graphic description of the “show” one of the dancers put on at the brothel. I was navigating across busy lanes of traffic when this part of the story came on the audiobook, so I couldn’t stop and fast forward. I didn’t have the presence of mind while watching several directions for oncoming cars to just turn the sound off.

The dancer’s act wasn’t told in an approving or tantalizing manner. It was meant to be shocking and disgusting (and it was). But it wasn’t needed. We already had a good idea what kind of place Mary was being taken to. Even if Worth felt the need to share what went on, she didn’t have to tell as much as she did as graphically as she did. I regret having those images planted in my mind.

I almost laid the book aside at that point. But then I figured that scene was probably the worst, and the rest would be better. And that turned out to be the case.

There were a few other smaller problems–a few bad words, a couple of bawdy crude references, mention of a mixed group swimming nude.

Jennifer wrote the book some fifty years after her experiences when she read an article by Terri Coates wishing that some midwife would “do for midwifery what James Herriot did for vets.” I think Jennifer could have achieved what Herriot did, but I think she missed the mark by including scenes like the one I mentioned. What was otherwise a great book was marred by these negatives.

But Jennifer’s book became a bestseller when it was reissued in 2007 after having been originally published in 2002. She wrote three more, and the Call the Midwife series began in 2012.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Nicola Barber. The narrator did a great job with the dialects. But she spoke almost in a whisper much of the time, making it hard to hear.

Benefits of Giving Thanks

Though our US holiday of Thanksgiving is over, giving thanks should continue. This year I saw some benefits to thanksgiving, some of which I don’t remember noticing before.

Thanksgiving reminds us what we’re supposed to be doing all year long. A man in our Sunday School class shared how the Lord delivered him from a life-threatening illness. Then he remarked, “I should be thanking and praising God every day, but I take this gift for granted.” We all do that, don’t we?

Thanksgiving reminds us where our gifts come from. We forget that even a good job, the availability of good food, clean water, warm beds, family, and so much more, are gifts from God. They could all be taken away in a moment.

Thanksgiving reminds us how God has led or provided for us in the past, through both good and bad times. As people shared testimonies in our midweek service, they tended to recall special moments in the past where God’s help was especially displayed. I call these “Ebenezer moments.” In 1 Samuel 7, after God delivered Israel from the Philistines, Samuel set up a memorial stone and called it Ebenezer, meaning “stone of help.” A few years ago, I was inspired to make a list of “Ebenezer” moments. Going over that list inspires love and praise to God for how He has worked in my life. “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:5-8).

Thanksgiving needs to be intentional. Maybe some people are naturally geared towards gratefulness. But most of us notice the problems, irritations, and imperfections of life first. In Joy: A Godly Woman’s Adornment by Lydia Brownback, she says this: “If we are not looking for the good things, we may fail to see them when they come. That’s part of why thankfulness is so important. Offering thanks to God, no matter what is going on in our lives, is a way of acknowledging that he knows exactly what he is doing and that we can trust him” (p. 28, Kindle version).

Thanksgiving isn’t always a feeling. Another quote from Lydia’s book: “Sometimes thankfulness is a choice we make rather than a feeling we have” (p. 28).

Thanksgiving leads to more thanksgiving. Once you start looking for things to be thankful for, your list keeps growing. At the testimony service mentioned above, after everyone had a chance to share, people started saying, “His story reminds of the time God did this. . . “

Thanksgiving melts away our worries. When we remind ourselves of the ways God has helped and provided for us in the past, we’re encouraged to trust Him for the present and future.

Thanksgiving recalibrates our perspective. I can’t find the source now, but I recently read of a woman who was having an awful start to her day. On her way to work, she began deliberately looking for things to be thankful for. By the time she arrived, her mood and outlook had completely changed.

Thanksgiving shared with others increases opportunities to glorify God. As we heard each others’ stories at our testimony service, we thanked God not just for what He did for us, but also for what He did for others. “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:15).

Thanksgiving shared knits hearts together. Testimony services leave us not only with warm feelings towards God, but also towards each other.

So let thanksgiving continue! Let’s make it a point to look for God’s hand and thank Him as often as we can.

Have you found these or any other benefits to giving thanks?

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

Laudable Linkage

Here are a few of the thought-provoking reads found this week:

Peace That Passes All Understanding, HT to Challies. “Now what? I just tried one of the classic passages on anxiety and it didn’t work. A-ha, there is a clue. I was looking for a pill. I visited God-my-pharmacist and asked what to take for my anxiety. That’s not the way Scripture works. I should have noticed it when I reduced the passage to a formula.”

Trusting God Through Terminal Illness, HT to Challies. “I am very thankful that I have an eye-tracking device so that I can still use a computer and turn on the TV. When my voice gives up, I can use my eyes to slowly type a few phrases which my mechanical voice speaks out loud. It would be easy to look at me and feel that there was no purpose to my life, but that’s not what God says.”

To the Impetuous and Impulsive. “As people repent of their sins and profess their loyalty to him, he does not eradicate their personalities as if he created them wrong in the first place or as if there is nothing within them he can use or redeem. Rather, he channels their personality, he redirects it, masters it, perfects it. Though he does sanctify his people, he does not completely destroy and then recreate them in such a way that they are all the same.”

Four Practical Ways to Cultivate Personal Evangelism, HT to Challies. “Let’s be honest, evangelism can be intimidating. For most, it can induce certain anxiety that can be crippling. It is easy to leave this high call that every believer has to a select few – elders, extroverts, or “experts.” Where does this intimidation come from when it comes to evangelism?”

Can Christians Date Nonbelievers? HT to Challies. The author answers from passages other than the usual go-to verse on this issue.

Eleven Factors for Helpful Short Term Mission Trips from one who has been on both sides of such trips, HT to Challies.

Welcoming the World’s Oldest Babies, HT to Challies. “Three weeks ago—on Monday, October 31—Rachel Ridgeway gave birth to the oldest babies in the world. Nearly 30 years ago, Lydia Ann and Timothy Ronald were conceived in a fertility clinic. Hours later, they were frozen.”

Gray Hair Is a Crown of Glory, HT to Challies. “This age-group will never be the “target” group for church growth strategists. However, if you want a church that actually does the work of the church and gives back to you as a pastor and to the congregants on the whole – then pray for a group of elderly saints.”

How Jesus Cares for Caregivers, HT to Story Warren. “Caregiving is hard. Not only do we grieve the suffering of our loved one, but we also process our own losses. Caregiving requires us to lay down our preferences and plans and pick up the holy calling of meeting the needs of another.”

Chosen Isn’t So Special If You’re a Turkey, HT to Challies. “My kids used to say I should write a how-to-hide-the-turkey-recipe book. We ate a lot of turkey when we lived in Italy. Affordable and easily available, I disguised wings, thighs and breast, every possible way. But turkey, as often as it showed up at our house, didn’t come whole.” A fun story with a great application.

The quote above is from Joy: The Godly Woman’s Adornment by Lydia Brownback.

Friday’s Fave Five

Some weeks overflow with blessings. Other weeks, we have to be more intentional in looking for them. This week has been full, and it’s a joy to share with Susanne and friends at Living to Tell the Story. Please feel free to join in!

1. Thanksgiving. I am thankful we have a day set aside to remind us to be thankful. We had a wonderful day with all the family except our out-of-state one, plus had an abundance of good food. We watched a couple of episodes of The Santa Clauses, though we each dozed in different parts. 🙂 We tried to play some Jackbox games, but the system kept crashing–probably a lot of other people had the same idea. We did our “Thanksgiving tree” throughout the day, writing on leaves the things we were grateful for.

I forgot to mention last week I’m thankful we found a turkey! I had heard they might be scarce and expensive, but we didn’t find that to be the case.

2. Testimony times. The church we’ve been visiting had an opportunity both in Sunday School and then in the midweek service to share what we’re thankful for. It’s been a long time since we’ve been in a service given over to testimonies, and this one reminded me that churches used to do this regularly. It was such a joy to hear different ones’ stories of how God worked in their lives.

3. Bad news/good news from the dentist. I hadn’t had any dental problems for years and wasn’t expecting any. But at my regular dental cleaning, the hygienist found a cavity in a tooth under a bridge. She thought that repairing it would mean removing the bridge, and if there was not enough of the original tooth left, she predicted I’d need an implant. She went on and on about what getting an implant involved (a six-month process). I was pretty overwhelmed and discouraged. There are worse things to endure, but it was still dismaying to discover out of the blue that all this would need to be done. But when the dentist came in to check me, she thought she could patch the cavity with a regular filling. She said there was a small chance that, once she got in there, she’d find that more work needed to be done. But she felt pretty confident a filling would do what was needed. That was a relief.

4. A productive errand-running day. Whether due to age or physical issues–or both–it’s hard for me to be out all day. But while I had to be out to go to the dentist, I wanted to try to get as much errand-running done as I could so I didn’t have to go out again later in the week. I prioritized my list and got everything done except the couple of things that there was no urgency for. Those things could even wait til the new year if need be.

5. Safety. While out on those errands, I was trying to tentatively back out in a busy parking lot. It was nerve-racking because cars and people were coming from all directions, so I inched out a bit at a time while trying to look every which way. Then I saw in my rear-view mirror the car behind me was backing out quickly, coming straight towards me. God gave me the presence of mind to hit the brake and horn at the same time, and the other car stopped and then pulled back into its space.

Are you Black Friday shopping? We’re gratefully spending the day indoors, but we might shop online a bit.

Happy Friday!