A Lady Unrivaled

In A Lady Unrivaled by Roseanna M. White, Lady Ella Myerston is quick to laugh and always sees the bright side of life. But danger has come to her brother and sister-in-law and their friends. Ella is determined to help, even as the others want to shelter her and keep her from danger.

Lord Cayton, the cousin of one of the Myerston’s friends, had been a cad in his youth. He had led one woman on but then married another for her fortune. Then his wife died in childbirth, leaving him with a beloved baby daughter, Addie. Regret over his past and a desire to do the best for his daughter lead him to Bible study with his cousin, Lord Stafford. Cayton becomes a changed man, but he has trouble convincing everyone except Stafford. And he doesn’t trust himself, doesn’t feel he deserves another chance at love after breaking the hearts of two women.

Now some past associates have come back to lure him into their scheme–the very scheme that threatens Ella’s family, and now her.

The merry Lady Ella and the moody Lord Cayton become unlikely allies in the effort to remove this threat once and for all. They are surprised both by unsuspected betrayals and unforeseen friendships.

In a secondary plot line, Kira Belova is a “kept woman,” a Russian ballerina who became the mistress of a wealthy mogul, Andrei Varennikov. She feels secure, until Andrei announces his plans to marry a princess. He sends Kira to England in disguise as a maid to get information about some missing diamonds. She and her mistress end up guests in Cayton’s home. Kira begins to question her life and choices and must decide whom to trust and whom to help.

This book is the third and last of the Ladies of the Manor series. The author deftly combines suspense, intrigue, humor, faith, and sweetness. This book was a satisfying end to the series and a reminder that we all need to receive and extend grace.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Normally I wouldn’t have looked twice at a book like Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I’ve read a number of books on time management, achieving goals, etc., so I wasn’t looking for one more.

But I listened to an interview with the author as part of one writer’s group’s attempts to draw in new members. And though I decided not to join the writer’s group, I appreciated much that Greg had to say.

These days, we’re all beset by having more opportunities and responsibilities than we can keep up with. Plus other people can pile their agendas on to us. We spend much of our time “busy but not productive.”

The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless (p. 7).

Lest that sound cold and heartless, one of our essentials is our loved ones. One of the catalysts to McKeown’s journey towards essentialism was when he was pressured to be at a meeting with a client just hours after his daughter was born. He was told the client would respect him for his sacrifice of being there. But the client didn’t, and the meeting in the end turned out to be pretty worthless.

Trade-offs are going to happen as we learn we can’t do everything. It’s better to decide ahead of time what’s really most important and spend our energy there, even when that means saying no to other things, even good things.

Part 1 of McKeown’s book focuses on essence: to do what’s essential, we first have to figure out what’s essential according to our goals and values. We have to determine what’s non-negotiable and what’s a trade-off.

Part 2 is Explore: the “perks of being unavailable,” the necessity of sleep and even play.

Part 3 is Eliminate: to say yes to some things, we have to say no to others. Part 3 explores principles and methods for eliminating the nonessential.

Part 4 is Execute: protecting our essential goals by implementing buffer zones, starting small and celebrating small wins, the helpfulness of routines to eliminate unnecessary decisions, flow and focus.

Sprinkled throughout the book are simple but very effective illustrations. This one, for example, shows “the unfulfilling experience of making a millimeter of progress in a million directions” vs. “investing in fewer things” to “have the satisfying experience of making significant progress in the things that matter most” (pp. 6-7).

Here are a few of the other quotes that stood out to me:

For capable people who are already working hard, are there limits to the value of hard work? Is there a point at which doing more does not produce more? Is there a point at which doing less (but thinking more) will actually produce better outcomes? (p. 42).

We need to be as strategic with ourselves as we are with our careers and our businesses. We need to pace ourselves, nurture ourselves, and give ourselves fuel to explore, thrive, and perform (p. 94).

An essential intent, on the other hand, is both inspirational and concrete, both meaningful and measurable. Done right, an essential intent is one decision that settles one thousand later decisions. It’s like deciding you’re going to become a doctor instead of a lawyer. One strategic choice eliminates a universe of other options and maps a course for the next five, ten, or even twenty years of your life. Once the big decision is made, all subsequent decisions come into better focus (p. 126).

The way of the Essentialist isn’t just about success; it’s about living a life of meaning and purpose. When we look back on our careers and our lives, would we rather see a long laundry list of “accomplishments” that don’t really matter or just a few major accomplishments that have real meaning and significance? (p. 230).

McKeown includes multiple examples from businesses and institutions. Just about the time I wished he brought some of his illustrations and principles down to a person level, he did.

One problem that he didn’t discuss, though, is when you can’t say no to obligations that seem meaningless. He says several times that saying no to the unnecessary meeting or obligation actually garners respect instead of resentment. But that’s not always the case. And you can’t always say no if your boss requires something that you think is a waste of time.

And you have to be careful that your time-savers don’t become an imposition on someone else. For instance, he mentions someone who skipped a regular hour-long meeting at work to get his own work done, then got a ten-minute summary from a coworker, thus saving himself forty minutes. But he doesn’t note that this guy was putting an unnecessary drain on his coworker’s time. If I had been the coworker, I would have been tempted to say, “If you want to know what happens at the meetings, you need to be there. I have too much to do to recap them for you every week.”

But those instances are minor. Most of what the author had to say was very good.

This isn’t a Christian book, and the author recommends a wide range of resources that I wouldn’t always agree with.

But overall, McKeown gave me much to chew on.

The Reluctant Duchess

The Reluctant Duchess is the second in Roseanna M. White’s Ladies of the Manor series.

Brice Myerston, the duke of Nottingham, was a side character in the series’ first book, The Lost Heiress. He was one of England’s most sought-after eligible bachelors, which he handled by being a notorious flirt to fend off serious advances from young ladies and their mothers. But he also had a close walk with God and uncanny sense of the right thing to do.

He finds himself in a knotty dilemma, though. His family has made their annual visit to Scotland to visit his mother’s family home not long after the death of his father. There, the Scottish laird, who has no use for Englishmen and has avoided the Myerstons all this time, asks the family to dinner. While there, the earl of Lochaber tries to set a trap for Brice to wed the earl’s daughter, Rowena. Brice steadfastly refuses at first. But then he realizes this is no title-seeking or money-grubbing ploy. Rowena is in serious trouble. Brice feels the Lord’s direction to protect her, and the only way to do that seems to be to marry her and take her back to England.

Rowena’s father has become harsh and distant since the death of her mother. Her fiance, Malcolm Kinnaird, seemed loving and kind at first. But his true colors came out when he forced himself on Rowena and became as controlling and as harsh as her father. Rowena hates that her father has set a trap for Brice, but she accepts his offer as the only way to escape.

But Rowena trembles at the thought of being a duchess in English society. And her fears come true when no one accepts her except Brice’s family and two of his closest friends. Rowena has been beaten down mentally and physically and has no confidence. She recoils from Brice physically and emotionally.

In addition to trying to discern how to help his new wife, Brice has another problem on his hands. He had offered to take and hide the rare treasure that had caused his friends, the Staffords, so much trouble (in the first book). But, though the main troublemaker had been killed, other dangerous pursuers are not giving up. And one of them is trying to entice Rowena into a false friendship.

This book had a bit of a rough start for me, with Rowena facing off against Malcolm, the knowledge that He had abused her, and a lot of yelling. In The Lost Heiress, even the villains had an air of gentility. In this book, even the Scottish nobility were quite rough around the edges.

But once I got into the story, I enjoyed it. Brice and Rowena had much to learn to trust each other, and each made many mistakes along the way.

The whole hidden treasures story line was as intriguing as any suspense novel. Besides the enemies Brice knows of, he discovers new unseen ones.

I think this could be read as a stand-alone story, but it’s a much richer experience to read both of them.

I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully read by Liz Pearce. I thought she did a great job with the different accents, which added a lot to the story.

As always, Roseanna did not write a fluff piece with this novel. She leads her characters to an understanding of their need and God’s abundant grace in an organic and not a preachy way.

Jesus Led Me All the Way

I’ve mentioned before that Margaret Stringer is one of my favorite people. She was a missionary in Indonesia for forty years among former headhunters and cannibals. Though she had a variety of ministries among the people, one of her main jobs was reducing their language to writing, translating the New Testament into their language, and then teaching the people how to read.

The church we attended in SC supported Margaret. When she “retired,” she lived close enough to the church that she was available to come speak to the ladies’ group several times. She could have us laughing til we were in tears telling us about incidents that would have been quite scary when they happened to her.

Jesus Led Me All the Way is her second book about her time in Indonesia, the first being From Cannibalism to Christianity.

Margaret tells how from a very early age, she was sure God had called her to be a missionary. She had a hard time getting the first visa she needed, and it seemed like everyone brought up to her how Paul wanted to go to Macedonia in Acts, but God wouldn’t let him. Margaret wanted God’s will, whether that was Indonesia or somewhere else. But the delays and obstacles just made her more sure that Indonesia was where God wanted her. Later on the field, she was grateful for the hard time she had getting there because of the assurance it gave her that she was in God’s will.

She tells of her arrival on the field, early missionary life, learning the customs and language, getting adjusted to jungle food (like grub worms). She talks about how important it is to understand the world view of the people you’re trying to witness to.

It took a lot of patience to teach people who had not been taught before or hire helpers to learn the language when they had not had paying jobs before. If they wanted to go fishing instead of come to “work,” they did.

One chapter is on “People I Can’t Forget,” most of whom became part of the church there. It took much time and patience and prayer and overcoming many mistakes, but what a joy to see God open people’s eyes to His truth at last.

Margaret includes here one of my favorites of her stories. Once she was in an area where no house or huts were available, so she stayed in a small metal building with open windows (screens but no glass). Once when a terrible storm hit, rain blew in, destroying about 90% of her handwritten translation work. As she tried to salvage what she could and mop up the rest, she felt discouraged. She “fussed” with the Lord about dropping her down in the jungle and leaving her all alone. When she went to bed, something fell off the wall and hit her on the head. She felt like that was the last straw. She turned on her flashlight to see what had fallen. It was a plaque that said, “He cares for you.” She started laughing and said, “OK, Lord, I get it. Thank you.” She comments, “For some people, God speaks in a still small voice. Others of us, however, He conks on the head” (p. 125).

Margaret tells of difficulties in the translation work. She had to consider not just getting the words into Citak, but making them understood in their culture. For instance, they did not have a word for sister or brother—their words were older sister, younger sister, older brother, younger brother. That took some thought when dealing with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. All of their verbs incorporated time of day, so that had to be considered when translating narratives. The suffix “na” at the end of a sentence indicated the information was heard from someone else rather than witnessed directly. In Luke 11:11, when Jesus asks whether a father would give a serpent to his child when asked for a fish, they said, “Of course.” “The Citak people love to eat snake, and a good-sized python has much more meat on it than the average fish, so who wouldn’t want a snake instead of a fish?” (p. 205). they had to find a different word for a poisonous snake that conveyed the idea of the passage, that “no good father would give his son a poisonous snake when he asked for a fish.”

The Citak people had a big celebration day with invited guests, including dignitaries, when they handed out the completed New Testaments. One of Margaret’s greatest joys was seeing the Citak people’s joy at having the Word of God for themselves and their ability to read and understand it. But one of her greatest sorrows was when people from other villages with different dialects wanted the Bible in their language, too. She knew that it would take more time than she had left on the field to translate the NT for all the people there that needed it.

Margaret writes that the people “went from naked cannibals, without the Bible or ability to read, to 23 churches, and having the New Testament in their language. The journey was sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating, sometimes discouraging, sometimes dangerous, but always rewarding” (p. xvii). I’m thankful she shared glimpses of that journey with us.

The Lost Heiress

In The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White, set in the Edwardian era, Brook Eden grew up as the ward of Prince Grimaldi in Monaco. But the circumstances of her real family are a mystery. When Brook was a young child, she and her mother were in a carriage accident. An opera singer came to their aid, and Brook’s mother asked the woman to take Brook, a packet of letters, and her necklace before she died.

Brook friend, Justin, thinks he has discovered her real family and makes the arrangement for Brook to meet them in Yorkshire, England. Brook’s father, Lord Whitby, and his sister know right away Brook is his lost daughter. It takes the rest of the family and the servants longer to accept her.

This happened fairly early in the story, leaving me to wonder where the conflict was going to come into the plot.

Well, there’s plenty of conflict. A distant cousin, Lord Pratt, is a predator who sets his sights on Brook as the heiress of the Whitby estate. He bribes a servant to spy on Brook and bring him information. Justin’s father dies, leaving him as the new Duke of Stafford. His responsibilities necessitate his traveling to his family’s holdings in other countries, leaving Brook vulnerable to Pratt’s machinations. Justin begins to feel more for Brook than friendship but doesn’t want to seem like he is only interested now that she is an heiress. He decides to wait. But when he returns, he and Brook clash instead of resuming their easy friendship. Unbeknownst to either of them, someone has been preventing their letters from reaching each other. Other suitors appear to have made inroads into Brook’s affections. And no one realizes the danger Brook is in from a possession she doesn’t even know she has until a near-fatal attack and a stunning betrayal opens their eyes.

Several of the main characters are Christians and learn to deal with broken dreams, new and uncomfortable circumstances, trust in God when He doesn’t seem to be near, and finding forgiveness.

In the author’s notes, Roseanna said she wrote the first version of this story when she was twelve, finishing it at thirteen! After nineteen years, nine books, and many rewrites, it was finally published as the first in the Ladies of the Manor series.

A story about a lost heiress finding her true home might seem like a fluff read. But I have found no fluff in Roseanna’s books. She brings so much depth into her characters’ personalities and struggle. I enjoyed this book very much and have already started the sequel.

Daily Light on the Daily Path

When I mentioned Daily Light on the Daily Path in my post about pursuing the fruit of the Spirit, my friend Susan commented that she wasn’t familiar with the book. Since that might be the case for others as well, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share about it.

I first heard about Daily Light in missionary biographies, particular Amy Carmichael’s and Isobel Kuhn’s. I don’t remember if I assumed it was an older, out of print book: I don’t recall seeking it out. But one day when a home school conference was held nearby, I visited their sales area. I found a 1906 copy of Daily Light on sale for $2. So I grabbed it! They must have printed a lot that year, because I have worn out two versions from that year and am on my third (the latter two found online).

I found that Daily Light is a devotional book made up entirely of Scripture readings for every day. They were compiled by Jonathan Bagster of Bagster and Sons Publishing Firm for his own family’s devotions. His son later published the readings as a devotional book.

Most of the Scripture selections for the day follow a theme, like the one from September 1 about meekness.

Others follow a progression of thought, like this one.

One of my favorites from April 10 pairs verses together like this:

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.—Thy renown
went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness,
which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God.
I am a sinful man, O Lord.—Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair.
I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.—Thou art all fair, my love; there is no
spot in thee.
When I would do good, evil is present with me.—Be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven
thee.
I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing—Ye are complete in
him.—Perfect in Christ Jesus.
Ye are washed, . . . ye are sanctified, . . . ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus,
and by the Spirit of our God.—That ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called
you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Psa. 51:5. -Ezek. 16:14.Luke 5:8. -Song 4:1.Job 42:6. -Song 4:7.Rom. 7:21. -Matt. 9:2.Rom. 7:18. -Col. 2:10. -Col. 1:28.I Cor. 6:11. -I Pet. 2:9.

We used the book for family devotions for a while, but my husband didn’t like reading verses grouped together out of context. Though I do prefer reading through the Bible a book at a time in order to get everything in context, these selections seem to have been combined prayerfully and carefully.

Many days these readings were just what I needed for the day. One of the most memorable times was when I was in the hospital with transverse myelitis and scheduled for an MRI. Every nurse and aide who came into my room asked me if I was claustrophobic. I wasn’t sure—I’d never been in a situations when I felt claustrophobic before. They described the close quarters of the MRI machine and the need to be perfectly still. They could give medication for calmness for the procedure, but it would have to be done ahead of time. I opted not to take the medicine. The morning of my MRI, September 4, the day’s selection from Daily Light contained several verses about being still, something that had been emphasized to me so much for the scan:

Ruth 3:18  Sit still, my daughter

             Isaiah 7:4 Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted.

             Psalm 46: 10   Be still, and know that I am God

   John 11:40 Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?

   Isaiah 30:15 In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength

             Psalm 4:4 Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still

             Psalm 37:7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him

   Psalm 112:7-8 He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD. His heart is established

When they first put me in the MRI machine, I did feel panicky. But God kept bringing these verses to mind over and over, and they calmed and comforted me.

So every September 4 when I come across these verses, I am reminded of the Lord’s help that day.

Another time that stands out was when we were house-hunting as we prepared to move from SC to GA in the late 90s. The reading for March 6 included these verses:

The Lord your God . . . went in the way before you, to search you out a place to pitch your tents in, in fire by night, to shew you by what way ye should go, and in a cloud by day. -Deut. 32:11,12.
—As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him. Psa. 37:23,24.
—The steps of a
good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. Psa. 34:19.

When I read the first verse to my husband, he said, “Does that mean we’re going to live in a tent? Thankfully, no. 🙂

The 1906 version has a section at the back titled “Thoughts for Personal and Domestic Exigencies” (love that title!) It has a page of Scripture readings for thanksgiving, birthdays, marriage, sickness, anxiety, affliction, and bereavement. My 1999 version doesn’t have this section, unfortunately.

I’ve read Daily Light for about 30 years now. I like to read it to begin my devotional time, to get my mind and heart in gear. But some days, like when we’re traveling, or when I have an early medical appointment, or on Sundays, DL may be all I read for devotions that day.

I didn’t know there were evening readings until I ordered a more modern version. I don’t know if they were added later or if originally the morning and evening readings were published separately.

The original versions use the KJV, but you can find DL in several other Bible versions now. It is also online several places, including Crosswalk (if you don’t mind their ads) and Christian Classics Ethereal Library. This site will send the day’s readings from the NIV via email.

So that’s my long history with Daily Light on the Daily Path. Had you heard of it? Have you read it?

To Treasure an Heiress

In Roseanna M. White’s novel, To Treasure an Heiress, Beth Tremayne loved exploration and adventure. She lived in the Isles of Scilly in the early 1900s and traveled to all of them in her sloop. She found some old letters and a map in her grandfather’s house that indicated a legendary pirate king had lived on her island, Tresco, and had left a fortune somewhere in the vicinity. That was fuel to Beth’s adventure-loving heart.

Beth had a trinket box, given to her by her mother, which had King Rupert’s seal on the top. Beth sent the box to the father of her friend at finishing school who was an expert in antiquities. Her friend’s father, Lord Scofield, authenticated the box—but then sold it! Worse yet, both Lord Scofield and his buyer, Lord Sheridan, were intrigued by the thought that more items connected to King Rupert might be on the islands. Scofield was interested mainly in the purported treasure, but Sheridan was a descendant of Rupert and interested in artifacts.

Worst of all, Sheridan had actually come to Tresco. Beth’s efforts to shield her family from the repercussions of her search had failed miserably. Her grandmother urged her to forgive and to work together with the family, and even Sheridan, to find Rupert’s treasure. But Scofield is looking as well and isn’t above using less than honorable means.

A secondary story line involves Beth’s former governess, Senara, who had been dismissed from her most recent job due to indiscretions. Senara had fallen in love with a man who had misled her, and now she feels tarnished and ashamed. A new friend helps her see that with God’s forgiveness, she can be forgiven and made new.

He makes us with great worth. Creates us that way intrinsically. Our sins, our bad choices, perhaps they coat us like mud. But the mud cannot take away the value He instilled in us. Mud does not make a pearl any less valuable. If it did, they why would Jesus have deemed us worthy of the sacrifice of His life? Because He loves us, as does the Father. Because we are valuable. And the blood of Christ, when it washes us clean, fully restores us to what He created us to be. A pearl cannot be stained. No matter how many centuries it sits in mud, wash it in a bit of water and it’s gleaming again.

This book is a sequel to The Nature of a Lady, which I enjoyed last year. I think this book could be read alone, but it’s richer together with the first. I normally wouldn’t be attracted to a book about chasing pirate treasure, but I have loved everything I have read of Roseanna’s. She manages to bring out deeper levels of meaning for her characters. Parts of the story are touching and sweet; some are even funny.

I didn’t like Lord Sheridan at all in the first book, and when this one hinted at a romance between him and Beth, I didn’t think it would work. But he grew on me in this story.

I found the resolution just a bit anti-climactic. But all in all, I found this a lovely story.

I listened to the audiobook, nicely read by Liz Pearce.

A Book About Death and Dying That Is Not Morbid

Why would anyone read a book on dying if death is not imminent for oneself or loved ones?

Well, in my case, I saw a few quotes that I liked from O Love That Will not Let Me Go: Facing Death with Courageous Confidence, complied by Nancy Guthrie, in Aging with Grace. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Nancy’s other compilations (Come Thou Long Expected Jesus about Christmas and Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross about Good Friday and Easter). I had not known about this one, but when I did, I wanted to get it, too.

And then, I’ve always dreaded death, even as a Christian. I knew heaven was something to look forward to, with the presence of Jesus and the absence of sin, sickness, sorrow, and crying. I assumed that God would give me grace to die when the time came, and I just tried not to think about it much. So I thought this book might provide some help in that regard.

As with Nancy’s other compilations, this book is made up of excerpts from the writings or sermons of Christians as far back as the Puritans and as modern as Joni Eareckson Tada, John Piper, and Randy Alcorn.

The book is divided into four parts:

  • A Reality That Will Not Be Denied
  • An Aim That Keeps Me Pressing On
  • A Hope That Saves Me From Despair
  • A Future That Will Not Disappoint

Ecclesiastes reminds us, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. . . . The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (7:2, 4).

J. I Packer writes:

In every century until our own, Christians saw this life as preparation for eternity. Medievals, Puritans, and later evangelicals thought and wrote much about the art of dying well, and they urged that all of life should be seen as preparation for leaving it behind. This was not otiose morbidity, but realistic wisdom, since death really is the one certain fact of life. Acting the ostrich with regard to it is folly in the highest degree (pp. 15-16).

John Owen says in “Hope Is a Glorious Grace” that we’re like travelers. Some are so busy about other things, they don’t give much thought to the place they are going. Others learn as much as they can about their destination so that they are better prepared and know what they are looking forward to through the discomforts of the journey.

Thomas Boston says, “The less you think on death, the thoughts of it will be the more frightful– make it familiar to you by frequent meditations upon it, and you may thereby quiet your fears. Look at the white and bright side of the cloud– take faith’s view of the city that has foundations; so shall you see hope in your death. Be duly affected with the body of sin and death, the frequent interruptions of your communion with God, and with the glory which dwells on the other side of death– this will contribute much to remove slavish fear” (p. 115).

Several themes came up in many of the selections: Jesus has taken away the sting of death by His own death for us and His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:53-56). Death is “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26), but it is a defeated enemy. This world is our temporary home: we’re just strangers and pilgrims here (1 Peter 2:11). God is preparing us for “a better country, that is, a heavenly” (Hebrews 11:16). God will accompany us through the pangs of death and usher us into His presence. Keeping this end in mind should affect how we live here.

One of the best chapters is “Comfort against Fears in the Dying Hour” by Thomas Boston. It’s excerpted from a longer sermon here. The part in this book starts near the end where he talks about different “cases” and gives help for them—fear of leaving loved ones and friends behind, of the sad state of one’s spiritual condition, of dying too soon, of pain or losing one’s senses at the end

I have multitudes of quotes marked, much more that I can share here. But I’ll try to leave you with some I found most helpful.

Death’s sting has been removed, but its bite remains. It does not have the last word for believers, but it remains the believer’s antagonist until the resurrection of the body. The good news is never that one has died, but that death has ultimately been conquered by the Lord of Life (Michael Horton, pp. 23-24).

“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” (2 Corinthians 3:18). You become like what you choose to behold. Behold Christ, you become Christlike. Gaze upon superficiality and immorality, and it’s equally predictable what you’ll become. Who you become will be the cumulative result of the daily choices you make (Randy Alcorn, pp. 55-56).

Our witness for Jesus is frequently manifested in our absolute weakest moments rather than when we are at full strength (John Eaves, p. 71).

We forget that throughout biblical history, trials, hardship, and death are equally a part of our witness to an unbelieving world as are healing and deliverance and divine blessing (John Eaves, p. 73).

In sickness the soul begins to dress herself for immortality. . . The soul, by the help of sickness, knocks off the fetters of pride and vainer complacencies (Jeremy Taylor, p. 79).

Richard Baxter says God uses sickness “to wean us from the world, and make us willing to be gone” (p. 97).

What more should God do to persuade you to accept death willingly and not to dread but to overcome it? In Christ he offers you the image of life, of grace, and of salvation so that you may not be horrified by the images of sin, death, and hell. Furthermore, he lays your sin, your death, and your hell on his dearest Son, vanquishes them, and renders them harmless for you. In addition, he lets the trials of sin, death, and hell that come to you also assail his Son and teaches you how to preserve yourself in the midst of these and how to make them harmless and bearable (Martin Luther, p. 108).

You say that you cannot abide the thought of death. Then you greatly need it. Your shrinking from it proves that you are not in a right state of mind, or else you would take it into due consideration without reluctance (C. H. Spurgeon, p. 148).

O Lord, when the hour comes for me to go to bed, I know that thou wilt take me there, and speak lovingly into my ear; therefore I cannot fear, but will even look forward to that hour of thy manifested love. You had not thought of that, had you? You have been afraid of death: but you cannot be so any longer if your Lord will bring you there in his arms of love. Dismiss all fear, and calmly proceed on your way, though the shades thicken around you; for the Lord is thy light and thy salvation (C. H. Spurgeon, p. 152).

I appreciated that a couple of writers put words to something I had not been able to express: dread of the “strangeness to the other world” (Owen, p. 100). It’s always a little nerve-racking to go to a new place, but it seems silly to feel that way about heaven. But I’m glad I am not the first person who has. Thomas Boston reminds, “Your best friend is Lord of that other world” (p. 113).

This book was a great blessing to me many mornings as I read it. I’m sure I’ll read it again in the future. I heartily recommend it.

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

The Stranger

In Melanie Dobson’s novel, The Stranger, banker Jacob Hirsch lost his job in 1894 Chicago. His wife had died the year before. He decides to scrape together the cash he can and take his four-year-old daughter, Cassie, to Washington, where he heard work was available.

But Cassie falls ill on the train. Jacob gets off in Iowa, desperate to find help, though he has little money. A woman approaches him, speaking German. She takes Jacob and Cassie to the nearby doctor, who diagnoses Cassie with diphtheria and quarantines them. Liesel, the German woman, insists on staying to help nurse Cassie since Jacob is injured as well.

Jacob learns that the community he’s in is called the Amana Colonies. Its founders immigrated from Germany in the 1830s and the group lived a communal life style. The families lived in individual homes, but each member was assigned a job in the community. They were a charitable group, providing meals and help to those in need. But they were suspicious of outsiders and preferred that they move along as soon as possible.

Liesel works in the gardens, though she wants to work with children. It was arranged that she would marry Emil some day, a baker who wants to be a carpenter. She doesn’t really know him, but she assumes they’ll grow to love each other eventually. She finds it strange, though, that he hasn’t sent word to her or checked on her since she has been quarantined.

In close quarantined quarters, Jacob and Liesel find much to admire about each other. After quarantine is over, Jacob is asked if he will help out in the community while Cassie continues to recover. Liesel offers to take care of Cassie while Jacob works.

The Amana elders commend Liesel for her help but warn her about becoming too close to Jacob. Her father is more adamant than most, with his suspicion of outsiders heightened by his own wife’s leaving him and Liesel and the colonies.

But as Jacob and Liesel’s feelings grow, their dilemma does as well. Would Jacob be willing to stay? Would the elders even let him? Would Liesel be willing to leave the only community she has known for Jacob?

And, unbeknownst to either of them, unexpected trouble is brewing for Jacob back in Chicago.

I had heard of the Amana colonies briefly before. Some might confuse them with the Amish or Mennonites, but there are differences. Neither of those groups lives communally, but they all value hard work and simplicity. The Amana group was known as the Community of True Inspiration, and its followers were called Inspirationalists. They believed that God spoke through certain “instruments” in their time just as He did in Bible days, and they placed their books on Inspirationalist sayings on an equal plane with the Bible. Some of their sayings (sprinkled between chapters in this book) sound Christian-ish, but others are a little off. Like “Whosoever sincerely seeks the treasure within their heart must seek with diligence, abandoning all else. You must search deeply until you reach the unfathomable, wherein you shall be absorbed,” Johann Friedrich Rock, 1717 (p. 118)—whatever that means. So I would call this historical fiction, but not Christian fiction.

But I enjoyed learning more about the Amana colonies, and I enjoyed the story.

Amana members disbanded the commune in 1932, but the society is till there. Amana appliances came from this area, and that business was later bought by Whirlpool. Now the colonies offer tours and sell wares.

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.