Laudable Linkage

Here are several good online reads found this week:

7 Things Moms Will Always Need to Hear. “Throughout my mothering journey, I think I’ve learned more from fellow moms who are further down the parenting path than from any other source of wisdom besides the Bible.”

Counsel for Those Struggling with Assurance. “Christians wrestle with nagging doubts about their standing with God. In this article, I would like to define what assurance is, explain why Christians might lack assurance, and offer counsel for those who are struggling with worries about their salvation.” If you struggle with assurance of salvation, I invite you to read of my own battle with this in Blessed Assurance.

3 Powerful Ways the Holy Spirit Is Active In Our Bible Study. “Why do some Christians talk so much about Bible study? If we are truly led by the Spirit (Rom 8:13–17), some may ask, what need is there for something as dry and cognitive as study? Could we be in danger of quenching the Spirit and trusting our own efforts if we focus too much on rigorous, academically responsible study of the Scriptures? I cannot capture in a single blog post the sum total of the work of God’s almighty, infinite, and eternal Spirit. But perhaps I can highlight a few of the exceptionally clear and certain ways God has shown his Spirit to be at work in and through the Scriptures.”

Honour the King? HT to Challies. “‘I don’t understand how a Christian can agree to a proclamation declaring somebody other than Jesus to be our only king’. Well, it’s really not very hard. Jesus has the title ‘king of kings’ (Rev 17:14), not ‘the king who obliterates kings’! Jesus calls the kings of the earth to kiss him in Psalm 2, not to repent of their failure to introduce democracy. It’s very possible to be both in authority and under authority at the same time (e.g. the centurion in Matt 8:9). So, Jesus’ kingship isn’t an excuse to look at the British crown and say: ‘Not my king!'”

When Leaders Fall. “Then a few days later, I heard of allegations against another Christian leader – one I am less familiar with but whom I had respected from what I knew of him and his teaching. It brings up all kinds of questions: Why is this happening with so many Christian leaders? How many more? Who else? And how can we know who to trust? There is a lot I don’t know, and I’m still processing it all, but, here are a few things I do know.”

Please Don’t Weaponize Good-Faith Disagreement, HT to Challies. “In this new world, Christians seem increasingly unable to critique without canceling. We don’t see in our disagreements an opportunity to pursue truth together—to argue by appealing to Scripture, logic, reason, and tradition. Instead, disagreements devolve into quarreling. All heat, no light.”

A Plea for Fewer Metaphors in Children’s Talks, HT to Challies. Why teaching from metaphors isn’t effective for those under age nine and some alternative suggestions.

The Theology of Work, HT to Redeeming Productivity. “Many people today find themselves in opposite gutters along the highway of Biblical work; those gutters being laziness and idleness on the one side and workaholism on the other. Some people spend their lives chasing meeting after meeting or shift after shift and others spend their lives binging show after show, or scrolling reel after reel on their phones.”

Love Me, Love My Food. Very interesting article about how learning to love (or at least eat without a show of distaste) another culture’s food is a way of showing love to them.

When Mother’s Day Hurts. It can, for several reasons. But God sees, knows, loves, and helps.

Friday’s Fave Five

Another week has flown by, and I’m pausing with Susanne and friends at Living to Tell the Story to count its blessings.

1. Sunday lunch out with the family at a favorite local Asian place. Jason, Mittu, and Timothy came to church with us and then we went out for lunch.

2. First round of dentist visits over. Somehow I managed to get a cavity in what’s left of a tooth under a crown which is under a bridge. Tuesday the dentist took off the bridge and crown and drilled out the old filling and decay. She doesn’t think the remaining tooth is enough to support another filling and crown, but I’m going to an endodontist next week for a second opinion just to be sure. If not, it will have to be extracted, which will be another appointment with an oral surgeon. Then we’ll have to discuss whether to replace that tooth as well as the missing tooth that the bridge was covering with either a dental implant or partial denture. So, there’s a long way to go yet. But the first part is done, and though not particularly pleasant, it wasn’t awful. I’m also especially thankful for praying friends I sent notes to asking for prayer for calmness of heart, mind, soul, and body during the procedure.

3. A Chick-Fil-A biscuit. Jim had to go out one day for some early morning lab work while fasting. That doctor’s office is across the street from a Chick-Fil-A, so I asked if he could bring back breakfast from there. A treat!

4. Time with family. Mittu texted saying Timothy wanted to come over and play, and offered to make nachos. They brought his bicycle, and we set lawn chairs in the driveway while Timothy rode his bike. Granddad got out his bike and joined him for a bit, and Jason and Mittu and Timothy played basketball for a while. The weather was really pleasant as well.

5. Flowers for the planters. I got them yesterday but haven’t had a chance to plant them yet. It’s supposed to rain much of today, but hopefully I’ll be able to get them planted today or tomorrow. I always love how flowers brighten up the front of the house as well as the back patio.

I hope you have a good weekend celebrating your mom, whether she’s with you in person or in memory.

Miss Buncle’s Book

D. E. Stevenson was a Scottish writer who lived from 1892-1973. Her books were best-sellers in their time and continue to be read widely today.

In Miss Buncle’s Book, Barbara Buncle is a single lady in her thirties. Due to a dwindling income, she decides to write a book to try to earn some extra money. She doesn’t have any imagination, she insists, so she writes what she knows–her neighbors in the town of Silverstream. She changes their names and has them interact in different ways. She sends the manuscript in under the pseudonym John Smith.

The publisher loves her novel, though he can’t quite decide whether it’s written satirically or straightforwardly. Either way, he feels the book will do well.

And he’s right: the book becomes a bestseller.

The only problem is, most of the inhabitants of Silverstream recognize themselves in the fictional town of Copperfield. Some think the book is great fun. Others are offended at the way they are portrayed or at their secrets coming out. Everyone agrees that “John Smith” must live among them—how else would he know them so well? So the hunt is on.

Meanwhile, the book has an effect on its readers. Some recognize their flaws and change. Colonel Weatherhead enjoys the novel but doesn’t see the parallels with his neighbors. He particularly enjoys the colonel in the book who dramatically proposes to his neighbor in the garden. But after finishing the book, Colonel Weatherhead finds himself restless. He’s never been discontent with his life before. But now he seems lonely. And somehow he never noticed before that his neighbor is both nice and attractive. Maybe he should call on her. . . Thus life for some begins to imitate art.

Barbara herself gets lost in her thoughts sometimes as to whether she’s in Silverstream or Copperfield. Her counterpart in the book, Elisabeth Wade, is much more confident. So Barbara begins to act as Elisabeth Wade.

But the discontented readers are worked up to a fever pitch in their search for John Smith and their desire to make him pay for what he has written about them.

Overall this was a fun book with a very satisfactory ending.

Having read much about writing and publishing the last few years, some of the comments on those subjects had me smiling.

Barbara’s publisher: “What fools the public were! They were exactly like sheep…thought Mr. Abbott sleepily…following each other’s lead, neglecting one book and buying another just because other people were buying it, although, for the life of you, you couldn’t see what the one lacked and the other possessed.”

Miss Buncle did impress him because she wasn’t trying to.

Mr. Abbott could have cheated Miss Buncle quite easily if he had wanted to. Fortunately for her, he didn’t want to. It was not his way. You make friends with the goose and treat it decently, and it continues to lay golden eggs.

Miss Buncle after signing her contract: “I’m an author. How very odd.”

Miss Buncle on receiving her first print copy of her book: “She had spent the whole morning reading her book, and marveling at the astounding fact that she had written every word of it, and here it was, actually in print.

“And why to me?” inquired Mr. Abbott with much interest. “I mean why did you send the book to me? Perhaps you had heard from somebody that our firm—­”

“Oh, no,” she exclaimed. “I knew nothing at all about publishers. You were the first on the list—­alphabetically—­that was all.” Mr. Abbott was somewhat taken aback—­on such trifles hang the fates of bestsellers!

Dorcas [the maid] was beginning to get used to living in the house with an author. It was not comfortable, she found, and it was distinctly trying to the temper.

­Authors! said Dorcas to herself with scornful emphasis—­Authors indeed!—­Well, I’ll never read a book again but what I’ll think of the people as has had to put up with the author, I know that.—­Preparing meals, and beating the gong, and going back ’alf an hour later to find nobody’s ever been near them, and the mutton fat frozen solid in the dish, and the soup stone cold—­and them ringing bells at all hours for coffee, “and make it strong Dorcas—­make it strong!” and them writing half the night, and lying in bed half the day with people toiling up to their bedrooms with trays.—­Authors—­poof! said Dorcas to herself.

“Dorcas, I could never give up writing now,” she said, incredulously (nor could she, the vice had got her firmly in its grip, as well ask a morphinomaniac to give up drugs). “You don’t know how exciting it is, Dorcas. It just sweeps you along and you’ve no idea of the time—­”

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully read by Patricia Gallimore. She portrayed all the characters so well, from the sly Mrs. Greensleeves to the morose Mr. Bulmer and the haughty Mrs. Featherstone Hogg and so many more.

This is not a Christian book, so of course I wouldn’t agree with everything the characters do.

This book is the first of three about Miss Buncle. I’m pretty sure I’ll read the next one some time in the future.

All That It Takes

All That It Takes is a sequel to All That Really Matters by Nicole Deese. Val Locklier had been Molly McKenzie’s virtual assistant in the first book. As Molly’s business expanded, she invited Val to move from Alaska to Spokane for a full-time job.

Moving was a big leap for Val. Not only was she extremely cautious by nature, but she had her ten-year-old son, Tucker, to think about. Leaving the support system of her parents was hard. But she felt it was time to spread her wings.

Molly settled Val in the upstairs apartment her brother rents out. He’s out of the country and left Molly in charge. He usually rents to single guys, but Molly doesn’t think he’ll mind renting to Val. They had met a few months before.

As Val settles in, an opportunity for an elite film mentorship unexpectedly opens up. Val wants to expand in that area, but all her insecurities arise to talk her out of taking a chance.

Molly’s brother, Miles, is unhappily on his way home from Mexico. He is the outreach pastor, but the new senior pastor has cut down on outreach and travel–while setting up things like a gourmet coffee bar. Miles grew up with Pastor Curtis, but never felt Curtis adequately filled his pastor-father’s shoes. People seemed so much more earnest in Mexico, focused on the right things. Disillusioned, he thinks maybe he’ll resign his position and seek an opportunity there. He calls his missionary father to keep an eye out for a position.

When Miles arrives home, he finds two surprises. Val and Tucker now live above him. And Pastor Curtis reassigned Miles to the family resource center, a side ministry that is on its last legs.

Miles feels like he is set up to fail, just marking time until Pastor Curtis closes this ministry as well. But he begins to clean things up, gets to know the one or two people still on staff, and learns about what the facility does. Val agrees to take pictures and help him spiff up the web site, but is unexpectedly pulled into the needs of a young woman who visits the center.

As Val and Miles become more attracted, Val is not sure whether her reservations are her old insecurities or a warning sign not to get involved. “Pastor Miles McKenzie was an adventurer by nature, a traveler of exotic places and an extroverted humanitarian who never seemed to sit still for longer than a minute. And while he’d been nothing but kind to Tucker and me during our brief encounters at the fundraising event we attended last fall and again during Molly and Silas’s wedding this March, I was certain that other than his sister, the two of us had little in common” (p. 12). Val is a single mom certainly not looking for adventure.

As Miles seeks his own will for his future, he finds that God might be leading a different way, and he just might have been wrong about a couple of things.

Some of the quotes that stood out to me:

Give me an essay to write anytime. Or a ten-page paper, for that matter, on any number of subjects that I could research and put into my own words. But don’t ask me to think on the spot. Don’t ask me to provide meaningful answers that determine my future without adequate time to prepare (p. 67, Kindle version).

Every story is original not because of the plot . . . but because each storyteller behind the pen or camera or canvas has an original perspective (p. 107).

You might not be able to make sense of God’s plan or timing, but I can promise you that He isn’t confused (p. 126).

In the midst of trials, it’s tempting to confuse release with relief. But make no mistake, they are not interchangeable. One is long-lasting, the other fleeting (p. 126).

Sometimes all that it takes is one person being willing to step out in love for the betterment of another to change the trajectory of an entire life (p. 270).

I’d much rather my life be defined by a thousand little moments of faithfulness than by one big moment of fame (p. 389).

When I started this book, at first I missed the “sparkle” of Molly’s personality from the previous book. She’s in this story, but as a side character. Val and Miles are quieter people. But as I got to know them, I really enjoyed their story.

Healing from Past Hurts

Before Jonathan Goforth became a widely-used missionary to China, he was a farm boy eager to go to Knox College in Toronto in the 1880s. Jonathan originally wanted to go into politics, but God saved him and called him to the ministry.

His mother, noted among the neighbours for her fine needlecraft, worked far into the night putting her best effort on the finishing touches to shirt or collar for the dear boy who was to be the scholar of the family (Rosalind Goforth, Goforth of China, p. 29).

Jonathan’s heart thrilled as he thought how soon he was to live and work with other young men who, like himself, had given themselves to the most sacred, holy calling of winning men to Christ. He had visions on reaching Knox of prayer-meetings and Bible study-groups where, in company with kindred spirits, he could dig deeper into his beloved Bible. So his joyous, optimistic spirit had reached fever heat when he arrived in Toronto and entered Knox College (p. 30).

However, instead of finding kindred spirits, Jonathan became the object of ridicule. “He was unconventional to a degree, and utterly unacquainted with city habits and ways” (p. 31). He realized his lovingly homemade clothes “would not pass muster.” He didn’t have much money, but he bought some cloth to take to a seamstress for a more appropriate outfit. But some of his fellow students found out.

Late that night a number of them came into his room, secured their victim, then, cutting a hole at one end of the material . . . they put his head through and forcing him out into the corridor, made him run the full length up and down through a barrage of hilarious students (p. 31).

Later, Jonathan became involved in a ministry to reach people in the slums. His “enthusiastic innocence” annoyed and amused his fellow students.

He became a subject for an ‘Initiation Ceremony’; hailed at midnight before his judges, students of Knox College, he was subjected, I learned, to indignities, and warned against further breaches of good form by his tales of his ‘experiences with sinners’ (p. 33).

Goforth was deeply hurt, not so much for himself, but that such a thing should happen in a Christian college (p. 33).

Jonathan reported the latter incident to the principal, who soothed his feelings but took no action against what he deemed “a silly prank of foolish boys.”

Many of us have experienced hurt from the past. Sometimes it’s been in the form of passive neglect. We have easily made friends in other schools or neighborhoods, but for some reason, in a new place, we can’t seem to make headway socially. People aren’t actively rude or mean, but we always remain at the bottom of the social pecking order, never really a part of the group.

Other times, like Jonathan, people experience active hazing, ridicule, meanness. Sometimes one person becomes the one everyone likes to pick on or make fun of.

Though I am thinking of incidents from school days, some of these things happen in later life as well.

And some incidents continue to hurt for decades.

What can we do to heal from them?

Draw close to God. After the first incident mentioned above, Jonathan

. . .knelt with his Bible before him and struggled through the greatest humiliation and the first great disappointment of his life. The dreams he had been indulging in but a few days before had vanished, and before him, for a time at least, lay a lone road (p. 32).

We see something similar in Joseph’s story in Genesis 37-50. His own brothers stripped him of the special coat their father had made for him, threw him into a pit, ignored his distress and cries (Genesis 42:21), and sold him into slavery. Then at his first place of service, he was lied about and imprisoned.

Just a few chapters later, we see Joseph taken out of prison and made Pharaoh’s right hand man. So, everything worked out for him in the end. But those chapters represent years of being alone. We see just a glimpse of Joseph’s suffering in the name he chose for his children: “Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.The name of the second he called Ephraim, ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction'” (Genesis 41:51-52).

Though God made us to live in community, He seems to sometimes call His people to walk alone with Him for a time. David “encouraged himself in the Lord” (1 Samuel 30:6) when his followers turned against him, desiring to stone him. Joseph had to have done the same thing for him to later be able to face his brothers with grace and forgiveness and faith. Two life-changing encounters God had with Jacob happened while Jacob was alone. Paul spent a few years alone before becoming accepted by the other apostles and starting his ministry.

Though all others forsake us, Jesus never will. We can pour out our souls to Him.

Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.

I cry to you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!

(Psalm 142: 4-6)

Trust God’s providence. When Joseph finally met up with his brothers years later, he was able to say that God had sent him ahead of them to provide for them in famine (Genesis 45:4-8). Rosalind Goforth said of Jonathan’s “lone road” that “It is not hard to see God’s hand in this, forcing him out as it did into an independence of action which so characterized his whole after life” (p. 32). This doesn’t mean Goforth became a “lone ranger.” But he pioneered missions in many areas and had to stand against the tide of modernism when it crept in.

Wrongdoers aren’t off the hook just because God brings good out of their bad. But God has promised “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The example of passive neglect I mentioned earlier was my experience when we moved to a new area just before I went into 8th grade. I was so miserable, my mom had to almost literally push me from the car when she took me to school. Finally I found one other friend and then other acquaintances.

But I found out later God had a reason for keeping me from the popular group. Things were going on among them that would not have been good for me to be a part of. Plus, it would be just three years later before we moved to Houston and my life changed when I came to know the Lord. As hard as it was to move, it would have been even harder if I were more firmly entrenched with the group there. Plus, If I had gotten involved with them, my heart might not have been receptive to God later.

Some have used past wrongs to be more sensitive to others facing the same thing or to actively advocate for them.

Don’t get back at them. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19-21).

Forgive and do them good. We might never again run into people who have hurt us. But they can keep hurting us if we hold onto bitterness. Jesus said, “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you” (Luke 6:27-28, NLT).

And Jesus provided an example Himself. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

Separate truth from the flawed vessel that contains it. Some who felt neglected or hurt at church have walked away from Christian community entirely. But that would be a mistake. As we get to know God and His Word better, we can discern His truth from the false actions of others who profess His name. I’ve always loved what Jackie Hill Perry once tweeted (though she is no longer on Twitter): “Do you know who God used to heal me of my church hurt? The church.” If we’ve come from a bad church situation, we can pray for His leading to the place He would have us.

Disconnect if necessary. Some hurts from school days are the result of the immaturity of fellow students. But some people keep their penchant for hurting people, either with ridicule or hurtful remarks or worse. Romans 12:18 tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” While we need to obey this admonition, it frankly admits that there are some people that we can’t live peaceably with.

Let it go. Sometimes, long after such hurtful incidents are over, our thoughts can wander back to them. It can take a while to process and heal. But we can get stuck replaying such incidents over and over, especially if we’re feeling down for other reasons. We can remind ourselves, “That’s over. God loves me and cares for me. He’s brought better friends into my life (if not, we can pray for them). He’s given me His grace and work to do.”

I am not a counselor, and my advice is only from experience and Scripture. There are some issues that are deeper than the kinds of things I’ve talked about. Some may experience post-traumatic stress. In these cases, it would be helpful to talk with a pastor, counselor, or trusted mature friend. Abuse needs to be dealt with.

Before Jonathan Goforth graduated, “every student who had taken part in what had hurt and humiliated him . . . had, before he left the college, come to him expressing their regret” (Goforth of China, p. 34).

Further, though his fellow students originally “set him down as a crank” for his “missionary enthusiasm,” “this did not cool his ardor, and his enthusiasm proved contagious. Gradually there developed among the student body a remarkable interest in the cause of foreign missions” (p. 53). When Jonathan’s home church could not afford to send him to the mission field, fellow students raised funds to send him.

Not everyone who experiences hurt and humiliation sees such a turnaround. But it can happen. Until it does, keep walking with God, resting in His love and grace, doing His will.

Updated to add: Donna has a beauitful post this week titled Wounded Healers which takes these thoughts a step further. Go often uses our wounds to develop a sensitivity to others and a place of ministry to them of the same comfort we’ve received (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

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

Laudable Linkage

Links of interest to Christians

Here’s my latest list if laudable links to good, thought-provoking, beneficial reading.

Staying on Your Feet is Really All About Grace. “God is not asking you to single-handedly plan a VBS, execute elaborate parties for your children, or maintain a spotless house.  He is not impressed by heroic efforts or long days or endless lists. He wants you to bend your knees.  He wants you to relax into the rhythm of his keeping.”

A Few Thoughts about Daily Devotions. “Taking time every day to draw near to God through His Word and prayer might be one of the most life-changing disciplines we can cultivate. Below are a few thoughts that I pray will help you develop the discipline of daily devotions.”

Read the Bible in Bigger Chunks, Too, HT to Challies. “Reading the Bible exclusively, or primarily, in small chunks is like that. When we do this, we’re spending our time focusing on the trees. And not only the trees, but the branches, and individual leaves of the trees. And we’re right to do this, of course. Those ‘small’ details matter. But when that’s all we focus on, if we don’t zoom out once in a while, we can miss the forest.”

7 Biblical Truths Countering the False Gospel of “Emotional Health and Wealth,” HT to Challies. We hear a lot about what’s wrong with the “prosperity gospel,” the false idea that God blesses those who obey Him with health and wealth. But sometimes we falsely believe that if we do everything “right,” God will take away any emotional distress as well.

Ten Diagnostic Questions for the Potential Ideologue, HT to Challies. “While boiling political positions and strategies down to binary choices may make for effective political campaigns, biblical faithfulness may not be so easily reduced.” Though this is mainly about handling differing political viewpoints with fairness and grace, the principles hold true for differences of opinion in any category.

When Your Kids Make Poor Parenting Choices, Do You Feel Like a Failure? “We forget that fulfillment for our kids and grandkids will be found only in obedience to God and not elsewhere. This may require that we get out of God’s way and trust his perfect parenting of our adult children.”

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s been a pleasant week. We had a mild cold snap, but overall the weather was fairly comfortable. I’m once again stopping for a bit to recount the week’s blessings with Susanne and friends at Living to Tell the Story. Feel free to join in!

1. A family outing. We all went to a “spring expo” at a nearby convention center with local crafts and small businesses. It turned out not to have very many vendors, but it was still fun to stroll through together. Then Mittu, my daughter-in-law, offered to make stroganoff for us. Jesse, my youngest, couldn’t come for that, but the rest of us enjoyed playing Uno Flip and Minecraft Uno.

2. Lunch with Melanie at a new-to-us place. We tried the Apple Cake Tea Room this month just to do something different. We decided it was too far away to go there regularly, but we enjoyed it. We had to have the namesake apple cake, of course, for dessert. Thankfully Melanie suggested splitting a piece. which turned out to be a great idea, because I was stuffed afterward. The quiche was good but the cake was luscious and just the right degree of warmth.

3. The first hummingbird sighting of the season. We have a hummingbird feeder right outside the kitchen window which had its first visitors this week.

4. The first roses of the season.

5. The biannual closet change-over. I love moving the darker, heavier winter clothes out and the lighter spring/summer clothes into my closet. These days, the off-season clothes are stored in the closet of the guest bedroom, so it’s not quite as big a deal as putting clothes into and out of boxes.

So the first Friday of May ends a week of mostly simple pleasures. How was yours?

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip

In The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip by Sara Brunsvold, Aidyn Kelley has been a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star for a year. But she feels more than ready for a real assignment, not the research she’s done for other reporters and the few light pieces she’s written. She was an award-winning student journalist at the University of Missouri, after all. So she sends a note to the managing editor, bypassing her supervising editor, laying out the reasons she is qualified and eager for meatier assignments.

Aidyn learns there is a reason not to bypass one’s supervisor. The managing editor wants to fire Aidyn, but her supervisor, Woods, advocates giving her a stern-talking to and low-level assignments until she learns humility and respect for the rules.

The first assignment is to interview and write an obituary for a dying septuagenarian, Mrs. Clara Kip. Aidyn dreads visiting the hospice center and talking to a dying woman. But if she wants to keep her job, she has no choice.

Aidyn finds more than she bargained for in Mrs. Kip. But Mrs. Kip isn’t going to unfold her story all at once. She wants Aidyn to make up some extraordinary deaths for her, and for every one, she’ll be allowed to ask Mrs. Kip three questions.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot, because discovering Mrs. Kip’s personality and background along with Aidyn is half the pleasure of reading this book. I had thought, at first glance, that the story line would be pretty predictable. But the author throws in lots of surprises.

Alongside Aidyn’s journey, Mrs. Kip is dealing with the fact that she is dying, having to accept the weakening of her body and her confinement to the hospice center. Even so, she feels God has a couple more things He wants her to do before she runs out of steam.

Some of the quotes that stood out to me:

She could only trust that the Lord was up to something. Because he usually was (p. 2).

Clara gazed at the sliding glass doors of Sacred Promise. Such an odd feeling to know that once she walked in, she would not walk out. She clung to the belief the Lord had something for her here, so she shuffled forward. (p. 12.).

“I did nothing amazing, Miss Kelley,” she insisted. “Despite what you’ve been told. I simply tried to love people as best I could for as long as I was privileged to be with them. We don’t stay long in each other’s lives—that’s the crux of our humanness. You have to be the friend people need while they are there with you, because it’s the only chance you’ll get.” (p. 198).

The Lord will give you all the words you need. It’s not about whether they sound pretty. It’s about what he will do with them (p. 200).

This was a touching and encouraging story in many ways.I enjoyed both Aidyn’s and Mrs. Kip’s journeys.

Circle of Spies

Circle of Spies is the third of Roseanna M. White’s Culper Spy Ring, a real life spy ring active during the Revolutionary War (Ring of Secrets was the first and Whispers from the Shadows was second). Although we don’t know that the ring continued, Roseanna said in the last book that someone in the CIA said it was possible. So Roseanna imagined how the spy ring could have worked during the War of 1812 in the second book, and now in the Civil War.

Marietta Hughes is an unlikely heroine at first. She has lived mostly for her own will and pleasure, not walking with the God of her parents. She married Lucien Hughes, wealthy president of a railroad company. But Lucien had been killed. Marietta had an understanding with his brother, Devereaux, that they would marry as soon as was proper after her period of mourning.

But then Marietta’s grandfather, Thaddeus Lane, informs her that the Hughes family is not staunchly Unionist, as they proclaim. Not only are they Confederate, but Devereaux is the head of a secret fifth column bent on killing Lincoln and seizing power.

As if that wasn’t enough to turn Marietta’s world upside down, Lane tells her that their family has been involved as a ring of spies since the Revolutionary War. Then he tells her that a Pinkerton man, Slade Osborne, is on his way to infiltrate the secret society to try to find proof that will lead to their arrests. Marietta’s job is to distract Devereaux as much as possible to facilitate Osborne’s investigation.

Thus begins a game of cat-and-mouse. Osborne is not altogether certain he can trust Marietta at first. Marietta is revolted at what she has learned about the Hughes family, but must keep pretending she is in love with Devereaux.

I ached with Marietta as she came to face what she had become and wondered if God could forgive her. Sometimes the realization of the magnitude of one’s sin breaks open to them more fully after they believe. Osborne, too, has a broken background, as well as complications from a twin brother whose values were the opposite of his.

By the end of this book, I wanted to put everything else aside to keep reading what happened. There were some quite exciting twists and turns!

I did disagree with one point, though, when a character says that God doesn’t speak for or against slavery. He does: I wrote once about the Bible and Slavery. But I did like what the character had to say about trying to reconcile the views of different Christians on the issue: “At last we realized we didn’t have to, because God so very rarely tells us what society should do—rather, He tells us how we, as believers, should behave in whatever society to which we belong” (p. 226).

In-between this book and the previous one was a little novella titled A Hero’s Promise. Julienne Lane has been helping a friend, Freeda, hide runaway slaves and get them to safety. Julienne is unsure whether to let her fiance, Jack Arnaud, in on the situation.

Meanwhile, Jack has postponed their wedding twice already but might have to do so again. A mentally unbalanced man is being set up by enemies to assassinate President Jackson, and the Culpers must intervene.

The assassination attempt was based on a true event.

I enjoyed these forays in early American history and spycraft. But even more, I enjoyed the journeys of faith Roseanna takes her characters through.

Mary’s Three Encounters with Jesus’ Feet

The first time we meet Mary of Bethany in the Bible, her family is hosting Jesus. Mary’s sister, Martha, was “distracted with much serving.” Luke 10:38-42 doesn’t say the disciples were with them or whether Martha was even preparing a meal, though I had always assumed both. Jesus was teaching, so probably more people were there than Him and the siblings. But however many people were there and whatever Martha was doing for them, she was “anxious and troubled.” I’ve been in poor Martha’s shoes many times. I can only imagine how frenzied I would be, wanting everything to be just right, if someone as important as Jesus was in my home.

I’ve always thought of Martha as the older sibling and Mary the younger. I’m not sure where their brother, Lazarus, fits in, but I’ve assumed the middle.

Mary is found at Jesus’ feet, listening to His teaching. Rabbis didn’t usually teach women, but Jesus welcomed Mary. Mary’s posture indicates she looked up to Jesus, both literally and figuratively. She was so caught up in what He was saying, she seemingly didn’t even notice Martha’s bustling about.

Martha spies Mary listening to Jesus. With older-sister indignation, Martha says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

I don’t know how well Martha knew Jesus at this time. John 11-5 says “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Jesus is often spoken of as coming to or from Bethany, so He probably visited with these siblings many times. But the beginning of this incident simply says, “A woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house” (Luke 10:38), as if they hadn’t known each other before. Martha is quite bold to speak to the Lord so, especially if this is their first encounter. She seemed confident that the Lord would side with her in her busy service.

But He didn’t. He acknowledged her care and concern, but He said, “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth paraphrases Jesus saying to Martha, “Your company means more to Me than your cooking. You are more important to Me than anything you can do for Me” (Place of Quiet Rest, p. 43).  

The second time we see the sisters, Lazarus is seriously ill (John 11). They send for Jesus, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” So by this time, the relationship between Jesus and the siblings is deep and well-established.

But Jesus purposefully waits to come and see them. By the time He arrives, Lazarus has been dead four days and has already been buried.

Martha comes away from the mourners to talk with Jesus. But Mary, coming a little later, “fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.'” Both women expressed faith, but in different ways. Mary was not afraid to share her sorrow and anguish. Perhaps she was also hurt and confused that Jesus had not come sooner. She laid it all at Jesus’ feet.

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4).

The final time we see Mary of Bethany is in John 12, just six days before Jesus’ final Passover with His disciples. Martha is serving once again, but uncomplainingly this time. Mary takes “a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (This appears to be a different incident from that in Luke 7:36-50, though there are a few similarities.)

Mary’s action brought criticism. Judas wondered aloud why this ointment could not have been sold and distributed to the poor (not, Scripture indicates, because he was concerned about the poor, but because he kept the money for the group and helped himself to it.) He not only thought such extravagance was a waste on Jesus, but he coveted it for himself.

But Jesus came to Mary’s defense once again. “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.” A pound of ointment would have been much more than was needed for a pair of feet, so perhaps Jesus was saying that the rest would be used for His burial.

However, the New Living Translation says, “She did this in preparation for my burial,” and a few others have similar wording. If this is correct, Mary got what so many others missed: that Jesus was going to die.

I tried to discover what significance might be attached to anointing feet in Bible times. Scripture speaks of washing feet. People wore sandals on dusty, unpaved roads. So a host would have a servant wash the feet of guests. Jesus does this, taking on the role of a servant, in the Upper Room at the last supper. One article suggested Mary’s anointing Jesus’ feet is a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do.

Jesus is the Christ or Messiah, both of which mean “anointed one.” One article indicated Mary’s anointing was in recognition of Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah.

Isaiah 52:7 proclaims, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” Perhaps Mary was so thankful for the feet of Him who brought the good news of salvation to her that she wanted to anoint them.

But Jesus references His upcoming burial in connection with Mary’s anointing.

Several things stand out to me about Mary.

Her humility. In each of these encounters, Mary is at Jesus’ feet. I had known about each of these incidents, but I just recently made the connection that they all involved Jesus’ feet. James tells us, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6)

Her devotion. She was caught up in listening to and worshiping Jesus, no matter what else was going on around her. She was willing to give sacrificially to show how much she valued Him.

Her lack of self-consciousness. Scripture doesn’t indicate any of her actions were done for self-glory or attention from others.

Her lack of defending herself. She let the Lord handle criticism of her. She knew He understood, even if others didn’t.

Her confidence. She knew Jesus well enough to trust Him with both her worship and her sorrow.

Her intent listening. She hung on His every word.

Her perception. By listening, truly listening to Jesus, she apparently understood what others did not about His coming death.

The only words of Mary that the Bible records are after Lazarus’ death. Obviously, those are the only words of hers that the Holy Spirit wanted to reveal in Scripture. But this and Martha’s outspokenness seem to indicate that Mary was the quiet one. Another Mary, Jesus’ mother, “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Mary of Bethany seems the same type of person. Jesus loved both sisters, and physical quietness is not necessarily more spiritual than outspokenness. But “a gentle and quiet spirit . . . in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4).

Mary could not have known that her humble and loving actions would become inspiration for Jesus followers for more than 2,000 years.

We can’t sit at Jesus’ feet physically, but we can join Mary there spiritually as we humbly and intently listening to His Word and lay our sorrow, confusion, questions, and loss before feet of the One who knows, loves, and cares for us best. We can worship with abandon, giving our all in His honor.

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