Nine Months, One Lifetime, Part 4

The Bait

I continued reading a couple more chapters in the book, Codependent No More, and writing out the exercises at the end of each chapter in my big notebook. I accomplished chapters 11 and 12 by the next appointment. Chapter 11 stabbed into low self-worth. Did I really have low self-worth? Really? That chapter is smothered in yellow highlights. Chapter 12 dealt with changes, disappointments, losses, and the grief process. In an academic way, I took in the information and did the ‘homework,’ Was I really learning? Absolutely! Was I able to break my life down and apply anything? Absolutely not! There were ideas and concepts that made a whole lot of sense; I saw myself in considerably much of what I was reading. Truthfully, I remained busier than a Wham-O Super Ball thrown down the highway. I did not have the skill sets to break down my life and understand psychological issues on a deeper level, for that matter, I did not know there were deeper levels. I was skimming the surface of a very deep therapy and personal abyss. I thought the therapist would begin discussing what I had already handed in at this next appointment.

I was uneasy heading out to the third appointment, given what had occurred at the second appointment. Believe you me, I learned quickly that I was responsible to get checked in one way or another. Thankfully, when I arrived a receptionist was at the desk, checked me in, I took a seat in the waiting room, and the therapist came to get me shortly thereafter. My thoughts – thank you, thank you Jesus that there were no mishaps, I got it all right!

I entered her dim office and sat down in, what would become my permanent chair choice, the chair right by the door. Her disposition seemed different. The atmosphere seemed lighter; something about her had changed. She smiled at me, was very warm, and quite attentive as we talked. Now I presumed we would get right into discussing my ‘homework’ assignments – not at all! She dove directly into our marriage.

The first issue she opened up for discussion was the inequity and division of labor within our household. We discussed my husband working full-time in the corporate offices of a large local retailer; he had been there nearly 15 years, maintained an excellent work record and attendance, and was a very steady loyal man of routine. I was two and one half years into my fifth job (by choice) working full-time in the accounts department of a local hospital. I must admit, I liked all the various jobs I had worked, but occurrences that disagreed with me, schedule changes, or staffing/environmental changes sparked disunity within me and I would move along – nine months, two years, eight and a half years, two years, ten years. I never had difficulty securing employment. I was always a faithful employee; I learned fast and worked fast; I maintained high accuracy and work performance; and I was on top of everything. In fact, in this current job, I collected one million dollars in outstanding receivables in less than six months; there would be no bad debt happening on my watch. So, together my husband and I consistently earned a respectable wage; we had carved out our career niches – the difference being, all else! His company never offered overtime. It seemed that every employer I worked for offered abundant overtime. Of course, I worked as many hours as possible and of course, he never minded; we both always welcomed the extra income in our successful endeavor to pay off student loans early.

On the other hand, home had become a circus for me; I was the seal trying to balance the ball on the end of my nose. I was doing ALL chores – laundry and ironing; cooking and dishes; dusting; vacuuming and floors; bathrooms; kitchen; budget and paying bills; keeping track of birthdays, holidays, and gifts; prescriptions and supplements; lists for groceries, personal care needs, and household products ; mowing and raking; little home repairs; washing and vacuuming vehicles; hosting our friends for dinner; etc. Oh, if I asked him to help, he did with minor dragging, but we functioned like the tortoise and the hare. I knew what needed to be done, jumped right in to get it done without grumbling or much thought, and consistently maintained a meticulous organized home. He had no sense of owning home responsibilities, motivating himself to help, and from my vantage did not really seem to care. There were a few times I came to the end of myself. We had serious conversations about him helping. One particular time, I worked a double plus shift getting home at one o’clock in the morning. For some delusional reason, I thought he would have cleaned house that evening given I worked an eighteen-hour shift and we would have the weekend to rest and do something fun. When I opened the door, absolutely nothing had been done – NOTHING! In the blink of an eye, my mind went racing to his past. Had he betrayed my trust and our established accountability? Not in the ways of his past, but in ways I could not define at the time. A demon rose up out of the dust of my weariness. I spewed venom demanding to know what he had been doing all this time. His response, “I made a conscious choice to do nothing!” He arrived home from work, fixed himself dinner, and relaxed watching TV all evening. The battle became fierce until three AM! There was nothing forgettable or forgotten about those two looooooooooong fierce hours! He always sincerely said he was sorry; he always promised to change and do better; and I always extended grace (so I thought!) Yet, within two weeks, he would fall back into his role of not helping out and not owning any responsibility and I would fall back into my role of shouldering the weight of the world and doing everything. He was not male chauvinistic; he never treated me as a submissive female set on earth to serve him. We were both cut out of far different cloth, but I had no understanding of those concepts. The glue that held us together was our spiritual convictions, a dear friendship we had developed despite our fractured imperfect selves, and our beliefs that we treat all people with dignity and respect. We were never condescending or belittling to each other and we never called each other names. He lived in an oblivious carefree world. I lived in a hyper-everything world. By year 15 of our marriage, I was feeling used, taken for granted, taken advantage of, and unloved by a gigolo.

I was tired. Parts of me felt like I had been in a severe accident, had been in a coma for the first 36 years of my life, and now teeny tiny parts of me were waking up, and I did not recognize this place. I never said those words to the therapist because I did not recognize any of that until much later. The therapist listened intently and though I do not remember verbatim our conversation, I remember feeling like for the first time ever someone was listening; someone was hearing; someone was caring and that right there was the bait dangling on the hook.

She advised me to start asking him for help. I told her I did not want to be his mother; I should not have to ask him for help; he should be a responsible adult. I told her about some friends in a similar yet much worse situation. We would go to their house for dinner and play Euchre or Hearts. Her husband was male chauvinistic and expected to be served, was condescending, and I could go on. When we left their home some evenings, my husband would comment on how sorry he felt for her. It was disparaging and disheartening for me that he could see and attest to her misery and had zero compassion for me. One time driving home, I said to him, “How is it that you can feel sorry for her, but not for me?” He fell silent and did not want to talk about it.

The therapist also suggested I stop doing any chores related to him – his laundry, his ironing, paying the bills, etc. She said to let him run out of underwear and see how he feels about that. She said to let the lights be shut off once and see how he responds. I could not do those things. It felt cruel and irresponsible to me. Between the book and her minor suggestions, I tucked some thoughts away. I needed time to think through and gain more understanding before making choices that certainly seemed unkind. In no way did I ever want to hurt him, harm him, or burden him. The mind is a battlefield, particularly when you simply do not understand or ever experience healthy dynamics.

The homework was never mentioned. The book was never mentioned. Without knowing it, I was in thick therapy fog. I was a blank slate, vulnerable, and completely ignorant of therapy! When matters are left open-ended and unspoken, my mind splinters into various parts trying to understand. Was this book just some additional enhancement to therapy that I needed to dissect and comprehend in view of our discussions? I really did not know, but I did not have the skill set quotient. What I did know is that I would be continuing through the book because I thought that was an expectation as part of therapy whether mentioned or not. For me, it was like academic homework. I would get the assignment completed to the absolute best of my own ability. I would figure this out!

To be continued…

Love you, mean it!

Book: Prisoner in the Third Cell by Gene Edwards

“Shall we scorn that God has revealed so little concerning His ways,
or rejoice that He has revealed so much?”

The book is a glimpse inside the life of John the Baptist, based on the scripture of Matthew 11:6, and the subject that Jesus does not give explanation or healing to everyone. Approximately five years ago, a friend loaned me this book. At that time, my world was swirling in the basement of rock bottom, asking and questioning, “Why, why am I in this dark, foreign pit? Why would God allow all this? Maybe I have been brainwashed to believe in this God?  God certainly does not love all people the same.” The author’s words offered a forgiving mat of padding for me on my concrete basement floor. The book is a gentle read in one sitting; I actually recommend it. It keeps congruency in the progression and brings it all home in the tempering summation at the end.

This is my second time reading the book. Wow! My thinking has changed immensely and I am in a different space in the house now. I am not in the basement of rock bottom. I am not wrestling so fiercely with this God who allows suffering and sorrow with seemingly no explanation. Though I continue to grieve for myself and others, I continue to wrestle with the ‘Why’ questions, and I grapple with fears of slipping into that darkness again, yet I am changed in several ways, not ‘because’ of reading this book alone, but rather through reading this book, God planted seeds of new perspective and thinking. Praise God!  Thank you, God!  

For me, the book is like rinsing with mouthwash; it disinfects the heart and mind a bit. If you allow the story to truly sink in, laying aside personal pain, heartache, expectations, resentment, anger, and anything else that seeps out and infects our hearts and minds throughout suffering, the book can soften the edges of your heart, shift your thoughts, and open a window in the house for a ray of light called hope. Though we may never know in this life the reason for our sufferings and sorrows, we can be confident that our God is sovereign and Jesus is acquainted, and I believe weeps, with ALL our suffering. We can have peace amidst suffering and sorrow; we can trust and have faith when there is no explanation.

A few quotes from the book:

“It has been said that it is impossible to forgive a man who deliberately hurts you for the sole purpose of destroying you or lowering you. If this be true, you have but one hope:  to see this unfair hurt as coming by permission from God for the purpose of lifting your stature above that place where formerly you stood.”

=============================

“There is no end to the wickedness of the human heart.”

=============================

“They do not know,” he (Jesus) sighed. “They will know, but not here on this earth. All they will ever know in this lifetime is that I did not come to them in their hour of greatest need. Today they, like all others, have met a God they do not understand…Everywhere I look I see my people caught up in circumstances not of their own making…Yet I have been to you, as to all others, a Lord not fully understood, a God who rarely makes clear exactly what He is doing in the life of one of His children.”

=============================

“…every believer imagines his God to be a certain way, and is quite sure his Lord will do certain things under certain conditions. But your Lord is never quite what you imagine Him to be.

You have now come face to face with a God whom you do not fully understand. You have met a God who does not live up to your expectations. Every believer must come to grips with a God who did not do things quite the way it was expected.

Today you are resentful of those who so callously hurt you. But no, not really. Truth is you are angry with God because, ultimately, you are not dealing with men; you are dealing with the sovereign hand of your Lord. Behind all events, behind all things, there is always His sovereign hand.

The question is not, “Why is God doing this? Why is He like this?” The question is not, “Why does He not answer me?” The question is not, “I need Him desperately; why does He not come rescue me?” The question is not, “Why did God allow this tragedy to happen to me, to my children, to my wife, to my husband, to my family?” Nor is it, “Why does God allow Injustices?”

The question before the house is this: “Will you follow a God you do not understand? Will you follow a God who does not live up to your expectations?”

==============================

“Your Lord has put something in your life, which you cannot bear. The burden is simply too great. He was never supposed to do this! But the question remains, “Will you continue to follow this God who did not live up to your expectations?”

==============================

“Dear reader, no one can fully understand the pain you feel as you suffer your present situation. Whether it came upon you because circumstances or by the deeds of men, one thing is certain. Before this present tragedy entered into your life, it first passed through the sovereign hand of God.”

==============================

Matthew 11:6

“And blessed are you, if you are not offended with me…

 And blessed are you, if you are not offended with me…

 And blessed are you, if you are not offended with me…”

Book – Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard

“The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet,
and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.”
Habakkuk 3:19

This book was published in 1955 in the UK and from the brief excerpt from the back of the book, extracts considerably from the author’s life.    

The book leaves many fingerprints on me. The journey of Much-Afraid is symbolic to the Christian’s path of transformation in life from unbeliever to child believer to mature believer. It certainly portrays that God, through love, can convert the most damaged soul. The book presents human barriers through various allegories that parallel the ebb and flow tides of life and incomprehensible passageways that most endure framed one way or another  – fear, humiliation, sorrow, suffering, injury, waiting, silence, cruelty, impossibilities, heartbreaking detours, incalculable obstacles  devastating set- backs, learning to accept help, bruising, threshing, grinding, cutting, kneading ,shaping, smelting and refining of dross, complicated hindrances, and constraints  and limitations that peck away at perspective and trust. The story illustrates the importance of humility, faith, hope, trusting in God’s love, presence, sovereignty, and provisions; obedience, courage, surrender, resilience, and perseverance despite the obstacles of evil, temptations, limitations, disabilities, listening to/believing wrong voices or imaginations, attitudes, and lack of understanding. I felt the book was a quick read, yet I paused often to consider what truth the author was symbolizing. The quotes I share below gave me reason to pause and a couple I actually surfaced deep emotion.

I loved the author’s use of creation. These allegorical scenes gave depth of imagery to the struggles and triumphs, as well as the names of the characters and places.  

Nature – landscapes, waterfalls, avalanches, flowers, grass, trees, rocks, mountains, snowy peaks, precipices, pinnacles, valleys, caves, canyon, gorge, meadows, plains, woods, seas, deserts, the moon and the stars

Weather – mist, clouds, sun, blue skies, visibility, darkness, thunder, rain, floods, storms, cold, hot

Four senses – the smells of the flowers, incense, perfumes, and herbs; all the beautiful places and colors she saw as she journeyed; all sounds she listened to in nature, the birds, the songs, and the voices of the other characters; and the taste of food and bitter and sweet water.

Characters and Places

  • Much-Afraid
  • Companions Sorry & Suffering
  • Dismal Forebodings (Much-Afraid’s aunt)
  • Craven Fear the Bully (son of Dismal Forebodings, cousin of Much-Afraid)
  • Gloomy and Coward (Craven Fear’s sister and brother-in-law, cousin of Much-Afraid)
  • Spiteful and Timid Skulking (Craven Fear’s sister and brother-in-law, cousin of Much-Afraid)
  • Pride, Resentment, Bitterness, Self-Pity, Anguish, Despair
  • Village of Much Trembling
  • Valley of Humiliation
  • Shores of Loneliness
  • Precipice of Injury
  • Wilderness of Agony and Disappointment
  • Forests of Danger and Tribulation
  • Valley of Loss
  • The Weed of Impatience
  • Flower of Acceptance and Joy
  • Bearing-with-Love
  • Praise and Thanksgiving
  • Kingdom of Love

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Quotes from the book:

“Then will you let me plant the seed of true Love there now?” asked the Shepherd. “It will take you some time to develop hinds’ feet and climb to the High Places, and if I put the seed in your heart now it will be ready to bloom by the time you get there.”

Much-Afraid shrank back. “I am afraid,” she said. “I have been told that if you really love someone you give that loved one the power to hurt and pain you in a way nothing else can.”

“That is true,” agreed the Shepherd. “To love does mean to put yourself into the power of the loved one and to become very vulnerable to pain, and you are very Much-Afraid of pain, are you not?”

She nodded miserably and then said shamefacedly, “Yes, very much afraid of it.”

“But it is so happy to love,” said the Shepherd quietly. “It is happy to love even if you are not loved in return. There is pain too, certainly, but Love does not think that very significant.”

================================

“She bent forward to look, then gave a startled little cry, and drew back. There was indeed a seed lying in the palm of his hand but it was shaped exactly like a long, sharply pointed thorn. Much-Afraid had often noticed that the Shepherd’s hands were scarred and wounded, but now she saw that the scar in the palm of the hand held out to her was the exact shape and size of the seed of Love lying beside it.

“The seed looks very sharp,” she said shrinkingly. “Won’t it hurt if you put it into my heart?”

He answered gently, “It is so sharp that it slips in very quickly. But, Much-Afraid, I have already warned you that Love and Pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know Love, you must know pain too.”

Much-Afraid looked at the thorn and shrank from it. Then she looked at the Shepherd’s face and repeated his words to herself. “When the seed of Love in your heart is ready to bloom, you will be loved in return” and a strange new courage entered into her. She suddenly stepped forward, bared her heart, and said, “Please plant the seed here in my heart.”

 His face lit up with a glad smile and he said with a note of joy in his voice, “Now you will be able to go with me to the High Places and be a citizen in the Kingdom of my Father.”

Then he pressed the thorn into her heart. It was true, just as he had said, it did cause a piercing pain, but it slipped in quickly and then, suddenly, sweetness she had never felt or imagined before tingled through her. It was bittersweet, but the sweetness was the stronger. She thought of the Shepherd’s words, “It is so happy to love”…

“Thank you, thank you,” she cried, and knelt at the Shepherd’s feet. “How good you are. How patient you are. There is no one in the whole world as good and kind as you…

“I am more glad even than you,” said the Shepherd.”

===============================

“Once the Shepherd stooped and touched the flowers gently with His fingers, then said to Much-Afraid with a smile, ‘Humble yourself, and you will find that Love is spreading a carpet of flowers beneath your feet.’

Much-Afraid looked at Him earnestly. ‘I have often wondered about the wild flowers,’ she said. ‘It does seem strange that such unnumbered multitudes should bloom in the wild places of the earth where perhaps nobody ever sees them and the goats and the cattle can walk over them and crush them to death. They have so much beauty and sweetness to give and no one on whom to lavish it, nor who will even appreciate it.’

The look the Shepherd turned on her was very beautiful. ‘Nothing My Father and I have made is ever wasted,’ He said quietly, ‘and the little wild flowers have a wonderful lesson to teach. They offer themselves so sweetly and confidently and willingly, even if it seems that there is no one to appreciate them, just as though they sang a joyous little song to themselves, that it is so happy to love, even though one is not loved in return.

‘I must tell you a great truth, Much-Afraid, which only the few understand. Of all the fairest beauties in the human soul, its greatest victories, and its most splendid achievements are always those which no one else knows anything about, or can only dimly guess at. Every inner response of the human heart to Love and every conquest over self-love is a new flower on the tree of Love. Many a quiet, ordinary, and hidden life, unknown to the world, is a veritable garden in which Love’s flowers and fruits have come to such perfection that it is a place of delight where the King of Love Himself walks and rejoices with His friends.

Some of My servants have indeed won great visible victories and are rightly loved and reverenced by other men, but always their greatest victories are like the wild flowers, those which no one knows about. Learn this lesson now, down here in the valley, Much-Afraid, and when you get to the steep places of the mountains it will comfort you.’”

================================

“Would you be willing to trust me,” he asked, “even if everything in the wide world seemed to say that I was deceiving you – indeed, that I had deceived you all along?”

=================================

“For one black, awful moment Much-Afraid really considered the possibility of following the Shepherd no longer, of turning back. She need not go on. There was absolutely no compulsion about it. She had been following this strange path with her two companions as guides simply because it was the Shepherd’s choice for her. It was not the way which she naturally wanted to go. Now she could make her own choice. Her sorrow and suffering could be ended at once, and she could plan her life in the way she liked best, without the Shepherd. During that awful moment or two it seemed to Much-Afraid that she was actually looking into an abyss of horror, into an existence in which there was no Shepherd to follow or to trust or to love – no Shepherd at all, nothing but her own horrible self. Ever after, it seemed that she had looked straight down into Hell.”

================================

“Other desires might clamor strongly and fiercely nearer the surface of her nature, but she knew now that down in the core of her own being she was so shaped that nothing could fit, fill, or satisfy her heart but he himself. ‘Nothing else really matters,’ she said to herself, ‘only to love him and to do what he tells me. I don’t know quite why it should be so, but it is. All the time it is suffering to love and sorrow to love, but it is lovely to love him in spite of this, and if I should cease to do so, I should cease to exist.”

===============================

“Again he (The Shepherd) smiled, but only remarked quietly that the important thing about altars was that they made possibilities of apparent impossibilities…”

===============================

“…take the natural longing for human love and desire which you found already growing in your heart when I planted my own love there, go up to the mountains and offer them as a burnt offering…she put out her hand and with one final effort of failing strength grasped the natural human love and desire growing in her heart and struggled to tear them out. At the first touch it was as though anguish pierced through her every nerve and fiber, and she knew with a pang almost of despair that the roots had wound and twined and thrust themselves into every part of her being. Though she put forth all her remaining strength in the most desperate effort to wrench them out, not a single rootlet stirred…in the grave of her own hopes…the priest wrenched it out of her heart, her flower of human love and desire, the plant of longing-to-be-loved, and burned it on the altar.”

================================

“She had the feeling that somehow, in the very far-off places, perhaps even in the far-off ages, there would be a meaning found to all sorrow and an answer too fair and wonderful to be as yet understood.”

=================================

“She felt nothing but a great stillness in which only one desire remained, to do that which he had told her, simply because he had asked it of her.”

=================================

“Every circumstance in life, no matter how crooked and distorted and ugly it appears to be, if it is reacted to in love and forgiveness and obedience to your will can be transformed.”

=================================

“I have noticed that when people are brought into sorrow and suffering, or loss, or humiliation, or grief, or into some place of great need, they sometimes become ready to know the Shepherd and to seek his help.”

==================================

“For he loves each one of us…as though there were the only one to love.”

Grace and Glory, Joy and Peace

“His name is an ointment poured forth…”

Book: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher

A friend loaned me this book with high accolades. I would rather not say how long ago she passed it my way, but I am seeing her tomorrow and was determined to finish reading it. I am typically reading multiple books at the same time, but of late have been trying to dwindle down those numbers.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The book summary on the jacket cover reads:

When his little sister Ruthie Leming was diagnosed at age 40 with a virulent form of cancer, cosmopolitan journalist Rod Dreher was touched by the way the community he had left behind – St Francisville, Louisiana (pop. 1,700) – rallied around her. On visits home during her illness, he was afforded glimpses of a world he had turned his back on as a teenager.

A concert at the town sports park, dubbed Leming Aid, raised $43,000 to help Ruthie, a local schoolteacher, and her husband, Mike, an Iraq war veteran pay their medical bills. At the event an old friend pulled the author aside, pointed to the crowd of people there to support his sister and said, “This is how it is supposed to be. This is what folks do for each other.”

Dreher was also struck by the grace and courage his sister displayed in the face of death. Back home for Ruthie’s funeral, Dreher began to wonder whether the commonplace life Ruthie led in Louisiana was in fact a path to hidden grandeur, even spiritual greatness, concealed within the modest life of a mother and teacher.

To explore this revelation, Dreher and his wife, Julie, decided to leave Philadelphia and move back to his hometown. There he would help with family responsibilities, be there for Ruthie’s girls, and raise his three children amid the rituals that had defined his family for five generations – Mardi Gras, LSU football games, and deer hunting. As David Brooks poignantly described the move in his New York Times column, Dreher and his wife “Decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being a part of a community.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For me, the book started out slow, perhaps that is why I felt like I was dragging it around. However, the book does depict very real issues. Sibling rivalry is a current running throughout the pages. I could not understand Ruthie’s opposition and misperceptions she held against her brother for choosing to pursue his dreams beyond the small Louisiana Parish. Her resentment toward Rod strangulated the potential warm relationship they could have shared and placed undue awkwardness on the family system. Clearly, this was in sharp contrast to the relationships she maintained with her husband and children, the community, the church, and her professional peers. These two contrasts blur her true character for me. I wonder if the author’s rearview mirror was rose colored in an attempt to honor his sister’s life, tempered with trying to bring understanding and closure for him.

The issues of cancer and the far-reaching effects on everyone involved are sad, but West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana showed true value of community. Ruthie seemed to manage her fate with grace. The story does lead the reader to ask questions about what really matters in this life. Her story brings in a little focus on how faith in Christ helps sustain a strength, perseverance, and peace beyond understanding.

I felt half of the book dealt with Rod’s life (the author and brother.) I wonder if the book was away for him to probe and workout his personal life decisions. From an early age, his heart leaned toward escaping the small town. He wanted to pursue bigger opportunities that were not possible if he remained in a small community. He had a constant wrestling inside over his choices of leaving home, which religion he would align with, employment, and cities to live in, a constant mental struggle reconciling his life inclinations.  I got the impression that he grappled with giving himself permission to have his own unique identity and preferences. A point of interest to me was Rod’s spiritual life. I felt a true spirit in pursuit of God. He began as a Methodist in the tradition of his family, but soon ventured into Roman Catholicism, finally establishing himself in Eastern Orthodoxy. Despite these transitions, I sensed a true reverence for God.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

A few quotes from the book:

“She was just kind of magical. She saw something good in everybody, even as a child.”

 “There was something particular about Mam and Paw that made our house a center of community. They did not have a lot of money, but there was always room for more at our table. People dropped by constantly, and stayed for dinner—and sometimes into the night, even during the week. They wanted to be around Mam and Paw, who were boundlessly hospitable.”

“There has to be balance. Not everyone is meant to stay—or to stay away—forever. There are seasons in the lives of persons and of families. Our responsibility, both to ourselves and to each other, is to seek harmony within the limits of what we are given—and to give each other grace.”

“Contemporary culture encourages us to make islands of ourselves for the sake of self-fulfillment, of career advancement, of entertainment, of diversion, and all the demands of the sovereign self. When suffering and death come for you–and it will–you want to be in a place where you know, and are known. You want–no, you need–to be able to say, as Mike did, “We’re leaning, but we’re leaning on each other.”

Book: The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo

Summary of the book from Goodreads:

Rebecca never felt safe as a child. In 1969, her father, Robert Nichols, moved to Sellerstown, North Carolina, to serve as a pastor. There he found a small community eager to welcome him–with one exception. Glaring at him from pew number seven was a man obsessed with controlling the church. Determined to get rid of anyone who stood in his way, he unleashed a plan of terror that was more devastating and violent than the Nichols family could have ever imagined. Refusing to be driven away by acts of intimidation, Rebecca’s father stood his ground until one night when an armed man walked into the family’s kitchen . . . and Rebecca’s life was shattered. If anyone had a reason to harbor hatred and seek personal revenge, it would be Rebecca. Yet The Devil in Pew Number Seven tells a different story. It is the amazing true saga of relentless persecution, one family’s faith and courage in the face of it, and a daughter whose parents taught her the power of forgiveness.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I finished this book a few days ago. My first thought upon completion – WoW!! Somewhere along the way, I missed it, but this story has been featured on Dr. Phil, The 700 Club, Lifestyle Magazine, and CNN.com – probably because I do not watch or read any of these media. For literally years, the Nichols family had been the target of threats – menacing phone calls at all hours of the night and day, threatening letters mailed to their home, drive-by shootings, and multiple dynamite bombings close to their home and the church. The local police and detectives were involved, and eventually the FBI, but all evidence was circumstantial and they needed concrete proof. My husband and I certainly feel more aggressive measures needed to be enacted by the police, the FBI, and the church members, but how deep did the corruption travel? Today I wonder if Child Protective Services would have removed the children from the home due to endangerment and an unsafe living environment.  

My husband and I had many discussions throughout my reading of this book. Some questions we discussed were:

  • What would we have done?
  • Would we have left before the violence escalated to such a disturbing intensity?
  • Would we choose to leave rather than put our children in jeopardy?
  • Why would you remain and traumatize yourself, your wife, your daughter, your son, your congregation, the city, etc?
  • Does God call us to remain in a place of service where clearly lives are at stake?
  • Should we sacrifice mental health, the well-being of our children, the congregation, and the town?
  • Would we choose to take a stand against an unethical wealthy ex-politician paying off officials and henchmen to work his evil schemes and cover up his demonic, depraved acts of hostility?
  • What was there to gain by staying? What was there to gain by leaving?
  • Were there other counter measures and tactics that could have been implemented hard core?
  • Was this down deep a power struggle and battle wills?
  • What would have been most glorifying to God?

The Bible says to live at peace with all people. I believe that whole-heartedly, but I also believe at times peace means not remaining in a volatile situation. Ultimately, our answer is “NO” we would have left to serve elsewhere, but these questions are relative to what a person determines to be God’s leading and what they are willing to pay as the ultimate price. Now, with this all said, I would like to point out that God has used all things together for good. Rebecca, the author and daughter, is a speaker on betrayal and the power of forgiveness and is involved in various other ministries. What a high price tag!

Some quotes from the book:

“And now Danny, the newborn, had signs of a nervous disorder.”

“I knew a thing or two about the impact of losing sleep. When awake, I lived with the constant fear that we were never truly safe. I’d jump at the sound of a car door slamming or at the screech of tires squealing, even if the noise came from someone arriving home for dinner…And when I was asleep, the nightmare we were living followed me into my dreams…”

“Like a puzzle with a thousand pieces, I struggled to fit together into any meaningful order the troubling thoughts swirling in my mind…Night after night, we prayed that this man would have a change of heart. We begged God to take away his anger, to transform his mind by the power of the gospel message that Daddy preached Sunday after Sunday.”

“Lying in bed at night was especially difficult for me. The memories of us living in Sellerstown and the fear that prevented me from falling asleep back then would flood my mind. When the nightmarish thoughts became too much to bear, too loud to silence, I’d get out of bed…”

“Daddy’s fragile condition was severe enough to require heavy medication – even an extended hospitalization of six months…I’m sure his condition was complicated by second-guessing. He had to have wondered about the wisdom of staying in Sellerstown when friends and family had pleaded, begged, and prayed we’d leave before harm was done. Should he have listened? Had he been stubborn? Had this been some sort of contest of wills: Daddy vs. Mr. Watts? Or had the voice of God really confirmed in his spirit that he should not abandon this congregation?”

“But would leaving to save our own skins have been what the Lord wanted? Didn’t Jesus say to take up our cross and follow Him? Did we get a say in where Jesus took us? By definition, a cross, as Daddy knew, was suffering even unto death. The Scriptures don’t paint a rosy picture for those who follow the Lord. Daddy knew full well that Jesus promised, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” That’s part of the deal, part of what happens when living in a fallen world. And yet Daddy also knew full well that Jesus promised His followers hope saying, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world…In spite of what Daddy knew to be true in the Bible, his constant questioning about his decision to stay acted like a stage-four cancer. The speculations devoured his inner being, reducing him to a shell of his former self.”

“Here’s the best way I can describe those years. Imagine taking seven different one thousand-piece puzzles. Then, imagine doing the unthinkable – mixing them all together in one giant pile. Then, after you’ve created the mess, you look at the pictures on the various boxes and realize there are tons of pieces of non-descript sky and fields of grass. Your job is to re-create the seven puzzles. That’s when it dawns on you it might take a lifetime to figure out which pieces fit into which puzzles.”

“It’s always been a mystery to me how God can handle seeing all the pain my family has suffered, as well as all the suffering that goes on every second of the day and night throughout the world. Human understanding is limited. Only the God of the universe could have the capacity and belief to prevent Him from simply closing up shop and saying, “That’s it. I’m done.” Thankfully, no one is broken beyond God’s repair. Our Creator knows exactly how to heal and fix His created.”

Book: Auschwitz Lullaby

Summary of the book from Goodreads:

In 1943 Germany, Helene is just about to wake up her children to go to school when a group of policemen break into her house. The policemen want to haul away her gypsy husband and their five children. The police tell Helene that as a German she does not have to go with them, but she decides to share the fate of her family. After convincing her children that they are going off to a vacation place, so as to calm them, the entire family is deported to Auschwitz. 

For being German, they are settled in the first barracks of the Gypsy Camp. The living conditions are extremely harsh, but at least she is with her five children. A few days after their arrival, Doctor Mengele comes to pay her a visit, having noticed on her entry card that she is a nurse. He proposes that she direct the camp’s nursery. The facilities would be set up in Barrack 29 and Barrack 31, one of which would be the nursery for newborn infants and the other for children over six years old.

Helene, with the help of two Polish Jewish prisoners and four gypsy mothers, organizes the buildings. Though Mengele provides them with swings, Disney movies, school supplies, and food, the people are living in crowded conditions under extreme conditions. And less than 400 yards away, two gas chambers are exterminating thousands of people daily.

For sixteen months, Helene lives with this reality, desperately trying to find a way to save her children. Auschwitz Lullaby is a story of perseverance, of hope, and of strength in one of the most horrific times in history.

============================

My personal review:

The historical fiction novel based on true events is a stark picture of the deception and ulterior motives of a horrific regime. I was engaged emotionally from beginning to end. Though I could never imagine the absolute depravity, severity of extreme suffering, abuse, loss, and death — physically, mentally, and spiritually. I felt the sheer will of the human spirit, the perseverance of the mind, and the slow fade of the soul in the face of hope, false hope, diminished hope, and hopelessness.

Some quotes that I took in were:

p. 183 “Sometimes we have to lose everything to find what is most important. When life robs us of what we thought we could not live without and leaves us standing naked before reality, the essential things that had always been invisible take on their true value.”

p. 233 “Sometimes the things we lack or the obstacles we face become allies that help us endure.”

p. 242 “I had not given up; I was ready to fight to the last breath. It seemed to me that defending our lives was the last act of freedom that remained, yet death seemed so safe and secure that I was not opposed to the idea.”

p. 260 “With its voracious appetite, time always devours the memories and faces of those we love. Memory fights to hold on to them through the strength of tears and the painful sigh of love.”