On friendship and complicated awkwardness

Reading Recommendation: Messy Beautiful Friendship by Christine Hoover

I think I was in eighth grade. I don’t remember the specific contributing factors but I do remember that it was at church on a Sunday morning just before Sunday school. I remember thinking my heart would break over a friend’s betrayal. I remember sobbing unconsolably while one of the Sunday school teachers attempted to comfort me, no doubt assuring me that the sun would come up tomorrow, that the world had not, actually, ended.

Here was our problem: there were three of us middle school girls attempting a BFF trifecta, which, as anyone who has been around preteen girls knows, is an utter impossibility. Someone is always left out or hurt or betrayed. That Sunday it was me and I was utterly heartbroken.

It was my first taste of the complications inherent in friendships between women.

Though I no longer find myself weeping on the Sunday school teacher’s shoulder–one reason being I am the Sunday school teacher after all–I continue to find friendship awkward and complicated, still, all these many years later. I understand that the common denominator has been me and I freely confess:when it comes to finding and being a friend I am awkward and I am complicated.

When I was a young woman–be it college student, newlywed, or young(er) mom–friendship was fairly easy and free and abundant and without all the drama of middle and high school (yes and amen). My friendships then were born of proximity and commonality. Whether it was in the dorm or over playdates at McDonald’s, we were doing life together and not as a catch phrase but for real. It was life, real life, spent together, hours chatting on the phone, hanging out, taking trips even. True, we were an homogenous group but our common experience and circumstance provided a rich foundation for friendship.

As my kids grew older, friendship became more difficult, no doubt due to the general busyness inherent therein. On top of this, not one but two sets of our dearest friends moved away. Left to my own devices I began to realize how bad I was (am) at forming deep friendships. I discovered I had no idea how to make friends, true friends, apart from the ease that comes with proximity and commonality, not to mention the always surprising grace of someone seeking to be my friend first. Hello, awkward and complicated, with a little diva on the side.

I have lots of “reasons” for my complicated awkwardness. I mean, being friends with women can mean comparison and jealousy and cattiness as well as work and vulnerability and time. Not only that but I’m an introvert. I’m a homebody. I’m independent. I think too much. I crave solitude. In other words, I’m not exactly the stuff your dream BFF is made of.

So when a friend suggested we read Messy Beautiful Friendship for our first summer book club title, I knew I needed it. But I was also wary and maybe even a little frightened of what the book might expose in me.

Christine Hoover’s book is a treatise on the importance, nay the necessity, of Biblical, gospel friendships. We need each other, not in the idealized sense of The One True Bestest Friend Over All Others Forever and Ever Yes and Amen, but in the fellowship and accountability as prescribed by the Word of God. She writes,

[T]he goal of friendship is to secure ourselves to the sure, steadfast anchor of Christ and, while holding to that anchor, give and receive the gift of friendship as we have opportunity. The goal is to enjoy God together with others and, as we move through life, to sharpen and allow ourselves to be sharpened by friends. We imitate Jesus with one another, willing to face the stark realities and consequences of sin, all the while persevering in our efforts to offer love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, comfort, and care to one another. In doing so, we display to one another the world how God loves and, through this, bring him glory.

Yes, Christine discusses awkward and complicated and repeatedly encourages us (me) to vulnerability. She is honest about the reality of disappointment and hurt and that friendship is risky and, as the title suggests, messy. She warns against comparison and harboring an idealized BFF wish-dream. She addresses conflict and confrontation and how to do both well in the spirit of love and gentleness. She advocates for wisdom, especially in our social media pursuits, one of my favorite chapters in the book. She reminds us that our friendships point to the greater and true Friend who laid down His life and who will one day, one glorious Day, answer all our longings with Himself.

I am continually surprised that there are those who genuinely want to be my friend and I am grateful for the women who come alongside me in companionship and fellowship. However, I want to be a better friend. Thank you, Christine, for your guidance and wisdom to that end. I needed this book and I daresay I’m not alone.

Book Review: Saving Eutychus

Let me be clear here at the outset: I’m not a preacher. Why then am I interested in reading books on preaching? The short answer is that I am a teacher and I want to be a better one. I want to improve not only in regard to Biblical interpretation and proper application but also in lesson preparation and delivery. To that end books like Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell are both helpful and beneficial.

With its rather tongue-in-cheek title referring to the incident in Acts 20 whereby poor Eutychus dozes off listening to Paul’s lengthy exposition, falling to his death only to be resuscitated by the apostle himself, Saving Eutychus is, by the authors’ description, a primer on “how to preach God’s word and keep people awake.” Included in its instruction is not only the case for expositional preaching but also pointers for developing the main idea of a given passage as well as the necessity of preaching the gospel no matter the text. The proper use of illustration and application is also highlighted. Of particular interest to me was the chapter on preaching through the Old Testament using a “biblical-theological approach.” The book concludes with the importance of receiving feedback followed by critiques of actual sermons preached by each of the book’s two authors.

This being a book on preaching after all, not all its points correspond directly to me and my teaching ministry, the case for a 23 minute sermon for example. And I’m not sure I will be scripting my lessons though I found the authors’ advocacy of such practice interesting. That being said, I really liked this book and enjoyed its practical, concise instruction and its encouragement to be winsome and passionate about the lesson being taught. Authors Millar and Campbell are engaging yet direct and their commitment to the eager proclamation of the gospel is evident throughout the book.

Saving Eutychus is a book I will refer to often as I prepare my lessons. Its value, though, extends beyond merely technical aspects of preaching and teaching. The first chapter clearly reminds the humble teacher (me) that it is not about her. In other words, preachers and teachers must pray. Millar writes…

[W]e seem to be losing sight of the fact that God uses weak and sinful people, and that he uses them only by grace. That’s true in your local church and mine. It’s also true of every podcast and ebook and conference address under the sun. God doesn’t use people because they are gifted. He uses people (even preachers) because he is gracious. Do we actually believe that? If we do believe it, then we will pray–we will pray before we speak, and we will pray for others before they speak. It’s that simple.

This theme is echoed in the afterword. I hope the authors do not mind me quoting it here as I think it perfectly encapsulates both the teacher’s calling as well as the book’s emphasis.

What, then, can we say? Pray. Preach gospel-centered sermons from your heart to change hearts. Pray. Wrestle with God’s word until you have a big idea that faithfully communicates and applies that idea clearly and winsomely. Pray. Apply the message to yourself. Pray. Preach the gospel from everywhere in the Bible. Pray. Deliver your message with the energy and passion that only God can give you. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Pray. Seek and receive critique on your preaching. Pray some more. Preach. Pray. Repeat.

That’s all.

Yes and amen. Let it be so in me!

Whether you proclaim the gospel from the pulpit or from the teacher’s chair I highly recommend Saving Eutychus.

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by Cross Focused Reviews who provided me with a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion. See more reviews of this title as well as purchasing options here.

Comments are closed but the conversation isn’t! Let me know what you think by emailing me at lisa {at} lisaspence {dot} com. You may also find me on Twitter and Facebook.

Book recommendation: Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman

I’m not certain when I first crossed virtual paths with Gloria Furman. However, I do know when our real paths crossed and that was at The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference last summer. Prior to the conference she and I exchanged a few emails brainstorming about the possibility of a blogger get together, and get together we did along with maybe 15-20 other bloggers in what seemed to be the wee hours of the morning on the second or third day of the conference. It was great fun to finally chat with her in person after knowing her via her blog and tweets.

Gloria is as humble and genuine as she appears onscreen. She is passionate about writing and about the gospel; thus her efforts to combine the two are infused with God-exalting joy. When she speaks of treasuring the gospel in her home it is no mere intellectual exercise nor only the premise of a book instructing one to go and do likewise. It is real and the reader senses this as she is confronted by Gloria’s humility and the gospel’s glory.

I am speaking, of course, of Gloria’s (first) book Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home. From the publisher’s description:

Sometimes life feels a lot like a burden—day-in and day-out its the same chores and tasks, challenges and discouragements, anxieties and responsibilities. Dust bunnies show up on the stairwell, social commitments clutter the calendar, and our families demand daily attention and care. At times, just catching our breath seems like an impossible feat.

So where is God in all of this? Does he care about the way we unload the dishwasher or balance the budget? Do the little things like changing diapers or cooking meals make a difference? And how can we use our spheres of influence for God’s glory and our joy?

Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or a working woman splitting time between the office and home, Gloria Furman—writer, pastor’s wife, cross-cultural worker, and mom—encourages us to see the reality of God’s grace in all of life, especially those areas that often appear to be boring and unimportant. Using personal examples and insightful stories, her richly theological reflections help us experience the gospel’s extraordinary power to transform our ordinary lives.

As I read, I found this description to be spot on. Encourages us to see the reality of God’s grace in all of life, check. Richly theological reflections, check. Helps us experience the gospel’s extraordinary power to transform our ordinary lives, check.

Perhaps you find the “home” focus to be a slightly off-putting. If I’m honest, I was too, just a little. I am a homemaker, don’t get me wrong, and I certainly need gospel-hope and gospel-cheerfulness in my homemaking vocation, yes and amen. I suppose I assumed, and wrongly so I was happy to find, this might be another one of  *those* homemaking type books that do little to encourage what with its lists of organizational tips and such. I also wondered, since I am, you know, an old-er woman and Gloria younger, would I find it a little out of touch in relation to my current stage of life?

Well, not only was Glimpses of Grace relevant to me and my life as I know it now, but it totally got in my business and I mean that in the best possible way. Rather than a discussion of the home, it is instead a discussion of the homemaker, more specifically the homemaker’s heart before the Lord regardless of where she works, in the home or at the office. Treating subjects like hospitality and loneliness and pain and contentment, and all with truth and grace, Gloria consistently points the reader to the good news that Jesus saves sinners, sinful homemakers included. I saw myself in its pages and at one point I sent Gloria message asking “How did you know?!?!”

Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home is an encouraging book that I highly recommend. I loved it. I loved Gloria’s honesty and her joyful testimony of the Lord’s sustaining grace. I loved its rich theological foundation. I was humbled as I saw once again the glorious grace of my good God in the midst of the mundane of my life and I rejoiced in Him. I am confident that no matter your stage or age in life, you will find much to encourage and edify as you too catch glimpses of grace in the ordinary.

In conjunction with the release of Glimpses of GraceCrossway Books is offering the following promotion you’ll want to take advantage of…

Purchase a copy of Glimpses of Grace from your favorite local or online retailer from June 3-7 and receive a free copy of the ebook as well as one of Gloria’s favorite resources—the ESV Study Bible Online (ESVBible.org Web App & Ebook)!

 To redeem your free extras, simply scan and email your receipt to glimpses@crossway.org before 11:59am on Friday, June 7.*

 *Any receipts that are not legible, not included, or believed to be fraudulent will be disqualified. Limited to one promotion per person.

 I’d like to thank Gloria and Crossway Books for providing me a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Comments are closed but the conversation isn’t! Let me know what you think by emailing me: lisa {at} lisaspence {dot} com. You may also find me on Twitter and Facebook.

Reading Reflection: The Screwtape Letters

Some of my church girlfriends and I have a book club of sorts, meaning we all read a book and get together and eat and talk about what we liked (or didn’t) about that month’s selection. It’s all rather relaxed and laid back and we have a great time discussing a wide variety of books across different genres.

This past Monday we discussed C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. I was the only one who had finished the book but that didn’t limit our discussion, and, besides, one of the main tenets of our club is that there’s book club grace.

Like a lot of people, The Screwtape Letters is a book I’d started various times over the years but never actually completed, at least not until I was responsible for facilitating the aforementioned book club discussion! It turns out it wasn’t at all what I’d expected.

The Screwtape Letters is, as its title suggests, an epistolary novel comprised of letters from the demon Screwtape to his protege, his nephew Wormwood. Remembering the popularity of Frank Peretti’s novels in the 80’s and the fascination that emerged regarding angelic and demonic activity, I expected something of the same. And, yes, of course, demons are the main characters in Lewis’ story; Wormwood’s “patient”, the human he is attempting to influence for evil, isn’t even named. What struck me most, however, was not demonic method and influence but rather human weakness–specifically my weakness. This is, I suspect, Lewis’s intent: to expose our human frailty by imagining how a couple of demons might exploit it.

As a work of fiction The Screwtape Letters didn’t exactly draw me in. But as a commentary on my susceptibility to doubt and distraction, it moved me to both encouragement and conviction. I marked several passages to highlight during our book club discussion, including the following (Keep in mind that in Screwtape’s world the “Enemy” is God.) :

On perseverance…

Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

On obedience and the will…

The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will. As one of the humans has said, active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.

On “Christianity And”…

If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.

On the middle years…

The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives, and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it–all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.

C.S. Lewis is, of course, a master. The angry fit Screwtape throws in Chapter 22 upon the news that Wormwood’s patient has a girlfriend who is “such” a Christian is hilarious. I think we all enjoyed (what  we read of) this book and would recommend it to any other book club looking for good discussion and a dose of conviction.

Are you part of a book club? What books have you read? Speaking of book club selections, we are currently choosing titles for next year’s list. What books would you recommend? Non-fiction, fiction, biography, theology–we like it all!

Book Review: Cradle My Heart

I have three friends who are post-abortive. Though they have been committed to helping other women in similar circumstances through the ministry of the crisis pregnancy center where I volunteer that is not how we met. Rather our acquaintances began as most do: at the soccer field. Through my son’s preschool. Via mutual friends. In some cases I knew them for years before I knew their stories.

One evening I had a group of women at my home in sort of a preparatory brainstorming session for a Bible study I’d hoped to begin. I don’t remember how the conversation turned but one of my aforementioned friends ended up sharing her story of loss and redemption. She pulled me aside later and told me she had never shared her story without at least one woman present eventually confessing a shared post abortive past. “I want you to know,” she told me, “so you can be ready. Women like me are everywhere. We are sitting in your pews and beside you at soccer games and we are silent because of our shame.”

I’ve never forgotten neither her testimony of God’s amazing grace nor her warning of the many women who may be–and no doubt are–suffering, hurting, grieving, all in silence because of abortion.

In her book Cradle My Heart: Finding God’s Love After Abortion, author Kim Ketola offers hope to those crushed under the weight of post-abortive guilt and condemnation. Sharing her own story of abortion and the forgiveness and grace she found in Christ, Ketola speaks the truth in love and humility, graciously holding out the word of life and the hope of the gospel.

And it is truth that Ketola speaks. I admit to a little wariness prior to reading the book. So much of what is offered Christian women is really self help fluff that does no more than seek to soothe hurt feelings and thus grants no help whatsoever! In contrast Ketola speaks directly and honestly, identifying abortion as murder and sin in no uncertain terms; yet she does so with heartfelt compassion. Over and over she testifies of the grace and forgiveness that can only come through Christ and that this is the only hope for the post abortive woman. Repent and believe God’s love, she asserts.

Ketola also encourages women who find new life through the gospel to be bold and courageous enough to share their testimonies of redemption, much as my friend did in my living room so many years ago. Women need to know the good news that Jesus saves–all women, indeed, including women anguishing in silent shame because of the horror of their abortion.

I’m not without my critiques of the book, however slight they may be. In each chapter Ketola relates an incident from the Bible employing modern day scenarios. For example the crippled man at the pool of Bethseda (John 5) is “Wheelchair Man” in Ketola’s story. No doubt it’s a matter of personal opinion but I’d rather just have the Scripture! Also, at the end of each chapter Ketola offers a prayer and some action points to consider in response to that chapter’s truths. Some of the prayers are somewhat more “familiar” than my prayers may be: “Lord, how I wish you were present physically so I could touch you and show you my great love. I would kiss your feet and stroke your hand. I would ask you where you got such a big heart, how it can hold so much love.”

One response point at the end of a chpater made the statement that perhaps the reader knows she’s been forgiven but she still needs to make Jesus the Lord of her life. I found this quite interesting–not to mention theologically questionable–because she never employed such language in the chapter, a chapter incidentally on faith and believing the truth of gospel forgiveness.

A couple of minor points, as I said, but on the whole this is a compassionate and tender plea to women devastated by abortion to believe the gospel and to find hope and healing in Christ.

Many thanks to Litfuse Publicity Group for providing the review copy of Cradle My Heart in exchange for my honest review. As part of the blog tour, the book’s publisher Kregel will be hosting a live webcast event on September 20 at 8 PM EDT featuring authors Kim Ketola (Cradle My Heart), Teske Drake (Hope for Today, Promises for Tomorrow), and Dawn Scott Jones (When a Woman You Love Was Abused). From the press release,

The webcast will allow women to come together to share their struggles and fears in order to move toward healing and hope. Women will able to support one another and discuss shared experiences in a non-threatening, open and loving environment. To register for the event, just click here

Book review: The Envy of Eve

In her book The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World, author Melissa Kruger defines coveting as an inordinate or culpable desire to possess, often that which belongs to another. In describing this type of desire as inordinate or culpable, Kruger highlights the innate dissatisfaction of our covetous hearts. Whatever it is we seek, we are never satisfied and we always want more, more, more. If we do finally get whatever it is we think we want, we end up wanting something else. It’s a vicious cycle: the more we have, the more we want.

Kruger makes an important observation when she asserts that the cry of the covetous is that “It’s not fair!” Our sense of entitlement coupled with our propensity to compare with others results in the belief that however the Lord has blessed someone else then we have a right to that privilege as well. In fact, at the heart of coveting is the sin of unbelief: we believe that the Lord is withholding something from us and thus we doubt His goodness and His sovereignty over our lives.

By examining the sin of Eve in Genesis 3 and the sin of Achan in Joshua 6, Kruger unfolds the pattern of coveting: see, covet, take and hide. Seeing and coveting we understand. Taking naturally causes us to think of the physical act of stealing. However, Kruger is careful to explain the various ways we can take from others and from God when we indulge in the sin of coveting: we may take in the form of not giving of our financial resources or when we gossip or in holding back friendship or other ministry opportunities. Certainly we take from the Lord when we rob Him of the glory due His name by seeking it for ourselves.

There is power over coveting and that is the cross of Christ. Here is the real strength of this book: Kruger’s consistent and insistent focus on the work of Christ in overcoming the sin of discontent and coveting. Over and over she points to the example of Jesus and to the power granted us by His Spirit. The pattern of coveting can be broken by:

Seeking the Lord instead of seeing
Desiring rightly instead of coveting
Giving generously instead of taking
Confessing freely instead of hiding

The latter part of the book is devoted to specific areas of a woman’s life where she may be tempted to discontent and coveting: money and possessions, romantic relationships, family and friendship, seasons and circumstances, and, finally, gifting and abilities. In each area, Kruger carefully exposes the pattern of coveting through Biblical examples and then offers hope through the new pattern of seeking and desiring rightly, giving generously and confessing freely.

Whether or not you feel as if you struggle with coveting and envy, I daresay you will find this book challenging and convicting. As I read (and underlined copiously), the truth about areas in my life I am prone to covet was exposed and I found great encouragement in the continual reminder of the hope we have in Christ. Kruger writes to women and for women but the truths she exposits are not unique to women. She presents solid, Biblical exegesis of a difficult yet timely subject and she does so with the kind of straight talk that is both frank and encouraging.

I highly recommend The Envy of Eve.

Thank you to Christian Focus Publications for providing a review copy of this book.

Book Review: As Silver Refined

In her book As Silver Refined: Answers to Life’s Disappointments, Kay Arthur writes, “The single most powerful, liberating, peace-giving truth I’ve ever learned in God’s Word is the fact that He is sovereign.” Me too, Kay, me too. The Lord God rules and He reigns. He is in control and He works all things according to the counsel of His will. Yes and amen. The knowledge of this truth has transformed me. I find hope and freedom in the fact that God is sovereign. What comfort knowing I can rest in His gracious provision, no matter what comes!

I expected As Silver Refined to be about God’s sovereignty and it is. Kay Arthur first addresses what she has labeled the “deadly D’s”, which obviously escalate in their effect:

The downward spiral begins…with disappointment. Disappointment comes when our expectations aren’t met. Consequently we’re not happy about it–we’re disturbed.

When this happens and we don’t conquer that disappointment in God’s way, then we spin downward into discouragement. We’re without courage. We want to give up. We want to quit because we’re disheartened. We’re ready to run rather than deal with the situation…

And what follows discouragement? Depression in its varying degrees.

The first “degree” of depression is dejection–a lowness of spirit, a feeling of spiritual and emotional fatigue.

If not reversed this dejection takes us down even further, plunging us into despair and finally into utter demoralization. At this stage of descent, hope is entirely abandoned and is replaced by apathy and numbness. Fear becomes overwhelming and paralyzing and can degenerate further into disorder and reckless action that is heedless of consequences.

It’s war, Kay asserts, and we must be wise to our enemy’s strategy in employing these “deadly D’s” to keep us from the joyous obedience and confident victory that is rightly ours. Beginning with disappointment, Kay speaks to our common experiences of failures, regrets and stress, developing a contrast with the Biblical call to meekness. It is in the discussion of meekness that Kay begins to build on the theme of a sovereign God who grants peace to those who choose to trust Him. We can know that He is the Refiner and He uses trials and disappointments as His fire to refine believers as silver (1 Pet. 1:7).

From disappointment, Kay moves through the remaining “deadly D’s,” warning the reader of the spiraling nature of defeat that will accompany each and offering hope and grace to those struggling with that issue. In every point and every prescription Kay is careful to direct the reader to the Word of God and to Jesus.

Furthering the war metaphor, Kay encourages those struggling with any one of the “D’s” to submit in faith to their good and gracious King, to stay in constant communication through His Word, to pray without ceasing and to obey fully His commands. His promises are our security and His Word our weapon to defeat the lies of the enemy. Included with the book is a thirteen week companion Bible study offering further exploration of these truths.

Interspersed throughout the book are stories from Kay’s life and others as well as letters from readers and participants in Kay’s studies who affirm the Lord’s sovereignty and testify of the power of God’s living Word to bring hope in very desperate circumstances.

In fact, if I have any real quibble with the book, it is that it is more conversational than instructive. Don’t get me wrong; there is plenty of teaching here and good teaching too. It seemed to me, however, to be the sort of instruction one might receive over coffee with an older, wiser friend. Rather than bullet points and sub-points and main points, it meanders a little, sometimes tediously relating all sorts of good things and good stories in the midst of telling you the main thing, if that makes sense. As I said, it’s not a critique so much as it is an observation.

There is hope for the hopeless, glory to God, and As Silver Refined offers both hope and grace for those caught in the desperate cycle of disappointment and defeat. I may have thought it was a little long and perhaps lacked clarity of presentation but on the whole I was greatly encouraged by this book.

Note: I was given a copy of this book by the publisher; my review reflects my honest opinion.

Book Review: Feminine Threads-Women in the Tapestry of Christian History

Diana Severance’s book, Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History, is a crash course in church history, specifically the role of women in the historical narrative of the church. She traces specific women and their stories from the New Testament era through the end of two millennia, all in 300 or so pages! It is a quick and cursory look, to be sure, yet the pace does not hinder her objective but rather helps the reader gain insight into the broad spectrum of the contribution of women in church history, the big picture as it were.

Feminine Threads is chronological in its approach, beginning as I said with the New Testament era and the early church, weaving its way through late antiquity, the middle ages, and the reformation, concluding with chapters on the Puritans, the Victorians, and finally our modern culture. Severance explains her approach in the Introduction:

Each chapter includes general background information important to understanding the historical era of the chapter.  Within each chapter, stories of Christian women are grouped according to their most prominent roles during that period–wives, mothers, ascetics, queens, writers, educators, reformers, evangelists, or philanthropists, etc. Wherever possible, the women are allowed to speak for themselves, from their letters, diaries, or published works.

I confess I know little of church history and even less of the women whose narratives are highlighted in Feminine Threads. As one ignorant of much of what I was reading about, I thought it a fascinating and encouraging. From queens to slaves, women played an important role in the defense and spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the centuries of church history! Some modern historians have attempted to represent church history as demeaning and suppressive to women yet Severance asserts that “we do not need to create an imagined narrative out of speculative evidence.” The evidence is there, as noted by Severance’s thorough research and her extensive footnotes.

True, I may disagree strongly with various doctrinal beliefs or lifestyles of some whose stories are told in Feminine Threads. Yet I find it refreshing that this book…

…[does not] write histories–of commoners or of so-called elite–based on what we would have liked for them to have been. Neither do we seek to superimpose contemporary thought patterns and standards on earlier societies. Though at times the evidence might raise unanswered questions, or we might wish the facts to be different, the truth of the story of women in Christian history inspires, challenges, and, above all, demonstrates the grace of God producing much fruit through Christian women throughout two millennia of the Church.

It does indeed. I was inspired and challenged by the grace of God and the fruit of the gospel borne by these, my forerunners in the faith. Some were quite wealthy and used their wealth and influence to advance the gospel. Some were poor, destitute, martyered for their adherance to Christ. Nearly all demonstrated a fervency in biblical scholarship and a thirst for knowledge that both encourages and shames me. As I read of wealthy queens and of determined missionaries I can’t help but wonder about my own legacy. Certainly for each story told in the pages of Feminine Threads, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of women also serving the Lord with the same boldness of faith, yet in humble obscurity. Feminine Threads reminds me that it is not fame that builds an important and lasting legacy; it is the staunch and steadfast surrender of one’s life to the cause of Christ, seeking His glory and the advance His kingdom in all things. How I want to be found faithful!

I highly recommend Feminine Threads. It is an important and encouraging, not to mention engrossing, read, one that will benefit all believers. I’d like to thank Christian Focus for providing a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion. My thoughts here are part of a blog tour; you can check out other reviews at the Christian Focus Booknotes blog.

Book Review: The Mountains Bow Down

Though I retired from reviewing books for 5 Minutes for Books a few months ago, I was excited for the opportunity to read and review Sibella Giorello’s latest novel The Mountains Bow Down. I’ve read the first three books in her series featuring forensic geologist Raleigh Harmon and enjoyed them thoroughly. Giorello writes the type of redemptive fiction I most enjoy: intriguing characters, absorbing plot, refreshing perspective and a mystery that remains so until the final resolution. All that plus a good dose of Southern sensibility and what you have is not your typical Christian fiction fare.

As I said, Giorello’s protagonist, Raleigh Harmon, is a forensic geologist working as an FBI agent, an unconventional premise to be sure. Raleigh’s character is honestly drawn, with faults and failures that make her both complex and believable, traits important to me the reader (in other words, I have no patience for perfect, plastic heroines). In this her latest adventure, Raleigh finds herself in the middle of yet another mysterious and complicated case, this time while on a cruise to Alaska. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Everything’s going to work out. Time away always makes things better . . ..

That’s what FBI Special Agent Raleigh Harmon believes as she boards a cruise to Alaska. A land of mountains and gems and minerals, The Last Frontier is a dream destination for this forensic geologist who’s hoping to leave behind a hectic work schedule and an engagement drained of romance.

But when a passenger goes missing and winds up dead, Raleigh’s vacation suddenly gets lost at sea. The ship’s security chief tries to rule the death a suicide, but Raleigh’s forensics background points to a much darker conclusion: Somewhere onboard, a ruthless murderer walks free.

Engulfed by one of her toughest cases yet, Raleigh requests assistance from the FBI and receives her nemesis-perpetual ladies man Special Agent Jack Stephanson. As the cruise ship sails through the Inside Passage, Raleigh has five days to solve a high-profile murder, provide consultation for a movie filming onboard, and figure out her increasingly complicated feelings for Jack-who might not be such a jerk after all.

And that’s only her work life. Family offers even more challenges. Joined on the cruise by her mother and aunt, Raleigh watches helplessly as disturbing rifts splinter her family.

Like the scenery that surrounds the cruise ship, Raleigh discovers a situation so steep and so complex that even the mountains might bow down.

I wanted to like The Mountains Bow Down and I did. Is it my favorite Raleigh novel? I don’t think so. While there are twists and turns and quirky characters aplenty, I felt the cruise ship as a setting to be somewhat contrived. I missed Raleigh pounding the pavement as it were as she seeks to unravel the case at hand and achieve some degree of respect in her profession, the Raleigh of the earlier novels. Again, that is not to say that this installment isn’t an enjoyable read. It is. The ups and downs of her relationship with Jack keeps the reader guessing while the desperation and despair that mark her relationship with her mom keep the story authentic and sympathetic. The mystery is mysterious, the resolution surprising, and Raleigh remains likeable and believable.

I like Raleigh. I like a good mystery. I like a well written story. Though perhaps I didn’t like it as much as Raleigh’s earlier adventures, I still liked this one alot.

Thanks to Amy at Litfuse for providing a review copy in exchange for my honest review.

Click this link to check out other reviews, not to mention fun stuff like a Facebook party and a cruise giveaway!