I Am – A 60 Day Journey to Knowing Who You Are Because of Who He Is

I Am: A 60-Day Journey to Knowing Who You Are Because of Who He IsI Am: A 60-Day Journey to Knowing Who You Are Because of Who He Is by Michele Cushatt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is something very real about the testimonies that Michele shares in her book “I Am”, which is directly taken from Exodus 3:14 where God says to Moses, “I Am who I Am”, one of the most famous verses from the Old Testament. I Am is also the first two words in each one of the sixty entries offered up in this work.
The sixty days are broken into five themes: Creation, Exodus, Covenant, Presence and Rescue. Topics range from such things as I am loved, I am weak, I am blessed, I am called, I am saved. Each days topic starts off with a substantial introduction story that relays a truth for the day. That is followed by a quote from a well know and respected theologian or writer. The final piece in each days activities are the guided questions or prayer starters to help the reader explore the topic in a more personal manner.
I appreciated the very humanity that Michele shares in the personal stories, encouraging me to believe that Michele isn’t the perfect woman lecturing me on how to live, but rather she shared her frailties and struggles that, to coin a phrase, meant she was keeping it real. There are no dull pages to simply get through but each day is an encouragement to keep walking in faith towards being more like Jesus. Compassion and courage are both found here in spades. This book would make a wonderful daily devotional or could even be used by a group to study together.
This book is a winner.

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The Women in the Castle

The Women of the Castle

Jessica Shattuck

Five Stars

 

This is a glorious novel first and foremost. Every page is filled with writing so evocative that it leaves the reader stunned and in brilliance. This story covers a large scale of time, from 1923 to 1991, but all the pieces are gathered around the Second World War and Germany’s place in history.

When it begins it is November 1939 and Marianne von Lingenfels is the niece-in-law of the French born, German by marriage Countess who owned Burg Lingenfels, the castle of the title and is married to Albrecht, the

…man who contemplated grand abstractions… while shaving. It rendered him oblivious to everyday things.

She is thirty one, mother of three children and is in tacit agreement with her husband’s stand against the Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, although his dissent is kept private carefully among the many Germans who are ardent Nazi’s.

Germany was being run by a loudmouthed rabble-rouser, bent on baiting other nations to war and making life miserable for countless innocent citizens.

 

For so long Marianne and Albrecht and many of their friends had known Hitler was a lunatic, a leader whose lowbrow appeal to people’s most selfish, self-pitying emotions and ignorance was an embarrassment for their country.

Her best friend is Martin Constantine (Connie) Fledermann, a charming man whom no one, not even crazy Hermann Goring is immune to Connie’s charisma. Somehow, without meaning to, a group of likeminded men come together during a grand party at the castle and agree that Hitler must be stopped before he turns Germany into a country of shame amongst the nations. Marianne is accidently drawn into the group and is deemed the commander of wives and children as the men argue over how they should rid Germany of Hitler. At first Marianne is insulted by the title, seeing it as a putdown for being a woman. Her understanding of its implications only occur to her in the coming years.

Marianne is disciplined and has a strong moral compass. It is these characteristics that are the power behind her every move over time. From just before the war was declared, we are then carried to the end of the war, when Germany is in shambles and people are displaced all around Europe. As the commander of wives and children, she takes it upon herself to search for and rescue as many of the families who were punished for their husbands’ part in the assassination attempt of Hitler on July 20th, 1944.

 

In July 1945 Marianne finds Benita, the wife of her dearest friend Connie, who was being held as sexual hostage by Russian soldiers and her seven year old son Martin, who had been placed in a Nazi run Children’s Home for children of traitors. In August of 1945 Marianne found Ania Brabarek, wife of a man who had brought information regarding what would be known as Kristallnacht to the dissidents, and her two sons Anselm and Wolfgang in a displaced persons camp. From this mismatched group she created through sheer will a family of sorts who lived in the castle, surviving together for several years.

The story then takes us into the near future and looks at the women and the lives they created in the 1950’s, when life was better for Germans, but the past still clung to them heavily every day.

“I know who you are,” he hissed in her ear. “The traitors wife.” She could feel is penis hard against her leg through his pants. “I know your secret.”… You ladies of the castle think you’re better than everyone else,” he said with a dry laugh. “But I can smell a cunt lover a mile off.”

So there were to be new chapters. This was the happy feeling that filled Marianne after Ania’s wedding. To see her friend married to a good man, a good German man (almost an extinct species!) this was a hopeful thing.

Ania and Benita had moved forward in a fashion, although they were still viewed with suspicion for being ‘traitors’ wives, but Marianne clung to her past as a resistor with a righteous indignation. She felt that even though it was in the past, she had to hold people accountable for the sins they had committed during the war. Further still into the story we travel to 1991, when all of Marianne, Ania and Benita’s children are grown and as adults they now must deal with the aftermath of the war and what their parents had or hadn’t done during it.

There is beauty that drifts off each page, nothing is left to a bare essentials retelling. Shattuck creates splendour even in the face of horror. The story is strong and you feel real sympathy and sometimes irritation with the characters. It never feels as if the novel is trying to make excuses for the Nazi era and it doesn’t paint all Germans in a righteous manner of being objectors one and all that so many other novels often fall prey to, such as in Wait For Me, by Caroline Leech, which has a feeling of un-realness about it. For the harsh truth is if so many people in Germany didn’t agree with the war, Hitler’s plan would never had taken a hold as they did. People in Germany did turn a blind eye to the misery they were inflicting upon so many innocent people around Europe and they didn’t care, they believed in and wanted what Hitler was selling. Instead this book it paints the women of the castle as partners whose husbands had played a heroic but tragic part of the war’s history. This book will take concentration and commitment to read, and it is glorious.

I cant wait to see what Jessica Shattuck comes out with next.

 

 

A Girl Walks Into a Book: What the Brontes Have Taught Me About Life, Love and Women’s Work

 

A Girl Walks Into a Book

Miranda K. Pennington

Three Stars

 

At first it’s really not clear if this book is to be counted as a work of fiction or non-fiction. Ultimately it reads like a wonderful story that envelops the Bronte sisters and Pennington in ways that are peculiar and satisfyingly strange. Eventually one must decide that it must come down on the side of non-fiction because so much of it is based on the real lives of both the aforementioned. Pennington turns a quirky personal love life story into a hilarious comparison to all the things that can be learnt from the stories written by the three Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne.

 

Sometimes we read to find ourselves; sometimes we read to escape ourselves; sometimes we read to see ourselves more clearly.

 

Throughout the course of the book Pennington looks at how her current life experience could be seen to be mirrored in one of the Bronte’s novels. She starts with the classic Jane Eyre and explains her first love of reading it as a child and how so often as an adult she felt a kinship with the fictional character. Indeed, Pennington seems to behave as if all the characters from a Bronte novel were once real people.

 

“….it still startles me to be reminded that they aren’t real. It seems much more likely they exist in the ether somewhere, fully formed and waiting for a reader to bring them to life again.”

 

Themes such as what is love, who are you meant to be and what does real love looks like are covered and more. We travel through Pennington’s life, comparing different situations and stages that align with different portions of Bronte novels. All novels share insight and a working knowledge and a course of action such as Wuthering Heights being a cautionary tale for overzealous attachment to one’s first love. Agnes Grey is a mentor for finding a job, finding another one if needed, succeeding in one’s career and learning to stand on your own two feet. Shirley gives insight into female friendship and women’s options in life. These comparisons are often both comic and insightful.

 

The fact that these things happened in life and in literature is part of what gives them resonance. It’s what allows the Brontes to capture detail and write so realistically. It’s what makes them true.

 

This is entertaining and yet one feels the very rawness of Pennington’s confessional style on every page. For those who have not read the entire Bronte canon, it serves as a tempting suggestion to throw oneself fully into the business of self-education. Pennington herself is honest about her faults that make her all the more real for her struggles and all the more accessible as a person. This is a delightful book that will please both the ultimate Bronte lover and the uninitiated.

 

Really enjoyable

The Gingerbread House

 

The Gingerbread House

Kate Beaufoy

Fourteen year old Katia is the only child of Donn and Tess. For three weeks her mother and she will be living with ‘the witch’; otherwise known as Eleanor, Katia’s 90 year old grandmother who is suffering from vascular dementia who requires around the clock care. This is normally taken care of by Lotus, the home help, but she is going to Malaysia because her daughter is getting married. Eleanor lives in a beautiful, slightly run down home that Katia refers to as The Gingerbread House, because it reminds her of the witches house in Hansel and Gretel.

Tess has just been made redundant from her work in the advertising industry and is going to replace Lotus in an attempt to earn some money and see if she could become Eleanor’s help full time, something she is resistant to, as being her mother-in-law’s physical carer is not what she wanted to do with her life. But the family can’t survive on what Donn brings in as a freelance journalist, so Tess’s hands are tied.

Katia is very observant for a fourteen year old girl. There isn’t much that escapes her attention.

Do you know something? I sometimes think that my parents imagine that just because I cannot talk doesn’t mean I cannot hear. I hear everything. Katia is all ears.

She shares a very intense visual of what her grandmothers body looks like, in great detail, which is none too flattering. She is aware of her mother’s drinking getting heavier and heavier as the weeks go on. She sees how her mother is quaking under the responsibility of taking care of Eleanor, but seems helpless to offer her mother anything but emotional support. But she does share her thoughts of the situation with Charlotte, the spider living in the tree house, named after one of her favourite literary characters from Charlotte’s Web. Literature is a very important part of Katia’s life. Something she shared with her parents, whom are artsy kinds of people.

Beaufoy isn’t afraid to take the reader down the very real pathway of life caring for an older person, exploring all the aspects that make it such a difficult, often thankless job. But the writing is so beautiful that one often forgets to be revolted or horrified and instead is entranced with problems such as the finer points of giving an elderly person a bath for example. Katia shares her conversations that often follow no discernible thread with her grandmother. She also shares that she wants to have conversations with her mother in her dreams. Little hints are scattered through the prose that one so often skips over, but there is a mystery involved within this novel, but its revelation leaves the reader feeling like they have had a blow to the belly.

There is a certain sadness and yet an undeniable relief at the closing of the story. It’s not a very long novel, but it is filled with beautiful turns of phrase. It unravels and slowly reveals the truth and the horror of life gone wrong. This piece is glorious and gentle, brutal and direct. It is well worth the time to read.

After Jodie

After Jodie

 

Barbara Whitnell

Two Stars

 

This is purported to be a mystery romance novel, but what it really is a half-hearted attempted at a mystery that leaves key components out of the story and leaves a lot to be desired.

 

Prue is supposedly the best friend of Jodie, who has mysteriously died in a tragic cliff landslide accident but is the last person in the town to find out through the grapevine. She is the mother to two year old Jamie, the child she conceived with a pathetic no-hoper that she married too fast and who then left her after leaving her deep in debt, high and dry as a single parent living in a friends cottage basically rent free. Jodie worked in a super fancy hotel in her village and after much inner searching Prue takes over her job which is a perfect fit because it was so close to where she lived and childcare could be conveniently worked out. It’s at this fabulous hotel that Prue notices that there are some things that are not quite kosher with the staff and takes to playing detective to try and work out what really happened to Jodie. Also part of the story is a loose love story between Prue and the brother of another girlfriend. That’s it. That’s basically the story.

 

It feels as if this is just a first draft and that much of the detail has been left out of the story that the author neglected to put in during later edits. There is little to no anticipation in the mystery part of it. The love story is weak and I don’t mean the feeling weak in the knees kind of weak. Rather, it is just a so-so with a little bit of heavily disguised hanky panky in the mix. The drama highlight involves a gun and a child, but even that isn’t enough to rouse any real emotion in the reader. This book is devoid of any real excitement and sadly, it inspires little more than a ‘meh.’

 

Is the Bible Good for Women?

Is the Bible Good For Women

Wendy Alsup

Some men have used a twisted view of biblical manhood to assume authority they did not have over women. Others have twisted Scripture to lord authority they did legitimately have over others in domineering, harmful ways.

 

This was perhaps the most notable section of this book, otherwise it is a ‘think of heaven as the ultimate goal and put up with what you’ve got for now’ kind of book in my opinion. I really hoped that Alsup was going to write a book of the truth for women but as usual, it fell short of the goal for me. Alsup takes a good long while looking at what the Old Testament says about the fall of mankind and then slowly works her way up to what she believes the bible is saying about how women should act and behave today.

 

Alsup begins the book by looking at the first wave of feminism and how it has its roots in the church in its desire to give women a vote and equal rights. She then says that the second wave of feminism is where the church and the cause parted ways. She encourages the reader to look at the baggage of what they currently might interpret the bible says about women and the motive for reading the book before really researching the topic (which one would imagine would include reading her book and agreeing with its conclusions) and getting to grips with the topic from a Jesus-centred understanding of Scripture.

 

Alsup is good at teaching big theories and concepts with her background as a mathematics teacher. She suggests that if you don’t understand the Bible generally, you won’t understand it specifically about women. She then goes to great length to look at some disturbing areas of the Old Testament. Such as Genesis 34, Deuteronomy 22 and Judges 19, which involve the abuse and rape of women which is often very troubling parts of Scripture to people who don’t have the necessary knowledge of what these stories actually mean. She also takes us through a journey through the whole Bible to see how (in her mind) all things bleed together to form a consistent thread of knowledge and understanding on where women stand with God whilst they are on Earth.

 

 

She teaches that women are called helper, which in our modern culture is not seen as a very important role and often is despised by further explaining that the word used in the original language is ezer. God Himself is called our helper, our ezer, the same word used of the first woman in Genesis 2:18…. If we hold in to the dominant cultural attitude that being a helper is a substandard identity, we mock the name of God and His character. This is an interesting part of the book in which the role of women are highlighted and held up high in value.

 

After spending a great deal of time looking at the narrative throughout the course of the Bible as to the value of and role of women, she then goes into deeper exegesis as to Scriptures and the hope they hold for women. This is when it becomes a whole, ‘think of the blessings later and don’t worry so much about the now’ sort of teaching. It became really frustrating in that she excuses herself from answering questions we may have as not being possible this side of heaven.
Note that we will not resolve all questions in the New Testament pertaining to women. I can’t imagine that is possible this side of heaven! Even questions I am able to answer for myself I may not answer for you. … But in the end, I will leave you to wrestle with the Spirit in your own study of the Word to draw your personal conclusions and private applications. Perhaps this is where I would encourage readers to get a hold of a copy of “Ten Lies The Church Tells Women: How the Bible Has Been Misused to Keep Women in Spiritual Bondage” by J. Lee Grady as further reading towards understanding what a woman’s role in this world and church is to be.

 

There are distinctions in the church, particularly relating to the spiritually authoritative role of elder, or overseer, which Paul reserved for men.

Is this passage good for women? We are called again to consider our definition of good here…..

 

It is important to note that my personal views of church authority structures play into the application here. By conviction, I follow a Presbyterian view of church authority, in which elders are those with spiritual teaching authority, and deacons are those called to serve the needs of the church under the elders’ leadership.

 

We are taken through some difficult passages in the New Testament that have been misunderstood, miss-interpreted and misused by men and leadership in the church in regards to women. The way each troublesome passage is explained in and of itself is fairly done, but in the end it left me feeling that rather than empowering women, this book tells women to stay in their holding pattern and wait for heaven. I wanted it to be a book that explained how Jesus dealt with it all (the impact of sin on our lives) on the cross and set women free, but just never got that impression from the work. It teaches that women are allowed to be in limited leadership within the church, but still not allowed to gain positions of authority and power. The feeling of disappointment is the overriding sense of this book.

 

 

 

 

 

The Sacrament of Happy – What a smiling God brings to a wounded world

The Sacrament of Happy

The Sacrament Of Happy – Lisa Harper

The Sacrament of Happy is a sweet little book full of laugh out loud moments, deep insights and Biblical truth. It can be read in a couple of hours easily and you will not be bogged down with more questions than answers it offers.

 

Happy. The word itself conjures up idyllic images, doesn’t it? Like a toddler in overalls splashing through puddles while gleefully chasing a frog…. The kind of word a middle school girl might doodle in her diary with big loopy p’s and a flower woven into the tail of the y, right?

 

Harper asks the question of what is our view of God. Is He a stern, gruff face full of authoritarian anger, or is God a smiling, joyful, happy being that we view with kindness? God is most often described by Christians as holy, but very rarely happy. And it’s that very mindset that Harper wants to challenge and change. She explains through the exegesis of different passages in the Bible how the original words written in Greek meant the word happy, and how it changes the whole view of the passages to what we generally view it to mean.

 

There are actually thirty-seven references to ‘happy’ in the Old Testament and forty-eight in the New Testament. Randy Alcorn’s book…notes more than 2,700 pages where terms related to happy – gladness, merriment, pleasure, celebration, cheer, laughter, delight, jubilation and feasting – are used.

 

Harper asks questions such as is God happy, is being happy even holy, is happiness an absence of sadness and can happiness change the world. She answers the questions with stories from her own life as a busy single mum of a little girl with HIV to looking at stories told in the Bible and how they related to the truth Harper is trying to teach.

 

Easy to read, full of things to explore further and learn, Harper shares stories from her own life to give greater impact to what she is teaching, which are often hilarious. She asks questions such as if its possible to be happy even after horrible things have happened to us or to the ones we love and treats the topic with gentle tenderness. She gives examples and backs up things Biblically. This is a great book to read, ponder and then act upon

While God doesn’t need us to be happy, He chooses to include us in His joy.