Monthly Archives: April 2016

Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning

Abba's ChildA few weeks ago, Switchfoot posted a picture of Jon Foreman’s piano on Facebook. There was some saying or other, but what caught my eye was the pile of books on top, all obviously well-read, with worn covers and creased spines. As a librarian and devoted Switchfoot fan, I had to enlarge the photo and read the titles. I put almost all of those I had not already read into an Amazon cart immediately. Abba’s Child is the first one I opened.

The subtitle of this slender book is The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, and I think we all feel that longing at times. Manning writes here about the search for the True Self, the person created in God’s image, the one we are supposed to be. When I was a teenager, the slogan was, “Who am I?” As the years go by, we add titles to ourselves that describe our circumstances—father, mother, wife, teacher, doctor, Democrat, Republican—but none of these get to the heart of the matter. Who are we supposed to be, and are we even close?

The most famous chapter of this classic work is called, “The Imposter.” At some point in everyone’s life, often when we enter school or even earlier, we find out that other people react negatively to some of our attitudes or actions. Almost without thinking, we change. We hide the parts of ourselves that no one likes, and we pretend to be someone more presentable, more likeable, more popular. If you’re a parent, you may have seen this in your own children. To an extent, it’s peer pressure, but it goes deeper than just changing our behavior. After a while, we forget who we were before The Imposter started taking shape, and depression can set in when we feel an unexplainable self-hatred. In my experience, a new or altered Imposter can come into being at any point in life where we go through major changes: marriage, new job, relocation to another region, and so on. One reason I read this book first is that I’ve recently become aware of a new Imposter in my life, and I’ve been praying about it and trying to kill her off for the past few months. Manning tells us that we have an Imposter because we don’t believe that God loves us for who we really are, but he does. The True Self is who God created; the Imposter is who we think is more acceptable. Manning helps us to believe that God loves our True Selves, but to have sympathy for the pitiful, frightened Imposter as we work to peel her off.

The rest of the book works from this foundation as we desire to move closer to God. In the Gospels, we can see that Jesus responded to everyone with love and compassion, so when we respond to people harshly, it’s because we are not secure in God’s love for us. Manning also teaches us to live in the present risenness of Christ. If we believe in the past earthly life and resurrection of Christ and look forward to the end of our lives (or end of the world) for our reward, but live our daily lives in between these two events as a dry, duty-filled bleakness, we are not experiencing the power of the present risenness of Jesus Christ. I have known so many good Christians who are missing out on this intimate relationship with God, concentrating on following rules and doing good works. The world is a better place because of them, but they are missing out on so much joy.

There is so much more to this rich volume, and I think I could read it once a year with great profit. Some of the theology is probably too liberal to pass an orthodoxy test, but the vast majority is thought-provoking, comforting, and inspiring. There is a discussion guide at the end, but I can’t imagine discussing these topics with any but my closest believing friends. It is very personal. If you want help rekindling a passion for the One Who knows you best and loves you unconditionally, immerse yourself in this contemplative work.

Highly recommended.

Note: Jon Foreman, besides writing the foreword to the latest edition of this book, recorded a song about fighting against The Imposter. You can listen to it here.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman

Dark Days ClubLady Helen Wrexhall has been practicing her curtsey over and over to ensure that she will not fall flat on her face during her presentation to the queen. Now that she is eighteen and ready to enter society, her aunt and uncle hope that she will make a good marriage and somehow overcome her late mother’s disgrace—whatever it was. Lady Helen, however, is feeling increasingly restless, particularly when she secretly holds her mother’s miniature in her palm and sees other people surrounded by a blue glow. Her distant cousin, Lord Carlston, seems to know far too much about Helen’s distress, but he is not to be trusted, since the rumor is that he is responsible for his wife’s death. Carlston has just returned from a few years on the continent, and everywhere he goes, strange and dangerous things happen.

Helen’s mother’s disgrace, it turns out, was her ability to fight demons—an ability which Lord Carlston believes Lady Helen has inherited. Her ladyship’s plans had not extended beyond her first London season and a successful proposal, but her life has become far too complicated. What is the proper attire for an exorcism, for example?  Thank goodness for her excellent ladies’ maid. And what will she do about a respectable marriage now? Wicked Lord Carlston has irresistible charms, but if Helen does not accept the attentions of her brother’s friend, the Duke of Selburn, her uncle will quickly throw her out on her ear without a penny to her name. What’s a Regency debutante to do?

Alison Goodman’s fascinating novel starts off in Jane Austen territory, but quickly wanders far from that good lady’s realm of understanding. Lady Helen deals with dancing and demons, marriages and murder, parasols and pornography. Some scenes are not for young teens. The tension builds throughout the novel, as the reader cannot be sure of our heroine’s choice—of husband or profession. I found myself peeking ahead to the last few pages. As the bad boy, Lord Carlston sizzles, but the Duke of Selburn is a good man and would make a sensible choice, too. Lady Helen’s abilities continue to grow, and she encounters danger all over London, from the royal palace to the lowest back alleys. Goodman clearly reminds the reader of the narrow confines of women’s lives in the early nineteenth century, as well as the consequences that befell those who tried to reach beyond those limits.

So, so much fun, especially for older teens and adults who love Austen and Regency romances, but are not afraid of the genre-blending of light horror or fantasy. Goodman leaves us all set up for a sequel, and I can’t wait! Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of The Dark Days Club. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Gardenias

GardeniasMy mother loved gardenias. We have a picture of her as a seventeen-year-old bride, standing beside her World War II soldier, holding a cascading bouquet of white mums and gardenias. To the end of her life, they remained her favorite flower.

Last week, I went out on my back porch to water all of the potted plants, and when I ended up with leftover water in the can, I walked to the end of the porch and poured it into the wildly overgrown gardenia in the yard. Leaning forward, I examined the early spring state of the plant: healthy and covered with leaf buds. No flower buds yet. Then suddenly, I found that I was watering the shrub with my tears.

When my father died in 2004, two mourners who knew her well gave my mother potted gardenias at his funeral. She planted one in her yard, and she gave the other to me. This is the plant at the end of my porch. It sits in front of the dryer vent, soaking up the heat, never invaded by pruning shears, thanks to the ignorance of its owners. By now, it is well over my head, and it blesses us with abundant blooms twice a year. The fragrance seeps through the walls and windows into the house. Intoxicating.

Last year, at the very end of May, we went to South Carolina to see my mother in the hospital. She was about to have surgery to remove her pacemaker, since it may have been causing a serious infection. Just before we got in the car, I cut off a double handful of the last spring blooms and buds from my father’s gardenia plant to cheer her. When we arrived, the nurse was entering the room as I asked whether Mom could have flowers, and her official answer was, “No.” But when she saw the homely nature of the bouquet, she relented. “Oh. Alright.” So we stuck our offering into a plastic hospital pitcher, and the room filled with their aroma. I asked Mom if it was too much in the small space, and she said, “Oh, no. I love gardenias.”

We had no idea that night that a few days later, Mom would leave us to go back to her beloved groom, the fragrance of his gardenias in her hair.

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