31 January 2013

LMM Reading Challenge Ends

     I always have good intentions. Unfortunately my follow through doesn’t always line up. So, this is the second year I’ve participated in the Lucy Maud Montgomery reading challenge (it’s not over by the way. I’ve still got today) and the second year I find myself at the end of January thinking, “How did I NOT finish a series written with teens as a target audience?” I meant to read The Story Girl because I won it last year through one of Carrie’s giveaways. That didn’t happen because I’m yet again pushing through Anne of Green Gables. I have been mulling over why this has happened twice and I think there are two things at work here.
     The first is that I think I have a long time so I put it off. I’ve read other books this month and tend to think I have an awful lot more time than I actually do. So, perhaps the answer is not to wait until the middle of the month to start the first book.
     The second is Anne of Avonlea. For whatever reason, book number two in this series does not work for me. The first book is delightful and hilarious and I love everything about it, but at the end Anne is clearly growing up. Then Anne of Avonlea happens and for some reason she takes a step back in maturity. At least, it seems to me. Maybe I remember 17 more than I remember 11 and am judging Anne too much against myself. I don’t really know what it is. But I’ve overcome that obstacle and sailed straight through Anne of the Island which is absolutely a triumph on Montgomery’s part. 
L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge
     Anne of the Island takes the reader through Anne’s college years and explores heavier topics in a very gentle manner. Anne discovers that love wasn’t what she thought it was from thinking too much about dark heroes and romance, and Ruby Gillis, a childhood friend, dies. The scene where Anne talks with Ruby before Ruby dies is probably the biggest reason I liked this book last year, but this year was different. I understood a lot more when Anne discovers that the young man she had known for years, learned to laugh with, and considered a close friend turned out to be the one she loved all along. I couldn’t help nodding along like, “Yeah, you and me both, Anne.”
     Anne of Windy Poplars is almost my second favorite of the series. Almost. I love books that are written like letters or journals. It makes me feel closer to the character as long as it is done well. And somehow it’s so much easier to read. Also, I just love the word “epistolary.” This book makes me laugh more than Anne of Green Gables did.
     I was also very impressed with the redemption of Katherine Brooke. Katherine Brooke is another teacher who works with Anne at Summerside High School. Anne takes a job as a principal for three years till Gilbert finishes medical school and they can get married. *ahem* Yes, they were engaged for three years. Moving right along, Katherine is a hard bitter woman when Anne meets her, but beneath the tough exterior, she is looking for friendship and love. Anne works over at least a year (if not more, I’m having trouble remembering) to love Katherine, meeting with rebuff after rebuff until she finally is able to crack open Katherine’s barriers to find a friend beneath. I’ve said it before. I’m a sucker for a redemption story, and this is so Christlike isn’t it? I mean, we were worst than Katherine because underneath her shell she actually DID desire friendship. We were God’s enemies and He loved us until we were loveable.
     I am now on Rainbow Valley which is where things began slowing down tremendously last year. I’m going to attempt to not let that happen. I think I’m going to lay aside The Storygirl but I truly regret that aside from Anne I haven’t really looked into Montgomery’s other works. I read Anne of Green Gables in conjunction with both the LMM challenge and The Reading to Know Book Club 2013. 
Reading to Know - Book Club

10 January 2013

Me, Javert, and the Intolerable Compliment

     I am prone to sudden accidental bursts of insight. Common grace is real, guys. I had one yesterday when I read this post by Ann Voskamp after watching Les Miserables with some friends (and then again with my sister…no judging).  For the record it was a great film, but please view it before letting your kids see it. Sacha Baran Coen makes an appearance in the film, and I tend to think most of the roles he plays are a little foul. This one is no exception and there were some scenes with him I could have lived the rest of my life without seeing.
     I’m going off of the assumption that you’ve all seen any of the film adaptations already or read the book. If you haven’t yet and you hate spoilers stop reading now. I mean it. Spoiler alert. *ALERT!* If you haven’t yet and you don’t care about spoilers, you may keep reading. If you have, you may be slightly bored by my going over the plot just a teeny bit. I promise to be swift.
     Les Miserables begins with the prisoner Jean Valjean imprisoned for theft and for trying to run away twice. He has just now been released, but his record will follow him for the rest of his life. The overseeing officer during his time of imprisonment, and his number one demotivater is Inspector Javert. Even when Valjean effectively turns his life around, Javert, intent on the law continues to hound him waiting for him to fail again. “Once a thief always a thief” he says and sings. Twice throughout the story Valjean saves Javert from loss of his position and loss of his life, yet Javert continues to believe Valjean will always be a thief and a dangerous man. Anyway, other great and important things happen and you should read it if you haven’t, but there comes a scene where Javert finally lets Valjean go free, after which he thinks everything he has lived for is gone, and he commits suicide.
     So, I know a lot of people smarter than me have written about Javert and how he is like the law without the gospel, and he doesn’t believe people can change and so on and so forth. I think there are plenty of things to be gleaned from this character, but one thing I took away after reading the Voskamp post was that Javert cannot bear the weight of love. And I, sometimes, can be a lot like Javert.
     I didn’t realize quite how prone to this I am until I started dating someone. I recently told a friend how amazing it was that dating someone really brings your issues to the forefront of your mind. Boyfriend often tells me he loves me and this is very thrilling to hear. But sometimes there is a little nagging voice in the back of my head telling me, “He wouldn’t love you if he knew quite how sinful/annoying/weird/insert-your-own-negative-descriptive-word-here you are.” He has recently called me on this behavior quite a bit and I’m making an attempt at improving, but it made me think a lot more about my relationship with God and how I handle the weight of His love as well.
     Sometimes I will be having my quiet time in the morning and right in the middle of a prayer I will suddenly think of a sharp word I said to a parent or even things from years back that I still feel embarrassed about. They are sins that I should (and most of the time already have) repented of, but they still seem to stand in front of me blocking my way to God. At these moments I use my two standby verses. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” John 1:9 and “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16) I often have to read them both multiple times, until my heart believes it.
     I even know intellectually that it is Satan tempting me to dwell on myself and my sins instead of “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” but I continue to be like Javert and choose death and the law over life and the gospel. Because really that is what I am doing. When I am tempted to see love as conditional in people or in God, I think I have to earn the love I am given. I can never do that. Especially not with God. Even the tiniest sin (like there are tiny sins right?) is a flailing against the order and commandments of God and it is a declaration that I know more than God. If I was trying to gain God’s love by doing good things or refraining from doing bad things, I could go ahead and jump off the same bridge Javert jumped from because I’d be going to hell anyway.
     The only way to handle the type of love offered from others or from God is just to relax and be grateful. I’m learning to listen when Boyfriend tells me he loves me, and I’m learning to believe that God sacrificed His son because He loves me. I’m learning that in the mess of me, I have been loved into loveliness.

Not what my hands have done, can save my guilty soul
Not what my toiling flesh has borne, can make my spirit whole
Not what I feel or do, can give me peace with God
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears, can bear this awful load

Thy grace alone, O God, to me can pardon speak;
Thy power alone O Son of God, can this sore bondage break.
No other work, save Thine, no other blood will do,
No strength save that which is divine, can bear me safely through.

02 January 2013

January's Montgomerypalooza

 I'm doing this again:

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

The L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge is hosted annually over at Reading to Know. You make thank Carrie for this unique opportunity. I will be reading the Anne series. Yes, again. I'll also be reading The Story Girl and maybe more. We'll see. I tend to take on more than I actually can do. I won't be reading The Blue Castle.