Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. - II Timothy 2:15

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Be A Coal Heaper

I am a terrible arguer. I'm not usually the first to admit it, but I am. I get flustered and emotionally involved and when my temper is really up I make weak accusations that are easily deflected.

On the other hand, my siblings are great arguers. I don't know how they do it, but they tear my points apart like confetti and I always end up trying to figure out the best way to extricate myself from the situation with the least damage to my dignity.

One would think that I would have figured out "oh, just don't argue", but I'm also stubborn and quick-tempered. I don't mean to get into arguments but if pushed just a teensy bit too far I will wade into the fray.

Obviously, this bothers me - A LOT. I can't argue. I can't defend myself. I can't justify my temper because I always end up in the wrong. I'm just not smart that way. I used to wonder how I could become a better arguer {as if that would solve the problem...} but I never came up with a conclusive curriculum to follow.

And then today it occurred to me:

Why would I want to become a better arguer? As a Christian {and not speaking of persuasive or debate-style argumentation} I should have zero use for such a skill! There is absolutely no situation in a Godly life where a bolstered skill in "I'm right, you're wrong" argumentation should come in handy. I shouldn't take pride in destroying my opponent because I shouldn't be arguing at all!

Proverbs 25:21-22 says "if your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you."

I know this is a pretty obscure verse to pick out when discussing arguments {especially with verses like Proverbs 15:1 going around} but I personally think that coal heaping has a lot more context than food and water.

I hate it when I'm spoiling for a fight and my opponent refuses to be engaged. It's humiliating. There I am steaming like a kettle on the boil and they're as cool as a cucumber, taking the wind out of my sails and heaping coals of "this is how you should have responded to the situation" on my head.

The Holy Spirit doesn't miss a beat. If you take the wrong path, you're liable to get heaped with coals. So don't be the receptacle, be the heaper! Not only is it impossible to humiliate yourself by doing what's right, but you'll generally come out on top just by staying calm and also have nothing to regret or explain later on.

 Until next time!
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Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Review: The Ever-After Bird

4 out of 5
Recommended for: Y/A Fiction
Categories: historical fiction/easy reads

Now that her father is dead, CeCe McGill is left to wonder why he risked his life for the ragged slaves who came to their door in the dead of night. When her uncle, an ornithologist, insists she accompany him to Georgia on an expedition in search of the rare scarlet ibis, CeCe is surprised to learn there's a second reason for their journey: Along the way, Uncle Alex secretly points slaves north in the direction of the Underground Railroad.
Set against the backdrop of the tumultuous pre-Civil War South, The Ever-After Bird is the story of a young woman's education about the horrors of slavery and the realization about the kind of person she wants to become.

I love Ann Rinaldi. I have ever since I picked up The Staircase at the library when I was a young teen. I've made it a point to own nearly every book she's written. I've recommended her work to nearly all my friends. I've followed her heroines from the Civil War to modern day to the Revolutionary War to Mexico to the Salem Witch Trials to 17th century England and back again and enjoyed nearly every ride. She's that good.

But when I picked up The Ever-After Bird I wasn't so sure I would like it. With the past few books I've read by her, I've been slightly disappointed. I don't know if that's due to the fact that I'm growing up and her writing style {which is still fresh and excellent in the worst of times} hasn't or if she just lost her touch for a few books {understandable; she's written at least thirty} and I happened to read them all in a row. However, my sister mentioned that she had liked it, so I thought I'd give it a try. 

It has become clear that Ann's best relationships are older male mentor to a young {usually early teen} girl - either a sister or a ward. She's a past master at creating literary crushes {I find one in nearly every book} and her writing just can't be matched. She's SO creative with her words, her dialogue is never dull, her plots are solid, her premises intriguing, her research exhaustive. 

Thus she creates CeCe. 

{I'm not going to recreate the synopsis, so you'll just have to go back and read it if you're anything like me and just skimmed or skipped it}

To be honest, I didn't really notice the plot. It escalated gradually and came to a quiet climax. What was important was each little domino that fell in turn. Something like slavery, with all the stories and horrors, is hard to portray. It's really impossible to comprehend cruelty unless you are either present for it or experience it yourself. CeCe portrays this well - the confusion over her feelings about slavery and the slow horror she develops as she witnesses its reality. {In the author's note, Ann Rinaldi discloses that most of the things she has CeCe witness were actual documented happenings and that she even toned some of them down for her narrative}

Really, the plot is an even pattern of traveling, stopping at a plantation, unpleasant experience, more traveling, find something along the road, stop at another plantation, another unpleasant learning experience, Earline causes some sort of trouble, back on the road again, ect. Uncle Alex's ornithology and his warnings of the slaves aren't what's important here. However, it is interesting to see how each plantation operates and how each individual owner's view of their property is reflected in the treatment of their slaves.

There are a few slightly mature moments and conversations since CeCe is a growing girl who can't keep her mouth shut and Uncle Alex is a doctor and somehow it's common for them to discuss things that might make some girls uncomfortable to read. 

Overall, it had a promising start, but unraveled near the end into a rather anticlimactic finish. 

CeCe McGill 
CeCe is a delightfully and also frustratingly obnoxious Rinaldi heroine. She's very typical of the author in being headstrong, plain-spoken, stubborn and tending to idolize the male who has her charge. Not everything she does makes sense {which I think is more a weakness of plot than a weakness of character} but her heart is usually in the right place even if she does disobey her uncle at nearly every turn.
I found her observations about slavery to be very sound and interesting. Her thoughts on anything else were generally less sound and she had an annoying tendency to be very appropriately immature. However, her confusion over her own treatment and views of slaves were honest and thought-provoking. Forced by her circumstances to act as if she agreed with slavery and also to treat the slaves around her - Earline included - in keeping with those views, she grappled convincingly with the consequences of such power.

Uncle Alex
Rinaldi literary crush extraordinaire. Much less realistic than the Rinaldi heroes of yore, he comes off way to strong in the romantic category. 
The man can do no wrong. There is nothing wrong with him. He's the perfect mixture of handsome, strength, vulnerability, rightness, wrongness and excels at nearly every activity known to man.
 I didn't buy it this time.
However, his back story IS intriguing {wish there was more of it} and he does have a very good tongue in his head when it comes to interesting dialogue. 
He treats CeCe a little more leniently than is good for her {she could do, on several occasions, with a darn good spanking} and I'm not sure why he has no control whatsoever over Earline when she appears to worship the ground he walks on. 

Incredibly confusing. She was a former slave with an extraordinarily complex history. CeCe often complains of not being able to understand a thing she does, and I am in wholehearted agreement. I can't decide if she was really complex or if she was just allowed to do anything and everything she wanted because the author needed a little action in the plot. She seems like the type of character who would be difficult to control. 
Earline does, actually, provide nearly all of the action with her independent defiance of the boundaries between slaves and whites. She's the one who CeCe first must treat as a slave {a difficult feat after how she treats CeCe in Ohio where she's free}. She's the one who goes on and falls in love with a white man in the middle of the Deep South. She's the one who stubbornly does exactly what she's been told not to do and she's also the one who pays the steepest price {even though CeCe makes a solid second} when the climax eventually rolls around. 

This isn't Elsie Dinsmore or Anne of Green Gables. Rinaldi's characters are usually pretty gritty and defiant. They're not obedient, quiet or sweet. Thus there is some language, a lot of disobedience and gobs of literary crushes. But there's also solid history, real-life issues, realistic characters and a refreshing lack of picture-perfect scenarios. 

It's life - with a lot of great dialogue thrown in.  
Till next time!

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

One Kind of Perfect {Part 1}

There's something amazing about God {pulled out from among the infinite ways He is GOOD and faithful and loving} that is hard and wonderful and mind-blowing.

How He refuses to let us continue in our sin.

Just thinking about that makes my head twist. First of all He created us. We messed that up good. Second of all, He died for us. We can't accept it without trying to earn it. Third of all {it makes you wonder how He can keep on bothering} He continues to bail us out. Because this, this ladies, is a God who CARES.

I confess that I am not good at catching on. When something goes wrong, God's goodness is the first thing out the window. Then He's subjected to a lot of worrying, fretting, complaining, ect. because I've got to fix this. Me. I'm gonna figure out what the dickens is wrong and make it work again.

Not so, as the Psalmist says, the wicked.

Because the very thing I'm trying to fix - trying to make go away - is what God is using to teach me the truth that will bring me one step closer to Him.

You'd think by now I would have figured this pattern out, but I haven't.

Take, for example, last month.

You know how it says in Proverbs 31 that "charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised"?

Do you want to know how badly I screwed that one up?

When I was younger, my mom always called me "average" - which I took to mean that I wasn't as thin as my sister and probably a little overweight - and I was. I didn't like it, but I was too lazy to change.

A little less than a year ago, I started running {consistently}, came across the idea of portion control, and made healthier food choices. That's all. It's amazing what just those three things can do. I lost 13 pounds and had to get new jeans and ditch some of my skirts. People noticed. It felt GOOD.

Now before you get the wrong idea about where I'm going with this: no, this isn't a story about anorexia. When it comes to that, this is me:

However, as that 'success' went to my head and gave me the wrong idea about my image, I turned twenty and my dad lifted the ban on makeup.

It was fun at first. I didn't really need it, but it made me look just that much better. It wasn't until I realized that I didn't feel pretty without it that the problem began.

You've already heard {well briefly} the saga of the eyelashes. Now I will tell you the saga of the skin.

 See, I usually have pretty clear skin. It's always been {I'll be honest} a point of pride and a comparison mark for me. I got the occasional breakout, but hey, what is coverup for? In February, however, it didn't stop. My face was a mess. Even my dad {my dad!} noticed. He asked me {with considerable bluntness} "what happened to your complexion?"

I was devastated.

My father had noticed those red blotches all over my face. Great Scott, was there a lower depth to be plumbed? I was losing my beauty! Coverup wasn't making a dent. I couldn't figure out what was causing it. I became the mirror's face, I looked in it so often. I would literally stand there for minutes on end and bemoan my skin - and my eyelashes {which were acting up again. If it doesn't rain, it pours} And of course I compared myself to other girls.

*sigh* I remember when my skin used to look like that...

Does she know how lucky she is to have such thick eyelashes?

Phew, at least my complexion isn't that bad.   

I wonder how much makeup she uses to get that look?

I suppose if you guys haven't all had the same thoughts at one point, you'd probably stop reading now.

But there's more.

The world has this standard called 'beauty' and it's all on the outside. It's funny how we fall so easily for the pictures on the magazine covers without remembering that not even the models and actresses on those covers look that way in real life.

Now I know that unless I am an airbrushed model on a magazine cover, I will never look like an airbrushed model on a magazine cover. That's just the way it is. I can't Photoshop my face while it's still attached to my body so there's certainly no hope for me in that quarter. And, normally, I'm ok with that.

But when that precedent slips and I don't catch myself and remember that only the world defines beauty as what's on the outside, I find myself caught in the trap that says "this is beauty and there is no other. How much will you sacrifice to attain it?"

Apparently, a lot.

It wasn't so much what I was doing to my face {I'm not really comfortable with more than a smidgen of makeup} but my mindset when I looked in the mirror. It sounds silly, but you can become obsessed with how you could look.

I looked in the mirror and that became my focus. How can I get back what I used to have? How can I make this a face that will make me want to look again? Will I ever be able to see myself and be satisfied?

That's what scared me the most. I was no longer satisfied by what I saw in the mirror. I had set a new standard for myself, based on unattainable things, and I couldn't reach it.

I couldn't be the beautiful that gave me worth on it's merits alone.

It was all out horrible and I hated it, but I felt trapped. I had picked up the world's measuring stick and allowed it to set my standards of worth. Breaking out of those standards - letting go of the ideal of "perfection" - was suddenly unthinkable. I wanted out, but I couldn't give up the idea that there was no going back and being content with the way things used to be.

I was stuck wanting - and never getting - that 'more'.

And that is the sad, pathetic struggle of this story. Part 2 will come {with all due hope} next week.

Till next time!
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