Thursday, March 21, 2019

Change Me, by Rick Thomas (My Marriage Testimony)

Change Me: The Ultimate Life-Change Handbook
Rick Thomas
Published 2018

I was reluctant to share a review of this because it is a personal, self-examination-type book. I was at my wits end when I purchased it from I knew if I wrote a review, I would have to share my marriage story, which is not easy, but I feel like the message is urgent.

So, here it goes:

Marriage is hard. I thought I knew everything, but I was wrong. I also thought I was the only one who had problems, but the more I read, the more I learned that marriages are the same everywhere. 

I thought if my husband and I read a book or listened to podcasts on marriage, it would fix us. Wrong. My husband was not interested. He shared not my concerns or desires. If you asked him today, he may say everything was fine. He is perfectly happy, and all his needs are met. 

Nonetheless, it is frustrating when one spouse recognizes that something is not right and needs to be addressed, while the other disagrees. What then? I tried to get help. I sought validation from friends, my church, and even marriage counseling. I met with a therapist who told me she could not help me if my husband was unwilling to come; she "did not have fairy dust." 

Last December was my final option. I found biblical counseling in my area, and I thought for sure they would validate my feelings. But on the day of my appointment, when I arrived at the office, no one was there. Everyone was sick, but they had failed to call their clients to cancel. I sat in my car, feeling God was telling me, "NO! Now put on your big girl pants, go home, and stop searching for validation." 

I bet my husband would be glad that my little plan to seek recognition failed...again. He asked, "So now what?" I did not know. Except I remembered that Rick Thomas offered online counseling, and since I could not get adequate counseling through my church or appropriate friends, or other means, I would give it a try. 

The first thing Thomas suggests before going through his online counseling is to read his book Change Me. So I purchased it and started reading, not knowing what to expect. Originally my husband willingly agreed to read it with me, even though he did not think we needed to change anything, and as Thomas says: the person who seeks change in the marriage is usually the person who needs to do the changing. 

To speed this up, I read the entire book by myself because I could not wait to read one chapter a week. I desired answers quickly. Reading with my husband sometimes caused arguments when we talked about our marriage, which totally defeated the purpose. So I quit reading with him.

Now, let me back track: the first seventeen years of marriage I was distracted by children -- babies, toddlers, and preteens. Homeschooling five kids took up the bulk of my day. I was aware of existing marital issues, but I did not have time, energy, or knowledge to wage war on them. I was too busy.

As the kids grew older and more independent, my time was freed up, but about the same time, my husband was promoted to general manager, and work took up more of his time. He brought work home, or he came home late. He began to travel internationally. A lot! Plus, he went back to school to finish his degree. 

And then there was the invention of private where the TV was the center of his life, in the living room, occupying his free time, he was now able to be alone in the bedroom with his iPad and headphones, completely disconnected from the kids and me; I was feeling very neglected. This was not my idea of marriage and family. (Nor is it God's, but that's His battle with my husband; not mine.)

Hence, for the last six years, I waged war on my marriage. But I kept losing. was over. And thankfully, God had won. That was the day I walked into the house from my non-existent biblical counseling appointment, totally defeated. 

Even though I thought I would try that on-line counseling, this book proved to be enough. It caused me to examine my heart and change my thinking.

Although this is a book about changing yourself under any circumstance, here is how I applied it specifically to my marriage: 
  • I will NEVER be able to change my spouse. Only God can do that. 
  • My spouse may NEVER EVER change!!! 
  • The only person I can change is me, and if I want my circumstance to change, I am probably the person who needs to do the changing.
  • I have to hand over all of my desires to God. That includes: desires for a godly husband, a godly father for my kids, and a Christ-centered marriage. This is what it means to "die to self." Even though the Bible encourages godly marriages, God does not guarantee I will ever have one.
  • I may have an "unchanging problem" and it may NEVER be God's will to change my spouse. "It is easier to get over the disappointment of something that is final than it is to get over the disappointment of something that could change." I must discard my expectations.
  • I cannot have a true communal relationship with my spouse unless we are sharing a transparent, transcendent relationship with God and each other. This is what every married couple should be pursuing with each other; but my partner may not agree, in which case, it is impossible to experience this, unless God changes him.
  • God is the ONLY person I can truly trust because "He is for me." 
  • If I am able to trust my spouse with the vulnerabilities of my heart and soul, then that is a blessing. It means my spouse demonstrates that he is for me, "not throwing me under the bus." (Sadly, I know how that feels.)
  • Some ways to kill my marriage: have the last word, cheap shots, twist words, disconnect, be unaccountable, withhold encouragement, complain, be over sensitive, overcommit, punish for past sins.
  • Some ways to heal my relationship: listen more, encourage, give grace, make time, confess sin, be kind, be content, seek God's strength, be transparent.
There's a whole lot more!!

To change my situation, I ask God to change my heart and help me to be content in my circumstance. My joy and contentment must be in Christ, not my marriage or my husband, which were idols. Warning: do not idolize your husband or marriage! It will cause great disappointment.

The good thing is that God prepared my heart for this change long before this book. When I began to declare war on my husband's sin (which was not my place), I was rejected. My husband did not understand my bitterness and resentment, and it only pushed him away. So in my disappointment, I continued to turn to God by reading my Bible and praying more; in turn, I developed a deeper relationship with Him. I began to desire the things of the Lord. And I was beginning to see all of the sin in my life.

When I read Change Me, I was ready to receive the hard truth: I have to sacrifice my expectations for a perfect marriage and  husband; give God all of my desires, including my life, my marriage, my husband, my children, my future, and my pleasures. I also learned to repent of the sin in my heart. In the process, I found more freedom from the burdens I placed on myself as a wife.

Again, marriage is really hard. Before you commit, prepare yourself for the truth. Marriage is not a Jane Austen novel. There is no fairytale, and romance is short-lived. Marriage does not exist for your happiness. 

Marriage takes work and requires the same effort from both people; make sure you and your future spouse agree on what that is. If you are already married, both of you should pursue joy and contentment in Christ together, but if the other is not willing, be prepared to do it separately.  Yet, be encouraged because your relationship with Christ is the most important one you will ever have; it's forever...marriages are not. 

If you have a spouse who is willing...a good resource for a Christ-centered marriage is Married for God.

Newlyweds: figuring out marriage since 1996

Heads up: If you do not have or are not interested in a relationship with Christ, this book won't help you. But if you do want a relationship with Christ, this book does show you how to do that. Also, if you are already a Christian, but not ready for the hard truth or self-examination, this book may not be helpful either.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Spring 2019 TBR

Already Reading:

Othello . Shakespeare

Don Quixote . Cervantes

Red Badge of Courage . Stephen Crane


A Vindication of the Rights of Woman . Mary Wollstonecraft

The Pilgrim's Progress . John Bunyan


Democracy in America . Alexis De Tocqueville

Uncle Tom's Cabin . Harriet Beecher Stowe

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ . Lew Wallace

Around the World in Eighty Days . Jules Verne

A Philosophy of Education . Charlotte Mason

What's on your spring TBR?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I’d Like To Switch Places With

I seriously examined every book on my shelf to recall the stories I read, to see if any characters captured my heart. And these are the exact ten that I would swap places with, at least for a moment.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
These Happy Golden Years
I may like to be Laura Ingalls Wilder in These Happy Golden Years. Happy does not begin to describe her coming-of-age story. This one is always my favorite.

Anne Elliot 
I wouldn't mind being the recipient of a letter from Captain Wentworth.

Elizabeth Bennet
Pride and Prejudice
Or to experience the wit and shrewdness of Lizzy.

Natasha Rostova
War and Peace
It may be nice to be Natasha, the all-around (intelligent, quick-witted, charming, and kind-hearted)  young lady in War and Peace. (And that ball gown...!)

Kitty Shcherbatsky
Anna Karenina
Maybe it would be lovely to be Kitty. She was innocent, but not in an ignorant way. She learned quickly, and was graceful about disappointment. In the end, she received the attentions of a great man.

Scarlet O'Hara
Gone With the Wind
When I feel like a brat, and a passionate temper is coming on, it would be fun to be the fiery and fearless Scarlett O'Hara.

Ellen O'Hara
Gone With the Wind
On the other hand, it would serve me better to be rational and composed; meet Scarlett's mother, Ellen.

Melanie Hamilton
Gone With the Wind
It also would be rewarding to walk in the shoes of Melanie: gentle, empathetic, perceptive, and mighty strong in character.

Katniss Everdeen
The Hunger Games
Then again, sometimes it would be nice to handle a bow and arrow like Katniss in The Hunger Games.

The Wind in the Willows
But, at the end of the day, I may prefer to be Mole in his cozy underground home, just reading a book by the fire.

Which characters would you like to switch places with?

Friday, March 1, 2019

March Reading Stack

These are the books I am planning to read in March.

The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane
Third time for me, but it is a first for my three younger ones. We are studying the American Civil War, and this is great literature for that time period.

Don Quixote - Cervantes
Rereading this for a reading challenge and for the fun memories. This was the first novel on TWEM list, and at over 1000 pages, I was fearful I wouldn't make it. Today it is more of an emotional read because read the entire book and  ended up loving it after all.

Othello - Shakespeare
My kids and I plan to read this, though I am a little apprehensive the content will be challenging; however, it deals with racism, which supports the issues we are studying already.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire - Edward Gibbon
I am continuing this for TWEM histories, going through it really quickly. One should take a year to read this, if one is a serious student of history. I am a third of the way done, and I know one thing: Gibbon hated Christianity. Talk about objectivity in history.

Change Me - Rick Thomas
I have been reading this for several months because marriage is difficult. I learned the hard way that I cannot change my husband, and in fact, if anyone is going to change, it is going to have to be me. 

I started Moby Dick last month, but then Brona @ Brona's Books announced a read-along in August, so I shelved MD for then. See HERE for more info. 

Also, don't forget I'm hosting A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Read-Along in April. Check it out!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A Room With a View by E.M. Forster

A Room With a View
E.M. Forster
Published 1908

Aside from this being a most unattractive and thoughtless book cover, A Room With a View, by E. M. Forster, was a delightfully sweet and youthful story. In the beginning, I struggled to understand where Forster was going with the plot, as I eagerly anticipated a love story. It was not until the end of the tale that the intimacy of one character distinctively emerged for the other character. Then it came together nicely.

Overall, this was a simple story about a young English lady, Lucy, coming into her own, during the stuffy Edwardian period. She took a trip to Italy with her much older orthodox cousin, Charlotte. At the hotel, they met the unconventional father and son, Mr. and George Emerson, also visiting Florence. Upon overhearing the disappointment over the lack of view from their rooms, Mr. Emerson rather easily offered to switch rooms with Lucy and Charlotte because the Emersons had a view of the Arno River. The gentlemen had already been to Florence before, whereas this was Lucy's first visit, and she should enjoy a room with a spectacular and meaningful view. 

On further inspection, Charlotte found the gentlemen unusual and outlandish because they did not follow cultural or social expectations in conversation and manners; however, Lucy liked the pair and thought they were interesting. During her stay in Florence, she frequently ran into George, encouraging little connections between the two, though it was not always obvious.

Until the kiss, that is.

The offense

But even that left a lot to ponder. Lucy was "offended," as she was expected to be, and Charlotte, who witnessed such brass behavior from the gentleman, also was "offended," as she should have been. Both agreed not to say anymore about it.

Fast-forward home, to England, and guess who moved into their neighborhood? Of course! The Emersons. Families became entangled, Lucy's brother befriended George, and the rest was history.

Insert a little conflict: Lucy has a "boyfriend," the vacuous Clive. They're engaged, and he is triumphantly refining his malleable Lucy with music and art and literature, just the way he thinks he is supposed to like her. But George the Offender knows something about Clive; it takes another "offense" to get Lucy to open her eyes and see the truth about her fiancé.

Finally, Mr. Emerson uses his wisdom to influence Lucy to see the plain truth about herself, which she has been suppressing, making for a very happy ending.


Sweet, short, and right to the point! Stuffy, false social conventions or being transparent about your true thoughts and feelings -- that is what E. M. Forster wants his reader to consider. It is what humans are often struggling with. Important questions wrapped up in a pleasant, entertaining little story, all with a happy ending. And did I mention...E. M. Forster is a most delightful and superb writer. Be prepared to smile. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman~Read-Along~April 2019

Born April 27, 1759, in London, Mary Wollstonecraft was a writer, philosopher, and advocate of education for girls and women. Her most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, was published in 1792. She wrote this as a response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution, in which Burke argued for the preservation of traditional men's rights. Wollstonecraft went further and suggested aggressively that women should also have similar and equal rights as men. 

Some of her ideas included: free education for boys and girls; that women should be educated, too, because women are the ones raising children and, therefore, should be rational not emotional; women should be able to make a living and support themselves; women should not be thought merely as ornaments for the pleasure of men; women should be permitted to enter the fields of politics and medicine; women should be able to speak their minds without being labeled as masculine; and if women are to be shamed for sex outside of marriage, then men should be, too.

I invite readers to join me in discovering the "outrageous" ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft. 

This is the next book on the WEM histories list, and I am looking forward to it. It is under 250 pages and should take less than a month to read. If you can read 60 pages a week, you can do this. Since Wollstonecraft's 260th birthday is in April, we'll start on the first.

Reading Schedule (April 1-April 30):

Week One: Dedication and Introduction, plus Chapters I-III (April 7 Discussion Post)
Week Two: Chapters IV-VI (April 14 Discussion Post)
Week Three: Chapters VII-IX (April 21 Discussion Post)
Week Four: Chapters X-XIII (April 29 Wrap-up Discussion Post)

If you are interested, grab a copy of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and join me at this blog or on Twitter (@GreatBookStudy) for connections and discussion posts. Comment today if you plan to read-along. 

Use #WollstonecraftReadAlong on Twitter.

P.S. After staring at this book cover for months, I did not see until today that it is Vindications of the Rights of WOMAN, not Women. But it is too much work to change it on my announcement, so...I shall have to live with that flaw forever. So be it.

Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797

Monday, February 11, 2019

Tortured for Christ by Rev. Richard Wurmbrand

Tortured for Christ
Rev. Richard Wurmbrand
Published 1967 (updated 2013)
Christian Greats Challenge (Missionary Bio)

Richard Wurmbrand was born in Romania, in 1909. In 1938, he and his wife Sabina converted from Judaism to Christianity. During WWII, under Nazi control, Romanian Christians, as well as Jews, were persecuted. As church leaders, both Richard and Sabina were arrested several times, beaten, and sent before Nazi judges. From this they learned that the body can endure much physical pain, and that "the human spirit with God's help can survive horrible tortures."

After WWII, in 1945, Russian Communists occupied Romania. Under Communist control, religion was immediately compromised, and all religious leaders pledged allegiance to the Communist dictator, Stalin. During a meeting of the Ministry of Cults (this was actually a ministry), most spoke up in agreement with Communism. Agitated, Sabina told her husband to "wash this shame from the face of Christ." Richard said, "If I do, you'll lose your husband." And Sabina replied, "I don't need a coward for a husband. Go and do it."

Richard did speak up and told his fellow Christians that it was their duty to glorify Christ, not earthly powers; that Christianity and Communism could not operate together. He suffered for this, but to him, it was worth it.

For the next three years, Richard and Sabina worked diligently to maintain the Underground Church. They were determined to reach the Russian people with the gospel; after all, the Russians had been brainwashed for decades under Communism. Richard said the Russian people had thirsty souls and drank up the gospel. They had been so deprived of truth. 

When comparing Communism to Jesus, Richard said, 
Jesus is polite...the Communists are impolite. They enter by violence into our hearts and minds. They force us to listen to them from morning to late in the night. They do it through their schools, radio, newspapers, posters, movies, atheistic meetings, and everywhere we turn. We have to listen continuously to their godless propaganda whether we like it or not. Jesus respects our freedom. He gently knocks at the door of our heart. 
The Underground Church learned to work under the Communist regime, employing tricks to work in secret, out in the open, and even to infiltrate all levels of government activities. The Communists hated the Christians because they "recognized, as only the devil can...that if a man believed in Christ, he would never be a mindless, willing subject."

Then, in 1948, the Secret Police kidnapped Richard. He spent eight-and-a-half years in prison, was released under Khrushchev, in 1956, rearrested two years later, and then officially released in 1964.

Wurmbrand did not speak much about the tortures he endured, but he shared enough that the reader understands it was harrowing. He called them unspeakable. Instead he described Communism as an evil spiritual force "that only can be countered by a greater spiritual force, the Spirit of God." He called Communists materialists. When man is not accountable to God -- when he "has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human." They believed they could act on all the evil in their hearts. Richard learned that since they permitted no place for Jesus in their hearts, he would leave no place for Satan in his. 

After fourteen total years in prison, Wurmbrand was released, thanks to the influence of American public opinion. (See, public pressure does work.) He was reunited with his wife and son.  Because they returned to work within the Underground Church, their lives were in danger. Two Christian organizations paid the Communist government a ransom, enabling the Wurmbrands to leave Romania. Richard recognized he could bring the voice of persecuted Christians to the rest of the world if he lived out in the world. Today Richard is recognized as the founder of Voice of the Martyrs, once known as the Underground Church.

Richard did not harbor bitterness or resentment toward his Communist torturers. He acknowledged their need for Christ, too. He loved them, but he hated Communism. Much of Tortured for Christ is about how to defeat Communism. Wurmbrand expressed a need to win over political, economic, and scientific leaders, including those in the arts, because they are the ones who influence the souls of men and essentially shape whole countries. 

Living in England, and later America, Wurmbrand faced a disappointing challenge. Many in the West were ignorant of how to defeat the Communist system. The West was asleep. But Wurmbrand continued to warn against evil Communism, which he demonstrated is not compatible with religion, especially Christianity. Christ encourages individuality, whereas Communism only thinks in the collective. There are no personalities under Communism. (See how this won't work with the "Be who you are/Be true to yourself" movements?)

But Wurmbrand was also encouraged because he saw evidence of Christianity defeating Communism through the Underground Church. He witnessed the love of Christ in the persecuted winning over their persecutors. 

Finally, the author named three ways for the West to help persecuted Christians:
1. Pray for the enemy. Pray they may be saved.
2. Send Bibles and Christian literature.
3. Donate funds. Funds help VOM (Voice of the Martyrs) purchase supplies and resources for Christians in dangerous regions.

Sabina Wurmbrand passed away in 2000, and Richard passed in 2001. Now I am interested in reading The Pastor's Wife, by Sabina. 

Sabina and Richard Wurmbrand


If you want to know more about Christianity, Christian biographies, Christian martyrdom, the truth about Communism, or Communist history, then this is a perfect short book to read. 

For more from VOM, go here: Voice of the Martyrs.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

February Reading Stack

What's new for February...

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Abridged Edition (thank God), by Edward Gibbson. Reading this for The Well-Educated Mind Histories, and it should take two or three months.

Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand. This is for the Christian Greats Challenge Missionary Bio.

A Room With a View by E. M. Forster. Back-to-the-Classics 20th Century.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. Rumor has it that Brona is doing a read-along. Even still, I'm reading this again. Back-to-the-Classics Americas.

Finishing up:

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

Change Me by Rick Thomas.

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. Reading with my 11-year old. Six more chapters.

Twelfth Night by Shakespeare. Reading with the kids for school.

Any of these look familiar to you? Have you read them? What did you think?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Common Sense by Thomas Paine (reread)

Common Sense
Thomas Paine
Published 1776
The Well-Educated Mind Histories


Paine was born in England, 1737, to Christian parents (his father was a Quaker). He ran away from home, failed in business, and was in the process of making a mess of his life until he met Benjamin Franklin, in London. Franklin suggested he give America a try.

In 1774, Paine moved to Philadelphia, and worked as an editor. He wrote about the injustices of slavery, borrowing from his Quaker influences that all men are equal in God's eyes.


Paine was deeply invested in the political and social issues of America and personally against a government of kings. On the eve of the American Revolution, which began in 1775, many colonists were still undecided between loyalty to the Crown or independence. Paine wanted to convince them to seek independence from Britain.
Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived. 

He wrote a pamphlet called Common Sense, published in 1776, and was successful in convincing colonists to make that decision, many of which became Patriots of the Revolution and joined the movement for independence. Often Paine is referred to as the Father of the Revolution.


According to Paine, in 1775-1776, he discerned America's fight in the battle for liberty: 
The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.
Paine described society as a result of man's wants and government the result of our wickedness, "a necessary evil." (I feel like Rousseau said something like this.) He believed in simple, lesser government (I totally agree); "the less liable it is to be disordered and the easier repaired when disordered." He established England's absolute government to be too large, complex, and unmanageable. 

The author explained how the Heathens introduced the world to government by kings, which was adopted by Israel; he said that even God disapproved of kings. Obviously, Paine was against the hereditary succession of kings because this explicitly kept men from being equals when one man may "set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever..." He blamed kings for the all the world's bloodshed and war:
'Tis a form of government which the word of God bears testimony against, and blood will attend it. 
When one asked who the king of America was, he believed one should reply, "divine law, the word of God."

Paine was confident that so much damage was done between the two continents already that there  never would be a time or way for Britain and America to reconcile.  He added it would be dangerous. "Reconciliation and ruin are nearly related." 

A section includes Paine's ideas about the prospective American economy, as well as his suggestion to do away with paper money and replace it with gold and silver (too late for that) and a prediction that shipbuilding would be America's successful industry.

Paine encouraged the colonists to rise up! There has never been a better time in her history, he declared. America is young and courageous. 
Youth is the seed time of good habits, as well in nations as in individuals.
Then Paine suggested that a "charter of government be formed first and men delegated to execute them afterward." He added that religion, personal freedom, and property be the obligation of government to protect and defend. 
A firm bargain and a right reckoning make long friends.
And finally...
When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember, that virtue is not hereditary.
Patriots taking up arms against their tyrannical government


Paine addressed the Quakers and other Christians who were against taking up arms against men. He wrote: "We fight neither for revenge nor conquest; neither from pride nor passion; we are not insulting the world with our fleets and armies, nor ravaging the globe for plunder." and desire of peace is not confined to Quakerism, it is the natural, as well the religious wish of all denominations of men. 
Wherefore, if ye really preach from conscience, and mean not to make a political hobbyhorse of your religion, convince the world thereof, by proclaiming your doctrine to our enemies, for they likewise bear ARMS.
And more: 
Alas! it seems by the particular tendency of some part of your if, all sin was reduced to, and comprehended in, the act of bearing arms.
Revolutionary War Reenactment, Huntington Beach, CA


I know this is not a title given to Thomas Paine, but I cannot help thinking of him so. Look what he says:
The birthday of a new world is at hand, and a race of men, perhaps as numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the event of a few months. The Reflexion is awful - and in this point of view, How trifling, how ridiculous, do the little, paltry cavillings, of a few weak or interested men appear, when weighed against the business of a world.
Let the names of Whig and Tory be extinct; and let none other be heard among us, than those of a good citizen, an open and resolute friend, and a virtuous supporter of the Rights of Mankind and of the FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES OF AMERICA. 

Thomas Paine 1737-1809
O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her -- Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.

Add this short essay to your reading list if you are a political science/government junky or an American history/political history buff. I have read a few pre-American Revolutionary documents, and none come close to the enthusiasm of Thomas Paine, except maybe Patrick Henry. Lovers of America will appreciate the affections of Paine for our nation's birth and triumph in independence and liberty and freedom.

Sadly, I think much of Paine's words fall on deaf ears today, and maybe his words seem irrelevant. We inherited what he envisioned, but (as Franklin sort of put it...) we don't seem to really want it. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (reread)

The Age of Innocence
Edith Wharton
Published 1920

This book counts towards Back-to-the-Classics (Place) because I was born and raised in New York City, the setting of The Age of Innocence. 

When I first read The Age of Innocencein 2014, Wharton's writing style captured all of my focus. The language is still magnificent, but this time my reading experience was much deeper and broader. I truly am excited to review this book.


On the surface, the plot involves a simple love story triangle set in the Golden Age of Old New York. Newland Archer is torn between conventionally marrying his beautiful, traditional fiancée, May Welland, and pursuing an emotional relationship with May's enigmatic cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, who just arrived from Europe after fleeing her abusive husband. Inside the plot are the social taboos one must avoid, or face rejection by society.

Of the characters, Newland Archer is a popular young lawyer. He is well rounded in theater, art, literature, and politics and more so because he personally appreciates them rather than enduring them just for the sake of society. 

His fiancée, May, is not as knowledgeable of the arts and politics, but she is sweet and virtuous and safely follows traditions, for the good of society; however, she is also described as Diana-like, which will come in handy later in her marriage. 

Meanwhile, the elusive Countess Olenska is completely opposite May because she breaks with tradition and does not follow the rules of high society, at least in Old New York. This is very attractive to Newland and captures his attention.



The title has become a curiosity of mine because it is not very obvious to me what or who it refers, and I started to wonder. Innocence could represent many ideas: one may be guiltless, righteous, pure, or naive. In a way, each character demonstrated a form of innocence.

Countess Olenska was not innocent by Old New York's standards. She was confidently aware of her decisions and performed them deliberately. She was not ignorant. She even proved New York society to be recessive and outdated.  But other than desiring to divorce her unjust husband, she was definitely guiltless of any horrible wrongdoing.  

Upon my original reading, I believed that May was the symbol of innocence because of her pure and simple impression; but this time I am almost certain that May was not that innocent. I found her to be more cunning, clever, and quicker than Newland. Wharton built up the character of May, subtly and stealthily, often in the terms of Greek mythology.
If May had spoken out her grievances (he suspected her of many) he might have laughed them away; but she was trained to conceal imaginary wounds under a Spartan smile.
Though she was not exactly blind and unaware, May was innocent because she represented purity and discretion.

Newland, being a romantic, was blinded by his emotions, causing him to follow his heart, which led him to think foolishly. At the start, he was wrapped up in the ways of society, following protocol religiously; that is, until Countess Olenska captured his attention. Then he became enlightened and lost all common sense. At one point, he contemplated telling his dear wife about his private adulterous desires, in hopes that she would let him go to pursue his own happiness. He became agitated when May paid attention to his business details and called him on it. He was also ignorant of the Countess and confidently predicted she would have to accept him if he followed her. Yes, Newland may have been innocent, in the sense that he was naive

Thankfully, Wharton described Newland as a dilettante, one who enjoys "thinking over pleasures" rather than actually making them happen. In part, this may have saved his marriage.  Newland was content to fantasize about what could be with the Countess; but he never jeopardized his marriage to that extent or caused shame to the family name or the Countess. 

Newland and May, film version, 1983

My favorite part is May: everything she did was subtle, as she played Newland's game and won the victory in the end. Everyone knew about Newland's desire to pursue the Countess, and he was perfectly oblivious of society's hand in causing the Countess to return to Europe, saving May's marriage. In addition, May was also instrumental is easing the Countess' decision to obey society's desire to quietly disappear when May predicted without much confidence (to the Countess) that Newland was going to be a father. When she became more certain, May had this exchange with her husband, and Wharton made clear who the naive one truly was:
[Newland] looked up at her with a sick stare, and she sank down, all dew and roses, and hid her face against his knee.
"Oh, my dear," he said, holding her to him while his cold hand stroked her hair.  
There was a long pause, which the inner devils filled with strident laughter; then May freed herself from his arms and stood up. 
"You didn't guess --?"
"Yes -- I; no. That is, of course I hoped --"
"Have you told anyone else?"
"Only Mamma and your mother. That is -- and Ellen."
"Ah --" said Archer, his heart stopping.
He felt that his wife was watching him intently. "Did you mind my telling her first, Newland?"
"Mind? Why should I?" He made a last effort to collect himself. "But that was a fortnight ago, wasn't it? I thought you said you weren't sure till today?"
Her color burned deeper, but she held his gaze. "No; I wasn't sure then -- but I told her I was. And you see I was right!" she exclaimed, her blue eyes wet with VICTORY. 
That was my favorite because Newland was turning into a spoiled brat, demanding to have his selfish way. In the first reading, I was made to feel sorry for him because he and everyone were burdened by the restrictions set by society, feeding discontentedness. Even Newland had high esteem for marriage - that is until he desired something else; then suddenly marriage was subjective. He was ready to give up his marriage.  I did not like his attitude, and I am glad he was burned by May. Wharton prepares you ever so slowly for that final "victory." I just love it!

Edith Wharton, 1881


This is a slower-paced, theme-packed novel about society and the undue burdens man places on himself in order to belong and feel important. The love triangle is interesting and complex. The language is exquisite and full of clues about personalities and human nature. When you read this book, read it slowly, drink it in, every word. Then watch the 1983 film version, and be happy you don't live like these people.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

The Hiding Place
Corrie Ten Boom
Published 1971

The Hiding Place is about the ten Boom family, of Holland, who, with the aid of an underground organization, smuggled nearly 800 Dutch Jewish men, women, and children to safety, preserving their lives during WWII. They - the ten Boom family - paid the ultimate price with their own lives.

Corrie ten Boom was in her 40s when Hitler invaded Holland, and life changed drastically for her family and their watch repair business. Food and supplies became scarce and were rationed, curfews were set, young Dutch men were kidnapped and forced into the German army, and all forms of communication were confiscated. 

The ten Booms witnessed Jewish businesses close, Jews forced to wear the yellow Star of David, and finally, the disappearance of people. It was then that Corrie and her family wanted to do something to help God's people, as they referred to them. 

The ten Booms worked with the Dutch underground resistance smuggling Jews to the country, to homes where people willingly hid them. She managed to receive stolen ration cards, though she hated lying and stealing; nonetheless, it helped feed the extra people passing through her home. 

Eventually, the ten Booms had a secret space built inside Corrie's bedroom wall so they could hide the Jews staying with them. It was to be the hiding place.

The hiding place in Corrie's bedroom

They knew it was only time before a raid, and they were prepared. In February, 1944, Corrie and her family, as well as 30 members of the underground, were arrested, but not before the six Jews in the ten Boom home fled into the hiding space. There they safely remained for three days until someone from the underground was able to rescue and secure them in another location. 

As for Corrie and her sister, Betsie, it was a different ending, an ordeal I struggle to put it into words. The specifics are horrifying, but I do suggest you read this for yourself.

Betsie and Corrie ten Boom

What I rather write about is Corrie's character, and Betsie's, too. The ten Booms were a Christian family...the kind that followed Christ's example. Lying and stealing were frowned upon, but when  [man's government]* violated God's law, it was right to disobey government. And they did everything they needed to do to save the Jewish people who were targeted by the German occupation. 
*Sidebar: This was not a legitimate government because Holland was invaded, and a usurper was making his own perverse law the law of the land.
When I first read The Hiding Place several years ago, it made sense that the book was named after the hiding place in Corrie's bedroom; however, after this second read, I realize there is a second meaning. Corrie noted Scripture her father quoted: 
Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word . . . Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe . . . 
 For I too had a hiding place when things were bad. Jesus was this place, the Rock cleft for me. 
Jesus was their hiding place; He is our hiding place.

Corrie and Betsie remembered this throughout the year they were in prison, and it sustained them in the most amazing ways. Considering her situation, she reflected how the Gospels were a "pattern of God's activity," and, she wondered, "if defeat was only the beginning..."
. . . what conceivable victory could come from a place like this."
Soon, Corrie learned that Betsie was safe in a separate cell, and that all of their other family members and friends had been released. Through a letter, she read that "all the watches in the closet [were] safe," which was code for "All six Jews left hiding in the closet were safe and placed in other locations. They escaped and were free!" She also found out that her father had died ten days after his arrest; though difficult to absorb, she found it a comfort to know he was now seeing Jesus face to face.

After four months at the Dutch holding prison, Corrie and Betsie were reunited and sent to Scheveningen prison, in Holland, for political dissidents. For the first time, Corrie marveled what kind of person her sister was because she prayed for the prison guards. "Betsie saw a wounded human being."
Corrie, if people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love! We must find the way, you and I, no matter how long it takes...
Some how the sisters found out who had exposed their underground operations to the Gestapo.  Corrie said she could kill him, but Betsie had been praying for him. When Corrie was alone with her thoughts, she felt convicted that she had been guilty of the same sin, murder, because she murdered him with her heart and mouth. That night she forgave him.

When the world was closing in on Germany, in 1944, the prisoners were moved again, into Germany. Ravensbruck was the notorious women's extermination camp. It was here that one thing became evident to Corrie and Betsie "...from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call, our Bible was the center of an ever-widening circle of help and hope."
The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loves us."
The bunks in their barrack were infested with fleas, something Betsie said they should be thankful for..."Give thanks in all circumstances." Corrie was sure that there was no way she could be thankful for fleas, but Betsie clarified that it did not say to be thankful only in pleasant circumstances. Fleas were part of the world God had placed the sisters.

Since Corrie and Betsie had smuggled a Bible into Ravensbruck, they held nightly Bible meetings in their barrack with the other women. Initially, they were extremely careful not to alert the guards; but soon after, it was apparent that no guard would ever enter their barracks. Why? Fleas! (Be thankful in all things.)

The Ten Boom Museum in Haarlem, Netherlands

Meanwhile, Betsie was physically perishing. He health had been weak since they were arrested. Corrie did all she could to care for her sister's health, while her sister was always more concerned with the health and well being of others. It also seemed the weaker she became, the bolder her witness.

When Corrie was thinking about how to help the prisoners after their release, providing a place for people to go, to care for and love them...Betsie was thinking about a place to help the German guards, "to show them that love is greater." Betsie loved their enemies and prayed for those who persecuted them.

Corrie wrote about how she struggled with the sin of selfishness and self-centeredness. She called it "the ploy of Satan." During a brief time when Betsie was in the "hospital" - which was not really a hospital, and I doubt there was actual medical help anywhere on the grounds - Corrie had to lead Bible meetings without her sister. She came to the story of Paul and his affliction. Three times he requested God to remove it from him, and three times God told Paul to rely on Him. It was then that Corrie understood that her sin had been a false belief in her own strength and power to transform, when it was all Christ.

I am sad to say that Betsie died shortly after this, and only twelve days before Corrie was released. Later it was learned that her release was probably a mistake, and furthermore, two weeks later, the women in her age group from her barracks were sent to the gas chamber.

Getting home was not easy. It seemed the whole world was void of love and care; but Corrie did make it back to her family home, to learn the fate of loved ones and more sad news.

In 1945, she opened a rehabilitation home in Holland for hurting people. Some had spent time in concentration camps and others spent years in hiding. Some were prisoners of the Japanese in Indonesia. Everyone had to learn forgiveness and to work out the sorrow within him.

One day, after a speaking engagement, a former S. S. guard of Ravensbruck came up to shake Corrie's hand, and Corrie froze.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man: was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. 
Suddenly, when she raised her hand out to meet his, she felt "a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed [her]." Corrie learned that it is not our forgiveness or goodness that "the world's healing hinges, but on His."
When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
Isn't that beautiful? And it is true, too.

There are no 'ifs' in God's kingdom. I could hear [Betsie's] soft voice saying it. His timing is perfect. His will is our hiding place. Lord Jesus, keep me in Your will! Don't let me go mad by poking about outside it.

Is this book for you?

I am very tempted to say that everyone should read this book. It is written in a way that anyone who reads it, junior high age and up, can understand it. It speaks to the heart. It is about hatred and forgiveness, suffering and caring and true love. It is about the human condition. It is about changing hearts. It is about perseverance and doing hard things. It is a testament of God using others to do His work in this sin-filled world, so that it is not so ugly. And it is historical -- one gets a first hand account of the results of Nazi-Germany's evil and destruction beyond the Jewish people. It affected everyone. Yes, actually, everyone needs to read this book.