Monday, August 26, 2013

God's Pleasure

God is pleased to forgive! Pleased. He doesn't forgive me begrudgingly or reservedly, as I often forgive others. Here is an excerpt from William Gurnall's The Christian in Complete Armor:

If you ask a fisherman why he stands with his hook in the water all night he will tell you it is because he enjoys fishing. Now you know why God waits for sinners~months, years. ... He delights in forgiving them by His grace and mercy. Now and then a government official will pardon an offender more to please others than himself; but God forgives to make His own heart glad. Thus when Christ came to reconcile sinners to God, His ministry was called "the pleasure of the Lord." (Isaiah 53:10) [from the August 22 devotional]

Saturday, August 17, 2013

My review of Elizabeth Berg's Tapestry of Fortunes

Who doesn’t wonder “What if?” about former flames, roads not taken, wrongs not righted? Whose heart doesn’t flutter or freeze at the prospect of changing old decisions? In Elizabeth Berg’s Tapestry of Fortunes, Cece, Joni, Renie, and Lise—four women asking these questions, grappling with these fears—take a figurative and literal road trip to new possibilities.

In this regard, Berg’s signature style shines. She expertly expresses real women’s hearts. As a reader, I want to be on this road trip with the characters. I myself would like to knock on the door of some dreams. I, too, would like to change some unknowns to knowns. I imagine many readers of a certain age might feel the same. In addition to being a gentle nudge in the discovery direction, this novel is just plain fun to read.

Although my actual life situations do not match Cece’s, Joni’s, Renie’s, and Lise’s, I can identify with their longings and fears, their disappointments and joys. This is a credit to Berg’s insightful portrayal of real women. I find other aspects of the story incongruent, however. The Tapestry of Fortunes title comes partly from the characters’ basing life-changing decisions on a fortune teller, tarot cards, I Ching, tea leaves, and other powerless practices. Really? All four of these bright women do this? Their human hunger for the supernatural leads them to seek life guidance from dead things? And then they take big risks based on this advice? [Such life-strategy methods remind me of ancient Greeks who sought answers from an oracle who answered their questions by reading cobwebs.] This makes about as much sense to me as hoping for something beyond my own grasp and relying on crossing my fingers to get it instead of praying to a loving, living God who actually has the power to fulfill my hope.

Another incongruity was what I perceived to be Southern drawls of people the women met on their journey. Since all four of the women’s destinations were in Northern states, these accents and down-home expressions, though entertaining, didn’t make sense to me. Yet another incongruity, or at least it seemed so to me, was that a male character, a professional photographer apparently famous enough to be requested for international gigs, was declared “not … Googleable” by Cece. She had to track him down through non-Google methods. Okay, I’ll play along, but that scenario is not likely.

That said, I did enjoy this novel. The tapestry Berg weaves has more than lame fortune-telling threads in it. The characters’ fortunes, in the sense of chances and outcomes, are colorful, varied, and interesting. Cece has just lost her best friend to cancer and we see her grieving honestly, adjusting, moving on, adjusting some more. Clearly, this precious friend will forever be an important part of Cece’s life. Cece is changed for having known her—and having grieved for her. Another growing-forward thread involves Cece’s recently widowed mother; yet another involves a young, dying man and the woman he loves. Another thread is how downsizing one’s life can expand one’s horizons and certainly lighten one’s load. The friends’ candid, caring banter is a refreshing thread. Berg weaves her tapestry loosely, with a light touch. (Wait till you get to the bowling alley scene!) She ties up threads satisfactorily.

Besides sheer enjoyment, I think what I appreciate most about Tapestry of Fortunes is that each attempt at a no-regrets life bypasses trite positive mental attitude and musters true courage.   

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Miscellaneous notes on our group camping trip to Ludington State Park

Will Drive for Beauty
A five-hour drive for only a weekend of camping seems long for people like us whose eyelids get heavy after just one hour of tires humming and scenery blurring. Our friends seem to have more energy for driving and need only a brief bathroom break in a five-hour drive. Yesterday, on our way home from a group campout, my husband and I stopped three times, once to eat lunch, once to buy Michigan blueberries, and once in desperation at a Starbucks where we sat nursing coffee and discussing which one of us the caffeine would take quick enough effect on to keep eyes and brain alert for the last hour and a half between there and home.

Although we struggled with the drive, five hours to Ludington State Park was so worth it. For 25 years, I have appreciated southwest Michigan’s pristine ribbons of sand and pure, refreshing Lake Michigan swimming. Going further up the coast meant even more of the same, with the added benefit of forested sand dunes to hike and inland lakes to canoe and kayak. If southwest Michigan’s Lake Michigan playgrounds are convenient natural beauty, northwest Michigan’s Lake Michigan playgrounds are breathtaking natural beauty.

Our friends are experienced campers who bring tools enough to improvise just about any fix needed. Our group has Philips screwdrivers and four types of camping lanterns, butcher knives, cutting boards, spatulas and tongs, nonstick skillets and percolating coffee pots. Camp stoves and red-and-white-checked-clothed picnic tables sit under an expansive kitchen tarp. An assembly line of kitchen helpers prepares hot meals for 7 to 14 people and washes, rinses, and dries their dishes and silverware. We sleep in tents, but we are quite comfortable.

In one respect, camping simplifies life. One’s campground stuff is significantly less than one’s household stuff. I find this freeing, similar to living out of a suitcase on vacation. On the other hand, on this trip I was surprised to note I was more preoccupied with keeping track of my stuff. Maybe it was my attempted simplicity that caused this, I don’t know.

I took only one little backpack that I thought could double as my bathroom bag and my beach bag. Good plan, but then I ended up packing, unpacking, and repacking the backpack two to four times a day. One doesn’t need a camera at the bathroom, but one might want a camera at the beach. Flip-flops are good for both communal showers and beach walking, so they stay in the bag. To walk to the bathroom just to brush my teeth, I transferred a zipper bag with toothbrush and paste to my pocket and then had to remember to return it to the backpack—but not if the bag’s next trip was to the beach.

Camping Prayers
Prayers fell into three categories: thanksgiving before meals, awed praise for God’s creation, and protection requests—the last for traveling mercies and communal bathroom mercies. Water (or worse), sand, and long hairs snaked over every surface—and park staff cleaned these restrooms twice a day. “Oh God, please don’t let my toothbrush fall on the floor.” “Oh, God, please don’t let my washcloth fall on the floor.”  Again, our camper friends seemed to take bathroom crud in stride, but just the possibilities turned my stomach.

Romance vs. Reality
One day we walked a long stretch of white sand to Big Sable Point Lighthouse, built in 1867. Our friends who’d been there before had suggested we bring $3 so we could go inside the lighthouse. Well, going inside a lighthouse sounded historically interesting. And seeing, for example, the tiny light bulb that was beacon to Great Lakes ships as far as 18 miles away was interesting.

But what our friends had meant about going inside was climbing up inside. Even as I trudged barefoot in the sand approaching the lighthouse, I thought how fun to be in the aerie way high up by the beacon. What a great view from there. Even as I stood at the bottom of the wrought-iron spiral stairs and looked up, I thought how pretty the lacy pattern on each step was. Even when I knew I’d be climbing 130 steps, I thought the climb would be only a mild challenge.

Well. Climbing to the first landing, I thought, “I can’t believe there’s only one handrail.” Climbing to the next landing, I wondered, “Are these steps getting skinnier and steeper?” My self-talk became, “Keep looking up, Jane; keep looking up. Look ONLY at the handrail.” Occasionally, the opening above me narrowed, and I had to bend forward to avoid bumping my head. It’s very hard to tilt your head down, keep your eyes open, and not look down. My stomach flipped a few times. On a couple landings, when I stopped to peer out a porthole, I remembered my lifelong fear of heights.

By the time I stepped outside near the top, I was afraid enough for 20 people. Buffeted by wind, I plastered my body against the lighthouse itself and a smile on my face. So many visitors blocked my view, however, I knew I would have to surmount my fear of standing at the railing, too. Gripping the railing for dear life, I circled the top of that lighthouse several times to take panoramic snapshots.

Eager to touch ground again, I poked my head in at the top of the stairwell to find my stomach doing back flips at the sight of the ground through all those see-through steps. All pride aside, I asked a lighthouse volunteer to hold my hand while I sat down on the top step. I managed to stand on most steps, but I did sit down again in a few sections. Upon final touchdown, my stomach settled, and I enjoyed a short video about the lighthouse. Curtains breezily billowing further calmed me.

As each visitor emerged from his tubular trek, a lighthouse volunteer handed him a bright yellow reward sticker to wear. I wore mine proudly for two days. I still can’t believe I got up and down that lighthouse, but I’m glad I did. I’m sure there’s a life lesson somewhere in this story. The difference between succumbing to and overcoming fear is in what you look at? Maybe being too far into a fearful endeavor to turn around helps? Worthwhile achievements may not come easily?