Books to Read and Places to Digest Them

Ah, the book club….such a complicated social organism. It should be clique of folks like you who just love to read and discuss books. However, more often than not, it becomes an exercise in frustration as books no one likes are selected, venues don’t satisfy, and personality clashes make true lexicographical bliss impossible. I’m not saying that a perfect book club is impossible—only improbable. After all, reading is a fairly solitary exercise, one that doesn’t require a +1 to be enjoyable.

However, the lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish want us to pick our top ten book club reads for this week’s meme. Therefore, if I was the benevolent dictator of a book club and decided everything from the monthly selection to the location and the food/beverages consumed, I would select the following pairings of book and meeting locale…

1. The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover—I would suggest meeting up in deli for this one, as the protagonist spends a lot of time in one when he isn’t gaming the night away. It might also be fun to meet in a place where people are playing tabletop games involving dice to experience the sounds of triumph and tragedy that come with any game of chance.

2. Scimitar Moon by Chris A. Jackson—I know I recommended this one as a bonus pick last week because of the hunky leading man, but it bears mentioning just how good this book is again. It is a fun read that people can really dig into. I’d think this one might pair nicely with a pub that serves fish and chips and good, dark draft beer. Yeah, that would be a boffo meeting space…as would a coffee house (as “blackbrew” is consumed in mass quantities in this novel). Also, there is a ton of nautical knowledge that gets dropped on you when you read this book, so anywhere near the sea or near sailing ships would make for a perfect backdrop.

3. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh—I saw this one recently on Bookmovement.com and liked the look of it. I was fascinated by the idea of coded messages in flowers, which was commonly done during the Victorian Era. You couldn’t simply explain your emotions in a letter or even in person when everything from the words you wrote to your body language could damage your social standing. This would be a lovely book to discuss over tea at a public park or garden!

4. Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian’s Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in WWII by Louis Zamperini—I believe In Touch Ministries did a feature on this gentleman late last year, and I was intrigued by his story. An Olympic athlete turned bombardier, he was brought down over the Pacific, floated in a life raft for 37 days, and was eventually captured by the Japanese and made a prisoner of war for over two years. Years afterwards, he experienced salvation and the grace of Jesus Christ. He, in turn, returned to Japan, forgave his tormentors, and began preaching the gospel there. Pretty amazing stuff. Some place serving authentic Filipino or Chinese food would be perfect.

5. The Amazing Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart—I have yet to read this one, but it was recommended for folks who enjoyed The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. It also seems to have garnered good reviews for delving into more serious issues such as abandonment, family, loyalty, and facing one’s fears. I don’t know what kind of venue would be fun for this one. However, I do know that I wouldn’t tell anyone where it was. I would give them a series of clues and let them solve the puzzle in order to find the feast! 🙂

6. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss—This is another one I haven’t read, a fact for which many of my wordy nerdy friends have severely chastened me. It’s next on my reading this. Listen to the book’s synopsis: “This is the riveting first-person narrative of Kvothe, a young man who grows to be one of the most notorious magicians his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that transports readers into the body and mind of a wizard.” How can that NOT be a fantastic read, especially for fantasy-minded folk? Definitely an pub of sorts for this one because that’s where Kvothe lives–preferably one with low lighting and tankards of ale.

7. Cinder by Marissa Meyer—I’ve seen ads for this one all over GoodReads and various Internet booksellers, and I’m just interested enough in to give it a shot. Think fairy tale princess meets the Terminator for this one. In this sci-fi re-imagining of Cinderella, the protagonist is a cyborg and a gifted mechanic who can help rescue Earth from an evil queen of sorts. It’s just bizarre enough to temp me. I’m thinking a restaurant with a really gritty urban motif would be perfect. Either that or a place near a shoe store…

8. Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard—I’m a casual history buff. I like certain areas better than others and sort of graze my way through the decades and centuries with a lacadazical approach that likely makes real historians cringe. One area I’ve never been overly zealous about is the Civil War. However, this book might make me change my tune. Apparently, James A. Garfield was a pretty boss president, one I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know much about. His assassination was one of the unrecognized tragedies of American history, and I think it would be fun to read and re-think what we know about our country with this book as the primary text. According to this website, which lists the favorite foods of American Presidents (I’m not lying. Click the link!), Garfield was fond of squirrel soup, extra fluffy mashed potatoes, and breads. I think a bread and cheese meal would be divine, Mr. President. You can have all the soup. *Ick*

9. Night of the Avenging Blowfish: A Novel of Covert Operations, Love, and Luncheon Meat by John Welter—I read this one in college and was once kicked out of the library because it had me laughing so loudly I was disturbing other people. It’s a bizarre little book involving unrequited love, politics, secret baseball games, and processed meats like Spam. Guess what the menu should include anything of “low culinary esteem.” I’m thinking some recipes from the Spam Jam would be worth trying!

10. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan—Yet another book I haven’t read, but this one has as many glowing reviews as I do useless bits of knowledge. It’s drenched in music references and rich characterization. I’d like to discuss this one in a corner bar/cafe like Eddie’s Attic where live music fills the room as fully as the smells coming from the kitchen. It’s a risky read for me as I don’t like to dwell on the overly maudlin much, but this one looks intriguing enough to put up with the extra weight.

Writing is So Much Fun That I Do It for Free

Because I’m a writing fool (who also happens to have MS), I have volunteered my services for the Georgia MS Society, which is located here in Atlanta. In fact, today I went to a training session in order to become an official peer counselor for newly diagnosed people, which will likely be a post of its own once I’ve had enough time to process everything I absorbed today.

Here is my first piece for their newsletter, a service provider spotlight for a local neurologist who is taking steps to eliminate Multiple sclerosis. If you would like to read it in a larger format, click on each page and the the + sign when it is full screen.

What a Difference 2,920 Days Make

I’m exceedingly blessed when it comes to my health. Seriously. I don’t have a single allergy. I’ve never broken a bone (despite having done many stupid things that merited one). I’ve never had acne, suffered from insomnia, or been required to have surgery.

Other than an incurable case of Multiple Sclerosis, I’m the picture of good health.

I wasn’t always so glib about my disease. Trust me on that. There was a time after my diagnosis when I didn’t speak to people so much as grunt, and I spent my days creating works of mixed media “art” (notice I use the term loosely) involving naked Barbie dolls, their chests full of dynamite, suspended by barbed wire in black boxes. I only stopped doing both due to a prolonged pleading session from my grandmother who begged me to throw it all in the trash–both my anger and my terrible attempts at visual art. Thankfully, I had the good sense to comply.

For those of you who don’t know what Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is, here’s a basic definition courtesy of PubMed Health:

Image courtesy of discovery.com

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects women more than men. The disorder is most commonly diagnosed between ages 20 and 40, but can be seen at any age. MS is caused by damage to the myelin sheath, the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells. When this nerve covering is damaged, nerve signals slow down or stop. The nerve damage is caused by inflammation. Inflammation occurs when the body’s own immune cells attack the nervous system. This can occur along any area of the brain, optic nerve, and spinal cord. It is unknown what exactly causes this to happen. The most common thought is that a virus or gene defect, or both, are to blame. Environmental factors may play a role. You are slightly more likely to get this condition if you have a family history of MS or live in an part of the world where MS is more common.

Symptoms vary, because the location and severity of each attack can be different. Episodes can last for days, weeks, or months. These episodes alternate with periods of reduced or no symptoms (remissions). Because nerves in any part of the brain or spinal cord may be damaged, patients with multiple sclerosis can have symptoms in many parts of the body.

Isn’t that just peachy? (If you’re interested, click on the link before the quote and look at all the symptoms. It gets better.)

Now, imagine facing that diagnosis when you’re twenty-five years old and perfectly healthy. Reading an article like this one is how I learned about my condition. The doctor who diagnosed me was brilliant, but he also had the bedside manner of a damp dishrag. He decided to come tell me about the two little letters that would change my entire life the night I was suffering from an LP-induced headache ( LP= Lumbar Puncture, also known as a Spinal Tap). His advice to me was, “Look it up on the Internet” because “there is more there than enough information online.”

Image courtesy of Bike MS

So, like any good graduate student, I searched. Each page my husband and I read was worse than the last, and we finally shut the computer and cried. What they forgot to mention was that MS is such a variable-ridden disease that the only way to confirm it is my eliminating dozens of others. Honestly, being diagnosed is a little like being a patient on House. There are different forms of MS, ranging from almost benign to severe, and there’s no telling what type you have until your second exacerbation occurs.

I didn’t hear this information until the same benevolent and wonderful grandmother put me in contact with a woman named who called herself Cookie. She had had MS for many years and told me that while the websites and doctors told me “facts,” they hadn’t told me “truths.” She told me stories about people she knew who, like her, had manageable symptoms, and were living pretty normal lives. One girlfriend of hers, she assured me, hadn’t had an exacerbation in eight years.

Image courtesy of Zazzle.com

I told myself I wouldn’t make it eight years and couldn’t even fathom living that long with my condition. The uncertainty is the most stressful thing about having MS. Believe it or not, a lesion can show up at any time. I can quite literally go to bed one night and wake up blind the next morning if the disease flares up in my visual cortex. My legs can stop working, my memory can be effected, and even my personality can be radically different. These changes are sometimes temporary, or they can be permanent—it all depends on where, when, and how long and often the disease attacks. That’s a reality for me now. Naturally, I could only see the long days in front of me, and living nearly a decade with that worry over me was more than I could stand. I saw eight years as little to celebrate.

But get this. Today–January 25, 2012–marks my eight-year anniversary of having MS.

Eight years have passed, and I’m still here.

Not only am I still alive and well, I’m living a better life than I did before my diagnosis. Yes, I’ve taken care of myself and am in better shape physically. That makes things a little easier. However, the greatest change has been the one in my relationship with God.

Before my diagnosis, I was the classic case of “Raised in Church.” I went forward during Vacation Bible School when I was a child and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, but no one followed up with me, no one taught me and led me to the next step. Everyone made the assumption that being from a church family meant that I knew exactly what to do. Sadly, that was not the case, and I spent most of my childhood and adult life never fully grasping what salvation was and what it meant. I thought going to church and trying to be a good person was enough.

What I had assumed was that the MS was punishment, that God had it out for me. But, in truth, it was His love for me being made manifest. He loved me too much to leave me where I was and took a drastic step to change my path. Beth Moore, a Christian writer, says that we can either bend our knees and bow before God, or He can break our legs. Either way, we’re going to get on our faces before Him and acknowledge that He is in fact the great I AM. That’s what MS was—God “breaking my legs” and telling me, If you’re going to live the kind of life I have in store for you, you are going to have to learn to depend on me for everything. You’re not ready yet.

During my recovery, I did just that. I collapsed in a heap on the floor of my parents’ bathroom and prayed. I begged God to take it away, that I wasn’t strong enough for this, and that I was terrified out of my mind. I’d like to tell you that I had a “Damascus Road Moment” and got myself straight with the Lord right there, but that’s not the case. It took many, many years for me to become spiritually mature to understand the promise of Romans 8:28-30:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He alsopredestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Yes. I firmly believe MS was given to me for my good. Why? Because it was what started me on the long spiritual path that would conform me to the image of His Son. I am becoming more Christlike every single day because of my disease and how it has changed me. Like Paul, I have this “thorn in the flesh,” one given to me that I might not be fooled into thinking I was self-sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). In eight years, I have learned the meaning of God’s strength being made perfect in weakness and decreasing so that He might increase (John 3:30).

God knew I would need MS, so He allowed it in my life. However, He also provided me with a supportive family, a marvelous husband who has never once wavered in his support of me, and a series of church homes, jobs, and Christian role models that prepared me for the task He’s given me. Eight years ago, I wasn’t ready to work at In Touch Ministries. I sometimes feel like I’m still not ready, but a still small voice always reminds me, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you” (Isaiah 43:1-2).

The first eight years I never though I’d make it through are now over, and the next chapter in my story is beginning. However, rather than dread what tomorrow brings, I look forward to it with expectation because I am guided and protected by the One who promised, “I will not fail or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). Eight years—2,920 days— after I started this journey, I now understand, “[whosoever] the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6) not because He is cruel or capricious but so “He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). I know this sounds antithetical to the warm and fuzzy gospel so many pastors want their followers to believe, but being a true disciple of Christ does not come without some discomfort and sacrifice. Yes, I was humbled and broken, brought so low that I thought I would never rise again. However, that was allowed in my life so that I could be rebuilt on a firmer and more lasting foundation, and He who has “begun a good work in [me] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). If someone told me they could give me those 2,920 days back and make MS go away, I would have to decline the offer because, as Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Tomorrow, I begin working with the MS Center of Atlanta as a peer counselor. After my training, I will be one of the people they can call upon to visit those who are starting their own journeys with MS and who can share the truth as well as the facts. Yes, I get to be the “Cookie” for someone else starting tomorrow; I can look at them, say, “I understand what you’re feeling,” and truly mean it. Will it be difficult at times? Certainly, it will. However, I am but the vessel that carries Christ wherever I go. Those who see me will see Him, and I will have more than enough strength to accomplish whatever good works he has appointed for me (2 Corinthians 3:18; 9:8). Yes, I am indeed blessed when it comes to my health, and I truly do delight in my infirmities. MS might stand for “Multiple Sclerosis,” but it’s also “My Salvation.”

My MS Walk Team from 2010!!

Men I’ve Loved Between the Covers…

….OF A BOOK! OF A BOOK!!!

Oh well, if you clicked and read this far, the title was a sufficient tease. Nope, I’m sorry to tell you this post isn’t some Chelsea Handler-esque confessional of “my horizontal life.” That’s not how I roll.

This week’s Top Ten Booklist is a FREEBIE. The folks over at The Broke and the Bookish have liberated us to make up any top ten list we want (or to revisit one of the older ones we didn’t get a chance to complete). I went for the latter and chose a topic I’ve wanted to blog about for awhile—FICTIONAL CRUSHES!!

Image courtesy of homestarrunner.com

This is a list of some of the fictional men I’ve loved and have wanted to be courted by since I was old enough to read. I went through my bookshelves, considering who’d make the top ten, which was rough for a bookworm like myself. As I looked the list over, I noticed I go for either the dark, tortured souls or the stable, fatherly type. I also have a penchant for men who wear masks and don disguises. (I’m thinking an hour or two of therapy might be in order.

Oher than number one, the love of my literary life, the others are not ranked. I simply can’t decide because they swap places often. However, I can assure you that you will NOT find sparkly vampires, barechested werewolves, or boys in skinny jeans here folks! I only go for the genuine article!

1. Edward Fairfax Rochester (Jane Eyre)–If you’ve read any of my previous booklist posts, you’d know my favorite novel of all time is Jane Eyre. I know that one of the reasons for my choice is the Byronic hero of that wonderful tale. (I even named my instrument after him!) Mr. Rochester is the epitome of brooding. Wouldn’t you be if you were forever bound to a crazy pyromaniac who you had keep secreted away in an attic–one you were essentially married off to against your will? The way he sits staring at fires, his mercurial moods forever changing because of his great dissatisfaction with the life he’s been dealt, makes him irresistible to me. There’s nothing better than a “fixer upper beau” as far as I’m concerned. He hits all three notes in the literary crush chord—tortured soul, fatherly (he’s many years Jane’s senior), and he dons a disguise. To the world, he’s a carefree gentleman, playing a part, but that’s not even close to his true self. (He also physically disguises himself as a gypsy in one of my favorite chapters.)

2. Faramir (The Lord of the Rings)–What’s NOT to love about Faramir? If you’ve read the book, you know what I’m talking about. Don’t get me wrong, David Wendham did a great job with him in the films, but he didn’t get nearly enough screen time. Faramir is noble, intelligent, fearless, humble, kind, and beloved by all–he’s almost too perfect for words. Neither the ring nor power tempt him, and he let sboth go easily. However, when something is worth defending, he is the first to take up arms and the last to put them down. He’s a scholar, a lover, and a fighter who is used to conceding to his father and brother not because he was weak but because he didn’t need pointless victories to feel power.

3. Sodapop Curtis (The Outsiders)–I can’t explain this one as readily as the others on my list. Well, sure the fact that he has “dark gold hair that the sun bleached wheat gold in the summer”  and eyes that “…are dark brown- lively, dancing, recklessly raping with anger” in “a finely drawn, sensitive face that somehow manages to be reckless and thoughtful at the same time” doesn’t hurt. He’s a peacemaker who doesn’t need to drink, smoke, or fight to feel alive. Instead, as he puts it, he can “get drunk on just plain living.” Sensitive, calm, and loving, Sodapop cries at his parents’ funeral and mourns when his girlfriend leaves him to go to Florida (even after she cheated on him). He was swoon-worthy to a preteen version of me. (It also didn’t hurt that Rob Lowe played him the movie.)

4. Sydney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities)–Ah yes, Sydney is the character who utters the line, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known” as he is about to be murdered in the place of a man who he envies so that the woman they both love can be happy. Intelligent, passionate, and handsome despite his gruffness, he is still one of the most inscrutable characters in all of Dickens’ works. (Seriously, the man could take two pages to describe an eddy in a river, but he couldn’t take the time to explain why this man tortures himself and is happier living other people’s lives instead of his own!?!? That’s a laundry list of details I would actually have enjoyed reading!) I’d have to say that Sydney is right there below Rochester in the tortured department, and his entire life is the ultimate disguise. He’s nearly the triumvirate of literary hotness, but not quite.

5. Jon Snow (The Song of Ice and Fire series)–Don’t get me wrong. I loved Eddard Stark, and Robb wasn’t hard to fall head over heels for. But there’s something so alluring about the bastard son of the Starks. He’s compassionate and is an effective leader, and he’s made some hard calls so far in the series (in both love and war). He’s as much Ned’s son as Robb, but the world will not give him his due respect because of his birthright. And that’s something he’s hellbent on correcting. What is it about a man clothed in black with a chip on his shoulder the size of the wall that is so darned alluring? *deep sigh* I can’t wait to see what Mr. Martin is going to do with him in the last two books!

6. The Scarlet Pimpernel/Sir Percy Blakeney (The Scarlet Pimpernel)–I only read this book a few years ago, but holy crow is Blakeney bewitching! He’s willing to don the disguise of a fop in order to cover up the fact he is actually a swashbuckling hero. He’s willing to put himself in harm’s way to save nobles wrongly accused and persecuted by the evil French revolutionaries and their guillotine, but he’s tortured because his disguise actually keeps the love of his life from knowing who he truly is. Wealthy, clever, brave, rugged, and a paragon of fashion, the Pimpernel is totally scrumptious.

7. Bigby Wolf (Fables)–If you’ve not read Bill Willinghams’ comic, do yourself a favor and go buy every trade paperback you can get your hands on! It’s an amazing story (one I’m convinced spawned the shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time). Simply put, the storybook characters are real, and they’ve been run out of their homelands by a looming figure known only as “The Adversary.” Bigby is the Big Bad Wolf (Get it? Big-B?!) The son of a wolf mother and the North Wind (hence the ability to blow down houses), he was the runt and felt the need to prove himself, and his rage prompted him to only prey on humans. However, because he’s reformed and can sniff out lies, he makes a great sheriff in Fabletown (the area of New York the fables call home). He can take on human form (somewhat like a werewolf) and is grizzled and gruff in the extreme. I like to think of him as a combination of Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade and Wolverine. Yummo.

8. Biff Loman (Death of a Salesman)–Yeah, he’s good looking and quite the athlete, but Biff appeals to me because of his desire to be his own man and his poet’s soul. I fell for him the first time I taught this play, probably because I was the same age he is at the time. The scene in which he confronts his father and tells him about stealing the gold pen speaks to me in a way that few ever have. He says, “I run out of that building and I see… the sky. I see all the things I love in this world. The work, the food, the time to sit and smoke. And I look at this pen and I ask myself, ‘What the hell am I grabbing this thing for? Why am I trying to become something I don’t wanna become when all I want is out there waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am?'” He’s a simple man who only wants peace but whose soul is always at war…both with his father and himself. Good stuff.

9. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)–This one is the epitome of temptation number two, the father figure. Who DIDN’T want a dad like Atticus Finch?!? Noble, soft spoken, stable, intelligent, and unprejudiced, he’s everything women want in a working class hero package. However, he’s also a man of action (think of that rabid dog sequence if you doubt me) who doesn’t shrink away from a battle…even if he knows he’s bound to lose. Oh, and he’s a widower. Can you say “Man Candy”?

10. George Knightley (Emma)–Mr. Knightley is the only reason I survived reading Emma (because she drove me crazy with her small-minded meddling). Wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, he doesn’t flaunt his wealth or look down on those less fortunate than himself. In fact, he helps quite a few characters over the course of the novel. Kind, compassionate, level-headed, and moral, he’s exactly what the flippant and childish Emma (and every woman who’s ever read the book) needs to be truly happy. He’s the least tortured of all my crushes and isn’t fond of disguises, but he’s all the more captivating for his openness. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a man who’s easy like Sunday morning.

**Bonus Pick** Feldrin Brelak (Scimitar Seas series)–Ladies, ladies, ladies…If you haven’t read my friend Chris A. Jackson’s Scimitar Seas series, you are totally missing out!! There are currently three books out there for you to enjoy and a fourth one currently in the process of being published. The protagonist is a strong female character named Cynthia Flaxall, and the plot is fresh, creative, and well-crafted. And Feldrin, well, I’ll just say it….he’s hot as heck. He’s a strapping sailor with a soft spot for Cyn, one who’s equally good at sea battles and piracy (though he’d call it privateering). Square jawed, plainspoken, and unapologetically and overwhelmingly masculine–you’ll not find a more tempting sea biscuit in all of fantasy literature.

 
 

“It Is Well To Be Bound…”

I came to salvation by one of the most wonky, serpentine, and circuitous paths known to man. Like millions of kids, I went to Vacation Bible School each summer, and when I was seven or eight, I felt led to go forward and give my life to Jesus Christ. I remember speaking to a preacher in a blue three-piece suit with a head of perfectly styled hair (courtesy of Vitalis and a generous measure of black dye) and the whitest set of chompers I’d ever seen. I remember him talking me through the Romans Road, praying with me, and asking me, “Doesn’t it feel good to know you’re saved?” Naturally, I nodded enthusiastically because it felt great. Awesome, in fact.

And then nothing else was done. No one really followed up with me and took it upon him or herself to disciple me. (Yes, I know that’s a noun, but I’m making it a verb for the purpose of this post.) Everyone made the assumption that because I went to church and “looked the part,” I understood exactly what things like salvation and eternal security meant. As a result, I grew up as a sort of “half-baked Christian.” I looked right and smelled right sitting on the shelf, but if someone had pressed me, I would have collapsed just like the meringue I was. In fact, that’s exactly what I did when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and I had a true crisis. Thank goodness I did. That was what laid me low and compelled me to seek His face.

I often wonder how much farther along I would be in my Christian walk if I had been properly taught and guided by a spiritual mentor, if someone had stepped in the gap for me. There’s nothing to be gained in lamenting the fact I didn’t, but I sometimes have question mark moments in my faith where I repeatedly ram my head against something like Mario.

I hear people talk about spiritual matters, saying things like, “God told me that…” or “I just felt the Spirit leading me to…” and I start to have small panic attacks, wondering, “I’ve been a Christian for decades. Why is that I’m not hearing or perceiving these things? Is there something wrong with my faith?” And, of course, there’s the thought, “Am I really saved?”

I think the difficulty arises because of a human desire for spectacle. I sometimes wish I had a salvation experience that was more, I don’t know, instantaneous. Part of me longs for a moment of which I can say, “THAT was when it happened. I was never the same afterwards.” The people to whom Jesus witnessed were much the same; they were looking for huge, showy events to convince them of His deity, but that’s not how God works. He speaks in a “still, small voice” instead, one that takes a discerning ear to hear (1 Kings 19:12). That’s why Jesus chastises them concerning His capacity to heal. Frustrated, He states, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe” (John 4:48). However, despite their error, the sick child they wanted Him to heal began to recuperate the moment Jesus said the word. It all took place well out of sight of the masses.

My doubts, though small, are the gaps the devil tries to put his bony fingers in so he can pry me open and strip me away from God. (I’ve come to realize that the fact that he’s trying so hard is evidence that I’m saved and sanctified. After all, why would he mess with someone who already belongs to him?) And there were times in the past when I fell for his lies and stepped away from God, perhaps because I was ashamed. Of course, I was always saved, and I could never lose my salvation. But I didn’t understand that until much, much later. It’s so simple that it’s terribly easy to over-interpret it as we search for what we interpret as “divine.” The apostle Paul plainly states the truth in Romans 10:9-10:

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

I read a passage from Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman a few days ago that truly spoke to my heart on this issue. In it, he discusses Psalm 118:27, “The LORD is God, and He has given us light; bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.” The imagery is of the Old Testament and references the atoning sacrifices the Jewish people were required to perform; however, there is application for the Christian. Why? This passage speaks of the coming of Christ–the Sacrifice for all. We must always remember who He is, what He did, and what that action truly means. Cowman writes:

“Is not this altar inviting thee? Shall we not ask to be bound to it, that we may never be able to start back from our attitude of consecration? There are times with life is full or roseate light, and we choose the cross; at other times, when the sky is grey, we shrink from it. It is well to be bound. Wilt Thou bind us, most blessed Spirit, and enamor us with the cross, and let us never leave it? Bind us with the scarlet cord of redemption, and the golden cord of love, and the silver cord of Advent-hope, so we’ll not go back from it or wish for another lot than to be the humble partners of our Lord in His pain and sorrow!”

Sometimes, when I’ve slipped up or I start comparing myself to other Christians and judging myself by human standards, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking I’ve never truly been granted salvation. I know that it is utterly and completely incorrect, but in my weaker moments, it’s easy to think this way.

Oswald Chambers writes in his masterwork, My Utmost for His Highest, “Many of us have a mental picture of what a Christian should be, and looking at this image in other Christians’ lives becomes a hindrance to our focusing on God. [We tell ourselves] ‘This is not salvation— it is not simple enough.’ He says, in effect, ‘Look to Me and you are saved,’ not ‘You will be saved someday.’ We will find what we are looking for if we will concentrate on Him. We get distracted from God and irritable with Him while He continues to say to us, ‘Look to Me, and be saved…'”  

My focus has too often been on the wrong people and things rather than the cross. That’s why I decided to make a little visual reminder for myself I’m calling my Binding Cord.  It is merely symbolic and has no “magical” powers. However, when I look at it, I am reminded of Mr. Cowman’s assertion that I am bound to the cross. I am staked there by Christ Himself, and there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can pull me away. I stand on the promise of Jesus, the one recorded in John 10:27-29: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (emphasis mine).

The first three passes of fifteen…

I’m not crafty by any stretch of the imagination, so I went the simple “friendship bracelet” route. I made just short of a billion of these in middle school, and the process came back fairly quickly. Using a pillow (covered in a jaunty IKEA pillowcase) and a few pieces of thread, I started knotting my bracelet together.

Notice the red thread…

I didn’t always keep the two strings I wasn’t looping taut enough, and as a result, the red started to bleed through and show between the knots. At first, it enraged me because I wanted this bracelet to be perfect, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was symbolically fitting. After all, the blood of Christ washed away all my sins—past, present, and future. There is no part of my life or self that it has not fully permeated. It is the reason I can know His love (gold) and have hope (silver). The scarlet thread symbolizes what truly liberates me; it is the “tie that binds” eternally.

It’s not perfect, but then again, neither am I.

The end result was a little less polished than I wanted, and I’m sure I’ll try to make another one before long. However, it’s serving its purpose for me.

If you’re struggling the same way I did, I’d love to speak with you and help you come to a better understanding of salvation. You can contact me at emeraldelf (at) gmail (dot) com. Also, if you would like one of these bracelets as a reminder for yourself, I’d be happy to make it and mail it to you free of charge. Please contact me via email or in the comments section below if you’re interested.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Precious Memories, How They Linger…Like Fungus

Wayne and I were just discussing awkward childhood moments, those slivers of time where you’d prefer to be the floor of a New York taxi cab rather than yourself.

Sometimes, they are the product of your own stupidity. Trying to pass sensitive boy/girl notes in class, ill-advised spiral perms, and belting out “Electric Youth” into a hairbrush while standing in front of an open window wearing nothing but a bra and shorts all fall into this category.

Other embarrassing moments are also your fault, but they come as a result of your ignorance rather than outright imbecility. For instance, I once vociferously uttered the phrase “F%$# It” in McDonald’s, completely unaware of the verbal malfeasance I was committing. In my defense, I was eight and had come across Robin Williams’ A Night at the Met a week before. He said the word quite a bit during that performance, and I liked the sound of it. I was nothing more than a parrot, an obnoxiously red and horrifyingly boisterous parrot for my poor mother. I just remember the beating…and not getting the McNugget Happy Meal I was promised. There was supposed to be a Thundercats toy in it. Yes, epic fail all around on that one.

Childhood also wouldn’t be complete without embarrassing moments you must endure but never asked for, didn’t bring on yourself, and likely didn’t deserve. You know, those “Ralphie in the Bunny Suit” moments? I have several of these from all levels of my elementary and secondary education. I even have photographic evidence of one of them. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…”Hickety Pickety, My Black Hen,” my kindergarten theatrical debut.

Yes, in our “Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes” school play, I had to recite the following lines:

Hickety Pickety, my black hen,
she lays eggs for gentlemen.
Sometimes nine, and sometimes ten,
Hickety Pickety, my black hen!

You can tell by the zombie-like expressions on many of my classmates’ faces that none of us was thrilled to be there in costume sitting criss-cross-applesauce on stage. I, however, had to bear the burden of showing up dressed like an extra from the first episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. A straw hat, overalls, plaid shirt, and what looks to be a pair of Velcro-closure Pumas complete my resplendent costume. I’ll not even mention the Strawberry Shortcake goggles glasses I have on. Those things are traumatic enough for another post of their own.

My teacher, doing a wicked impersonation of Thing from The Addams Family, is likely lowering the microphone so I can deliver my Shakespearean-level verse to the illiterate masses huddled in the Woodrow Wilson Elementary School gymateria/cafetorium.

What makes this moment so gut-wrenchingly embarassing is not the fact that I’m being forced to deliver my lines in front of people or that I am so ridiculously dressed (though both of those factor into this being the worst moment in my life up until this point). See that girl in the yellow dress? She’s going to be the symbol for all that was wrong in my six or seven years of existence. I have no clue who she was supposed to be, but she got to wear a frickin’ adorable yellow dress. My cousin, April, was Betty Blue and wore an even cuter cornflower frock. She’s somewhere to my right…no doubt looking adorable with her curly blonde hair done up in princess ringlets and two patent leather “holiday shoes” on her feet. Already awkward and tall for my age, the only thing I wanted more than to NOT be on that stage was to be lovely on it. Alas and alack, that was not in the cards for me.

I should have expected it. For instance, whenever April and I received dolls as gifts, she got Barbie—ostensibly because she has matching hair. As a brown haired, brown eyed girl, I got Barbie’s friend Kimber, P.J., or Steffie (or some other doll with an equally bubblegum pink name.) Yes, I was forever relegated to the posse (even by my own family) because of my mother’s dominant genes. Being Hickety Pickety didn’t help matters much. However, it does shed some light on why I’ve had a longstanding and inexplicable hatred of eggs….

Okay, so I have to ask. What are the most embarrassing moments from your childhood that you didn’t cause but had to endure with Herculean resolve?

Also, if you could go back and save yourself one of those “Self-Induced” moments of shame, which one would you choose and why?

Indelible Fingerprints of God

I don’t know about you all, but I am fascinated by things like stained glass. Watching the sun come up through it until it dapples the floor with color inspires a sense of wonder in me that is childlike. When I was young, I used to love going to church on Sunday mornings and sitting on the east side of the chapel so I could study the windows nearest my family’s pew.

It’s utterly amazing to me (one without an iota of artistic talent) that someone can take pieces of glass that have been colored with minerals, some soldered metal, and create works of art that tell a story and make the world a more beautiful place. However, I no longer think of man’s prowess when I look at things like this. I instead say, “This window makes light beautiful, but God made light.” God’s power and magnificence win…every single time.

To me, the fact that we desire to create something so breathtaking and fragile is evidence of the power of God in our lives. We are, in essence, seeking what is divine by crude imitation, and we can accurately judge the “rightness” of things we’ve made by examining the things He has created. After all, everything in His world is perfect in form as well as function, and we can only strive to create poor copies.

That was the inspiration for this, my first article with a by-line in In Touch Magazine! It started arriving in folks’ mailboxes this week, which means I’ve been cleared to post it here as well. If you would like to begin receiving our free magazine, all you need to do is visit our website and give us your name and address. You’ll start getting one the next calendar month.

I mentioned in an earlier post about how amazed I am that God has blessed me with a job where I can use the talents He’s given me to glorify Him and bless others. This publication of this article humbles me beyond all measure. After all, God doesn’t need me to do anything, but He allows me to be His hands and feet here on Earth. He is indeed good, and to Him alone belongs the glory.

If you would like to leave me a comment, you can do so here or on the In Touch Homepage.

Just Because It’s True Doesn’t Mean It Can’t Be Interesting

The folks over at The Broke and The Bookish have done it again! They’ve dreamed up another wonderful book list idea for bloggers to share. This week’s list is The Top Ten Books I’d Recommend To Someone Who Doesn’t Read ______________. We can insert anything we want in the gap. (For example, we can recommend ten classics for folks who don’t read literature, young adult reads for those who don’t like the genre, or whatever other list we’d like to design to help introduce someone to unfamiliar verbal territory.)

I was an English major for eight years (including grad school, fool!), and I taught English for just over a decade. However, rather than rehash great works, I thought I’d recommend ten non-fiction books I’ve either enjoyed or plan on reading soon. This genre has grown on me recently because I’ve come to realize that life– with all its glorious messiness, triumph, and tragedy–can be just as compelling as fiction…if not more so. I combed my Goodreads shelf and came up with this list.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond—I read key chapters from this one for an AP Literature class I taught, but what I’ve read is fascinating. Essentially, the author examines how differences in geography and environment shaped world cultures and allowed some to dominate while others withered. It can be a little clinical in places and has ton of footnotes and endnotes, but they don’t really interfere with the text. I enjoyed it in small bites because it contains so much data that, in one sitting, I could get overwhelmed.

The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch—I read this one several years ago on a whim, and I fell in love with Lynch’s style. If you don’t know about him, he actually is a mortician who lives in Milford, Michigan. He is also an essayist and poet with several published works to his name. This oddly poetic book is a collection of twelve essays and a poem or two that combine musings of life and death in ways that are humorous, thought-provoking, and altogether real.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach—I’m not morbid, I swear. These two were just next to each other on my shelf. Unlike Lynch’s work, which is more poetic in structure and full of musings, Roach’s work is fact-based, straightforward, and, at times, shocking. She doesn’t embellish; she simply describes the places some folks end up (either by choice or by chance) once they’ve shuffled off their mortal coils. She opens with an interesting chapter about decapitated heads set up in what look like turkey roasters; they are there so plastic surgeons can practice a new procedure. If you’ve ever been curious about how real crash test “dummies” are selected or how the body farm at the University of Tennessee works, this is the read for you. By the way, she also has other books like Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife if you’re interested.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough—I haven’t had a chance to read this one yet. I actually won a copy (along with all of his other books) last year, and this one is autographed! 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed 1776 and John Adams, and I have no doubt that this one will fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge about Paris as well as the wide range of Americans who traveled there in order to make discoveries that would change the course of our great nation.

God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man: A Saltwater Geechee Talks About Life on Sapelo Island, Georgia by Cornelia Walker Bailey—I read this book in graduate school and was actually priviledged to visit Sapelo Island and meet Ms. Walker Bailey in person while there. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s probably because the island has been made into a nature preserve by the state. There are two restaurants, a lighthouse, a plantation house, and other structures on the island, but it’s more natural land than anything. It’s a twenty-minute ferry ride from the coast and boasts a gorgeous beach where you can lay out and see every star in the sky at night. We slept there one night and just basked in it. The book focuses on that but also the way of life of the people who live there as well as their roots, both here and in Africa. It’s a fascinating read!

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby—I found excerpts from this slim volume in the literature book for my sophomores and fell in love with the author. This book is poignant and heartbreaking–the quintessential example of bittersweet. If you don’t know his story, Bauby was an editor for Elle magazine in Paris when he had stroke and became a prisoner to something called “Locked In Syndrome.” Basically, his mind worked perfectly, but he could only control his left eyelid. Physically, he was stuck! He wrote this entire book with help from others who recited the alphabet. When they read the letter he wanted, he blinked, and they added it to the text. Letter by letter, word by word, essay by essay—this book was literally blinked into existence. It is 114 pages long and a stunning example of what the human desire to communicate can produce!

Maus (Volumes 1 & 2) by Art Spiegelman—This one is a graphic novel, yes, but it is both autobiographical and biographical. One volume chronicles his father’s Holocaust survival story, and the other is how he “survived” his father’s survival guilt. Simple pages, black and white illustrations, and anthropomorphic characters make this one riveting. It’s like you are reading about the Holocaust for the first time just because of the sheer “otherness” of the presentation. This is the only graphic novel that has ever won the Pulitzer Prize, and it certainly deserved it.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester—You know you’re a nerd when you read a book about the construction of a dictionary, and while it did chronicle how many, many people sending in little strips of paper helped a small team create the first edition of the most definitive dictionary of the English language ever seen. It doesn’t hurt that one of the most prolific contributors happened to be a surgeon who came to England after the Civil War and was imprisoned for killing a prostitute! I hope I’ve sufficiently intrigued you to read this one with that statement alone.

Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood—This is one I picked up when Ms. Atwood came to Atlanta to do a reading, and it is filled with essays about the art of writing—what can be made, what must be released, and what it costs both mentally and culturally. After all, sometimes, the only way and author can find something worth saying is to touch the sore places or poke the scars. It ain’t pleasant, but it is necessary if we’re going to create something worth reading. The few pieces I’ve read have been quite excellent, and I look forward to finishing it soon.

Playing with the Enemy: A Baseball Prodigy, a World at War, and the Long Journey Home by Gary W. Moore—Wayne brought this one home from a business trip. He saw it and thought it would be interesting because it focuses on baseball, my mostest favoritest thing on earth. (Other than Jesus Christ and my family, there is nothing I love more.) This one chronicles Moore’s father and his experiences with German prisoners in World War II. It’s a new perspective on the war from a “minor player” in the global drama we all thought we knew. I will also be reading this one soon.

Tell It To My Face(book)

“If writers wrote as carelessly as some people talk, then adhasdh asdglaseuyt[bn[ pasdlgkhasdfasdf.” —Lemony Snicket

This morning, one of my co-workers came into my office where I was happily whittling away on a study guide my company is getting ready to publish. He revealed something to me that was majorly mortifying, altogether atrocious, downright disconcerting, mighty malodorous, and completely calamitous.

I, yes I, had an error on my Facebook page, a horrible (and wickedly ironic) one.

I misspelled my job title.

Not a bad thing if you’re a ornithologist, a sommelier, or a hermeneuticist. All those are incredibly difficult jobs requiring very specific (and I’m guessing non-interchangeable) skill sets. After all, you wouldn’t want a wine steward teaching you about birds, would you? How about a Bible scholar choosing the perfect Merlot to go with your Kobe beef?

I, however, do not hold one of these lofty positions. Oh no.

I’m an editor. Someone who has no excuse when it comes to being able to spell something…particularly the word “editor.” Seeing as I just added another “I” (making it “Editior”), I suppose I can blame it on the incredibly small font or the rapidity with which I double checked everything as I tried to beat the rush and swap over to the timeline format. Whatever the reason, I missed it.

But I digress. What I did isn’t as important as what my co-worker did…more specifically the manner in which he did it.

This guy, let’s call him Norbert to protect what little sliver of privacy he still possesses in this cyber crazy world of ours, who knows what I do for a living, chose not to call me out in the public sphere for my error. Never mind the fact that it was the orthographic equivalent of the Great Wall of China–one of the few man-made structures visible from outer space.

He did not gleefully point it out on my wall. Why? He said he didn’t want to embarrass me, particularly because it was late when he saw it, and he didn’t want it to sit out there all night gathering replies like random dust bunnies. Thanks to him, I didn’t wake up this morning to a self-esteem demolishing bunker buster of a post festooned with a string of LOLz.  Everyone I know—all the way from my former students to the adorable granny I used to take Zumba classes with—would have dog piled on me. Why? Think about it. If there’s something more fun for people than catching a word nerd in a verbal faux pas, I don’t know of it. Except perhaps geocaching; that looks like a fabulous way to spend your spare time.

Instead, dearest Norbert came by my office, messenger bag on shoulder and coffee in hand, looking rather bashful and remonstrating himself (albeit only slightly) for the doleful news he was about to deliver. He did it tactfully in a performance worthy of a Golden Globe for “Best Actor in a Truly Awkward Situation.”

I want to win one for curling…seriously.

He told me, and I performed an Olympic-worthy headdesk (one that merited a 7.5 difficulty level and earned me a 9.0 from the German judge). I then fixed the error and began to ponder not only my own fallibility but also what else there was to be taken from it…spiritually speaking. Because there was a time my pride might never have recovered from such as this.

To my ultimate surprise and delight, there was a lesson for me. I began thinking about his methodology and realized that it was a perfect example of how Christians should correct one another in love.

Matthew 18:15-16 reads:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.

Rather than tell two or three people (who might then tell two or three more), he came straight to me. Yes, it was in reference to an extraneous “I” in a word I should have spelled correctly, but the same principal holds true for everything from skipping church to cheating on a spouse or robbing the till. Matters only need to be escalated to those two or three witnesses–not the entire church–if (and only if) the mano-a-mano method fails to produce results.

The same thing holds for Matthew 7:1-5:

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Believe it or not, I never castigate people for poor grammar or spelling because I have plenty of “planks” in my own eye in this regard. Likewise, none of us are without sin, and we shouldn’t be overly eager to point out the shortcomings of others because we have more than enough of our own to work through with the Lord’s help.

Remember brothers and sisters, we’re here to aid one another rather than tear each other down. Life is hard enough, and we shouldn’t be putting rocks in each other’s spiritual knapsacks as it were. Instead, as the apostle Paul said, we should “encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).

Gold medal for you, Norbert. Gold medal all the way. 🙂

Love Letters of God

Of all the servants of Jesus Christ, the one with whom I most easily identify is the apostle Paul. He struggled with many of the same issues I face—pride and illness being chief among them—as well as a list of trials as long as my left leg. He went through a series of painful deprivations and punishments I cannot even imagine enduring. However, Paul is the man who also said in Philippians 4:11-12:

I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

I admire him because he both made statements like these and lived them out. Don’t believe me? Go read Acts 16:25, and you’ll find a man who has been beaten and chained to a wall who, instead of worrying or griping, is praying and singing to God. That is evidence of someone who is content in all circumstances!

Of all his amazing epistles, I believe 2 Corinthians is my favorite. The first reason is because my personal scripture, the one I use when I give my testimony, can be found there (12:7-10). It is the passage that helped me make sense of my disease, what purpose it served, and why God allowed it to happen to me. I feel a kinship with Paul for this reason because I know what it feels like when your body betrays you and you cannot live a “normal life” because of it.

Another reason I love studying this letter to the church is because of its personal nature. More of Paul’s heart is on display here than in any of his other writings. In everything he penned, his encyclopedic knowledge is made apparent, as are his rhetorical and philosophical skills. After all, this man, before being struck blind on the Damascus Road, was a Pharisee, a group of Jews who were highly respected for their learning and were considered to be the best and most accurate explicators of Jewish law.

In Galatians, he patiently and methodically explains why there is no longer a need to rely on the law for salvation, and his soaring language in books like Ephesians makes the spiritual inheritance all believers enjoy as clear and understandable as a one-bowl recipe. However, his work in Romans is his most masterful and still stands as the book of the Bible that Christians use to share the truth of salvation with non-believers (a technique commonly referred to as walking the Romans Road.) However, only in 2 Corinthians does Paul “get personal” and share his feelings and emotions as well as his thoughts.

I must throw a in caveat here. All scripture is inspired by God and given to men like Paul to compose and share with us; however, there is something of the scribes He chose in those works as well. Their diction, the ways they turn a phrase, and other little affectations show that while the truths are certainly God’s, there are flashes of the humans who served as His amanuenses as well.

Finally, Paul was a man who wrote beautifully but was less than impressive when it came to speaking in public, and that’s another reason I identify with him. I, too, am good with a pen and terrible behind a podium (especially when the speaking is extemporaneous!)

Because it is my favorite, I return to 2 Corinthians often for comfort,  to re-read familiar passages when the world seems to be out of whack. While studying it, I am reminded of why I trusted Jesus as my Savior and why I can stand firm on His promises no matter how unsettling my circumstances. Today, I was reading and came across a few verses I’ve read many times before. However, for some reason, it jumped off the page at me. It is 2 Corinthians 3:1-6, the passage in which Paul defends his authority as an apostle and a messenger of Jesus. it reads:

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

What struck me was the beautiful metaphor in this passage—“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men.” A letter of commendation was a form of communication written by one individual to another “vouching for” a third person who was unknown to the letter’s recipient. (Yo hear them mentioned often in an Austen novel as “a letter of introduction.”) Essentially, it was a document in which one friend told another, “I know you don’t know this person, but I do. He’s okay; you can trust him.”

Paul is telling the believers at Corinth, “You are proof of my authority. You are a changed people because of the God who I serve. The fact that your hearts were renewed by the Holy Spirit is the only evidence you need to know what I say is right and from God.”

He then goes on and creates an extended metaphor from this original comparison:

  • “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men”–You are my letter, and all men can look at (“read”) you. They know you have been changed because of the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • “being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us”–You are, in truth, a “letter written by Christ.” It is He who has wrought such a change in your lives, and I, Paul, am but a steward. I care for you, but I am not your author.
  • “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God”–The change in you was not written in permanent ink but with the Holy Spirit. It is His indelible mark on you for all time as a child of God.
  • “not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”–You are His writing surface, and He marks you as permanently and definitively as He once wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone.

That is simply amazing text! However, Paul follows it up with the best part of all. After explaining that his “adequacy is from God,” he explains the difference between the writing surfaces (the stone versus the human heart). When he states, “As servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit,” Paul is indicating we are not bound by the laws he knew so well. None of us is forever a slave to over six hundred laws that could never be perfectly followed and always required sacrifices for atonement. The covenant Jesus established at the Last Supper is the New Covenant, the one for which He was the atoning sacrifice that covered all our sins. This is why he states, “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Think about what this means. As Christians, we are walking, talking, breathing, living love letters of God. Each one of us is evidence, a letter of commendation others can read to learn more about Him. That is why our actions and our attitudes are so essential; we represent the Lord in all our daily dealings with the world. That is why one of the last things Jesus taught His disciples is important for us to remember; it is the essential rule we must follow in our role as His missives. In John 15:35-36, Jesus states, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Emphasis mine).

Friends, we are truly the love letters of God, ones who must always strive to be accurate representations of their Author.