Blessing Management: Jayber Crow Discussion Group (Conclusion!)

Last week a huge windstorm felled both trees and power lines, leading to widespread power outages throughout the great state of Maine. By some miracle of grace, we came through the storm with our lights still burning, but my oldest son was without electricity for several days. Since he and his family came here to shower and do laundry, I invited them to stay for supper. This time with much-loved family (and time to hold my baby granddaughter and visit with the adorable grandson) felt like bonus-time, completely unexpected, and owing to something that was a trial for them, but the end result was a gift to me.

Loving adult children seems to require a measure of this kind of blessing management — a rejoicing in the unsought gift of their presence while holding it all loosely and without expectation. I would rather pine endlessly for my sons than be the nagging and needy mother, so when these serendipitous visits happen with no real planning on my part, it’s a source of joy — or as Jayber Crow would say:

” . . . these meetings must not be planned, expected, depended on , or looked forward to. They [are] a hope seen afar, that must be with patience waited for.”

A Book About Love

And so, Jayber found that he also was able to practice blessing management in his happenstance meetings with Mattie in The Nest Egg over the course of 14 or 15 years. In this respect, then, it seems as if  Jayber Crow is a story of how one man learned to love. He denied himself any expression of that love toward its object (other than his immediate and generous response to Mattie’s requests for help in difficult situations). However, his outflow of love toward the Port William membership can certainly be traced back to the commitment he made to Mattie, and, therefore, a commitment to remain as The Membership’s “married ineligible bachelor barber.”

Several chapters ago, Jayber remarked that Port William would break your heart if you let it. I wonder if that is true of any community if only we would  be willing to see the neediness that lies only just beneath the glossy surface. Perhaps Jayber’s commitment is an invitation for the jaded and the “been-burned” to begin handing out second chances to family, friends, community, or the church.

When Jayber reflects on the benefit of this sacrifice to himself, asking himself what possible good he could have derived from the arrangement, his response is deeply moving:

“What good did I get from it? I got to have love in my heart.”

Listen well, O, my soul, for herein lies much wisdom for loving without strings attached.

A Book About Belonging

This outcome of Jayber’s internal argument is consistent with his value system expressed elsewhere in the story. For instance:

“To love anything good, at any cost, is a bargain.”

One of the places Jayber came to love and feel connected to was The Nest Egg because “everything there seemed to belong where it was.” (346) Unlike Troy, he did not have to possess something in the traditional sense in order to enjoy it. Although they were never his, the Nest Egg, the little cabin Burley gave him “the use of,” and even Mattie were all a source of joy. They also anchored him in a community which gave him his first (and only) set of roots since he was orphaned for the second time as a boy.

A Book About Calling

In his informal role as the “bootleg” barber at the edge of the river, Jayber continued to receive the words and confidences of his customers “as water draws to low ground.” For Jayber, it seems as if the minute he stopped trying to “make something of himself,” he became what he was intended to be.

It’s hard to miss the continual contrasts between Jayber and Troy who never did cease trying to make something of himself (336, 341). I wonder if some of the ceaseless striving came because he required so much fuel from outside himself in order to feed his voracious ambition.

Jayber’s calling that transcends even barbering is his love for Mattie, the wife of another man.  Even so, he makes no effort to interfere with the marriage. He never tells anyone else about his love for her, and the “marriage” he initiates in his heart changes him to the core.

A Book About Ending Well

There’s a phrase that occurred earlier in Jayber Crow‘s meanderings and with its second mention, it continued to gnaw at me. I’m thinking about “the leftovers.” In spite of his efforts to avoid living “an unexamined life,” Jayber still had some leftovers (355) which he defined as the “things I might once have done that are now undoable, old wrongs, responsibilities unmet, ineradicable failures — things of time, which is always revealing the remedies it has already carried us beyond.”  He has borrowed the term (268) from our friend Della, Athey Keith’s widow, and it was these “leftovers” that brought her to tears after Athey’s death:

“There are leftovers, Jayber. There are things I did or said that I wish I hadn’t, and things I didn’t do or say that I wish I had.”

These are cautionary words from fictional characters from whose story arc I want to learn and benefit.

Jayber calls himself a man of faith even though “faith puts you out on a wide river in a little boat, in the fog, in the dark.” (356)  Faith does not exempt the faithful from pain, Jayber says, but assures that “there is a light that includes our darkness, and day that shines down even on the clouds.” (357)  Faithfulness, for Jayber, is not about getting something for one’s efforts but is in itself its own reward.

It is not until the last paragraph of the book that we see any ray of hope for Jayber’s heart in his poured out life, and I can’t resist sharing his words of longing for this “good-good-good” life:

“I am a man who has hoped, in time, that his life, when poured out at the end, would say “Good-good-good-good-good!” like a gallon jug of the prime local spirit. I am a man of losses, regrets, and griefs. I am an old man full of love. I am a man of faith.”

May I ask, when is the last time you read a novel in which the culmination was a chaste and selfless love? In fulfillment of I Corinthians 13,  Jayber’s love “suffered long,”  did not “seek its own,” as it “hoped and endured all things” rather than allowing the weight of his desire to crush the beauty of its object. With the careful paintbrush of a poet, Berry suggested rather than described the understanding between Jayber and Mattie in the book’s final paragraph, and I expect (because, I ask you, who can resist thinking about a fictional character’s life beyond page 363?) that Jayber lived the rest of his days with the memory of that “smile that he had never seen.”

Looking Forward to 6:30 . . . 

This is a bittersweet moment as we come to the end of our discussion. When I’m in the middle of a series, I am convinced that I’ll never survive to the end and make all kinds of rash vows that include the words “never again.” I guess I’m a little bit like Jayber with the hands of my clock permanently pointing at 6:30, keeping things open-ended. However, I’m already starting to think about books for the next round, so stay tuned!

As ever, be sure to share links to any blog posts you write on Jayber Crow or related topics, especially if you decide to throw caution to the wind and write about “texts” and “subtexts” you’ve found, or if you attempt to “explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise ‘understand,'” because then we can all be exiled together and enjoy “the company of other explainers.” Wherever the exile ends up, I’ll bring a thermos of English Breakfast Tea and some disposable cups.  See you there!

Many thanks to all who persevered to the end! It’s been a great experience to spend some time as honorary citizens of Port William with you!

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Like the Sound of Many Waters — Jayber Crow Discussion (3)

As I write today, Houston is well into the long rebuilding that follows a hurricane and flooding, and Irma has raged through the Caribbean islands and through Florida, leaving a wake of destruction and death. In an odd sort of coincidence, those of us who are reading Jayber Crow according to the schedule have been following our protagonist’s progress through the flooded region that borders the Kentucky River on his journey toward home. Then, to add a third strand to these braided images, the patient husband and I have been reading in the book of Ezekiel these days, and we encountered this word picture in one of the wild-eyed prophet’s visions:

 “Afterward he brought me to the gate, the gate that faces toward the east.  And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. (Ezekiel 43:1,2)

Calling and the Voice of God

Scripture portrays the voice of God as still and small; as fearsome and emanating from the midst of fire; as a commandment-carrying instrument which must be obeyed at all cost.  And God’s usual means of communicating to His people is through Scripture; however, God (being God) can speak to us in any way that pleases Him.

Whether it was the voice of God or the voice of his own longing for home rising up in his heart and finally being heard, one thing was certain:  the river flooded and it brought Jayber back to Port William. The River was rising on that January day in 1937 when Jayber packed up his belongings and left behind his first barbering job, the first room he’d “ever had in his own right,” along with his pursuit of making “a theoretical something of himself” through education. For him, at least at this point in life, his calling is all about leaving. It’s not until he reaches the bridge in Frankfort, Kentucky and is stopped from crossing by the policeman (and the raging flood waters) that his journey seems to turn toward something.

” . . . If that barn breaks loose and hits this bridge, she’s a goner, and you too if you’re on it.”

And then I said something that I had never thought of saying, that I didn’t even know was the truth until I remembered myself saying it. Right then I only felt all of a sudden so lonely and homesick I could barely talk. I said, “I’ve got to get to my people down the river.”

Of course, it does complicate things that none of Jayber’s “people” know he exists yet . . . but enter Burley Coulter, and suddenly Jayber is known. The un-naming that happened back at The Good Shepherd has been reversed and the calling and the blessing of life as a barber begins to unfold.

The Calling and the Being

” . . . I know I’ve been lucky. Beyond that, the question is if I have not been also blessed, as I believe I have — and, beyond that, even called. Surely I was called to be, for one thing, a barber. All my real opportunities have been to be a barber, as you’ll see, and being a barber has made other opportunities. I have had the life I have had because I kept on being a barber, you might say, in spite of my intentions to the contrary.”

I can’t resist asking this question:

What do you “keep on being” that has resulted in blessing — maybe in spite of yourself?

Another question that bubbled to the surface as I read was, “Who is this guy?”

On the one hand, he’s lived a solitary life since Aunt Cordie died. On the other hand, he risks life and limb to cross a bridge to get to his people (“as surely as if [he] had a home to be on the way to”) and then stands in the capitol building on his way out after having spent the night there, looking at all his fellow refugees and longing to “tiptoe around and just lay my hand on each one.” He seems capable of feeling more tenderness toward people he doesn’t know than people he knows. Wendell Berry has certainly crafted a character full of contradictions.

Looking Ahead

The rising of the waters, the guilty feeling that he wants to repay the $5 bill Sam Hanks gave him on the basis of a lie, and Burley Coulter’s rowboat all worked together to bring Jayber back home.  As chapter eight comes to a close we see the beginnings of Jayber’s future, and so does he, but his narrator’s voice on page 82 draws our attention to an unknown quantity that would, eventually, have a powerful influence in his life — an influence as powerful as a calling:

“But my future, as it turned out, proved to be elsewhere. I hadn’t even glimpsed it yet. I had imagined no future. Who she was who would have my heart to own I had not imagined.”

So after three stories completely ended, Jayber begins a new story in an old setting.

How has the voice of God come to you in the past?  And how are you hearing Him today?

Have you experienced any hair pin turns in your sense of calling? Does Jayber’s experience help you in thinking about vocation?

I look forward to reading your thoughts so be sure to share insights, blog posts, and stories from your own experience in the comment space below!

I’ll be here next Thursday (September 28) having read Chapters 9-11.

And just in case you missed the schedule I posted last week, here it is again:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion

SEPTEMBER 28………………CHAPTERS 9-11
OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

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Jayber Crow: Welcome to the Discussion!

The house where I grew up is gone, and I haven’t returned to pay homage to the empty space.  For me, home — the place of belonging and permanence — is this country hill which has created in me a deep appreciation and understanding of the importance of place.  Expecting to live solitary and transient, I have been amazed to find that I’m content in a long-term zip code, but, as usual, I’m just catching up with what God has been doing all along.  He has always worked within a context of place, choosing a backwater Palestinian setting as ground zero for His arrival and as the backdrop for His earthly ministry. The incarnation brought dignity to the mortal body and to the notion of occupying a particular time and a beloved space.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry is a book about a man, but it is also a book about a place. Chapter 1 introduces Jayber as the barber in Port William, and then goes on to introduce the reader to the town he called home, employing six vignettes which feature various members of the Port William Membership.

Somehow, throughout the book, Jayber manages to sidestep the spotlight and to relate his tale through the observations of others.  However, he describes Port William as a place that “repaid watching,” (5) and clearly, Jayber saw plenty through his barbershop window.  It’s interesting that Berry makes his introductions in this order:  (1) Port William culminating in the first mention of Mattie Keith; (2) Jayber’s early years; (3) the Kentucky River which, we will see later, is so active in the plot that it nearly becomes a character in the story.

This is as good a place as any to address Wendell Berry’s curmudgeonly preface to Jayber Crow:

“NOTICE

Persons attempting to find a “text” in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a “subtext” in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise “understand” it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.

BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR”

This makes me smile, but you will recall (if you participated in the book discussion group around Till We Have Faces) how we acknowledged that Orual and her associates provided a wealth of material to deepen our understanding of God and His ways.  However, C.S. Lewis was primarily a story teller, and the story superseded all the themes and character analysis we discussed.  So . . . . lest we all find ourselves banished together to a desert island, let’s acknowledge once again that Jayber Crow is first and foremost a story about the barber of the Port William Membership.

If there is really such a thing as a “fictional memoir,” William Berry has mastered the craft.  Through Jayber’s musings, we will explore themes such as vocation and calling; the blessings and bane of change; the idea of belonging; and the unfolding of time in a particular place.  Writing from the perspective of 72 years of life, Jayber ponders the lay of the land:

“Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory.  Though I knew early of death, it still seemed to be something that happened only to other people, and I stood in an unending river of time that would go on making the same changes and the same returns forever.  And now, nearing the end, I see that my life is almost entirely memory and very little time.”

What Are Your Thoughts?

I hope that you are already beginning to fall in love with the people of Port William.  Have you noticed how Jayber describes in elaborate detail the characters’ background, temperament, and manner of living?  Some of these individuals will appear later in the story (or in other books that Berry has written about the Port William Membership), but some of them never appear again.  Even so, Berry has given gratuitous attention to them, like that of a painter to one tree in a landscape of forest.

I’d also love to hear your thoughts on Jayber himself.  I’ve never had a brother, but I think I love Jayber the way one would love an odd, errant brother who never quite lived up to his potential, BUT could explain every turn in the road to his own satisfaction, so was just fine in his own skin, thank you very much.

I hesitate to mention this at the outset, but I want to discuss it when it comes up, so I’ll front-load an observation from this read-through of Jayber.  Wendell Berry, in addition to being a poet and stunning author of fiction, is a farmer, an environmental activist, and a cultural critic.  I noticed several incidents in which Jayber’s monologues sounded as if maybe Wendell had jumped in front of the microphone for few paragraphs.  Not yet.  But bear this in mind as you read on.  I’m wondering . . . is it just my imagination, or do you notice it as well?

One of the reasons I have called Jayber my favorite fictional theologian is his ability to make observations about the faith which sound like an outsider and yet to be profoundly orthodox on so many points.  I’m hoping for some lively discussion on the state of Jayber’s eternal soul, but listen to this insight on God as Father from later on in the book:

“I imagined that the right name might be Father, and I imagined all that that name would imply:  the love, the compassion, the taking of offense, the disappointment, the anger, the bearing of wounds, the weeping of tears, the forgiveness, the suffering unto death . . . Divine omnipotence might by the force of its love be swayed down into the world.  Could I not see how it might, because it could know its creatures only by compassion, put on mortal flesh, become a man, and walk among us, assume our nature and our fate, suffer our faults and our death.”

And so . . . back to incarnation once again.

What are your thoughts on barber chair theology?
Is there a place in your history and memory that anchors you in the way Port William anchored Jayber?

Let’s Get Started

I would love to hear your thoughts as we read. If you do not blog, just share your insights directly to the comments, but if you have a blog, I hope that you will write a piece or two (or a post about each section!) and then share them here by copying the URL of the post into the comments section below.  It will be fun — and enlightening — to learn from each other’s insights.

Don’t feel as if you need to share earth-shattering observations.  Just write about what impressed you in the section we are reading. If something puzzled you, pose your questions to the group.  Let’s commit to reading the book and learning from it in community!

I’ll be here next Thursday (September 14) having read Chapters 4-6.  I’ll share a summary to get us started, mention some of my insights, and then throw the door wide open for your input.
How do you participate?
Simply get a copy of the book and read along.  You don’t need to register or commit to anything other than just reading the book!

In the meantime, are you planning to read with us?
Will this be your first time through one of Wendell Berry’s books or are you a repeat reader?
What else have you read by Berry?  Do you have a favorite?
Where are you, who are you, and what do you love?
Do you plan to blog about your impressions?
Let’s begin to get acquainted in the comments below!
And just in case you missed the schedule I posted last week, here it is again:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion
SEPTEMBER 7………………..CHAPTERS 1-3
SEPTEMBER 14………………CHAPTERS 4-6
SEPTEMBER 21………………CHAPTERS 7-8
SEPTEMBER 28………………CHAPTERS 9-11
OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

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The Things We Most Desire

Welcome to Hope Harbor where the pace is slow, but news travels fast; where visitors arrive to relax and clear their mind of distractions and then come away with new perspective.  It’s an unlikely destination for Eric Nash with his partner-track position at a high-end Portland law firm.  But when “a strategic repositioning” leaves him jobless and questioning all his cherished assumptions about security, he returns to Hope Harbor to fall back and regroup.

Eric is surprised to find his widowed father in the midst of a huge remodeling project with plans of starting a B&B in the family home.  Of course, a fender bender with his dad’s construction manager on his first day in Hope Harbor gets them off to a rocky start, but what was it about this contractor’s intelligent green eyes and the dusting of freckles across her nose that sent a sizzle of electricity through the air? Was it only Eric’s imagination, or had B.J. sensed it as well?

As Eric’s confusion about his future increases, the pounding hammers begin to echo the collision of choices warring in his head and heart.  Was a return to the fast track what he really wanted?  Or was it time to slow down and make space for his long-neglected love of painting — and a meaningful and committed relationship?

Return visitors to Hope Harbor will be delighted to know that Charlies’s Fish Taco Stand is still doing a booming business, and that Charlie is still observing the town’s citizens with his enigmatic combination of quirky humor and sensitivity.  Did he train Floyd and Gladys to guard the  bench near his stand or were those two seagulls just captivated by Charlie’s charm like every one else in town?

Irene Hannon’s background as a suspense writer sneaks into her unfolding plot in Sea Rose Lane.  With Eric’s uncertainty about his future and B.J.recovering from a disastrous run-in with a smooth operator who was as ambitious and handsome as Eric, the pair seems unlikely to synchronize the pitch and sway of their feelings for each other.

The good citizens of Hope Harbor keep Eric and B.J. on the move and, ultimately, it is through the use of their gifts in the service of others that God begins to direct their paths in surprising ways.  With a balance of delightful whimsy and piercing insight reminiscent of Jan Karon’s Mitford series, Irene Hannon has created an engaging community and populated it with characters whose journeys capture the imagination and invite the reader to ponder important life lessons.  Through the twists and turns of the narrative arc, Sea Rose Lane reinforces the truth that in order to gain the things we most desire, we sometimes have to let go of things that are less important.

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Curious about author Irene Hannon?  I interviewed her last summer here on the blog.  I have also reviewed the first book in the Hope Harbor series as well as two of her earlier books.  Enjoy!

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This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

A Fish Story for the Whole Family

There’s nothing like summer fun on the scenic shores of a lake:  sand between the toes, an afternoon spent face-down in the clear, cold water, tiny fish peering back at you through your goggles.  Irish Beth Maddock celebrates the beauty of the creatures that God has made through the eyes of Paul and Beth, a brother and sister who are loving every minute of their summer — even the experience of shuddering over the swampy water where the ugly carp fish live.

Is there beauty to be found even in these spiny, scaly fish?

God thinks so, and the kids have an opportunity to ponder their own response to God’s “wise and wonderful” creation as they plan and execute a dramatic rescue.  No one will mind if you notice that the extent of this rescue effort is a fine picture of God’s Great Rescue Plan for humanity.  He goes to incredible lengths to steer us into the best current, and bends over backwards to let us know how beautiful we are — and how worth the effort.

Illustrator Lucent Ouano has painted a realistic setting for the adventure . . . oh, and I counted 17 appearances of the adorable white and black-spotted kitty (18 if I count the cover).  How many do you find?

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This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

For more information about Irish Beth Maddock (winner of the 2016 Illumination Book Award) and her writing, visit her web page or get more information on Facebook.

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Stone by Stone

Spare narrative and a stoic reporting of the facts — this is the tone of the Old Testament book of Nehemiah:

“So I came to Jerusalem . . .”  (Five words about a dangerous two-month, one-thousand-mile journey.)
“I wept and mourned for many days.”  (Three months!)

Based on a careful study of Scripture, Lynn Austin puts meat on the bones without obscuring the truth or compromising biblical fidelity. On This Foundation, book three of The Restoration Chronicles, is a fictionalized rendering of Nehemiah’s journey and the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s shattered wall which can easily stand on its own.  Characters from the Old Testament book become more three-dimensional and their emotions and the events of the story more palpable since novelizing the story brings in the sights, sounds, smells, and energy of those tumultuous days.  For example, there is more to the role of cup bearer than I had realized, and Nehemiah’s duties in the citadel at Susa were a unique preparation for his position of leadership in Jerusalem.  Connecting Nehemiah and his brother Hanani with the events chronicled at the end of the book of Esther gives depth and family history which hint at a possible reason for Nehemiah’s strength of character and drive.

The mobilization of a ragtag assortment of refugees into an efficient construction crew and formidable fighting force along with the restoration of the wall in only two month’s time becomes a lush and layered tale.  Heart-breaking realities associated with bond servitude in Israel’s history and the grinding poverty that lay at its root are reported in Nehemiah 5, but On This Foundation gives the problem a face and a name in the person of Nava who must leave her family and her childhood sweetheart for a six-year term of servitude in payment of her families debts.

The tedious list of names in Nehemiah 3 and the details of who worked next to whom (and what they built) has been incorporated beautifully into Lynn’s story arc with flowing dialogue and imaginative scenes.  Best of all, the daughters of Shallum (3:12) explode the boundaries of their one-verse mention and are given an identity that fulfills the vision and courage which earned their mention in Israel’s historical account.

Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem are portrayed as the formidable and self-seeking foes that we see in the biblical narrative, adding to the intrigue of Nehemiah’s situation.  I was drawn into the tension of Nehemiah’s survey of his surroundings, his dawning realization that there was no one he could fully trust, and his fear that he was endangering his brothers lives as well as his own.  Was there anyone in all Jerusalem who was committed to the cause with unsullied motives?

My Sunday School class and I recently spent nearly six months studying the book of Nehemiah together, so, for me, On This Foundation felt like a visit with an old friend.  I encourage readers to accept the author’s invitation to explore the biblical text.  (She provides a list of all the passages she referenced in her research.)  Those who do will realize that Nehemiah’s trip to Susa and his subsequent return to Jerusalem in Nehemiah 13 have been omitted from the book.  Many of the reforms that Nehemiah addressed (Sabbath observance, marriage to unbelievers, temple worship, and provision for the Levites) occurred after his return, indicating that the slippage had actually taken place in his absence.  At 464 pages, On This Foundation is really a perfect length for getting lost in, so the inclusion of that journey would have been cumbersome, and its omission takes nothing away from the story.

As for sorting out the truth about Malkijah the wealthy land-owner:  Is he just another cruel and greedy rich guy who is hoping to increase his power by marrying one of Shallum’s daughters?  Is Chana wise to accept his proposal?  These questions nagged at me as I read, but even after the plot was resolved, and I was imagining the choral processions singing at the dedication of Jerusalem’s Wall, I couldn’t let go of that pair of complex characters —  Malkijah and Chana, so alike in their need for repentance and self-awareness.  The truth is that every one of us is a mixed bag of greed and loyalty; blindness and insight; charity and ambition.  Only God can change a heart, working from within, and like Nehemiah, we all must come to the realization that anything of consequence that we do, anything lasting that we build must be set on a firm foundation of faith in the Almighty One.


Interested in visiting the landmarks from my six-month journey through Nehemiah with my Sunday School class?  Click here to view a link to the series.

This book was provided by Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group,  in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Grief, Regret, and Second Chances

Irene Hannon examines grief and the providence of God while also exploring the nature of guidance and the importance of cleaning up our messes while they are still fresh.  There’s an ocean of wisdom pouring out along the narrative flow of her new work of contemporary fiction:  Hope Harbor.

When Michael Hunter takes a leave of absence from his job in the mid-west and flees to the Oregon coast, he plans to “get his life back” and tend to some unfinished business in grieving for his deceased wife.  To his surprise, in two weeks’ time, he has become delightfully enmeshed in the community of Hope Harbor with its charming coastal atmosphere and its enigmatic food vendor who serves up fish tacos and godly wisdom through his open window.  Irene’s fresh and vivid portrayals enrich the unfolding plot as Michael risks getting better acquainted with Tracy, the lovely yet aloof young woman who nearly mowed him down with her bike on his first day in Hope Harbor.  As the ice between them thaws, they ponder the mystery behind Michael’s crusty landlady’s uncharacteristic friendliness toward him — and then go on to tackle the thorny issue of rescuing Tracy’s family farm from imminent financial disaster.  With her heart already wounded, is it wise for Tracy to trust her growing feelings for Michael when he has made it clear that he has no plans to stick around?

Irene Hannon’s characters are authentic on their feet of clay, so their struggles feel genuine, and yet they manage to serve as credible role models for readers who are also on a journey toward hope.  It turns out that grief and regret often go hand-in- hand, and that these twin sorrows are part of the story for more than one resident of Hope Harbor.  Anna the crusty landlady with “hard miles on her odometer” and a growing determination to start fresh; Tracy with her farm-girl work ethic and fierce loyalty to her family; and Michael with his vision and his gifting for helping the helpless all find that unexpected grace comes in every-widening circles as they discover the miracle of second chances.


For my interview with author Irene Hannon, click here, and/or to read reviews of two of her works of romantic suspense, click here and here.

This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link up with these communities on a regular basis:  Soli Deo Gloria Connections, Inspire Me Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Live Free Thursdays, Faith-Filled Fridays, Grace and Truth, Fellowship Friday, Still Saturday, The Weekend Brew, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Motivate and Rejuvenate Monday, Thought Provoking Thursday, Small Wonder, A Little R & R, Beloved Brews, SusanBMead, Faith Along the Way, Cozy Reading Spot, Reflect, Literacy Musing Mondays