Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Review: All for a Sister by Allison Pittman

All for a Sister is an engaging read, keeping the reader in suspense until the very end. Set in the 1920's, the story weaves between three main characters. Celeste is the privileged, beautiful movie star daughter.  Dana is the recently released prisoner who was accused of murdering Celeste's older sister when Dana was twelve years old, and Marguerite is Celeste's mother, now deceased, who awarded Dana half of Celeste's inheritance. Why would Marguerite choose to include the murderer of her daughter in her inheritance? Could Dana and Celeste possibly have a family connection?

These details are gradually divulged as chapters in the book containing Marguerite's written confession are interspersed between scenes from Dana's prison cell and Celeste's childhood. Then there is Celeste's womanizing father.  How does he fit into the puzzle?

I found the author's use of metaphors, brilliant and refreshing. For example, in describing Graciela's (the household maid) speech, here is Pittman's penning: "Her words flowed like water, like the perfect draw of a warm bath, the syllables splashing and lapping, one into the next."  When switching between the telling of each character's background history, the transitions are smooth and easy to follow.

As the truth of the past unfolds, I am left to make judgment on Marguerite's actions, partly because the author discloses her deeds in first person, so Marguerite is airing her own conscience, and also because the author expertly tosses the reader between feeling sympathy and outrage. When all is finally revealed, I was satisfied with the conclusion.

I received a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes from Tyndale House.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Convinced by Grace

The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you. II Cor. 13:13-14.

If you have read any of my former posts in the last two years, you know I have been taking private lessons with the Holy Spirit on Grace. Recently,  I've been taking notes from this course; now it's time to summarize and share.

I've been going through the book, A Confident Heart, by Renee Swope. Each lesson addresses an insecurity that women might deal with, and then shares Renee's personal journey to overcome that particular doubt that hinders confident living. Questions to reflect on at the end of each chapter gives the reader an opportunity to learn from Renee's mentoring. Deep in the heart of the chapter that deals with the doubt, "I'm such a failure", Renee explains what she believes is the difference between condemnation and conviction.  When we've done something we regret- sinned, made a bad decision, cause disappointment to someone, etc., the enemy's taunting begins. "How stupid!", "What were you thinking?", "And you claim to be such a good Christian!"

Conviction by the Holy Spirit, is focused on righteousness with words like, "I know you feel badly about that.  Let me help you make it right." And then proceeds to give us plans to make amends and to learn from the failure. It's a balanced acknowledgement of sin, with reverence for God's holiness, regret for falling short, and humility knowing that all condemnation has been erased because of Jesus' sacrifice for sins. Joy is then appropriate as we realize the Grace.

Renee says, " We have to accept that we are going to disappoint people, especially if we are seeking to please God.  Sometimes we need to lower our expectations of ourselves...We also need to stop the habit of beating ourselves up with so much critical thinking.  What are we doing, talking to a child of God the way we talk to ourselves?  When criticism comes and we have done our best, we can rest in knowing God is pleased.  If we didn't do our best, we need to give ourselves grace and try again..."  p. 130.

In the midst of this chapter, I conveniently had a fresh specimen of failure to observe in my learning lab. Something I had done caused someone to be hurt and I worried how it would be resolved.  After a few minutes of feeling lousy and beaten down, I remembered this lesson and the fact that my thoughts were not ones that came from Him. I needed to let them go and focus on listening for his  instructions.  Yet, even knowing what I should do, it was hard to break out of  the "what ifs" and deliberately talk to Abba about it.
My pride, maybe, needed to figure this out myself; I had to take the responsibility for my actions, the consequences. Maybe the weight of that kept me from responding more quickly to the inner prompting of the Spirit to let go.

As I've reflected on that incident, I thought back to what I had been taught about taking responsibility for my actions. Perhaps the voices of teachers said things like, "It's all your fault, so if you feel bad that's a good thing.  You need to be remorseful and suffer a bit."  Maybe I was left wallowing in that mire and not taught too well how to get out or move on. I know I was also taught that 'if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness'. But boy was it a long walk back to come out into that place where the son of righteousness was shining and God was smiling again! If/when I confessed it felt like I had to come before the judge and somehow convince him I was repentant enough for him to smile and grant me pardon.

It has taken many years of understanding God's grace to realize and believe that his Father heart never rejects me in those places of sin and failure, but is/has already turning/turned them into something positive that will somehow be worked into good for me and others I've let down, or at the least teach me a lesson.  And it's not the kind of teaching that comes from an angry parent's determination that says, "I'll teach you a thing or two..." but a gentle "look you could have done it this way instead", or "I'll help you fix it", and, "I know you can do it better next time and you will! Let's learn from this and move ahead." I'm almost certain I never heard those phrases from my childhood teachers.

Neither did I have that understanding when I disciplined and mentored my own kids. I am sorry, wonderful sons and daughter.  God is amazing as I see he has delivered the grace messages to you in ways I could not. I see it in your love for your own kids and towards your imperfect parents. His Holy Spirit will always be your teacher. Continue to pass the grace forward; the grace that is always sufficient and will never end.

Titus 2:11-14
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,  while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

John 16:8-11
And when he[the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.  The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me.  Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more.  Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.
(this is the Holy Spirit's message to the world-conviction)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.  He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me.  All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’ 
(this is the Holy Spirit's work in believers, guiding us into all truth and telling us all that belongs to the Father, through Jesus!-intimacies straight from the Father's heart)