Monday, November 21, 2011

How Green Was My Valley: A Book Review

The other day I finished reading a really wonderful book - How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn. It's a fictional memoir about a family living in a Welsh coal mining town during the turn of the century. The story is told from the perspective of Huw Morgan, (the youngest boy in the family of six sons and three daughters) as an old man, looking back upon his childhood and coming of age. The book has a very heavy strain of melancholy throughout it, which, surprisingly, seems to add a charm to the narrative, rather than a cloud.

Despite the fact that it is a fictional memoir, the characters, place, and experiences feel so real that I can't help but think that the author really did experience the greater part of what he wrote of.

The book is incredibly enjoyable because of the relationships of the people. It's easy to fall in love with the family, the community, and the way they live. It certainly awakens within you a deep desire to go back to their simplicity of living (at least in some ways).

The Morgan family is very religious, for the most part. The deep faith of the father pervades his wife and children so entirely, that you are not sure they would be as steadfast church-goers as they are but for him. The children know their Bible back-to-front, yet they disobey such basic Christian rules, seemingly without any remorse, that you wonder what the writer was thinking when he wrote it. The breaking of the rules in and of itself is not shocking (for these characters), but the fact that they never feel any discomfort at all is peculiar in light of their foundational Christian upbringing.

There are also some views on Christianity that the main boy holds, which are very out of place. But, to tell the truth, they didn't bother me because they're so out of place that I marked it up to the author pinning his own beliefs upon the main character. In real life, living in his family, he would have never believed what he did.

One thing that Llewellyn highly succeeds in is painting a picture of the beauty and wonder of God's creation in Man and Woman, the peace and glory of Family, and the building of and branching out of life that the love between the two brings forth. He paints a glorious picture of Creation and our place in it - the simple truths and beauties of humanity. You really have to read the book to get the full picture.

But the main point of the book that I want to address is the over-arching sense of "you can't go home again". Llewellyn weaves such a capturing picture of the goodness, hardships, joys, and failures of the character's lives, that it's very touching by the end, and leaves you with a very deep understanding of the reality that days go by, and you can't have them back, no matter how hard you try. I think we've all experienced this truth in different ways - growing up and realizing that some of the most beautiful days of your life are gone, going through the death of a loved one and looking back upon the days you had with them - realizing that they are gone. I could go on. It's very easy to become so entangled in the sadness of these realities that your life becomes one great sorrow.

But in thinking about these things, I've come to realize something that is very freeing.

God has laid out the natural course of our lives to be filled with joy - in every stage. Now mind, this joy is only realized for those who follow His laws. You are an infant, toddler, and child, growing up in innocence and beauty, surrounded by people who love you and will protect you, raising you up in the truth of the Lord. You are an adolescent and a young adult, looking forward to many exciting changes that await you within the next ten years of your life, waiting expectantly for what God has in store for you. You are an adult with a spouse and young children, glorying in the beauty of your little ones, enjoying once again the laughter that you yourself remember as a child. You are middle-aged, watching your children grow to adulthood in the fear of God, and waiting with expectation to see what He has planned for them. Now you're old, your children have children, and once again you bask in the warmth of those little ones and the love that the growing generations have for you.

Life is Beautiful.

What was brought home to me reading How Green Was My Valley is this - that without the fear, peace, and love of God, there is no joy. Life is too hard, filled with too many sadnesses, to get through without Him. By the end of it you will only have joy in the memory of what life was when He was there, blessing you, as Huw Morgan does in reminiscing of his childhood.

I've gone on for a long time now, so I shall cease. In a word, 'How Green Was My Valley' is very much worth the read. I found it enchanting. And if you read it with the knowledge that God is always with you, no matter what changes in life come and what beautiful times are gone forever, it will be all the sweeter.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Good Gifts

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." - James 1:17

I had never considered until now that it is a discipline to bear in mind that every good gift comes from God. It's a beautiful putting forth of faith. I got up this morning, walked into a kitchen overflowing with people whom I love and who love me, and we ate together delicious food that only a few people in the entire world get to enjoy - and I thought, "All of these things come from God. Every good gift comes from God."

And all of a sudden I realized that, if you look at the world around you in the light of this truth (the truth of the God who does not change with the shifting shadows) everything about you comes to vivid life; it's like God is right there beside you, handing you one gift upon another, until your mind is overloaded by the greatness of His love for you.

It's a discipline to think this way, for our natural inclination is to look at life skeptically, or through a self-centered lens - but if God is truly the giver of all good gifts, than everything good in our lives is from Him, and is only there because He was kind and merciful enough to give it to us. If I am sitting amongst my family of an evening having a quiet conversation, that is a good gift. If I am fixing a meal that few others in the world are able to eat, that is a good gift. If sunshine streams upon the earth to feed all creation, that is a good gift. If rain falls to feed the earth, that is a good gift. If I am able to wash clothes in an hour and a half instead of a whole day, that is a very good gift.

Suddenly God is all around you, handing you beautiful, unasked for, and unlooked for gifts. Beautiful gifts that bless you more than you could ever know. And all to often we are totally unaware of them, and most importantly, unaware of the Giver of them all.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Repentance & Power

"Those who fear the Lord bear repentance in their hearts." - Proverbs

At first glance, I think most of us would get the wrong idea about this scripture. Somehow, for some reason, when I first think of a person who ''bears repentance in their heart", I get a mental image of a morose, "repentant" individual who is dogged by the awareness of his own failures - despite the fact that that is not how I would otherwise describe a "repentant" person.

What usually doesn't pop into my mind is the word power.

To 'repent' literally means to 'change your mind,' which causes you to change direction - to stop, turn, and retrace your steps. It's an easy thing to repent in words, and it's a grueling thing to repent in deed; in fact, I would go so far as to say that it is practically impossible to repent in deed - to repent for being cross and snappy towards your brother, and then never to do it again.

It would be impossible... were it not for the power of God. The Holy Spirit lives within those who accept the Lord, and He works to do the things that we can't, the things that we desperately need and desperately want (and desperately want to want). If we are living our lives mindful of the things of God, then we live in a continual mindset of repentance, "taking every thought captive to obey Christ." To do this, we must call upon and claim the Power of Yahweh for our help and salvation.

Yet, to my shame, I seldom find that I wake up in the morning and consciously say, "Today, I claim for myself the Power of Christ. I will not live in fear of Sin or the Devil, but I will walk in steadfastness of purpose and spirit, cleaving to the One who can do all things, and the Power that he gave to me when I received His Holy Spirit." And seldom, when I earnestly repent of a sin, do I call this same Power to mind, turn around and walk the opposite way with the Joy that the knowledge of this Power ought to bring.

George Macdonald said it best, "We are and remain such creeping Christians, because we look at ourselves and not at Christ; because we gaze at the marks of our own soiled feet, and the trail of our own defiled garments … having committed a petty fault, I mean a fault such as only a petty creature could commit, we mourn over the defilement to ourselves, and the shame of it before our friends, children, or servants, instead of hastening to make the due confession and amends to our fellow, and then, forgetting our own paltry self with its well-earned disgrace, lift our eyes up to the glory which alone will quicken the true man in us, and kill the peddling creature we so wrongly call our self."

I want to live every day in the Power of God, not the weakness of me. This is the only way to obey the Word and be steadfast in the Faith. For if we remain focused on our own base weaknesses and faults, the despairing knowledge of our frailty will swallow us alive. The Holiness of God is all-consuming. Keeping our eyes unwaveringly fixed upon His Power is the only way to be bearers of that Power ourselves, and to have the Joy that enables us to remain Steadfast.

"May the God of hope bring you such joy and peace in your faith that the power of the Holy Spirit will remove all bounds to hope." - Romans 15:13


Monday, March 14, 2011

Sewing Sunshine

Lately I've been sewing a great deal. It's such a fun, comforting thing. After searching the internet for information on some questions I had, I decided that I should start my own blog about sewing. And thus was born my new blog, Sewing Sunshine. It's just a place where I'll put up things I learn, links, patterns, and all sorts of things. Check it out!


Friday, March 4, 2011

A Peacemaker

When I was little, I always used to think of a Peacemaker as one of two people: first, as a soldier, bringing justice and peace to a country during war, or second, as someone who stops a quarrel. Thus when I read, "Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God," I got this vision in my head of an American soldier standing to attention at the throne of God.

But reading through the book of James, the Holy Spirit has brought to my mind a new picture of a true Peacemaker.

No one who has given their life to God and accepted his Authority and Redemption can doubt that they need Him to give them His Wisdom. So much of the time we try so hard to have it by our own strength, and it takes many, many hard knocks to make us realize that we cannot sum up Wisdom on our own. We must pray, as James says, and ask God to give us that Wisdom which is so priceless, so beautiful, and so rare, that only He has the power to bestow.

"If there is any one of you who lacks wisdom, he must ask God, who gives to all freely and ungrudgingly; it will be given him." (James 1:5)

It is very hard for our small minds to fully believe and trust that God will give Wisdom to us, or that we are even capable of receiving that Wisdom, and yet we must. For James goes on to say these chilling words, "But he must ask with faith, and no trace of doubt, because a person who has doubts is like the waves thrown up in the sea when the wind drives. That sort of person, in two minds, wavering between going different ways, must not expect that the Lord will give him anything." (1:6-8) The wonderful thing is that the beginning of this Wisdom is truly believing, without a hint of doubt, that God will give it to us.

There are many things that the Bible says about the Wisdom that comes from above, but I think that one of the most beautiful passages is James 3:16-17: "Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done; whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it also makes for peace, and is kindly and considerate; it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good, nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it."

The Wisdom from Above makes Peace. We, being children of God who are to be filled with His Wisdom, are to be Peacemakers.

When I began to think of a Peacemaker in this way, my first thoughts went back to the Peace that I drew as a little child from my Mama and Daddy. Was not there a deep peace that surpassed your understanding when you climbed into their lap and either cried and were comforted over a trouble, or simply rested in the warmth of their loving embrace? The picture of a Peacemaker is just like this. Someone in whom the peace of God is overflowing, flooding and blessing the lives of those around them.

By the Wisdom that flows to us from our Heavenly Father, we spread Peace everywhere we go, and to everyone we meet. And this Peace leads others to God. Our siblings, parents, children, spouses, and friends all see the Peace that flows from us to everything around us, and that that Peace comes to us from the Lord. They have witnessed first-hand the truth that "Yahweh gives strength to his people, Yahweh blesses his people with peace."

As Peacemakers, we have the chance to plant the seeds that will lead to others' salvation through our deep inner joy and Wisdom. We are indeed sons of God, for we are vessels in which God can dwell in a mighty way. "Peacemakers, when they work for peace, sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness." (James 3:18)

"The mind fixed on the Spirit is life and peace."


Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Integrity of America

Alright, dear readers, your very, very long wait for a new blog is to be rewarded. I'm sorry it's taken me this long to get something up! This is an essay that I wrote back in the Autumn of last year for a national essay contest put on by The Bill of Rights Institute. Unfortunately, I didn't win the competition, but it was very fun and incredibly educational. The question I had to answer was "What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American?" After thinking about it a great deal, I decided that undoubtedly the most important civic value to the institution of our country is Integrity. So below is the essay that I composed and submitted to the contest. I hope you enjoy it! Tell me what you think!


The Integrity of America
by Gretchen Wolaver

Integrity is the pivotal value of America. Without it the structure of our society
crumbles. The Founding Fathers desired to design a system replete with liberty,
empowering citizens to pursue happiness without the intrusion of an oppressive
government. They knew that this idea could only be realized if the morality of each
individual was self-imposed, negating the need for excessive government regulations
to maintain justice. A person with strong morals, they believed, would find the will
from within themselves to do what was right.

The Bill of Rights is a potent example of this expectation. Consider the 1st
Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the
press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
government for a redress of grievances.” Yet the Founding Fathers knew that without
the exercise of personal integrity these freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly
and petition would be abused.

Modern times have shown them to be right. I have been dismayed at how my
generation exhibits an increasing lack of integrity, especially in light of technological
empowerment. The internet has given my peers the power to broadcast lies about
others, often ruining their lives. Now our courts are attempting to decipher how to
bring justice to this new world of defamation. But how can they regulate something
as gigantic as the worldwide web without marring the First Amendment? This
modern crisis has underscored the importance of personal integrity to me, and has
deepened my resolve to speak out against such slanderous bullying.

Today’s political scene is riddled with slander and deceit as well. I cringe as
the mud flies. The restoration of integrity must begin at the top, with the leaders of
our government, who would do well to look to the Founding Fathers for inspiration.

Consider John Adams, for example, an honest and principled man who played
a momentous role in the founding of our nation. Esteemed for his undaunted pursuit
of integrity, his strength of character and conviction was fully displayed when he
took on the job of defending the British soldiers in the court hearings after the Boston
Massacre. The British sentries had shot and killed five civilians in self defense, but
no lawyer would take their case—none except Adams.

At the time, he was a leading Patriot about to run for public office. Even
though he needed the Patriot vote, he knew that defending the soldiers was the right
thing to do. Adams chose to side with justice and truth over the frenzy of popular
opinion. He not only took on their case, he saved their lives. On the third anniversary
of the Massacre, Adams wrote in his diary that defending the soldiers was “ of
the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and
one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country.” It’s in this same
disinterestedness for his own image that we see Adams’ sense of duty to his nation
over self. He exhibited a self-driven morality that helped to secure a just government
for his posterity, regardless of personal cost or gain.

Some might say that our country’s crucial value is not integrity, but freedom,
or justice. They may say that the Founders built our society upon these values to
secure a country where the tyranny and injustice from which they had suffered would
never happen again. This is a reasonable observation, but I would argue that integrity
must come first. Freedom and justice are rooted in love and respect for mankind.
When a nation’s robes of leadership are worn by hateful and irreverent people,
freedom and justice will increasingly be overcome by litigation, bureaucracy, and

When asked what kind of government he and the other Founders had
established, Benjamin Franklin replied, “You have a republic, if you can keep it.” To
sustain this Democratic Republic, we must preserve the same moral standards and
convictions, the same integrity that the Founding Fathers expected of themselves and
of us. It is a constant battle, but one that’s worth fighting. Integrity is vital to the
pursuit of the American dream, to the realization of a nation founded upon truth,
justice, and freedom. As John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a
moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”