Louisa May Alcott Books

My children, especially the middle one, are loving Louisa May Alcott books. We began with Little Women, then Little Men, and now we started Jo’s Boys. I enjoy them too, and it makes me wonder what is so special about them.

First, they are familiar from one of our favorite games: Authors. It’s an old set of cards from before my childhood. LMA is the only female author. I often wonder if there’s an updated version of the game, and if so, who are the authors? And if not, perhaps I ought to make one!

But why else do we like them? If you read any analysis written about them, especially Little Women, you learn how feminist the book is. Do we like them because they contain such strong and unique women? Well, partly yes, I think. But we like Laurie just as much. And Mr. Bhaer. And then the next two books have a lot of strong and unique boys in them. Maybe we like strong and unique characters in general. There are plenty of those.

More than just the characters, I enjoy the series. I enjoy watching the family grow up and expand. Unlike, say, Charlie Brown, who never gets older, these characters actually mature at an appropriate rate. Jo’s Boys begins ten years after Little Men ended. It seems right. I mean, we laugh because Nat has a moustache, and that’s a funny thought, but isn’t that just like real life? Don’t we have the temptation to laugh at young men when they start growing up and growing facial hair?

These books are also comforting. They have their funny moments, their poignant moments, their tragic moments, their long-winded descriptive moments. But it all strikes chords with our life. Plumfield school sounds a lot like our own homeschool. Demi is “the deacon” because he is pious and philosophical, and we love him for that, not despise him. Tommy is a prankster, and we love him for the trouble he gets into because he is still so good-natured, not horrible and dark. So many contemporary books strike off-notes because we don’t live our lives like the people in the book do. LAM’s books are closer to home than The Boxcar Children or James and the Giant Peach (not that those are bad books).

Finally, I like the wisdom that seems to wrap its way into the books. Jo grows older and learns better how to manage boys, and the book shares that wisdom with us. Amy grows prettier and more sophisticated and keeps her passion for art even as she lives out her life as Laurie’s wife and Bess’s mother. The characters grow more character as they age! I love that. I want to do the same. I think I’ve finally hit on the main reason I like the series. I want to be more Amy as I continue to grow and learn. I don’t want to diminish and become a pale version of myself. God wants me to bloom and be the full version of myself. It seems true that the more we learn from life’s experiences and the nature of other people, the fuller we can extend our own arms out to the world.

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Boundaries

Room in Brooklyn by Edward Hopper, 1932

There’s a book called Boundaries that is changing my life. My counselor assigned this book, and I’ve been implementing its ideas. It’s about setting personal limits and knowing when to say no. Like this lady in her room in Brooklyn, I have personal limits, walls and windows, that set me apart from those around me. For example, I have a limit concerning my writing and my children. I’m not okay with them watching me write something personal, like an email. I tell them to not be nosy and go in the other room.

Not having enough boundaries allows other people to hurt you or take advantage of you. If you don’t fix that situation, you allow people to do it over and over again. I’ve been challenged with the concept of enabling people to continue in their sin. Enabling is bad, I know it is. And the flip side of the coin – setting up a boundary so that person knows the sin is going to have consequences – is equally hard. Everything about boundaries is difficult. Most things are unpleasant. I don’t like boundaries.

But, I need them. They help me have that “spirit of power and love and self-control” that is mentioned in II Timothy 1:7. Without boundaries, I have a spirit of fear and craziness and self-doubt. It is true that I still doubt if boundaries are a good thing because I don’t like making people upset. And the consequences can be big and life-changing. However, I believe God works peace and truth through boundaries. Ultimately, God cares about me and wants what is best for me. God does not want someone breaking down my good boundaries and coming in and hurting me. And if they do, God is a healer.

Boundaries is a popular book and applicable to any life situation. I do recommend it. The authors are Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. They write from a Christian’s perspective.

Little Women

I’ve had such drama in my life lately, that I want to write something normal. So I will quote a quiet little truth found in Little Women, which I’m reading aloud to the kids right now. This quote comes when Jo and Beth are at the seaside and Jo realizes that Beth is going to die soon.

… for often between ourselves and those nearest and dearest to us there exists a reserve which it is very hard to overcome. Jo felt as if a veil had fallen between her heart and Beth’s, but when she put out her hand to lift it up, there seemed something sacred in the silence, and she waited for Beth to speak.

— from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, 1869

When I read that line aloud, it struck me as comforting. There’s nothing wrong in feeling shy talking to a loved one. It’s a natural thing, and often the silence between you and that loved one is full of more meaning than the words could ever have.

A Lesson from Job

After a very bad day yesterday, I am having a very good day today. My church is currently vacant, so we invite different ministers to preach for us. Today’s is Mr. Freswick, and he preached quite elegantly about Job. So there sits Job in the ash heap, his skin covered in sores. His friends blame him for all his problems, and at a different point in the book, he curses his own birth. However, in chapter 19, Job writes the thing he wants remembered forever: I know that my Redeemer lives. Job knows his friends are wrong; his problems are not his own fault. He has examined his heart and found himself right with God. So, his problems must have another explanation. Job doesn’t know the other explanation, but he knows that his Redeemer knows. And that’s good enough.

Application: I have problems. I examine my heart. I find that I am right with God. My husband blames me for our problems, but I know that I am at least trying to do the right things. So, there’s another explanation. I don’t know everything. I don’t know the reasons why I have to go through this. But God knows. He’s in control, and He is my Redeemer. And that’s better than anything else.

Piano

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

— “Piano” by D.H. Lawrence, 1885-1930

I was looking for something beautiful and complex to think about. Memories of past music will do. This poem makes me think of Sunday evening church services in my childhood. The varnished wood ceiling slanting up to a peak. The dimmed lights as the sermon begins. The worn wooden benches. Blue hymnals and Bibles in the shelf in front of me, green hymnals beneath the seats. The backlit cross behind the pulpit. A hushed and holy atmosphere, unlike any atmosphere I’ve known since.

Walking by Light and Truth

Psalm 43 has meant a lot to me lately, and I want to take a few moments to tell you why.

Everyone goes through tough patches in life. It’s how God grows us. Mine is now, and I’m often confused and lacking hope. Verse 3 says, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me.” And that’s what I’ve been praying.

When God sends me His light, then I can see more clearly what is happening. I will be more understanding of myself and others, and I will be less likely to react in ungodly ways. How does He send me His light? I think it’s through lots of little and big ways. Through sermons (we just, conveniently, had one on marriages, which is applicable to my problems). Through counselors. Through devotionals and Bible readings. Through books, like the Boundaries book I’m studying. Also through friends who pray for me. Natural light actually produces Vitamin D in our bodies which nourishes us and fights depression symptoms. Spiritual light fights hopelessness in much the same way.

When God sends me His truth, then I know that if I follow His truth, I won’t be wrong. It is reassuring to understand that God’s opinion of me and His understanding of my motives matters more than anyone else’s opinion. If my vertical relationship with God is right, then my horizontal relationships can be out of whack and it doesn’t matter that much because God will either pull them back into position or… I don’t know… leave them the way they are. Because God cares about me. God sends His truth and light to me. And He doesn’t do that to every single person out there.

I still feel in the dark sometimes. But I know God will answer “Yes” when I ask Him to send me His light and truth. And I know He will also answer “Yes” when I ask Him to lead me. It’s a matter of faith. I don’t see all the results yet, but I know God is working on His Yes answer.

My Beautiful Children

It’s Mother’s Day, but that didn’t mean much to me this year. It does mean something to my girls, so I accept their little gifts. And I notice how sweet my children are. This post is to honor them, and I’ll break my unwritten rule of not using their names on this blog.

Eddie, age 10. He’s in that inbetween age of playing with toys and not playing with toys. He works hard in most school subjects, and has really excelled in math this year. Eddie surprises me with his diplomacy skills, working between his sisters and I to get something accomplished. Yesterday, he convinced us all to go to a park. He wanted to play basketball with the ball he received for Christmas (and which his mother so unfairly forbid him to play with in the house). It was his first time playing basketball, and he’s not that great, but hey… neither am I! I have despised the sport since a young age, but yesterday Eddie and I played PIG and HORSE and it was fun! We both had fun together. I won, surprisingly, but I did get letters. It wasn’t like I skunked him completely. And he was a good sport about it. Afterward, we sat on the big swing together and watched the girls play with their new park friend on the playground.

Lucy, age 9. My gymnast. My mama’s girl. She is so especially nice to me, and I like that. It’s nice to be the favored one, the one Lucy will talk to and share secrets with. Lately, when we play a game, she’ll try to fix it so I win. It doesn’t always work, but then she’ll cheat at the very end so that I end up winning. I don’t advocate this, but it’s sweet of her:) She writes me little love notes and makes lovely homemade cards with pictures of me and her (and of course, a cake, because cakes are fun to draw). At random moments she’ll see me and say, “Moooommmm!” and run up and give me a big hug and kiss. And she loves stuffed animals and cats, just like I did.

Heather, age 7. I don’t think Heather has a selfish bone in her body. She is so generous and thoughtful. She does little secret things to show her kindness to me. For instance, her toothbrush came with a cover, and most nights I’ll find her cover on my brush because she wants me to have the special cover. I always return it to her brush, and I don’t explain about germs because it’s too sweet:) When Heather gets candy, she shares it. When I was sick with the flu awhile back, she took especial care of me and brought me my favorite cat to lie on my bed with me. She loves art, and I love her effort. Heather is so creative. She also makes beautiful homemade cards and writes I Love Mom on just about everything.

Well, I love my children, too. They truly are God’s gift to me.