My reading diet has not been healthy. Too much meat, not enough dessert. Too much reading for knowledge and not enough reading for the sheer joy of well-crafted sentences and a compelling story. This past month I was able to read two such books (they are hard to find).
The first, West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge, was a joyful journey through 1938 continental US with two giraffes, a gruff old man, an orphaned teenage boy, and a red-headed girl. I love historical novels because they are windows into another time, another world. This was a magnificent, front-row view of ordinary broken people dealing with the devastation of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. It is written from the perspective of the boy, now a very old man about to die, writing his memories (for someone whose identity you discover much later).
It is extremely well-written and so full of nostalgia that it brings tears to the eye. There is something indescribably beautiful about this life and God’s world – even in the midst of tragedy and loss. West with Giraffes is the story of Woody, the orphan, as he discovered that beauty in the mysterious, gentle wonder of two giraffes. It might sound silly, but if you’ve ever known and loved an animal you know you’ve perceived something precious in God’s good creation. This is not a “Christian” book, it’s better than that. It is an extremely well-crafted tale of real people in a particular historical context and anyone with Christian eyes will enjoy God’s good gifts in the midst of a broken yet still beautiful world. I’m not ashamed to say I shed some tears at the end.
The other novel was just as moving. The writing isn’t as rich but the drama is profound and compelling. The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan is based on the true story of Emil and Adeline Martel and their harrowing flight from both Joseph Stalin’s deadly purges and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. They both experienced the Holodomor, Stalin’s intentional starvation of ethnic Hungarians, in which an estimated 4-7 million people died. They then lived through the horrors of WWII and Emil’s imprisonment in a Soviet labor camp following the war.
One of the reasons the book was so interesting to me is it addresses the “Job question” – how do you make sense of a sovereign and loving God in the midst of incredible suffering and evil?
The underlying issue of the story is this: what is your life? Is your life something that happens to you, by you, or for you? The preposition makes a world of difference.
If you think that your life is what happens to you – you will easily be discouraged, bitter and anxious. You will see yourself as a victim of circumstances beyond your control.
If you think life is what happens by you, by your own power - you will be driven and proud in the strength of your youth and ambition. But, as dreams die and youthful zeal gives way to aging reality, you will be forced to admit that your life is beyond your ability to control. Sin, sickness, tragedy, and economic downturn will expose the futility of a self-made life and you will be driven to despair.
But what if life was not what happened to you or by you, but for you? What if your life was truly a gift – something that had been divinely ordained and crafted for you, by a divine and loving hand, so that even in the most difficult times there were things to be thankful for and a hope to hold on to? The fruit of this perspective will be gratitude and worship.
This tremendous story left me with a conviction that I need, every day, to receive my life as a precious gift from my faithful Savior, which I don’t deserve. The evidence will be gratitude and praise!
In His Service,
P.S. I will be talking about just this issue in the sermon Sunday evening, taken from Psalm 71.
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