November 19, 2012

All Things New

I was so excited to see Lynn Austin had written another Civil War novel. Her books from her 'Refiner's Fire' series have always been favorites of mine. :)

Set at the end of the Civil War, when southern families are trying to piece their lives back together and slaves are adjusting to their new found freedom, Josephine Weatherly has harden her heart and turned away from God.

Josephine, the main character in this story, is a woman of 22 who has lost her father and brother to the war and finds their plantation has fallen into ruins. Everyone around her is also facing their own struggles and heartaches, her family, their friends and most of all, the slaves.

Josephine's mother is also struggling with letting go of the old  ways and finding it hard to cope with this new life.

Then there is Lizzie, a former slave, now free. Her and her family, though free, still find themselves faced with hatred from the southerners.

I thought I'd share two things that really stood out to me in this book.

Firstly, was the attitude of the mother in this novel. She was so stuck in her ways that she was afraid of any change in her life. She desperately tries to piece her old life back together. A life where she is comfortable and slaves take care of all her needs. As her daughter struggles with what is right and wrong and begins to see the former slaves as people with dreams and goals, she questions the old ways and wonders why her mother seems to have such compassion for her neighbors, but none for her former slaves who are now her paid servants. Her mother senses her daughters changing views and is frightened by them.

Here in this conversation with Josephine we see her mother's attitude of fear:

"Josephine, I know you think I'm being harsh and unreasonable, but I want what's best for you. It's important that you continue to be accepted as part of this community, and that means you can't go against our established values.' 

'Even if those values are wrong?'...

'I don't want you to end up all alone. You'll be considered strange, an outcast.'

'But it's my life--'

'Yes, and I won't let you destroy it. The war has left us in ruins, and we can't afford to act as individuals. We're part of a community. We need each other, especially now. If you go against the accepted social norms, your life will be so much harder, so much more painful. No one will accept you. Please understand that my criticism is intended for your own good. Your family needs you. I need you. I'm trying to direct you down a better path, an easier path.'

'But so much has changed. The South isn't going to be the same as it was.'

'All the more reason why we need to hang on to our traditions and to each other. The future will be less frightening if some things can remain the same."

Many of us are sometimes like this mother, scared to do the right thing when it means we may face opposition. Many live in fear of change and would rather live in our comfort zone, even though it may be the wrong thing to do.

Here are a few questions that went through my head:

Do we worry to much about what others think of us? Do we worry to much about not being accepted? Have we become so politically correct that we have no integrity left to stand for what is right? Are we, like Josephine's mother, afraid? 

"Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, You people in whose heart is My law: Do not fear the reproach of men, Nor be afraid of their insults."       Isaiah 51:7

"But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed. "And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled."         1 Peter 3:14

"In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"      Psalm 56:11

Secondly, the novel brings up thought-provoking questions of suffering and pain. Why does God allow it? What is real happiness? Are we willing to trust God through our suffering?

Josephine has a conversation with a new friend, Alexander, about this. Alexander starts by saying:

"God takes no joy in our suffering.'

'Why does He allow it, then?'

'Sometimes it's His way of coaxing us to come back to Him. God used the war to draw me back to Him. People do more praying on the battlefield than they ever do in churches.'

'But if that's true, I would have to believe it was good that Daddy died, good that my family and I suffered during the war and lost nearly everything we had.'

'You can never know for certain what your life would have been like if the war hadn't happened. Suffering is part of living in a broken world. Your father might have died another way. Your family might have lost their fortune in some other kind of disaster. We're wrong to except our lives to be perfect on this side of heaven. And it's wrong for parents to shelter their children and make them believe that the most important thing is to be happy.'

'If life isn't supposed to be happy, then why live it?...'

'Because there's a big difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is external and can change when your circumstances change. If you believe that money will make you happy, for instance, and then you lose all your money, you'll be very unhappy. But joy is deep inside us and isn't dependent on circumstances. Even poor people can have joy.  Didn't you tell me that doing simple chores like working in the garden brought satisfaction?'

'Yes, and it gives my mother fits. She claims the work will ruin my hands, among other reasons.'

'...when we walk away from God, we walk away from any chance of joy. Joy doesn't come from circumstances, but from God."

"You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore."   Psalm 16:11

"The humble also shall increase their joy in the LORD, And the poor among men shall rejoice In the Holy One of Israel."   Isaiah 29:19

"Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation."                                                                                   Habakkuk 3:18

I highly recommend this book! It's one of those novels that has so much depth and really makes you think. It's also a beautiful story of redemption and love and how God makes all things new.

Note: I've left some parts of these conversations from the book out of the quotes because they may give away some of the story. I've put  ... where these parts are. I've also italicized the words of Josephine.

Buy it HERE at Amazon


Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments. I try to respond to all of them by the end of the week. : )