Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss

Stepping Heavenward

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss is one of my favorite works of Christian fiction.  Written in the 1800s, it is still very interesting and relevant to people in our current day and very readable. Prentiss tells the story using the format of a diary written by a woman named Katherine, who records her life struggles, from young womanhood through much of her married life.  She gives the events of various days (sometimes skipping days, months or even years, but giving updates along the way), and writes down many of her inmost thoughts, questions and struggles with sin.  She has questions about her salvation and whether or not she is being sanctified.  God brings along many different people to teach her and to help her recognize that He really is working in her and making her more Christ like. God also brings along many different trials to grow her spiritually. 

There are several interesting dialogues with others that are recounted by Katy, I give a couple of samples here:

Here she is speaking to one of her spiritual mentors, Dr Cabot:

 "'There is one thing more that troubles me,' I said.  'Most persons know the exact moment when they begin real Christian lives.  But I do not know of any such time in my history.  This causes me many uneasy moments.' 
[Dr Cabot]'You are wrong in thinking that most persons have this advantage over you.  I believe that the children of Christian parents, who have been judiciously trained, rarely can point to any day or hour when they began to live this new life.  The question is not, do you remember, my child, when you entered this world, and how!  It is simply this, are you now alive and an inhabitant thereof?'"

In this next excerpt Katy has just had a former friend, Amelia, die, her husband, a doctor, attended her last moments on earth:

"'What do you think,'  I asked, 'about her last days on earth?  Was there really any preparation for death?'
'These scenes are very painful,' he returned.  'Of course there is but one real preparation for Christian dying, and that tis Christian living……..I do not now recall a single instance where a worldly Christian died a happy, joyful death, in all my practice.'
[Kate]…..'Well, in one sense it makes no difference whether they die happily or not.  The question is do they die in the Lord?'
'[her husband]It may make no vital difference to them, but we must not forget that God is honored or dishonored by the way a Christian dies, as well as by the way in which he lives…..I can tell you, my darling, that standing, as I so often do, by dying beds, this whole subject has become one of great magnitude to my mind.  And it gives me positive personal pain to see heirs of the eternal kingdom, made such by the ignominious death of their Lord, go shrinking and weeping to the full possession of their inheritance.'"

There are several thought provoking dialogues like the above. And many little statements that are intriguing as well, a few of which I give here:

"You can will to prefer a religion of principle to one of mere feeling; in other words, to obey the will of God when no comfortable glow of emotion accompanies your obedience."

"It is repining that dishonors God, not grief."

"People ask me how it happens that my children are all so promptly obedient and so happy.  As if it chanced that some parents have such children, or chanced that some have not! I am afraid it is only too true, as someone has remarked, that this is the age of obedient parents!' What then will be the future of their children? How can they yield to God who have never been taught to yield to human authority…?"

A year after her oldest child died she writes:
"It is a year ago this day that the brightest sunshine faded out of our lives, and our beautiful boy was taken from us.  I have been tempted to spend this anniversary in bitter tears and lamentations.  For oh, this sorrow is not healed by time!  I feel it more and more.  But I begged God when I first awoke this morning not to let me so dishonor and grieve Him.  I may suffer, I must suffer, He means it, He wills it, but let it be without repining, without gloomy despondency.  The world is full of sorrow; it is not I alone who taste its bitter draughts, nor have I the only right to a sad countenance.  Oh, for patience to bear on, cost what it may!"

Now, there were statements and things that I didn't agree with, such as Kate thinking that her little children do not need to learn that they are sinners until they get older, though they do need to learn about Christ.  That doesn't make a lot of biblical , or even common, sense to me.  Wasn't that one of the most important things about Christ? That he came to die for the sins of His people? Or when she indicates that when we die, we leave our bodies forever.  I don't know if she believed in the resurrection of  our physical bodies?  Things like that bothered me.

But overall, I still really liked the book and found it quite spiritually edifying.  Kate grows in the Faith, becomes more patient toward others, learns to not trust her own judgement, learns to trust God more and more, learns that whatever trials He ordains for her to face are lovingly ordained to make her more Christ like.  The book is very well written and really keeps the attention, or at least it kept mine! 

Now, I must say something about this particular edition that I am reviewing, published by Ichthus Publications. The cover is pretty, the format of the text inside the book is very nicely laid out and readable.  But….this edition needs to be proofread.  There are typos ALL OVER this edition, periods and commas out of place or missing, and sentences that were practically unintelligible.  Here's a sample:

"In the first place, Helen would be perfectly if she had the care of father in his present. She is too young to have such responsibility….She is one of those little tender, soft souls one could crush fingers."

I don't think I've ever had to rate a book based on numerous typos and missing words. But I'll have to do that with this one.  I feel really bad having to do this, but I need to rate this edition at only three stars.  Normally I would rate this book at five stars, but this is not a good edition of Stepping Heavenward.  I love the book, I just don't like this edition.  If they would fix the typos it would be great!

Thanks to the folks at Ichthus Publications for sending me a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable).

Rating of Prentiss' book: Five Stars *****
Rating of this edition:  Three Stars ***

Thursday, September 14, 2017

So Close to Home by Michael J. Tougias and Alison O'Leary

So Close to Home by Michael J. Tougias and Alison O'Leary is a riveting account of the amazing, providential survival and reunion of a family after the ship they are travelling on was torpedoed by a German submarine. 

In 1942, the Downs Family, consisting of Ray and Ina Downs and two of their children, Lucille and Sonny Downs (their oldest son Terry was already in the U.S.), were making their way back to the United States from an eleven month stay in Columbia where Ray had taken a job with the United Fruit Company.  They began their journey home on a ship called the Heredia.

Their trip home was drastically interrupted. The night before they were to land at New Orleans, two torpedoes hit the ship.  The Downs' almost make it out onto the deck of this ship together but are separated by a lurch of the ship causing a surge of water to engulf them.  Ray is washed back inside the ship, while Ina, Lucille and Sonny are swept to various places on the decks and in the water, all find themselves separated from the rest of their family.

Ray is reunited with Sonny after a short while, Lucille is helped by the Second Mate of the Heredia while Ina struggles to survive on her own.  They all have encounters with sharks and suffer from long exposure to the elements.  All of them have to deal with their fears for each other, wondering whether the rest of their family is still alive and they all try to keep their composure during their ordeal.  Even little Sonny tries to be tough like his dad and succeeds in not breaking down.  The Downs' family ends up happily reunited, all of them amazed and grateful that they survived. 

Heavily intermixed with the story of the Downs family story are the accounts of several U-boat Captains and their crews, including that of the Captain of the U-boat that sank the Heredia.  The authors interweave these accounts by jumping off many  incidents in the Downs' story to lead into history and facts about German submarines, their crews and other ships they sank.  I found it very interesting that, unlike the Japanese, many German Submarine Captains were kind and friendly to survivors of ships that they sank.   The most amazing one is probably the account of the sinking of the ship called the Laconia which carried many civilians.  The Captain of the U-boat who sunk her surfaced and took on many survivors, helped any injured, and ended up obtaining help from other German U-boats who also took on survivors and all of them towed several lifeboats in their wake and helped to repair lifeboats.

I'm going give a couple of negative comments here: First, I just want to note that book had some foul language, but it is easy enough to scribble out and to skip over (I've been reading it out-loud to some of my siblings).  Sometimes I don't want to know what people said exactly the way it was said, even if it is actually history.

Second, I was saddened to find that, though Ray and Ina Downs' seemed to be professing Christians, they ended up divorcing later in life. If they hadn't been Christians I wouldn't have thought much of it.  But they were professing Christians, and as such they could have shown the kind of unconditional love toward each other that God showed toward them. That was not a good example of a Christian marriage, that they loved each other conditionally rather than unconditionally.  It is quite disheartening to think that they had the stamina to survive a ship's sinking, almost being drowned or eaten by sharks and yet they didn't have the stamina to choose to keep loving each other despite each other's flaws and keep their marriage covenant.  Perhaps I am getting too preachy here, but that was just really sad to find out. 

But all in all, I liked the book.   It was a very fascinating account of the sinking of the Heredia with lots of background history and information interwoven throughout the book.  It was very surprising to find how much German U-boat activity was happening in the Gulf of Mexico.  I had no idea that U-boats came SO close to the U.S.!  Looking at the map just inside the front cover of the book one can get a picture of just how close they got.  Some U-boats even gave potential German saboteurs a lift to our shores!  I learned quite a bit of extra World War II history.

Many thanks to the folks at Pegasus Books for sending me a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable)!

This book may be purchased at Amazon.com and also on other retail sites