I keep forgetting to update this and post. I did have a good birding month. Hope you enjoy seeing these.
Best Bird Pictures August 22
I’m sure I could have added a few more pictures, but these are my favorites. The highlight of the month was having a photo-op with a barred owl. As you can see, I took quite a few pictures. He seemed as curious to watch me as I was enthralled with him. To see more of my pictures, follow me on Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/pmgilmer27/
“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”–A Hymn
What a Friend We Have in Jesus is a familiar hymn in many denominations, but it did not come about in one of the more conventional ways. I’ve researched and written about several hymns that were written by song writers who intentionally set out to write a hymn of praise and worship, but this hymn began as a poem meant for private usage and when first publihed, credit was not give to the writer.
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
Joseph Scriven (1819-1886) was born in Dublin, Ireland (in 1819 or 1820, depending on who you ask) and graduated from Trinity College there. When his health did not allow him to enroll in the military, he emigrated to Canada at the age of 25 and became a teacher.
What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer!
Scriven faced two different tragedies concerning two different fiancees. The first died in a drowning accident just before they were to be wed in 1844. This seems to have happened (my sources are unclear) while Scriven still lived in Ireland though he would have emigrated shortly afterward. In 1855, while in Ontario, Scriven had a second fiancee who succumbed to an illness before they could be married.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh, what needless pain we bear!
Scriven wrote the words for what became “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” (which he titled “Pray Without Ceasing”) for his mother, grieving in Ireland. He sent them to her as a poem of comfort. How it eventually became published is not known, as Scriven had not intended it for public use. Consequently, it was for some time credited to Doctor Horatius Bonar. It was while Scriven was sick and a friend was visiting that the manuscript was discovered among his things. When asked if he was actually the one who had written the hymn, Scriven replied, “The Lord and I did it between us.”
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!
Scriven spent the rest of his life trying to live by the Sermon on the Mount. His neighbors considered him odd because of his work with the poor and physically disabled. Sadly, though he gave and shared all he could, he still suffered greatly from depression. So much so that when he died from drowning in Rice Lake, it was unknown if his death was an accident or suicide.
As with any hymn we include in our worship of God, more important than its beginnings (for the writer is only a tool in God’s hand) is: how true to the Scriptures are the words? If we sing words that don’t honor Him, then we are certainly not worshiping Him in Spirit and in truth, and in fact, may be in danger of blasphemy or of breaking the third commandment.
So, is Jesus our Friend? One we can bring all our sins and griefs? Can we bring everything to Him in prayer and expect Him to care? I believe these two verses answer those questions very well.
“On the day I called, You answered me; And You made me bold and confident with [renewed] strength in my life.” Psalm 138:3 (Amplified Version)
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16 (NIV)
One Hundred and One Hymn Stories Carl F. Price; Abingdon-Cokesbury Press; 1923
Near to the Heart of God Robert J. Morgan. Baker Publishing Group
Sankey’s Favorite Hymns and Songs: A Selection and their Stories. (p. 131). White Tree Publishing.
Best Bird Pictures July 22
Favorite Books of 2022 (so far)
For the first half of 2022, I read 89 books (which I know is rather extreme, even for me). Instead of waiting until the end of the year to round up my favorites, I decided to put together a list from the first half of the year. I list all the books I read each month on one of my goodreads groups–the good, the bad, and, yeah, the ugly–but I will only list my favorites here. Two of the books I already reviewed in my posts on reading prize-winning books, so feel free to skip those two (unless I haven’t already convinced you to read them).
These are books that are new to me (no rereads), and I’m listing them in the order I read them.
First up, an audio book I started during the Christmas season but didn’t finish until January: Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella (narrator Nathalie Buscombe). Really enjoyed listening to the shenanigans of Becky Brandon nee Bloomwood. She is to host the family Christmas for the first time which is stressful enough, but everyone in her family (along with her best friend) has ideas from what to serve and how to make it to everything in between. Before long, hardly anyone is speaking to one another, but Becky is determined to make everyone happy and have the best Christmas ever.
Firekeeper’s Daughter Angeline Boulley YA; indigenous; mystery. (Since I read this book it has won several awards, including the Edgar for Best Young Adult Novel, 2022). Danuis Fontaine is an unenrolled tribe member (this is important) who has a hard time fitting in with either her hometown or the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She was a star hockey player on her high school team and now wants to study medicine, but decides to enroll at a community college, so she can stay home to help her mother and grandmother. When she witnesses a murder, she is forced to help the FBI with their investigation of drug dealing on the reservation.
The Broken Girls by Simone St. James St. James. St. James is a favorite author and I greatly enjoyed this one. A dual timeline in Vermont–one in 1950 & the other 2014. Idlewild Hall is a boarding school for unwanted girls in 1950. Amid rumors that it is haunted, one of the girls disappears and little attempt is made to find her.
In 2014, journalist Fiona cannot stop thinking about the murder of her sister though it has been 20 years. The murderer was found and is in prison, but she still feels there is more to the story. Good suspense with St. James’ usual air of creepiness.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell; Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020. (Reviewed earlier in prize winning post). I’ve read two books by O’Farrell and loved them both, so plan to read more soon. This one is based on the life of William Shakespeare and his family. Shakespeare had twins, Judith and Hamnet. We know Hamnet died when he was 12 but little else. The rest of this story comes from O’Farrell’s vivid imagination.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction in 2021. I’ve read plenty of books with a dual time-line but this was different in several ways. There are three stories told: one in Constantinople in the fifteenth century; one in present-day Idaho; and one on an interstellar ship decades in the future. The common links between these stories are books, stories, and libraries. I did write down the time-lines and main characters on an index card until I got them straight in my head. Once I got into the story though, I enjoyed the ride.
City of Brass S.A. Chakraborty. The first in a trilogy, Nahri doesn’t believe in magic in spite of the unusual powers she has and uses as a con woman in 18th century Cairo. When she accidentally summons a djinn warrior, she’s has no choice but to accept the fact that there is more to the world than she knows or believed.
Running for their lives, Nahri learns not only are their many creatures she had previously known nothing about, there are places as well, and one of them, Daevabad, the city of brass has a hold on her and the djinn is bringing her there; like it or not.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger. It’s the summer of 1932 in Minnesota where Native American children are forcibly taken from their parents and placed in the Lincoln Indian Training School. Albert and Odie, orphan brothers, are two white faces who are also there. Albert tries to live peacefully, but Odie stays in trouble, no matter what the punishment. As things grow worse for Odie, tragedy happens and the brothers, along with their mute friend, Mose, steal a canoe and head for the Mississippi, hoping to find a real home. To make their situation more complicated, they also bring Emmy, a small girl who has troubles of her own.
After taking a few weeks to read the first 200 pages, I flew through the last 250 in a few days. The book is not hard to get into–just such depressing subject matter, I had to put it down a few times. I didn’t think those kids would ever get a break! Overall, I really enjoyed it and appreciate the research Krueger did to give a good picture of the Depression years and the shame of the “schools” for indigenous children.
The Lost Man Jane Harper. Three brothers are working to make a living in the harsh Australian desert. One of them is found dead from the heat. What makes his death suspicious are two things: one, he knew the area and the dangers. Two, his car was nearby, fully stocked with food and water and started up with no problem. Intense family drama as everyone looks at each other with growing suspicion.
The Impossible Us Sarah Lotz Since I put this on hold with Libby, I’m sure I heard about it somewhere but had forgotten why by the time I got it. The good thing about that is, I didn’t really know what it was about and it took me by surprise in a good way. Nick, a failed writer and husband, sends off an angry email. Bee, a serial dater and dress maker, receives it. She’s not the intended recipient but she responds anyway. Some snarky banter ensues and soon Nick and Bee become friends. Eventually they discuss meeting in person, but both are concerned about messing up a good thing. Once they finally agree, it turns out they were right but in a way they could never have imagined. The only other thing I will say about this story (since some people avoid all things fantastical) is that it involves magical realism? Or something. I loved it, but if that’s not your thing, there’s the warning. Definitely not your typical romance.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. I reviewed this book in an earlier post about prize winning books, so this is a repeat for all you faithful readers. Feel free to skip to next book.This book won the Hugo Award for Best Novel 1993; Nebula Award for Best Novel; and Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
Doomsday Book was a bit of a slog at times, but overall, I enjoyed it. A book of time travel where a young woman, Kivrin, is sent to the Middle Ages, but, unfortunately, lands in 1348, the beginning of the Black Death. Meanwhile, back in London, an unknown virus breaks out and quarantine is placed around Oxford, making it impossible to find out what has happened to Kivrin, never mind bringing her back. I loved the characters and was amused at some of the predictions Willis made back in the 90’s (in her world, the only improvement on phones was a visual and this was supposed to be in the 2050’s), and the way a pandemic was handled in this futuristic England. The descriptions of the Black Death made me thankful the pandemic we are facing, as bad as it is, is hardly so grim.
The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell. Dual time-line but only two years apart. In 2017, Tallulah goes out with her boyfriend and father of her baby, leaving the baby with her mother, Kim. They never come home. The next morning, Kim frantically begins to look for her daughter but all she learns is that she was last seen going to a party in the woods called Dark Place.
In 2019, Sophie has just moved to the area with her boyfriend who is the new head teacher at a boarding school. Going for a walk, she finds a sign with an arrow, saying, “Dig here.”
I listened to the audio which is excellent and narrated by Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey fame. Great suspense and family drama.
So, the first half of the year has brought me some fun, suspenseful, and entertaining reading. I’m looking forward to finding and finishing more great books for this year, and believe I might break my own personal reading record. I know I will hit 100 soon and that’s at least a month before last year.
How is your reading life shaping up in 2022?
My Best Bird Pictures in June 22
“And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.'” Genesis 1:20
Reading Prize Winners: Part Two
I wrote in a previous post of the twelve prize-winning books I challenged myself to read this year and gave a quick review of the first three I read. Here are the next three.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000. It also won the Puddly Award for Short Stories in 2001 and the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel in 2000. This group of short stories portray the immigrant experience, specifically those from India to the U.S. Usually in a group of short stories, there are not only some I like more than others, there are a few I may not like it all. This book proved the exception as I found every story well-written and enjoyed them all.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2021. This is an odd little book (which, in fairness, I knew going in), but I can’t say I ever really warmed to it. I would have liked to have read this with a group, as I am sure it could generate some good conversation, but in spite of its short nature, I believe it would be a hard sell for the two groups I am currently in.
For most of the book, there are only two characters. Piranesi is the narrator of the story and he lives in a building which seems to be a never-ending maze. If that’s not enough, it is built on (in?) an ocean and knowing and understanding the tides is critical. Piranesi has lived there long enough to find his way around and to understand the tides.
The other character doesn’t live there but visits Piranesi twice a week to ask Piranesi to help him with some research. Piranesi only calls this man “The Other”. When Piranesi finds evidence of the existence of another person, things begin to change between P and The Other; and not in a good way.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1993 as well as the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. It also won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1992.
I admit, Doomsday Book was a bit of a slog at times, but overall, I enjoyed it. A book of time travel where a young woman, Kivrin, is sent to the Middle Ages, but, unfortunately, lands in 1348, the beginning of the Black Death. Meanwhile, back in London, an unknown virus breaks out and quarantine is placed around Oxford, making it impossible to find out what has happened to Kivrin, never mind bringing her back. I loved the characters and was amused at some of the predictions Willis made back in the 90’s (in her world, the only improvement on phones was a visual and this was supposed to be in the 2050’s), and the way a pandemic was handled in this futuristic England. The descriptions of the Black Death made me thankful the pandemic we are facing (as bad as it is) is hardly so grim.
Interesting that there are so many extremely negative reviews on goodreads for this book that won so many awards. I think sometimes people try too hard to read books that just aren’t right for them. Or maybe they just enjoy writing negative reviews.
5 stars for me.
Reading Prize Winning Books: Part 1
One of my personal reading challenges for 2022 has been to read some books that have won different awards through the years. I chose twelve, rather randomly (but mostly based on books I already own). The prizes include Pulitzers, a couple of Hugos, and a Booker. At almost the halfway point of the year, I have read six. In this post, I will list the first three I read and give a brief synopsis and review. The whole list can be found on my goodreads annual reading challenge in the group “On the Same Page”.
In January, I read Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an Orange Prize winner in 2007. The Orange Prize (now known as the Women’s Prize for Fiction) is awarded annually in the United Kingdom to a female author of any nationality for the best original full-length novel. Adichie’s historical fiction novel tells of the struggle in Nigeria in the 1960’s when Biafra tried to assert their independence. The characters make the story come to life though like any story concerning war, very sad and heart-breaking.
In February, I read Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020. I throughly enjoyed O’Farrell’s take on Shakespeare’s family life. Known details of Shakespeare’s family are sparse, but the fact that he had twins and that one of them, Hamnet, died as a young boy is well-known. O’Farrell takes this family tragedy and brings the characters and the Elizabethean time period to life. Even knowing this would be a tough read (the death of a child), I found the writing beautiful and the characters and their relationships with each other skillfully drawn. I read my first book by O’Farrell last year & thought it was amazing, so I definitely plan on reading the rest of her backlist.
In March, I read Silver Birch, Blood Moon, a fantasy anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. This won the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology in 2000. I would say these are “dark fairy tales” but I think unless they’ve been Disneyfied, all fairy tales are fairly dark. I enjoyed these stories, written mostly by familiar authors but several were new to me. Who knew there could be so many takes on The Frog Prince?
I’ll report on the next three I’ve read next week.
Finding and watching wood ducks has been a fun part of birding this season. These ducks travel together in pairs and small groups and live in wooded swamps or marshes. They don’t nest on the ground, but in holes in trees or in nest boxes put up for their convenience. Though this might seem strange, these ducks have strong claws that can grip bark and allows them to perch on branches (or boxes). I have seen them come in and out of these boxes, but I have yet to see any young ones. Since the wood duck is the only North American duck to have two broods in one year, I am still hopeful!
How do the ducklings get out of the box or tree when they hatch? The mother calls them and leads the way, but otherwise, they are on their own. At her call, they jump out of their nest–either directly into the water or they waddle their way there. The ducklings are able to jump from heights of over 50 feet. Those little legs don’t seem capable of that, but they’re stronger than they look.
Enjoy the pictures of these beautiful birds and, hopefully, I will post more before summer’s end.
“At Calvary” One Man’s Testimony
One of my favorite articles of the magazine, Christianity Today, is always at the end and titled simply “Testimony”. The testimonies display God’s amazing grace in how He saved a certain person in some kind of unique way. I know some people who were saved at a young age (such as myself) and spent most of their life in church feel slightly intimidated by powerful testimonies. They believe their testimonies are boring in comparison and feel they don’t have much to share concerning the grace and mercy of God. But we shouldn’t feel that way, and reading these miraculous stories always puts me in awe of God’s love and power and encourages me that He is always working, even in those we might think could never be saved and changed.
Years I spent in vanity and pride
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
Listening to the words of this hymn made me wonder about the testimony of the person who wrote them. I learned that William Newell had been a young man whose pastor father despaired he would ever turn to Christ. His father wrote to R.A. Torrey, president of Moody Bible Institute, asking him to take his son as a student. He told Torrey that his son’s life was “really messed up” and hoped that going to the Bible Instiute would change his life. Though he sympathized, Torrey responded that Moody was not a reform school, and they couldn’t take his son. The father did not give up. After many letters, pleading his cause, Torrey finally relented and said he would take the boy, but he must agree to visit him every day and to abide by the rules of the institute.
By God’s Word at last my sin I learned
Then I trembled at the law I spurned
Till my guilty soul imploring turned to Calvary.
Newell did abide by the rules and God changed his life. Some years later after acquiring degrees from Wooster College and Princeton and Oberlin Theological Seminary, he became the assistant superintendent at Moody Bible Institute as well as the pastor of Bethesda Congregational Church.
Now I’ve given to Jesus everything
Now I gladly own Him as my king
Now my raptured soul can only sing of Calvary.
In 1895 while Newell was on his way to teach a class, the thoughts of his testimony and how God had saved him became so clear to him, he stopped in an empty classroom and began to jot down the words to this future hymn on the back of an envelope. As he continued on to his class, he ran into Daniel Brink Towner, the director of music at the institute. Newell gave him the words he had just written and asked him to come up with a tune for them. By the time Newell had finished his lecture, Towner had a tune and they sang the song together.
O the love that drew salvation’s plan!
O the grace that brought it down to man!
O the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary.
(Refrain) Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty at Calvary.
What a beautiful, yet simple way to share a testimony! As all of us, at one time, he was unaware and did not care that God had died for him. Yet at some point, God’s Word penetrated his heart and brought him to repentance and faith. I hope you will take time to listen to this song again and worship along with the Collingsworth Family.