Morning by morning manna

The June Book Talk Where We Welcome Summer with Reading Friends

The gardening challenge here on the hill every summer for the past twenty-seven years could be summarized in four words: Big Garden, Small Well. Watering the garden has always taken a back seat to laundry and showers, but this year, with our nest officially empty on the date of our son’s July wedding, I have planted a smaller garden–so small that I can give a thorough soaking to the entire crop with a hand-held hose in less than a half hour.

Going smaller had its challenges. I’ve traded the freedom of a wide-open field for the gift of manage-ability and restraint. Instead of a sunflower choir singing in rows to the blue sky overhead, we’ll enjoy a few quiet ensembles; and thirty tomato plants will provide more than enough full red jars to last us through a snowy winter–especially if I faithfully water those plants.

Rain is God’s faithful provision and partnership in this gardening life, and I enjoy the connection with his words to Moses in the wilderness: “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day” (Exodus 16:4).
Did you notice that?
He sent it, but the people had to gather it.
We live a gathering life, whether it’s raspberries on a dewy morning or fresh truth from the sacred text. Like the mist in Eden watering the “whole face of the ground” (Genesis 2:6), we are watered as we gather our morning by morning manna. It will always be provided–and it will always be enough.

May we faithfully persevere in our gathering as we trust him for the watering.

Now, Let’s Talk Books!

I’ve got a biography for you this month–a bio with a twist because it’s really the story of a relationship. After that, there are two great non-fiction titles to challenge your thinking. If you read my post on going deep with your summer reading, you know I dipped my toe into some dystopian fiction, even though it’s not a favorite genre. Well, this month, I’m sharing a fiction title that could qualify as sci fi (another not-very-favorite genre) because of the setting and the protagonist, but the story line feels like something very inspiring and relational. I hope I’ve piqued your interest! Read on…

Yours, Till Heaven

We remember Charles Spurgeon as the Prince of Preachers, but few of his admirers realize that behind the great orator was a great relationship, a profound partnership with his wife, Susie. Yours, Till Heaven draws on original correspondence to chronicle the untold love story that unfolded against a backdrop of Christian celebrity 19th century style.

As the years passed, both Susie and Charles faced significant health challenges and suffered the acute ache of loneliness during their extended periods of separation. Revealing the story of the Spurgeons’ life of overcoming hardship to experience a thriving marriage, Ray Rhodes has gifted us a substantial motivation to persevere in faithfulness despite life’s challenges. Readers will discover a delightful narrative supported by in depth historical research from which they may glean sound principles for a long-lasting and God-glorifying marriage.

The Art of Dying

One final gift we can give to our children is our own good death. Granted, we have little real control over the timing or the cause of our demise, but in The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come, Rob Moll explores death from the perspective of the caregiver, the bereaved, and the dying, unaware that his own death in a hiking accident would be sudden and unexpected.

In an updated Afterword, his wife Clarissa Moll describes her bereavement and healing as a mending process, reassuring readers that grief is “a pain that cannot be fixed, only borne.” The book erases any question as to the importance of honest conversations about death and end-of-life wishes that happen long before the need.

In his extensive research, Moll discovered that before there was ever such a thing as palliative care or Western notions of “the good life,” there was the historic Christian tradition of the good death in which dying well required preparation and forethought. By contrast, our modern day practice of avoiding the topic, of delegating care of the sick and elderly to professionals, and of pushing our cemeteries to the fringes of the suburbs have left us tongue-tied with the dying and queasy with the dying process.

Preparing for death can become a normal spiritual discipline alongside fasting, prayer, and meditation, for the truth is that just as all believers will one day experience death, it is nearly as certain that we will all experience grief and mourning. Freely forgiving and offering prompt apologies prepare us for both. Ultimately, embracing the reality of our own death is solid evidence that we have believed what the gospel teaches about God at work in and through our own work, for true discipleship comes with a series of deaths that ultimately lead to life.

The Well-Watered Woman

With gardening season underway here in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the perfect time to be reading wise words about the growing process, and Gretchen Saffles points readers in the right direction with her work in The Well-Watered Woman: Rooted in Truth, Growing in Grace, Flourishing in Faith. Watching the slow progress of early summer here in Zone 5b–and also in my prone-to-wander heart–I nodded my head and gave thanks for her reminder that “you don’t have to be blooming to be growing.”

Every spiritual journey starts at The Well where Christ supplies living water for the thirsty soul. The believer then matures through daily hydration from The Word.

Just as Jesus is the Well of living water that satisfies our thirsty souls, he is also the Word that speaks to us daily and grows us through his grace.”

Jesus is also The Way to a flourishing life, turned outward and characterized by service and self-giving. The well-watered woman has her roots sunk deep into truth, and her joy is contagious because it springs from her unwavering hope in God. Readers will be eager to follow up with Gretchen’s online ministry, Well-Watered Women, where they can access play lists, reading guides and many other resources including free printable journals.

Klara and the Sun

If you are finding time to connect with friends this summer, let your heart follow gratitude on the path to curiosity about the nature of true friendship and the qualities that characterize a faithful friend. Then, compare the best you have to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara in his latest novel, Klara and the Sun. The question that thrummed behind my enjoyment of the book’s narrative arc is this: Was it the author’s intent to inspire us to be better at friendship? Or was he warning us about how lost we have become at the art of self-giving?

Picture a future in which parents purchase Artificial Friends (AF) to be company for their children. Then imagine that the story of a real girl’s life could be framed in the words and through the impressions of her very perceptive AF. Klara (the AF), her manner of speaking, and her frequently jarring observations of people and events are tools Ishiguro has used to lend a restrained degree of other-ness to a human girl’s story.

Never mind that the human girl has been subjected to genetic modification. The issue at stake here is whether Klara’s human really needs something or someone to combat loneliness. The interpersonal conflict and much of what drives this book’s plot is lovely, old-fashioned story telling, filtered through the interior world of a non-human who somehow ends up feeling more perceptive, more selfless, and more clear-thinking than any other character in this (perhaps unintentional?) meditation on friendship and loneliness.

That’s it for the month of June! I look forward to hearing about what YOU have been reading this month. Be sure to share your favorite reads in the comments below, and until then…

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

Many thanks to Moody Publishers, InterVarsity Press, Tyndale House, Knopf Doubleday, and NetGalley for their support in procuring copies of these books to facilitate my reviews, which are, of course, offered freely and with honesty.

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51 thoughts on “The June Book Talk Where We Welcome Summer with Reading Friends”

  1. I have had my eye on Well-Watered Woman and your review just reminded me. As for me, I am rereading “Tell It Slant” as my heart longed once again for the stories which Christ told.

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  2. I loved Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. I’m not much into sci-fi, either, but it sounds like his storytelling makes it less futuristic and more about relationships.

    “A pain that cannot be fixed, only borne” is an apt description of grief. A few years ago I read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, which makes some of the same points–that we have pushed death to the outer reaches and aren’t prepared to deal with it. His book is from a secular viewpoint, though. As Christians, we should probably be better prepared, though we don’t like to think about it much, either.

    I listed my June reads on my end-of-month post today, but one of the best was The Orchard House–a time slip novel involving Louisa May Alcott.

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  3. Your garden is nice and small with 30 tomato plants; how many did you used to have?! I struggled to keep just one alive the year we tried growing some of our own vegetables.

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  4. Good Morning, Michelle!
    Thanks so much for visiting and for your kind words about my Red, white and Blue! LOL!! Several books you mentioned caught my eye! Thanks for sharing! Happy July 4th!
    Hugs,
    Deb

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  5. When you started your post, I thought you were going to say you would have more than enough water now that your nest would be empty and you would have an abundance of water because fewer people would be there for showers – and so your garden would benefit – but you took me on a down-sizing journey instead. Thirty tomato plants are still a lot! Thank you for the book reviews. I like biographies – and the Sturgeon book sounds so appealing. My husband traveled a lot earlier for so much of our marriage – I would think it would be a good book to share with wives whose husbands are away often. Praying peace, refreshing and joy for you during this wedding month!
    https://bluecottonmemory.com/behold-the-birds/

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  6. The Deeply Watered Woman caught my attention; I’ll be checking it out. Soon to arrive for me is Deeper Waters by Denise Hughes. How about the similarity of those titles?!

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  7. That sounds like an interesting selection of books. I like the sound of ‘Yours, till Heaven’ and ‘Klara and the Sun’ and the book about the art of dying sounds interesting too. I agree with the quote that grief is a pain that cannot be fixed, only borne. #PoCoLo

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  8. I always love hearing about the books you’re reading, Michele. The Art of Dying piques my interest the most. The older I get, the more aware I am that I want to live life to its fullest but also not cling too tightly to it.

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  9. I planted one regular tomato bush and one cherry tomato. I got quite a few cherry tomatoes–enough for salads etc though no thought of canning or cooking. Only one regular tomato despite lots of blossoms and a relatively cool spring. Last year I got some tomatoes in the fall, after keeping the vine alive all summer with no tomatoes but these have gotten big and the cages have fallen, I think I’m just going to pull them up.

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  10. You read some great books. Kazuo Ishiguro is such an amazing writer. I have heard a lot about his recent book and watched him being interviewed via ZOOM. I just recently read The Remains of the Day which was amazing. I must read Klara and the Sun. Thanks for the great review. #SeniorSalon

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  11. Some lovely suggestions here and I agree grief cannot be fixed it’s just something we have to learn to live with it. That’s why the common quote ‘time heals all wounds’ has never sat right with me. Enjoy your son’s wedding xx

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  12. Some lovely suggestions here. I completely agree with the quote that grief cannot be fixed, it’s in fact something we have to learn to live with so that very common quote ‘time heals all wounds’ has never sat right with me.

    Enjoy your son’s wedding x

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  13. Big garden, small well had me laughing. Reminded me of my childhood. It seemed the garden was acers big and weeding never ended. And our well was small. In fact, we ran out of water once or twice! As for thirty tomatoes bearing enough fruit!!! Well, I am thinking that is about 15 plants, each, which seems plenty for the two of you. But then we know kids never stay away long and love to visit and eat free food. So . . . maybe my calculations are faulty. (I found the Joyful Life Magazine and blog recently and am really enjoying their words. Congrats for being one of their writers!)

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    1. Weeding never ends here, either!
      I’ll be sharing a lot of my spaghetti sauce with the college student kids.
      And so glad you have found Joyful Life. It’s such a privilege to be part of that team.

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  14. These look like books for thoughtful summer reading when we may have more time to really savor them. Thank you! And on the well front–we also had a well on our farm that was prone to run dry in summer, and we had goats and piggies as well as a big garden. Se we often took soapy evening swims at a local lake to conserve water. But after several years when the lake bathing went too far into cool September evenings, we forked over the money for a drilled well! Ahh the memories!!

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  15. The Art of Dying sounds intriguing. I think one of the things the pandemic exposed was our cultural fear of death (and suffering) – to an unreasonable extent. My heart breaks, still, for the people who died in isolation. I’m adding that one to my to-read list. Thanks for linking to An Open Book!

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  16. I wish I’d heard about the art of dying around the time of my fathers death. It has since led me to discuss my plans with the family, Thanks for linking with #pocolo

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  17. I was going to say the same thing as Kirsty. 30 tomato plants! Wow, that does sound like a good sized space. We also have a very tiny London garden which doesn’t really lend itself to growing very much at all unfortunately. Thank you for joining us for #mischiefandmemories

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  18. We have been harvesting our fruits and still waiting for the tomatoes and potatoes. Gardening is a great way to appreciate nature and teach children about the origins of food. Thanks for linking up with #MischiefAndMemories

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  19. Great post and book reviews, Michele. The Art of Dying looks like a wonderful read. I had the wonderful blessing of sitting beside both of my parents when they took their last breaths and departed this world and I have to say that there is an incredible and powerful beauty in it the transition from this world to the next. These conversations have never frightened me but bring me peace instead. Thanks for sharing this post and linking with me.

    Shelbee
    http://www.shelbeeontheedge.com

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