Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: Johnnie Alexander

Where to Belong

home-429571_1280My grandparents owned a farm. By the time I came along, the livestock was severely diminished. I remember chickens and maybe a few cows early on but not much other than that. My brother remembers a peacock or a turkey, not sure which. The only reason he remembers is it because the thing chased him around the barnyard. That’s traumatizing to a kid.

I don’t remember the animals, but I remember the house and the land. We spent Sunday afternoons there when I was little. My brothers and I would play with two of our cousins if they were there. If not, we would hike through the pasture and into the woods to explore.

There was a drawer in the kitchen by the sink that always had bubble gum in it. This was back when Hubba Bubba and Bubblicious contained only real sugar and made the best bubbles ever blown. My brothers preferred orange and grape. I loved the rare occasions when my grandma would stock the drawer with watermelon.

The house itself was nothing special, just your average old-fashioned farm house. But even though I’ve not stepped foot in it for thirty years, I can remember each room. I even made it the home Katie grew up in my book, Faith’s Journey. One day I would love to see it back in the family, but it wouldn’t be the same. The new owners renovated, updating the look and removing the memories. But it will always be the same in my mind.  It’s amazing what one can remember when fueled by pleasant memories.

That’s why I immediately felt connected to Where She Belongs by Johnnie Alexander. Shelby Kinkaid has similar feelings about the home her grandparents owned when she was a child. She made sweet memories there that helped her in the dark times. It’s a home that was ripped from her family by others who took advantage of her grandparents and left the home abandoned and in disrepair. The disappointments of her present make the pull of the past’s joys even stronger. Determined to give her daughters the same beautiful memories she treasures, Shelby arranges to buy her grandparent’s home and restore it to its former glory.

Though there is a lot of work to be done, it doesn’t deter Shelby from her plan.  But the descendants of the man who took her family’s home are working against her to regain the property for their own benefit. Add to that the mystery of the past that continues to haunt and hurt the current generations, and Shelby has to determine friends from foes all while trying to make the house her home once again.

Shelby’s story starts with a house and her memories, but it doesn’t end until she comes to understand where she belongs.  And I think that’s something we can all relate to.

The desire to belong starts young. Even on preschool playgrounds children want to be part of the group. It can tempt us into friendships we would be better off without. As we age, I’d like to say we outgrow this desire, but I don’t think that’s true. For those who never quite felt they measured up, it may be a life-long battle. Sometimes even our faith can leave us feeling like we don’t fit.

We’re called to have the mind of Christ. This means we strive to live the way Jesus lived, love the way He loved, and have the same standards and priorities. It’s a tall order that we fail to meet, but even if we only live it a small percentage of the time it’s enough to set us apart. We can see it at work, with our friends, and with those who aren’t believers in our families. Our language can set us apart. Our unwillingness to cut certain corners can make us stand out. Our refusal to participate in certain activities or watch certain things can leave us on the outside looking in.

Sometimes we may wonder if it’s worth it when all we want to do is belong. In these times it’s important to remember we do belong, just not to this world or the things in this world. First and foremost we belong to God. We are His children, and our home with Him in eternity is the home we were created for. That is where we belong, and until we reach it, there will always be the feeling of not quite fitting in. We aren’t supposed to fit in with this world. We were made for more.

We also belong to the body of Christ. Believers aren’t meant to be on their own. We’re meant to encourage, teach, and challenge one another to walk in faith every day. We’re to celebrate each other’s victories and support each other through the hard times. Ministering to each other is why God blesses us with spiritual gifts. We need to seek out other believers to be in fellowship with. Shared faith experiences can strengthen us and give us a glimpse into what this world was supposed to be.

When the differences between our faith and the world we live in leave us feeling alone, we need to look to Jesus. With Him, we always have a place to belong.

Treasure

Bread and Jam for Francis. Along with a wide selection of Berenstain Bears books, that is the first book I can actually remember reading. I got it from the school library. That’s where I got most of my books until junior high.  I was one of those students who took home the book club order sheets and painstakingly chose which books I wanted. I didn’t get them all. I rarely got them, but I studied those flyers just the same. To be honest, I still love to go through them, circling all the best children’s books and wishing I had an unlimited supply of money.

I can’t imagine a world without books. I’m a re-reader. It is with great pain that I part with a book I enjoyed. If it was just me, I wouldn’t mind a house full of books. More book shelves than chairs? Not a problem. You only need one comfy chair to enjoy a good book. My husband and children do not agree. So, I’ve known the pain of downsizing my collection. I keep only my absolute favorites. That’s going to change soon. My oldest son is getting married, and I’ve laid claim to his room for a writing office. In my space I will be able to have as many books as I want. Victory!

Books are my earthly treasure. They’re the material thing I value more than any other possession.  Notice I do say possession. There are things I value more than books like faith and family. No matter how much a book has impacted my life, it will never be as important to me as those I love. There will never be a time when my passion for books is more important than people, not just those I love but people in general. My treasure has its place.

Treasure for Alison Schuyler in Where Treasure Hides by Johnnie Alexander is found in art, not books. As an artist herself, Alison has more than just an appreciation for art. It is her passion. Not only does she value the old masters of the art world, she also participates in the creation of artistic works. Whether sketched in her notebook or painted on a canvas, Alison’s works of art are an outpouring of her connections to the world around her.

Alison’s whole world revolves around her passion. The family art gallery located in the Netherlands at the start of World War II has been passed down through the years. With everything in her life depending on and springing from the art she treasures, Alison has learned to place it at the top in her priorities. That belief is challenged as Hitler’s reach begins to extend into her world. Alison is confronted by the harsh realities of life for those around her. While trying to protect the beautiful works of art men have created, Alison comes to understand the need to protect the works of art God has created in each individual. Finding love and experiencing loss and life-threatening dangers grows in Alison an understanding that every treasure has its rightful place.

What we treasure shows in how we live our lives. In the New Testament, the Pharisees would say they treasured God above all else. Until Jesus came, everyone accepted this almost without question. They were, after all, the religious leaders. They should have known more than anyone what it means to love God. But they were wrong.

Time and again Jesus confronted the Pharisees with the idea that they were treasuring the wrong things. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath and they corrected Him, Jesus reminded them loving people is more important than specific Sabbath rules. At one point he basically called them beautiful looking graves full of death. His point was that they said they treasured God, but their real treasure was in rule making and keeping. When the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 came to Jesus questioning the way to eternal life, Jesus started where he was in understanding. Jesus pointed out all the basic commandments and ended with loving your neighbor as yourself. The rich young ruler assured Jesus that he had kept all these laws since his childhood. This is where Jesus turns the young man from what he understands to the deeper truth. He tells the man to sell all his goods and give them to the poor. The man leaves disappointed.

Why? Because he couldn’t take Jesus’ message that loving Him was more than living with a constant spiritual to-do list. I’m sure that for the most part the young man did keep the letter of the law. The law says don’t lie. I didn’t lie. I just didn’t tell the whole truth.

The man was following law, but he wasn’t following God in his heart. The heart goes further than the law. Following God in your heart is what Jesus referenced in Matthew 5:21-28. He pointed to the written law and then urged people to look at what the law really meant in relation to being right with God.  Jesus used these challenge to show them and us that following Him is about more than the exact written law. It’s about the heart. It’s about what the heart treasures.

By the Book: Read the passages referenced above. What do you treasure most?

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