So, how was that for a plot twist?
I’ve read this book many, many times. Every time, I cry when I read this section. These last eleven chapters are a book, in and of themselves.
What are the things that truly matter in this world? When it’s all said and done, what is of greatest value? Our minor irritations and disappointments—with people or situations—pale when viewed in light of what matters most.
The story of this growing sisterhood among an unlikely group of women warms my heart, every single time. It would be easy to make the claim that this is fiction, and so we can’t expect for anything like this to happen in real life. But, Neta Jackson, in her note at the end of the story, makes it clear to us that this book grew out of her personal experience as part of a multi-cultural prayer group. I find it so easy to get cynical and to shake my head at the answered prayers, the powerful faith, and even the friendships taking root in these pages. But doubt is a dangerous thing. It takes my eyes off the prize and I find myself sinking in the midst of the storm.
I want faith like what I’ve read about in these pages. I want to be a friend who will pray my sisters through. I want to cross the imaginary lines our world draws to keep people divided in groups identified by race or culture or gender or faith or sexual orientation or socio-economic status or whatever else we may invent to establish more “us vs. them.”
And, I would be remiss to leave here without expressing my profound grief and sadness for Jamal’s mother and brothers—the ones in this story, and all the families who experience deep loss with no resolution that seems fitting.
I’m struggling these days, working to write a book about forgiveness, reconciliation, and unity. I struggle with the reality of injustice and evil and how to forgive in the face of the very worst offenses, or even the very smallest offenses. Forgiveness is not easy work, nor is it quick work. Reinhold Niebuhr has said forgiveness is the final form of love. I’ve been turning that phrase over in my mind, ever since I read it for the first time, just a few days ago. I’m believing there is truth to those words.
I believe it is love that propels us, however slowly, toward forgiveness. Love sustains us, as we wait to be forgiven, even if that forgiveness never comes. Love is the impetus for the grace God extends and that paves the way for his forgiveness of us.
Part of what makes me cry when I read this section of the book is the beautiful story of Jodi’s experience of grace. I am deeply moved by the way her sisters surround her with love and prayers. I am challenged to look myself in the mirror and find myself in need of mercy. I am reminded to exercise my faith in prayer more often and with greater conviction.
But, I also cry for Jamal’s mother, and for all the mothers in this world who’ve lost a child with no relief from the systems that sometimes fail them. And so it comes full circle, doesn’t it? My prayers and my love, on behalf of those who grieve and systems that fail can, indeed, be powerful and effective. It’s hard to remember that when the reality of life seems to press in so hard. But I am reminded and encouraged anew to give it a try. Like Yo-Yo, scratching the back of her head and deciding to give this faith thing a try, I’m encouraged to take heart and have faith.
Here’s what I’m wondering from you today:
- What are your takeaways from this section of the book?
- Have you been challenged in some specific area of your life by reading this book?
- What questions do you have for the author?
Thanks so much for your generous participation. I’ll have a few last questions for you next week, mainly about your experience and suggestions for improvement, if we choose to move forward with another book selection.
Next week will be our last session together, and Neta Jackson will be answering your questions. I’ve sent her a list, based on our discussions here. But, if you’ve got something specific you’d like her to answer, please leave your question in the comments, and I’ll send it her way.
You’ve been so thoughtful and gracious. This has been a joy for me. Thanks so much for being part of this very first round of Forward.
First, I will say that this section did somewhat redeem the time I spent reading the rest of the book. 😉 I was genuinely engaged in the story, wondering how the court case would resolve. And I appreciated the long-awaited character growth in Jodi. Which leads to…what my takeaways are for this section of the book. The main takeaway for me is that Jodi realized that she had been basically living out a “works salvation,” instead of acknowledging being saved through faith alone by grace alone. She gave herself credit with God for her good “Christian” behavior (while judging the behavior of others) until she was finally in a circumstance that was completely out of her control and she could understand grace. This takeaway challenges me to be patient with myself and others as we are progressing through our sanctification processes. I really disliked the Jodi character for most of the book, but her realizations at the end reminded me that all believers are growing into the likeness of Christ in their own timing and circumstances. So, the question I would now ask the author is, “What did *you* intend as the main point of this book?”
“This takeaway challenges me to be patient with myself and others as we are progressing through our sanctification processes…all believers are growing into the likeness of Christ in their own timing and circumstances.”
Amen! I felt this way, too.
Lisa Dye Norris
I am happy to see that Jodi was able to drop her pretense of not wanting to let people inside of her private life. I love the openness and courage Denny had to be so transparent and broken in front of those praying women to allow himself to be broken so that God’s love would overflow in forgiveness. I love how Florida stood up to Jodi to point out how all of us are in the same predicament – in need of God’s grace, mercy and love regardless of our story. Thanks friend, for choosing this as the first book and I look ‘forward’ to our next!
I, too, thought it was remarkable, Denny being so forthcoming in front of everyone. The Spirit of God must have compelled him. I always think that when I see someone acting out-of-character.
I really was hooked in reading this section, so much so that I checked out the second book from the library yesterday and finished it today! Lisa Dye Norris and Lisa made some good observations and I agree with them. I think the take away is that no matter who we are, regardless of our race or social status, we are all sinners who need grace to be saved. And also that it doesn’t matter how different we may be from others, we can still have close fellowship as we pray together and share the load. God has been nudging me about finding more times to pray. This book helped me see how I need to be willing to pray anywhere, any time, not worrying about what others might think. I have done it a few times on the spur of the moment with a friend who expressed a need either on the phone or even in a chat. It felt a little awkward but was really appreciated. I want to be more like that, to be open to the Lord’s leading in that area. I don’t want it to feel awkward, I want it to be natural. Thanks so much for having this book club!
– God truly shapes us in relationship
– I am NOT in relationship for the sake of maintaining or establishing a heirarchy, or because the others in my relationships need ME in any way; we ALL need Jesus in equal measure!
– “but for the grace of God” is not simply a pat saying – it is a reality!
How I’ve been challenged;
– am I transparent in my own relationships, or am I hoping that people will see me as “together” and above neediness?
– am I allowing the enemy to trick me into thinking ANYTHING I have is the result of my own worth, and not seeing the reality that it is ALL GRACE???
– am I really focused on my own relationship with Jesus, realizing His amazing sacrifice for me, or am I satisfied with thing kin He died for the others in my life?
Questions for Neta:
– what can I, a white woman in a Boston suburb, do to ensure that I am a good listener?
– how can the fact that we are sisters in Christ make us more able to bear one another’s burdens while celebrating our differences?
Maybe more tomorrow, but for tonight, a lot to think on…
– BE HONEST WITH GOD ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT. GO ALL OUT. Adele had the courage to pray that the charges be dropped. I am inclined not to pray for specific outcomes like that, especially publically. Not that I think God can’t do it, but that He may very well have a different plan. Still, I think there is value in stating outright to the Lord what exactly I would like to see. (After all, Jesus prayed for the cup to be taken from him. Aren’t we glad it wasn’t?) But I did like that someone wasn’t afraid to push the request as far out as possible rather than play it safe. I liked that a lot.
– BROKENNESS IS A WONDERFUL THING – DON’T FIGHT IT. In brokenness lies the chance for freedom, forgiveness, restored relationships, greater intimacy (with others and God) and so much more. Jodi and Denny had the “appearance” of health, the appearance of not needing to be prayed for, but it was only appearance and they probably didn’t realize it themselves until they broke.
– DON’T USE FEELING GOOD AS A BAROMETER FOR WHETHER GOD WAS IN IT. Sometimes, even when things seem to work out, it might not feel good. It is never going to feel good for Jodi, the outcome, though she is grateful. I say this is a takeaway because of how much we usually equate a blessing with a giddy, happy feeling and roses blooming everywhere. The Christian life is not a Hallmark movie. (Another example: It is a blessing to have the strength to stop enabling someone, but things still feel yucky. Does that mean God is absent? No.)
I don’t know that I feel challenged so much as empowered. That’s all I can say about that at the moment because I haven’t thought it through, but I definitely have this feeling like a fire’s been lit under me and an opportunity is coming that relates to it. I feel alive. 🙂
No questions for the author at this point. Thank you for asking. I look forward to next week’s post.
Marilyn, I’m really dwelling on your words “don’t use feeling good as a barometer for whether God was in it.” It’s really hitting home with me and some things I’ve been struggling with. I often convince myself with self-talk “well if you aren’t ‘feeling’ the spirit or feel good then you clearly don’t have the faith” God is constant and sovereign, my emotions are not. I’m having to relearn this again and again.
Thanks for letting me know that, Julie. It’s a lesson I need to learn and relearn regularly.
Lisa Dye Norris
Wow! Julie and Marilyn…… this is so key in our response for measuring the truth of having faith. We do so often equate how we feel to justify the tangible understanding of God manifests His answers to our prayers. It is such a hard truth to realize that God is God all by Himself, regardless of our feelings! Thank you Marilyn for reminding us that God is bigger than a feeling.
“I want faith like what I’ve read about in these pages. I want to be a friend who will pray my sisters through. I want to cross the imaginary lines our world draws to keep people divided in groups identified by race or culture or gender or faith or sexual orientation or socio-economic status or whatever else we may invent to establish more “us vs. them.”
-I so resonate with this. I’ve enjoyed this book and it has left me craving more community. I’ve also been reading United by Trulia Newbell and just feel so compelled to do something. I just don’t know what. My question, for the author or for anyone of color reading, is how do I approach acquaintances or not so close friends, to have a deeper friendship in this way? I want to be upfront with my intentions, that I want to have a more diverse friend group, but how do I do that without it coming across like a social experiment and turn them away? I genuinely want to learn, to listen. Not to fill a status quo of friends. I LOVE the Ted Talk by Mellody Hobson, I want to be color brave as she describes it. I just struggle with when and how to approach, and not come across as a white girl trying to make herself feel better or check off some box. And I so worry about saying the wrong thing or asking the wrong question unintentionally.
And man, I did cry. When Denny came into the room and they were sharing these raw intimate moments with the prayer group. That is community. That is a glimpse of heaven.
And I’ve so admired reading about the women that fiercely claim things in the name of Jesus. I am more timid, and don’t like to draw attention to myself (which I guess is technically wrong because they are drawing attention to Jesus) but I have always been drawn to this in others. And to be honest struggles with thoughts of judgement and cynicism with some.
I have so enjoyed reading this book with you guys. This is technically my first book club (aside from Bible studies, if that counts). Thank you.
Takeaway & Challenge: a reminder to not judge a book by its cover–that people’s stories are wide and varied and will unfold if we hang on and “do life” with them (thinking specifically of Avis’ story). Meaningful questions help,too–sometimes listening entails good responsive questions. I was challenged to remember that community takes time–logging in the hours, taking time to listen, hanging in there with the small talk to get to the deeper stuff, asking good questions. I need to be much, much better about this.
Challenge from the book in general: I started this book being annoyed with Jodi and though I did roll my eyes a few times in this section, I started to see how I was like her in my immaturity and lack of faith, my impatience, my easy irritability with my husband, my reluctance to ask for help/accept help. So yeah, I started the book judging Jodi and ended the book repenting for my easy judgments and my failure to see the plank in my own eye.
I’d love to hear from the author about her real life experiences in a multicultural prayer group–how it came to be, how long it lasted, what was the impetus to write this series, etc.
Thanks, Deidra, for hosting this, and thanks everyone, for reading and commenting. I know I didn’t get in here every week, but I was listening and reading along.
Peace to you all this weekend.