Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows

“Because I live, ye east to westshall live also.” — John 14:19

When God puts a broken life back together, He removes the scars because He builds from the inside out. And when God steadies a faltering life, He puts you on His footing.

God is in the shadows in many ways, but He is also in the bright light of what His servants do every day.

T.S. Eliot once wrote:
We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Life is not merely a geographical journey–not just east to west, or north to south. There is also an up and down–God’s way, or our way… There is no greater discovery than seeing God as the author of your destiny. – Ravi Zacharias

—-

This is the first autobiography I’ve ever set my heart on reading, and it surprised me in many ways. Ravi is one of my favorite authors, and knowing how God has woven his story together has made me appreciate the work that God has done and is still doing in my life as well.

If you’re feeling like you’re in the shadows where the darkness seems unbearable, God is there with you. And when you’re in the light, when there’s joy and peace in your heart, God is also there, rejoicing with you. In every circumstance, trust in Him.

A SATIRICAL BOOK: The Screwtape Letters

blogscrewtape2

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” 

Been wanting to read a C. S. Lewis classic since I’ve completed The Chronicles of Narnia (which I will soon be reading again), and last Christmas I was blessed to receive a compilation of all his classics as a gift. The Screwtape Letters is the first book that I’ve finished from the collection.

What it’s about: 

The book is a series of letters written by Screwtape, a senior demon in service to “Our Father Below”, to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter.  The letters are to mentor Wormwood into ensuring the damnation of a British young man that Screwtape referred to as “The Patient,” who was relatively new to Christianity. Each letter features a phase in the young man’s life and whether or not Wormwood was successful in luring him away from “The Enemy,” and into their wicked ways.

My Rating: 

5 I-didn’t-see-this-coming stars 

This book was honestly a surprise. I was preparing for a lecture-type narrative from C.S. Lewis, but instead I got a trip inside the head of a devil (which should not be assumed to be true even from his own angle as C.S. Lewis mentioned in his Preface). The letters were very convicting, that they made me stop and reflect at my own life. Though the tone was humorous, each letter tackled serious issues about a human soul, which should not be left unchecked.

The author also gave glimpses of God’s character through Screwtape’s reminders. I have highlighted a lot of statements, but this one is my favorite:

“…the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best… He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

There will be times that we’ll feel as if God has withdrawn from us, but rather than feeling scared and defeated, we must see these moments as opportunities to cling onto His character and draw closer to Him in prayer. Because the truth is He will never leave our side. And that sometimes He allows moments of desperation to teach us how to decisively seek Him with all our hearts.

 

 

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:13

 

 

 

Recapture the Wonder

recapture the wonder

For the category “A book with a blue cover” in my 2016 reading challenge, I chose Recapture the Wonder by one of my favorite Christian authors–Ravi Zacharias. I have always loved how Ravi is able to connect with the senses everytime he writes, and this book is one of those that make you see everything in a different light after reading. Rather than detaching you from the world, as some books would do, Recapture the Wonder connects you to it, and in turn making you appreciate its Creator.

As I’ve done with Don’t Waste Your Life, below are my favorite quotes from each chapter, followed by my thoughts:

 

1. We Miss It, but What Is It?

Wonder is that possession of the mind that enchants the emotions while never surrendering reason. It is a grasp on reality that does not need constant high points in order to be maintained, nor is it made vulnerable by the low points of life’s struggle… Wonder knows how to read the shadows because it knows the nature of light. Wonder knows that while you cannot look at the light you cannot look at anything else without it… It is a journey like a walk through the woods, over the usual obstacles and around the common distractions, while the voice of direction leads, saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isaiah 30:21 KJV).

How I wish my life would consist only of high points all time, but that would never happen. There will always be highs and lows. This is why maintaining a sense of Wonder in every situation, the good or the bad, is really challenging. But how can we successfully “read the shadows?” How will we be able to confidently say that we trust God, even in the dark?

2. The Rules of the Game

God’s commands are there to protect what life is truly about, not the other way around.

As G.K. Chesterton said, “before you remove any fence, always first ask why it was put there in the first place.” To develop a sense of wonder even when we are struggling, we must understand that life is meant to be lived God’s way. The rules He set are for our own protection, and our ultimate gain. We may not understand everything now, but God always sees the bigger picture.

3. Passionate Pursuit, Misdirected Search

There are some bitter long-term disappointments in short-term indulgence.

Pursuit of the wrong things always leads to bitterness. Tried and tested. But the good news is, you can always bounce back. His grace will always be sufficient.

4. Wonder Unwrapped

At the cross Jesus gave the final and ultimate gift of unmerited favor… If this were not sufficient, nothing would be.

Because, really, what more could you ask? We can never out-give the Lord. And we must never think that anything or anyone can replace this kind of Love.

5. Wonder Consummated

There is no such thing as free love; love is the most costly expression in the world. But the wonderful thing is that it has already been paid for.

They say you can’t buy love… but it you think about it, loving always has a price, right? And Jesus paid with His life. Greater love has no one than this (John 15:13).

6. Forward to the Past

God is like the light. Wonder is like the shadow. If you chase the shadow you will never catch up to it. It might even disappear. If you walk toward the light, the shadow will always pursue you. That is when the heart sings with gladness. 

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me

all the days, all the days of my life.

 

Stop chasing shadows. Set you eyes toward the light, no matter how uncomfortable it may be at the start. Because when you focus on the light, you will see this same light in everything else as well.

A BOOK BASED ON A FAIRY TALE: Uprooted

Uprooted-Naomi-NovikOne.of.the.best.fantasy.stories.ever. Naomi Novik‘s “Uprooted” was way way more than I expected. I thought it’s just another Beauty and the Beast retelling (well I haven’t really read one to be honest, but I’ve seen how they turn fairy tales into movies nowadays, so I thought this would be just like one of those, and by the way, nothing against Beauty and the Beast, it’s my favorite that’s why I chose this story), but this is a tale that is worth its own recognition.

The Story:

Agnieszka (pronounced as “ag-NYESH-kah”) was a simple girl from Dvernik, a village protected by a Dragon from the place that everyone was afraid of–a corrupted place called the Wood. But the Dragon’s protection came with a price: every ten years, he would choose a young woman from Dvernik to live with him in his tower and serve him. And so Agnieszka feared for her best friend, Kasia, for everyone in their village knew that the Dragon would choose her. Why wouldn’t he? Kasia was the most beautiful young woman in their village.

But to everyone’s surprise, the Dragon did not choose Kasia.

My Rating:

5 I-wish-I-can-pluck-all-the-stars-in-the-sky-and-give-them-to-this-book stars!

And no, I am not exaggerating. “Uprooted” was everything I wanted in a story, and more. It was able to enchant me from the first chapter to the last. I honestly could not stop reading. The mystery behind the Wood was gripping, and the development between Agnieszka and the Dragon was so exciting to read. Yes, just to spoil you a little, this is a love story 😉 And I really wish I can tell you more about it, but I think you have to read it for yourself.

Packed with lessons you won’t easily forget, I highly recommend this book for my fellow fantasy lovers. You won’t be disappointed.

 

My favorite quotes:  

“She’d remembered the wrong things, and forgotten too much. She’d remembered how to kill and how to hate, and she’d forgotten how to grow.”

“I don’t want more sense! Not if sense means I’ll stop loving anyone. What is there besides people that’s worth holding on to?”

“He loved his magic, and he would have shared that love with me.”

“It was a slow and dreadful death, if the corruption wasn’t purged. The Wood consuming you like rot eating away at a fallen tree, hollowing you out from the inside, leaving only a monstrous thing full of poison, which cared for nothing but to spread that poison onward.”

 

A YA BESTSELLER: The Rose Society

rose society

The first book ticked off from my 2016 reading challenge (yes, last year’s failure won’t stop me from challenging myself again) is the latest YA Bestseller by Marie Lu (she’s one of the best!)–“The Rose Society.”

This book is the much-anticipated sequel to “The Young Elites,” which I grabbed from the bookstore (yes I paid for it!) right after finishing her very beautiful and unforgettable LEGEND Trilogy (you should really read this if you haven’t, especially if you’re into YA).

The Story:

After the death of her beloved and the Dagger Society’s betrayal, Adelina Amouterou resolved to find other Young Elites and form her own army of allies to help her exact her revenge against the Daggers, the Inquisition Army, and the throne with the help of her sister, Violetta. Known as the White Wolf, Adelina has the power to weave powerful illusions to cause pain, terror, and death to anyone who wishes to stop her from ploys. But great power comes with a price, and Adelina slowly finds herself being consumed by the darkness inside of her.

My Rating: 4 i-need-light-on-this-story-please stars

Yes, I know the author intended this to be a very dark story, but I hope the last book will not leave me staring into space with a heavy feeling in my heart, as this one did. I love Adelina, but I hope she finds it in her heart to give it all up. I don’t want her to end up all alone. She’s suffered to much for her story to end like that. And Magiano–he’s my only joy in this story. I hope to read more of him in the third book. And I hope he doesn’t die. Because everyone in this book does.

So, I don’t know if this short review made you want to grab the book or not, but what I can assure you is that this is a very engaging read, that would haunt you even after you’re done reading.

My favorite quotes: 

“The irony of life is that those who wear masks often tell us more truths than those with open faces.”

“Sometimes, love can bloom like the tiny flower hidden in the tree’s shadow, found only by those who know where to look.”

“You are living in a world of illusions, of your own creation. You are in love with something that no longer exists.”

Don’t Waste Your Life

don't waste your life

“Don’t Waste Your Life” by John Piper is the first nonfiction book that I’ve finished this year, which I think is a perfect start-of-the-year mantra. We have one life. We don’t know how and when it will end. And so it is crucial that we live it well–in a way that God, the giver of this life, has designed it to be lived.

Below are some quotes that have personally touched me from each chapter, as well as my learnings and takeaways:

1. My Search for a Single Passion to Live By

I didn’t want a minimal life. I didn’t want to live on the outskirts of reality. I wanted to understand the main thing about life and pursue it.

The world offers a lot of distractions and we often find ourselves caught in a myriad of passions, that we tend to neglect this one single passion that we were created to live by–to pursue and glorify God in every aspect of our lives. Do our passions point to Christ? If we only have one month left to live, how would it affect our choices?

Take time to pause and evaluate your daily activities. Focus on those things that will create a lasting impact. Make Jesus the center of everything.

2. Breakthrough–the Beauty of Christ, My Joy

He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

It is when we find joy in serving and living for Christ that He is most glorified. If we serve only to please others, without gladness in our hearts, then we are not bringing glory to Him. The joy in living for His renown must be so evident in our lives that people would would wonder where this joy is coming from. The way we live our lives must attract people to Christ.

3. Boasting Only in the Cross, The Blazing Center of the Glory of God

God’s will is that the cross always be magnified—that Christ crucified always be our boast and exultation and joy and praise—that Christ get glory and thanks and honor for every good thing in our lives and every bad thing that God turns for good. 

Let what Jesus did for us in the cross be the motivation and reason behind everything that we do.  There is no greater love than this.

4. Magnifying Christ Through Pain and Death

When everything in life is stripped away except God, and we trust him more because of it, this is gain, and he is glorified.

There will always be struggles. We will be tested in every way possible once we choose to live our lives for Him. There will be times when we have to let go of things that are important to us, and it is when we choose to praise and worship Him despite the loss that we know that He has become our Treasure.

5. Risk Is Right–Better to Lose Your Life Than to Waste It

Every loss we risk in order to make much of Christ, God promises to restore a thousandfold with his all-satisfying fellowship.

God sees every labor and sacrifice. He will not leave us empty-handed. When we choose to live for Him, He gives us the priceless gift of His presence, so there’s nothing to fear. He is our security.

6. The Goal of Life–Gladly Making Others Gad in God

We must become forgiving people.

We must see people the way God sees them. There’s really nothing that we can boast about. We are all sinners, saved by His grace. And so it is our goal to show others the same love and compassion. God loves each and every one of them, no matter how unlovable them may seem in our human standards.

7. Living to Prove He is More Precious Than Life

If Christ is an all-satisfying treasure and promises to provide all our needs, even through famine and nakedness, then to live as though we had all the same values as the world would betray him. 

No one can serve two masters. One can’t walk two different paths at the same time. If you are for God, live for God alone.

8. Making Much of Christ from 8 to 5

Don’t labor for the food that perishes. Labor to love people and honor God. Think of new ways that your work can bless people. Stop thinking mainly of profitability, and think mainly of how helpful your product or service can become.

Where we are is where God can use us. Learn to honor God even in the workplace by being a blessing to the company and the people you work with. Don’t just work to earn a living, show them the right way of living.

9. The Majesty of Christ in Missions and Mercy–A Plea to This Generation

Any good-hearted goal, without the desire to give people eternal joy in God, is condemnation with a kind face. Love always wants what is best for the needy, and what’s best is enjoying God fully and forever.

There are still so many people around the world who have not heard the gospel. Have a heart for missions. Reach out. Pray for the unreached souls.

10. My Prayer–Let None Say in the End, “I’ve Wasted It” 

This is your love, O God, not to make much of me, but do whatever must be done so that I waken to the joy of making much of you through all eternity.

Let’s not waste this one life that we have. Think of eternity. Let everything we do bring honor and glory to Him.

Everything, Everything

Everything-Everything1-e1441301042528I think the start of the new year is a perfect time to revive old habits, like, for instance, writing a book review. I planned on reading 52 books for a reading challenge last year, and write a book review for each of them, but was unsuccessful. Was only able to read 36 titles, and write 10 reviews. Now I’m hoping that this year, my stats would improve 🙂

So I’m re-starting this habit with the first book that I’ve finished for the year: Nicola Yoon‘s Everything, Everything.

Why this book? I have to admit, it was the cover. That’s always been my weakness. Really lovely cover, right?

The Story: 

Diagnosed with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), Madeline Whittier was allergic to the world, and was not allowed to experience it. For her, the entire universe was their house, her mom, and her nurse, Carla. Her books became her only connection to what lies beyond her white walls, of which her favorite was Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. She thought she was content with this kind of life until Olly arrived next door, and caught her staring at him.

My Rating: 3 stars

It was a beautiful story about love and hope. Of not giving up on your dreams. Of taking risks. I especially loved the illustrations (all drawn by David Yoon, the author’s husband), which helped me visualize and enjoy the story more. Though it was a story about a girl who’d been struggling from a disease, Nicola Yoon was able to write it in a light and humorous way, that’s why I didn’t really find it depressing.

However, I found the ending very convenient and too good to be true. Or maybe it’s just my mood 🙂

My main takeaway is that there’s beauty in taking risks. But personally, I believe everything must be done in moderation. This is where the author and I did not meet. Romantic love is not the only thing that’s important. We weren’t just born for romance. We are to love the people around us, especially those who have invested almost their entire lives in us, genuinely.

My favorite quotes: 

“My heart is too bruised and I want to keep the pain as a reminder. I don’t want sunlight on it. I don’t want it to heal. Because if it does, I might be tempted to use it again.”

“I promise you that I know my heart. It’s one of the few things that’s not completely new to me.”

“I may not be in love, but I’m in like. I’m in serious like.”