Dear Valerie,

I loved your book!  I took four pages of notes.  It brought back vivid memories of you, Wheaton and my grandfather.  He, too, was a missionary in South America.   From a letter he wrote to a supporter in 1923:

“Within me rose a soul burning passion to reach the unreached of the most neglected continent of the world…So today finds me seated in a little 2 x 4 hut 1000 miles north of that grand city of Buenos Aires…to do this work, I will have to buy a good mule and saddle…(Some Indians have just killed a large snake outside of my hut.)…”

And your book brought memories of you, because we met at Wheaton when I was a freshman.  You were a sophomore.

“How blessed you are!” You and your roommate Donna announced as you marched joyfully into the room I shared with Rochelle, in Fisher Dorm on the first day of school.  “You have the room we had last year!”

A year later, we were in Concert Choir together.  Every time I hear the hymn “Beautiful Savior” I think of you singing the solo of the first verse on choir tour.

We traveled through England, studying Arthurian Legend and Dickens with Wheaton’s English Lit program in the summer of 1975.   I had just fallen in love with Duane that spring.

“Jill, Walt and I are engaged, but we don’t write as many letters as you do,” you said.

I received a letter from Duane every day.  I wrote to him every day, too.   I was surprised at how matter of factly, Valerie, you explained your love relationship, as we talked about love in your dorm room one afternoon.  I was a bundle of over the top emotional love.  I was devastated to be apart from Duane for one minute!  I remember your quiet smile, a response to my youthful exuberance for Duane. Well, you were one year older than me, and already engaged.

That summer, I was trying to get through the eleven weeks away from Duane, without thinking ahead.  The last week in August, when we returned from England,  Duane got our parent’s permission for me to vacation with his family at a cabin on Lake Chautauqua in New York.  One afternoon we stepped into a small boat and Duane rowed to the middle of the placid lake.

“I have it all figured out,”  He began.  “I’ve prayed about this a lot while you were gone.  From everything we’ve written to each other this summer, I know we’re supposed to be together.   It’s not going to be easy; we’re going to have to wait to get married.”

I was shocked to hear the ‘m’ word! I was only 20.

Reading “Devotedly” was like reliving that summer, and the next two years.  After the Wheaton in England summer program, I had to take off the fall semester.   We were apart again.  I was in Minnesota while he while he was at Wheaton.  Phone calls were long distance; rare and expensive.  We wrote letters.  And waited.  I remember Mother’s response to my moping.

“What do you think couples did during WW II?  Our friends Jack and Joan were separated for years!”

Her words did not console me.

Reading your parents’ words about waiting, did.  Looking back over forty years gives a different perspective.

“…Perhaps  you’re in one of those places where these insights of hers will speak with perfectly timed wisdom in your life,” you wrote.

And from your mom’s diary of September 7, 1950 “….Rather, my Father has quietly opened the way, often after much “sitting still on the part of his daughter; repeated disappointments, “hope deferred”; and finally, a revealing of some plan which does not at all fit my expectations….And in the meantime, while I am waiting, watching, praying, He gives quietness and peace.  He will never suffer me to be tempted above that I am able…So I go on, not knowing – I would not if I might.  I’d rather walk in the dark with God than go alone in the light.     Over and over I am impressed with the importance of walking alone with Him, following Him regardless of all else…”  – p. 116

Life continues to bring those times that need  waiting on God.  Your mom’s words encouraged me to trust God while I wait.

“Devotedly,”  also reminded me of my mother’s family.   I have to disagree with you on one point in the book.  In the Preface, you say, “I come from a ‘quite ordinary family.”  No.  My mother’s family, like your mother’s family, was a family with a uniquely rich spiritual heritage.  My mother’s father (the one who served God in South America) was now a pastor in the Philadelphia area and also taught at Philadelphia College of the Bible.   Your grandfather was the editor of the Sunday School Times.  Your mother grew up in an intelligent, gifted family that took God seriously.     “The godly people in the land are my heroes” – Psalm 16:3.

That secure, godly heritage blessed your mom.   Your mom’s letters radiate confidence in word and thought.  Your dad commented on this once, describing your mom as ‘the Woman with the Man’s Mind (all that from Wheaton)’ – p. 246.  I never saw, in any sentence, anything but your parents having a mutual respect for each other; in devotion to God, ability or intelligence.   The letters illustrate they talked over every detail of life and marriage; no thought or topic was off limits or not of interest to the other.  In the Christian culture of their time, and the continued controversy over male/female ‘roles’ in marital relationships, the tone and subjects of their letters are truly remarkable.

After reading “Devotedly,” I dug out one of Duane’s letters to me:

“…I wanted somebody to hear everything I was thinking – and I wanted to tell everything to you.  And then you sent me a few letters; one about money, and a couple about God giving us a hard go of it in our being apart to strengthen our character…”   Separation and letter writing might be the secret to a happy marriage!

“Devotedly,” reminded me of my love for Wheaton.  Loved the picture of your dad looking at a letter in the college post office.  He stands in front of the same boxes that were there when I was there!  I wish I had taken more pictures at Wheaton!  The memory of your mother and dad walking to the lagoon as Wheaton students took me back to one of the places Duane and I had our first picnic, when I cut a math test because it was Duane’s birthday.   Here we are at Duane’s graduation in front of Blanchard in 1976.

Your book isn’t primarily for lovers, although the title mentions, ‘love story.’  Your mother said, “life cannot be all love…” p. 198.  That made me smile.  She was clearly, deeply in love.  Knowing her practical personality, through her letters, I understand what she meant.   The book is mainly for all of us who have committed to follow God and might be discouraged in our waiting for him.  Or any of us who are seeking God’s guidance in a complicated situation.  Your parents’ letters illustrated how they kept moving ahead and carrying on with their lives, even when God’s ways seemed mysterious.

It’s for those of us in lonely times.  “Have no care for me, Jim, He alone is enough.”  (p.122)  With eerie foreshadowing of your mother’s life, ‘loneliness’ is often mentioned in their letters.

In spite of their difficulties, the letters aren’t somber.  Your mom and dad enthusiastically enjoyed life. It was fun to read of their interests in being outdoors, music, reading, and friends.  They didn’t take themselves too seriously, either.  “Let people think we are nuts,” your dad wrote.  (p. 111)   The letter your dad wrote describing his parents’ less than lukewarm impressions of your mom, was hilarious.  As you mention later in the book, he might have been a bit naive to have shared it with your mom, but reading it in ‘real time’ makes your dad all the more lovable.

I enjoyed so many ‘little things’ in the book:  the pictures of your parents’ artistic handwriting.   I liked the honesty.  In one letter, your dad wrote he was “…a tad too spiritual.”   He wanted to throw off legalism. (p. 52)  The daily details of their  experiences made me feel like I was on the journey with them, from your mom’s time at Prairie Bible Institute,  (“Mr. Maxwell asked all to stand who have not won a soul” – p. 66, horrors! ), to her service in a tenement mission in New York City.  Your dad’s name for his kids’ mission in the small Illinois river town, ‘Club 66′ was a funny misunderstanding between your mom and dad.

I knew some of your parents’ story.  But reading their letters in “Devotedly” encouraged… no, encouraged is not a strong enough word.  Jim and ‘Betts’ letters pulled me back up onto the path of  trusting and seeking God while I wait for Him.  The epilogue in your book spoke to me, too.  After over five years of waiting on God,  they married and settled in a house, following daily routines and continuing to follow God in Ecuador.  When your dad died, his life maybe seemed ordinary: he left house, wife, and baby albeit in the midst of a jungle mission station.  However, because of your parents’ faithful obedience and conscious intent to seek and wait on him, God’s plan to set the Aucas free with the Gospel was just beginning.  And your dad’s last words to your mother, “Teach the believers, darling!” prophetically announced her life’s work.

Which has blessed me and many thousands more.

“Take my life and let it be

Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

Take my moments and my days,

Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Let them flow in ceaseless praise.”

– Frances Havergal

love,

Jill

p.s.  I was going to name my first baby girl “Valerie” but I had two boys!

 

 

It’s British myth, King Arthur, retold in 2019 with a 12 year old boy.  It’s British humor, with a mesmerizing, quick witted ‘teen’ Merlin stealing the show.  London and Cornwall for settings.  The Four Point Chivalric Code explained for kids, as they ride the ‘coach’ on the M3 on their way to Tintagel. Now that is funny.

Kid actors:  100% believable.  As I watched the four main leads tromp through the marshy Cornwall countryside, following Merlin, I remembered Dr. McClatchey teaching “Arthurian Legend.”  We didn’t visit Tintagel on that Wheaton in England semester… have to go back.  I’ve been to Cornwall, though, and what I saw tonight on the screen is as stunningly beautiful in person.

The movie also taught me that every body of water, even a bathtub, holds a “Lady of the Lake,” with Excalibur, in case I am in need of it.

Great pacing and back and forth between reality and fantasy, which means the writing is excellent.  They creatively presented a great story; one of The Great Stories.

Perfect for families and adults who love England, heroes and a movie with heart.

Go!!!!!

5-star-movie reviews

“Eighth Grade” is a true and terrifying film.  Nominated for one Golden Globe, but ignored by the Oscars, it has won numerous acclaim.  We saw it on rental.   As if staring through the window of their suburban house, we witness a story about a 14 year old girl who lives alone except for a smartphone in her hand.  Her dad inhabits the house and tries to share her life; even his caring attempts illustrate today’s culture’s mixed up understanding of parenting.  We never see her mother.

Adolescence can be an awkward time.  However, this film trumpets the warning that technology has driven our country’s children into the poverty of loneliness.  The star, Elsie Fisher, should be up for “Best Actress.”  Her honest portrayal of life lived on a phone is heartbreaking.  She’s befriended in a superficial way by one other living person, a  high school girl in a rare but inappropriate school program.  (Why should an eighth grader be hanging around at the mall with high school kids?)

When I was 14, I lived with a family who loved me.  It was a weird time: I still loved my dolls, “This is the last Christmas you’re getting a doll,” my mother told me.  Yet it was also the year I started wearing a bra.  (Yes, that late in life (!) compared to now when mothers who shop at “Justice” now buy their daughters those ‘bra things’ at age 8!) My family also chose to attend church where I had youth group sponsors like Jerry and Carol Augustin who planned fun social activities for us middle school kids like tobogganing, “Dutch Date Nights”, sleepovers, trips to Hershey Park, etc etc.  I had friends.  I had friends at school/neighborhood.  Not many; I was not popular.  But I was not alone.

This film is heartbreaking and unfortunately true.  Must see for anyone who cares about their grandchildren and the next generation.

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are totally believable as film legends Laurel and Hardy.  The settings, in Hollywood and Britain, are impeccably 1953.  The film looks great.

Laurel and Hardy were comedians, but this is not a comedy but a snail’s pacing, melancholy story about their last years, when  they faced half empty seats in theatres.  Producers didn’t want to make their films.  Hardy’s gambling, arguing wives and bickering over business affairs soured their relationship.

This film is as predictable as a documentary, but I do not mean to belittle documentaries, which can be fascinating.

Duane said he liked it.  He liked the relational aspect of it, he said.  There were no guns or car crashes, I’ll say that.

My dad adored Laurel and Hardy and I watched him laughing hysterically at their movies.  I appreciated them, too.

I wanted to like it.  Five hearts for the actor’s great portrayals.  Comedians often make the best serious actors.  Minus three hearts for poor pacing/writing/storyline.  That makes two hearts.  Add one more heart for the scenery.

Sometimes I feel like my family is falling apart.

I comfort myself by skimming Mother’s Bible, one I gave her a few years ago, where she underlined some of the Psalms and Proverbs with red pencil.

Mother  occasionally added a family members’ initials, if the verse applied.  Interesting reading (?!).

Proverbs 12:7  was not underlined, but caught my attention: “…the family of the godly stands firm.”

I wonder if that’s a promise of God.  Our family’s pastor Leith Anderson once said, “If God said it, you can take it to the bank.”

Today, I’m not feeling it.

Juicy details:  none.  The same crap you’re dealing with: the death of parents and friends, job stress, major health issues, etc etc etc.  Big things.  Then the smaller things pile up: the deer just ate all the flowers I planted or Duane’s plantar fasciitis won’t heal.   A few families on Facebook do seem to have it all together.

I wonder how people cope, who don’t have loving family memories, like I do.  Remembering a picnic our family shared at Lake Cornelia Park in 1985, gives my mind a vacation from hard times.

Or I imagine myself standing in the kitchen of the house on Abbott Avenue, back in 1971.  I was a sophomore in high school then.  It’s a weeknight evening.

“Quick, get the tablecloth on!”  Mother flies into the kitchen from her bedroom.

The pound of ground beef for tomato soup casserole isn’t browning in the frying pan yet, but Mother’s plan to make it look like supper is imminent is to have the kitchen table set.  That meant a tablecloth.   Tablecloths weren’t only for company.   Every night the six of us: Dad, Mother, Wendy, Jennifer, Pam and me, ate dinner squeezed around a small kitchen table covered with a cloth.  Even on picnics or vacation, Mother always spread a tablecloth.

The most famous family tablecloth was green and covered with blooming white magnolias.  I don’t know where Mother got it or if she inherited it.  One hundred percent cotton, it could be thrown in the washer and then the dryer, without wrinkling. Mother ironed white linen tablecloths for Thanksgiving, Christmas and special company.  This tablecloth didn’t need it.

The cloth became a family vacation fixture, in spite of:

  1.  Mother’s favorite color wasn’t green.  She was more partial to gold, the color of our gingham kitchen wallpaper.  This cloth was a dark drab green, with white (magnolias) and brown (stems and centers).  Green/white/brown; yuck.
  2. Our dishes didn’t match the tablecloth.   The ‘everyday’ Stangl ‘Fruit’ pattern Mother chose featured cherries, peaches and grapes.  Back in that day, white dishes, which would have worked with it, weren’t popular.

Anyway, that family tablecloth covered our table, every night, at whichever duplex we rented, in Ocean City, New Jersey, year after year on summer vacations.

In the summer of 1980, six months after Mike was born, Duane and I joined Mother and Dad, along with the sisters who could make it, to 2126 Wesley Avenue, our four bedroom apartment in Ocean City.  Ocean City!  America’s Family Vacation Paradise!  That’s what it had always been to me.

I should have lowered my expectations.  My parents were wonderful parents, but they spent their days on the beach when I was expecting them to help with the baby so I could go to the beach.  Duane and Dad went off and played tennis at the public courts in the morning.  I was left alone at the apartment, to be there while Michael napped, or needed to be fed, or cried.  My toes hardly touched the sand.  Nights were worse.  Because we shared a bedroom with a six month old baby, no one got much sleep.  Mike’s nighttime schedule was a mess for the next year.

But I still treasure that great picture of Dad, sharing life with Mike over the green magnolia tablecloth.

Our family continued our treks to Ocean City, with the magnolia tablecloth.  In  2008, after our grandson Ethan was born, Duane and I rented a huge four bedroom duplex at 19th street, overlooking the Boardwalk.  Mother, Dad, Duane and I, Jeff and Heather, Mike and Elizabeth, and Jennifer shared a place where family dinners also included the six Sathers, staying nearby.   The adult girls of each family took turns coordinating and preparing dinner for 15 people each night.  Every fourth night, we ordered Mack and Manco pizza. Spots of tomato sauce stained the white magnolias.

After dinner we’d head to ‘walk the Boards’. Then with tired legs we arrived back to plop on chairs around the same table, to play games.  We’d compare stories of the treats we found on the Boardwalk, which, according to family rules, no one had to share.  Except for the Johnson Brothers caramel corn in plastic buckets, which we ate til we felt sick.

“It’s your vacation, you can do what you want,” was one of Mother’s quotes.  That freedom made vacationing with our family easy and fun.

The family began to grow and change, with weddings, new girlfriends/boyfriends, new jobs, work moves, and grandchildren. It was getting harder to gather around the green magnolia tablecloth for family vacations.  So I would use it at home when family visited.

One year we were able to get most of the family together at a beach house outside Jacksonville.

The tablecloth was getting more worn and moth eaten, but it still meant the family was gathered for fun.

 

Now it’s nearly impossible to gather everyone in the family around that tablecloth, to share dinner,  with games afterwards. Mike and Elizabeth are here in Tampa with Ethan and Sophie, but Jeff and Heather, along with Addi and Henry, live in Jacksonville.   Wendy’s three girls are married; Kate and Marc live in New Jersey with their three children: Oliver, George and brand new baby Violet. Lee and John teach English and live in, literally, China, with son and daughter Harry and Eloise.  Sarah and Julian live in West Palm Beach.  Jennifer’s daughter Maggie works in Boulder, Colorado.  Pam and Greg live in Jacksonville, while sons Peter, Andrew and Tommy are scattered around Florida, with Jack in Chicago.

I’m realizing that each family, as it changes and grows, has to start its own vacation and family traditions.

But the sisters decided we can still get together.   Pam joined Wendy, Jennifer and me for a weekend at the condo Duane and I own in Indian Rocks Beach.  We arrived with our suitcases full since the January weather was cool, and we knew Wendy would be there.  She’s a fashionista, so the bar was set high.  Pam, a style maven herself, forgot to pack half of her clothes.

We ate stone crabs and talked at Salt Rock Grill Wednesday night, then stayed up too late talking.  Thursday morning over coffee we read verses to each other from Mother’s Bible.  We walked the beach while talking.  We soaked up the sun; I’m the only one who wears sunscreen.  We gave each other piles of advice, all unsolicited.  We watched “Leave It To Beaver” reruns Thursday afternoon, with Wendy commenting on June’s excellent choice of ‘statement’ jewelry.  We ate steaks at E & E Stakeout Thursday night and talked, and talked, and talked.

Friday afternoon, when our ‘sister time’ was over, Duane and Greg joined Pam and me at the condo with a few of the Sather boys.  I pulled out the green magnolia tablecloth for dinner.

“The tablecloth!”  Pam exclaimed.  It meant something special to her, too.

The green magnolia tablecloth stands for family and happy memories of us being together.   It reminds me of Mother and Dad and  how much they loved being with us.  We’re not perfect, and even the happy memories of the times around that tablecloth are a bit sugar coated, when I start remembering specifics.  But we love each other.

Mother taught, “It’s people that are important, not things.”  That is true.

But I’m glad I still have that green magnolia tablecloth.

“Be still my soul: thy God doth undertake to guide the future, as He has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake; All now mysterious shall be bright at last.”

– Katharina A. von Schlegel, 1752

 

 

 

(The Queen’s crown is in the picture; this movie is the story of the British rock group Queen and its’ lead singer Freddy Mercury).

I love music; I was more into Broadway albums, Barbara Streisand, Judy Garland, Motown, the Beatles and romantic classical artists, like Rachmaninoff, than boy band groups like Queen.

But I’m a sucker for any well told story about a musical artist who comes from nowhere to become an international star. It’s a story of nonconformity and courage. And the cliche fall into drugs and arrogance. Then redemption.

The actors are brilliant, writing excellent and pacing sticks to their sermon. Queen wrote songs their followers could sing! Real singable melodies! A lesson for song writers.

Caveat: Freddy was a gay musician so the film goes there but that theme did not take over the film. Not sure of the truthfulness/timing of the last bits of the story – it got a bit too much of an ‘everything falls magically into place’ ending.

But I admire creative musicians and loved hearing Queens’ music; watching the process. My Dad, a great lover of classical music, would say about Tchaikovsky, etc, “they’re all nuts.” But he said it with a smile.

 

 

Based on a remarkable true story, Adam Driver and John David Washington sell this.

Loved it because it rang true and though not a happy film, the leads play heroic characters and I always go for that.   A bit preachy in one scene right at the end;  the filmmaker earned the right to preach.

I hope it does win some awards.

 

Mary Queen of Scots stayed in Dumbarton Castle as a child, just blocks from where my grandparents lived on 4 Wallace Street.  So I couldn’t wait to see this movie… I have Scottish blood in my veins!

Mary then fled to France, married Francis II, twenty years later returning to England and Scotland .   Lots of potential for story here with French court intrigue, religious power struggles for Elizabeth I’s throne, murders and deceit.  Too bad the film, with beautiful costumes and gorgeous settings, didn’t go there.  Whoever made the film was focused on conveying the message that men are jerks and women aren’t, and breezed through any attempt at a coherent storyline.  Saiorse Ronan sure looked pretty in her close up shots, but wouldn’t the real Mary have spoken with a French accent, having grown up pretty much in France?  

One of those films so eager to be ‘realistic’ they show detail of Mary getting her period, and then at the same time, they show Queen Elizabeth’s chief ambassador as African American and her courtiers as Asian. Really?!  

Except for the scenery and costumes, a waste of time to watch a filmmaker in 2018 with a gender axe to grind, fantasize about 16th century history.

 

“Modern, Liberated, Radical, Obsessional, Couple” describes Dick and Lynne Cheney in “Vice.”  

Ok, Christian Bale wearing make up looks and acts like Dick Cheney.  The fascination with that lasts five minutes.  Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney shares many scenes.  While being portrayed as rabid conservatives, the marriage portrayed is liberal and radically subversive.  Their acceptance of their daughter’s sexuality was out of step with their political bedfellows, back in the day.  

Bale and Adam’s performances needed absorbing storytelling.  Instead, a narrator and subtitles continuously and monotonously dumped the Cheneys’ obsession with power for two hours.   Every politician is portrayed as an exaggerated caricature, like in an SNL skit.  That’s what Adam McKay, Vice’s writer and director, used to do.  

Odd for a comic writer to create a film without one single laugh from the audience.

Interesting timing, too, of this movie.  With George H.W. Bush having died some weeks ago, and that stunningly beautiful memorial service where politicians came together and showed class and dignity to a generally weary of partisan politics world, the scenes portraying the caricatures of H.W. Bush and his son George veered into the distasteful. 

We abandoned the film 3/4ths of the way through.  It won’t be in the theatre past this weekend…

 

It’s uneven, sadly.  Some things brilliant:  the three Banks’ children.  They look and act to perfection with their skinny Depression era bodies and sweet faces.  Some kids can act.  So many can’t.  Some things don’t work, like Ben Wishaw, (voice of Paddington Bear), the grown up Michael Banks from the first movie.  It’s not a movie about him, it’s about Mary Poppins, and he has way too many scenes, and he’s too sad, and too rumpled looking.  The relationship with his sister Jane is boring, and again, isn’t this a story about Mary Poppins and the new Banks’ children.

I hated yes hated Disney’s recent Winnie the Pooh movie, “Christopher Robin” because the scenes were lit with that grey brown sepia lighting that makes one feel sad.  I know they’re trying to show that things are old, but, this is a kids’ story and it’s supposed to be cheery.  So turn on the lights!  Mary Poppins wasn’t quite as dark, thankfully, but the scenes in the house/attic/streets; 5/6ths of the movie,  was always grey/foggy/dim.  Disney, fire your lighting artist!  The sets in Mary Poppins Returns were charming:  warm and brighten the lighting so the audience can enjoy them.

The story (writing) rambles from retread scenes of the first movie to adult themes that are too serious.  In the first film, the serious theme is that the dad is not paying enough attention to his kids.  Okay, even in a kids’ story needs some conflict.  In Mary Poppins Returns, Mrs. Banks has died.  She’s dead.  She’s not coming back.  How will they resolve that one?  I was wondering if Mr. Banks was going to marry Mary Poppins.  No, that would be kind of creepy because she’s old enough to be his nanny.  At the end, one of Michael Banks kids tells his dad that seeing his wife’s face in his is ‘enough.’  Yikes.  So that doesn’t resolve.  Second story line, the Banks’ family is losing their house.  More resolvable but heavy.  Slow opening scenes of dad Michael and his sister Jane struggling with this drag.  They’re broke and going to be living on the street.

Where’s Mary Poppins!  Where’s the fun?! The animated sequences were fun.  London street scenes were fun.  The music was surprisingly singable and fun.  Lin Manuel Miranda sparkles as ‘Jack,’ Mary Poppin’s lamplighter friend.

Emily Blount’s problem as Mary Poppins is, she has too much screen competition, what with the darling three Banks kids, Lin Manuel, and then Julie Waters as the cook, and Colin Firth, and Meryl Streep as cousin Turvey.  She plays Mary a bit more stern than confident.  I admit I’m comparing her to Julie Andrews who captured Mary perfectly.  But again, Emily wasn’t on the screen enough for me to get to know her portrayal.

Go and take your kids, you’ll probably enjoy it.  The theatre was full of grandparents like me, and many clapped at the end.

 

 

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