|This remarkable novel, by Betty Smith, was published in 1943, smack in the middle of the Second World War. I envision young soldiers flying through the pages in their bunks (or elsewhere) and finding great strength and comfort from the beautiful narrative penned by Betty Smith. Now, as I write this review, our country is in the midst of a very different, unpredictable war…it is April 2020 and many are alone, isolated or at least socially distanced from others. The context of my reading of this book, thus heightened the impact of the powerful story of the coming of age of Francie Nolan. I am comforted and strengthened by Smith’s crafting of this magnificently impacting simple story of tenacious grit and unyielding character.
“There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly . . . survives without sun, water, and seemingly without earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.”
“Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.” Katie Nolan, Francie’s mother states with prophetic wisdom.
Katie’s mother beautifully passes on her understanding, “In teaching your child, do not forget that suffering is good too. It makes a person rich in character.”…much like the tree in Brooklyn.
It seems that Francie is this strong, resiliant tree; a subtle metaphor that creates an arching arbor covering the unfolding storyline. We meet Francie as she is reading a book on the third floor fire escape of the Brooklyn tenement which is her home. Francie has determined to read a book a day, chosen in alphabetical order, until she has read every book in the shabby library where her self-driven education took root, in spite of an uninspired, impersonal librarian.
“Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words.”
We certainly see the unfolding of that magic in Francie as she interprets life as she sees through the lenses of all the books she has read.
“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.”
The author artistically paints her characters using detailed accounts of their thought processing, especially those of Francie Nolan. Through the deep waters of her thoughts, we see a child who has been given a love and appreciation for all of life. Her wise mother teaches her children to value what is written by reading each day from the works of Shakespeare and also from the Bible. She committed to do this everyday for her children because her own wise mother, who could not read, told her it was the most important thing she could do for them.
Mary Rommely, Francie’s grandmother said, ‘That is the book, then, and the book of Shakespeare. And every day you must read a page of each to your child—even though you yourself do not understand what is written down and cannot sound the words properly. You must do this that the child will grow up knowing of what is great—knowing that these tenements of Williamsburg are not the whole world.” “The Protestant Bible and Shakespeare.”
And on developing the imagination of a child, the grandmother explains to her daughter,
Francie’s young, handsome, talented father, Johnny Nolan, loves life with zeal but values drink above virtue. His family suffers immeasurably from his neglect and irresponsibility but they choose to admire what is redemptive in his character and his virtues are passed on to them in spite of his glaring flaws.
“Part of her life was made from the tree growing rankly in the yard. She was the bitter quarrels she had with her brother whom she loved dearly. She was Katie’s secret, despairing weeping. She was the shame of her father staggering home drunk”
What a beautiful book! Yes, this is a must read!
When a mom who has been a resident is prepared and seems adequately equipped to leave the Waco CareNet guest house, she goes through a process of steps, meeting with those who have provided her directional guidance and together they decide on a date for her graduation. This means she will not be living in the safe community of the CareNet guesthouse but she will live independently because she is ready. It is believed that she is prepared to stand on her own feet and no longer needs the intense daily support of the CareNet staff and volunteers. This is a celebrated event, though it is usually faced with both anticipation and trepidation. While she is still free to take advantage of many of the services and resources provided by CareNet, she no longer needs to live in the community of the GuestHouse. Her time there has hopefully been successful in serving to train and equip her. All this has given her the stability and independence she did not have before her move in day.
One of the multitudes of amazing services provided for a mom in crisis is that she is required to save 30% of her working income. The director of the GuestHouse sets up a savings account for her. So, when she graduates, she does so with a nice nest egg allowing her to make deposits and set up her household.
This week, those of us from Redeemer Waco who are partnering with CareNet, were privileged to be part of our first graduation. This was certainly not the first mom to graduate but it was our first in which to participate and it was glorious! We were even given the opportunity to help a bit in her move. We needed strength, so four of our men joined us. The delight on this mom’s face and her words of gratitude are forever etched on our hearts.
We are beyond grateful that the Lord graciously is allowing us these front row seats in His amazing work of providing for those who are selflessly making the choice of life for their unborn!
Birthday parties at the CareNet guesthouse, particularly those of the children living there with their moms experiencing crisis pregnancies, strike me as truly significant! These precious children live and can celebrate because their mothers selflessly chose life. So, the images of that excited ear-to-ear smile, those bursts of laughter and pleasure as candles on the cake are blown out, the ripping open of the birthday gift, the delight in playing with a new toy truck, are surely stamped on all the hearts of those present because they are unique and set apart. These children are gifts received from our Heavenly Father and they are His highly valued image bearers. We gratefully celebrate these birthday gifts!
If you are pregnant and afraid, or if you are suffering from the grief, shame and guilt of an abortion. You are not alone. Check out CareNet In Waco, Texas where people are waiting to help you.
Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Waco partners with CareNet in several capacities. So, you may contact us via this website. We also are ready to come along beside you.
When a life lies in ruin, is there hope for renewal?
Ruin and Renewal
The sun was covered in thick dark clouds. God was frowning on me and I knew that I was deserving of this holy disapproval. All light was eclipsed by grief, there was only ruin. Though I tried to hide the darkness, to feign light, to numb the pain, there was no hope. My sin was unimaginable, unforgivable, unbearable.
I was a 16 years old in 1974, one year after the Supreme Court handed down its Roe vs.Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand. Our nation’s highest court ruled that a state law banning abortion was unconstitutional. The culture of death began its triumphant annihilation against our most vulnerable. Little did I know that I would become a participant in that death march.
As an insecure and unwise little girl, I sought to fill the empty god-shaped void in my life with what I believed was the love of a boy. I became pregnant, and lost for answers…a life in ruin.
My parents took me to a respected Christian counselor who they believed would give us wise biblical answers but he did not. He presented the choice of abortion simply as another one of the bad solutions to this “problem”. All my options, he said, were wrong. I do not remember if I even knew what abortion really was before that day and I certainly had not fully comprehended the reality of what he was suggesting. Like so many people in our current culture, the father of the baby, my parents and I did not allow ourselves to consider the nature or the source of what was growing within my young womb. Life, but not just any life, human life, made in the very image of God was unfolding and all we considered was what we perceived to be best or most comfortable for my proud family and for me. Little did I know, that I would be making the most devastating decision of my life. I took the life of my own child, a person created in the image of God.
The ten years that followed were marked by denial and the numbing of pain. I learned to stuff my sadness, shame and guilt: I thought I could fix it with moral living and a facade of holiness, an appearance of righteousness. Most would say that I wore the mask well.
But by God’s mercy, I undeservedly married a selflessly loving Christian man who helped me realize the effect my abortion was having on my life. When at 26 I was pregnant with our first child, the game was over and the tsunami hit. What is called Post Abortion Trauma, is real. My life felt to be in ruin and I saw only hopelessness. A dark cloud settled in my heart; it veiled all of life for me, it shaped my perception of reality. Nightmares and horrifying images involving children tormented me and spoke to me of my guilt and shame. The enemy snatched the joy that a mother should experience when she is carrying and giving birth to a child. I felt unworthy of the blessings of motherhood. I had knowingly done the most unnatural, heinous harm to my own child, for completely self-centered reasons. I had considered my comfort and reputation as more important than the life of another person, but this other was completely and vulnerably dependent on me and had no choice.
For the next few years, every complication, every illness, every difficulty was my fault. I was coming to grips with the gravity of what I had done to my first child. I was undone. Why would I be any different to other children God would give me? The baby I aborted was a person, the gestational age was irrelevant. He or she was a human being made in God’s image, a reflection of the Creator.
Then, God placed in our lives wise, mature friends who guided us to biblical teaching. My husband, Ray and I began to truly grow in our knowledge of God and of the complete work of Christ on our behalf. We began to learn that being a Christian is not about what we do to earn God’s pleasure it is all about what Christ has done for us in His life, death and resurrection. For the first time we read the Bible as a narrative about a Redeemer, a Rescuer, One who renews and puts together what is broken by sin. We learned that the Bible is not a guidebook for holy living. Passages like Isaiah 53: 4-6 sang to me of the One who took all my sin, He bore it all on the cross.
“4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Coming to believe in the Stricken One who took on all our transgressions and gave us peace, believing in the completed work of Christ meant that I was clean, redeemed and forgiven completely. In place of my ruin He brought renewal.
The healing process was beginning and God used many people and organizations to help me believe in Christ’ work of forgiveness and redemption.
The Waco Crisis Pregnancy Center (now Care Net) provided me with wonderful classes and training. A dear friend told us about the National Memorial for the unborn in Chattanooga, TN. We spent a life-giving afternoon there. We read thousands of names given to the unborn by their parents or by someone else who loved them and placed their plaques on a huge memorial wall in the solitude of the surrounding garden. The reality that many mothers and fathers suffer the loss of their unborn, even if those parents were the human cause of the death of the unborn, was represented before us. These parents nonetheless suffer debilitating grief and sadness: I understood that unending, tormenting pain. This memorial was a beautiful comfort. The trained staff offered healing words that gave peace. There have been countless friends who God has used to guide me, and to preach the truth of the Gospel to me. Some of them still preach to me and I have learned to preach Gospel truth to myself. Our church, Redeemer Presbyterian, and the faithful preaching of the Gospel of Christ has had the most renewing and transformative work in our lives. I have been able to tell this story and I have found comfort in doing so. But there have also, been opportunities to help, assist and counsel other girls and women who are considering abortion or like me, suffer from the deadly choices they have already made.
The image of 2 Corinthians 1:3&4 has a voice, eyes, ears, arms, hands and feet.
“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
This passage of Scripture told me that my story was not mine at all, it was His story and He could use it to bring the Gospel of Christ to others whose lives are in ruin. He might even use it to save others the pain I had experienced.
My unborn child: grief, loss and mourning surround those words. There is a time to mourn. One of those dear friends mentioned previously said that it is important to allow for the emotions resulting from the loss of a child, in spite of the cause of death. So, each expected birthday arrives with the awareness of what should have been. A precious life, snatched away. This does not diminish the work of Christ and His forgiveness: truly these emotions give greater emphasis and serve to remind me of my need for a Savior. My hope for this child is in Heaven, where there will be no more tears, no more grief, only joy, where all things will be made right.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Christ, our Rescuer and Redeemer truly renews what was once in ruin, all for His glory and our good. My story is not my own, it is His to use for His glory!