At the end of Priscilla Shirer’s Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer she states:
And I know without a doubt that God planned the chance for you and me to get together like this too – to unite through our passion for prayer. In fact, He whispered to me about you at that very first Bible study. I didn’t know it then. But I see it clearly now.
You’re the one He had in mind.
Shirer wasn’t wrong; this book is exactly what I needed at this stage in my life. I am so blessed and fortunate to have found this book when I did.
I’ve always been a little self-conscious about my prayer life and always felt like I wasn’t doing this whole prayer thing right. The Bible states in several verses that God hears all prayers – even our silent ones. However, silent prayers or even spoken prayer has always felt a bit awkward to me. I find that it can be hard for me to focus and to get the words out right when it comes to either silent or spoken prayers.
The prayer strategy that works best for me has always been writing down my prayers in a prayer journal and getting as detailed and specific as possible. I spend an average of two hours a day in prayer. My prayer list is ever-growing and I want to make sure I cover everything.
My prayers are powerful and always help me to feel a sense of peace and a closer connection to God. Yet I can help but ask myself the following questions:
- Am I doing this right?
- Do written prayers still count as prayers?
- My prayers are more like letters to God – is this okay?
- How do I know who to prayer for? Should I keep a limit on my prayer list…there’s always so many people that need prayers…
- Am I spending too much time in prayer? Should I feel guilty about not getting my chores or tasks done because I spent so much time in prayer?
- How often should I say the same prayer?
- How specific should I get?
Fortunately, Shirer answered nearly all of my questions in Fervent. Right in the second chapter of the book she states:
So with my grandmother’s keen instructions in tow, and the truth of God’s Word as my anchor on ultimate truth and reality, I’ve started the well-worn, proven discipline of writing down my prayers. I began by considering my most pressing dilemmas – the ones raging in my own heart, my family, my finances, my health, my ministry – and then started writing down my own battle plans for dealing with them, based on the truths of Scripture. I resolved to stop using physical means to fight battles that require spiritual remedies, using instead the power of prayer to do what it’s always been designed to do.
So…I’m guessing there’s nothing wrong with writing down prayers. I *AM* in fact doing it right! And as for my laundry list of people/things to pray for? There is no limit for how many people to pray for, how long to pray, and who to pray for. I am not spending too much time in prayer…if anything I should be spending more! It’s just like Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Prayer is not something that should be taken lightly. Just as all Christians are called to put on the full armor of God, they also need to make sure they have the proper weapons to fight the battles of life against the enemy. After all, as Shirer points out in no uncertain terms, this is war! Prayer is our most powerful weapon to use against the enemy, but we must be strategic in how we use it.
Shirer focuses on 10 strategies in Fervent to help you to improve your prayer life and defeat the enemy. These 10 strategies were meant to fight against the enemy in the 10 areas of life where he is most prone to attack you. They include:
- Strategy 1: Your Passion: Getting It Back When It’s Gone
- Strategy 2: Your Focus: Fighting the Real Enemy
- Strategy 3: Your Identity: Remembering Who You Are
- Strategy 4: Your Family: Fortifying the Lives of Those You Love
- Strategy 5: Your Past: Ending the Reign of Guilt, Shame, and Regret
- Strategy 6: Your Fears: Confronting Your Worries, Claiming Your Calling
- Strategy 7: Your Purity: Staying Strong in Your Most Susceptible Places
- Strategy 8: Your Pressures: Reclaiming Peace, Rest, and Contentment
- Strategy 9: Your Hurts: Turning Bitterness to Forgiveness
- Strategy 10: Your Relationships: Uniting in a Common Cause
Shirer opens her book by stating:
Just so you know what you’re getting into…
By the time you’ve finished reading (and working) through this book, the front cover shouldn’t be able to close neatly back over on itself. It should be noticeably disfigured. Ski-ramping up from the spine at such a scooped angle that even if you laid an old-school telephone book on top, you still couldn’t smooth out what’s become so harshly, permanently misshapen. From heartfelt use. War torn. An impossible option for regifting at Christmastime.
I’m expecting grass stains. Ink smears. Dog-ears. Battle scars. A few of those little wrinkly circles that form on the page when an accidental drop of tea, if not a tear escaping from your eye, spills across two or three lines of text. Unmistakable signs that you’ve been here and been involved here, invested here.
I want pages ripped out and written on. The edges tattered and the corners curled. I want your kids afraid to touch it without using plastic gloves. Perhaps even the salad tongs.
I think Shirer would be pretty proud of me if she saw what my copy looked like. The cover is now refusing to shut and I’ve definitely highlighted and underlined my fair share of passages including the following:
Listen to me. Nothing – nothing! – is too far gone that your God cannot resurrect it. Even your cutting edge. So go to Him to get it back. Don’t try to regain it yourself. Don’t set your hopes on other people or circumstances to fuse it back into the fiber of your being. Trust it into God’s care. Only his miraculous work can make it bubble back up to the surface where it belongs. And he is more than willing to do it.
This quote shows Shirer speaking out about what we ought to do when we lose our passion for prayer. The enemy doesn’t want us to pray and he will try to persuade us to lose our passion so that we don’t feel like praying. But we must not feed in to this temptation, we must pray anyway and pray harder than we ever had before.
I also highlighted this passage:
Here’s why: According to Scripture, the number-one purpose of marriage – more than even the unique, time-honored partnership it creates between a man and a woman, more than even the conceiving and raising of children, more than any Prince charming fairy tale in any little girl’s head – is how it represents the mystery of the gospel in active, living form.
That’s what a beloved professor of mine, Dr. Dwight Pentecost (who’d also been a professor to my father decades earlier) said to Jerry and me in a typewritten letter that I still treasure in a keepsake box of wedding memories. “I scarcely remind you,” he wrote, “that marriage was instituted by God to be an object lesson to the world of the relationship of a believer to Himself. Each of you will play a significant role in living out this lesson.
A man chooses a bride, loves her, makes a covenant with her, and gives himself completely to her. The woman responds by receiving his love, surrendering to him, entering this covenant bond with him, and becoming one flesh with him. It’s not a perfect representation, of course, since the best marriage we can possibly make on earth still involves a pair of fallen, broken people. But in its deepest sense, at its deepest level, this primary human relationship between husband and wife is meant to be a living witness to others of the love of Christ for His church (Eph. 5:22-33).
Marriage stands for the creation of unity among two people who were once separated in every way before love reached out and found the other – the way God reached out and found us, and covenanted with us, and loved us, and despite who we are, despite what we’re like, still loves us. This image, more than almost anything, is exactly what the enemy wants to denigrate.
Wow, powerful stuff. These passages really stood out to me since my boyfriend and I have been dating for going on two years now and talking about getting engaged within the next year or two and then married of course. This really puts into perspective what a Godly marriage is and it’s such a different and better view than what the world tries to define it as. As we break it down we must first remember the roles and orders of the husband and the wife and Christ in the midst of it all. Christ rules all people and his bride is the church. The church submits to God. Since God made man first, he is closer to God than woman. Man must therefore serve as a reflection of Christ. Man marries his bride who must reflect the church and submit to Him. It’s not perfect the way God and his bride are, but we must strive to represent Christ and the church as accurately as we can. Since we must choose to follow God, we are not born saved and knowing God. God finds us. Man is not born knowing his wife, he must find her. They are separated and then joined together as one flesh in marriage. The church was separated from God until God (who is also love itself) finds them and unites with them in their own form of marriage. What a beautiful definition and view of Christ-centered marriage!
There are two more passages I highlighted that further feed into this view of marriage:
The more you pray for your husband, the more the Spirit will shine a spotlight on the places in your own heart and actions that need a bit of work too.
And prayer is also how God gets through to us, even while we’re praying for our husband, convincing us that maybe what our husband needs most right now is for his wife to become a soft, safe place for him to land, rather than a prickly, nagging source of contention that only agitates him and makes things worse.
Even though Evan and I are not yet married, we still pray for each other every day and Shirer is absolutely right in what she says about prayer helping us to see our own flaws and what we need to work on, too. One thing I often pray for Evan, especially before we go out somewhere is that he won’t stress out too much about staying on schedule and doing things at specific times and planning everything so much. The Lord has recently showed me too that I need to work on being more patient and considering others needs and perhaps I should plan more to make sure everyone’s needs are meant and not just my own. The more Evan and I pray the more comfortable we become with our relationship and discussing our needs and also things we need to work on together. This has helped to strengthen our love for each other and our relationship tremendously.
One of the things we talk about a lot and have always been open with is our past mistakes. I have made so many mistakes in the past especially with my past relationships and sometimes I struggle with it quite a bit. I am ashamed of my past and even though I know God has forgiven me I struggle to forgive myself but I need to move on and accept my past. As Shirer states, the enemy wants me to believe I am not worthy of forgiveness. If I don’t forgive myself than the enemy wins. She says:
First, God doesn’t live in the past. Because God – your God – exists outside of time. To him, the past that so haunts and hamstrings you, the past that so ruffles and frustrates you, is not in the past at all. In prayer, you are alone with a God who sees you only as you are and have always been since that beautiful moment when you placed faith in Him – holy, righteous, and blameless; past, present, and future. He forgives your guilt, removes your shame, and declares His work an established, all-the-time fact. Prayer does a complete end run around Satan’s pitiful accusations, ushering us into an eternal realm with God where “the past” doesn’t even compute.
It is such a relief knowing our God exists outside of time! Since he has no record of our past, why should we spend so much time dwelling on it and regretting the bad decisions we’ve made? We can’t change what happened back then, but through prayer we can ask for forgiveness and help with making better decisions in the future.
I could go on and own and on and on about all of the wonderful quotes Shirer drops in Fervent and the amazing life-altering advice she gives, but I’ll spare you from spoiling everything. Trust me though: Priscilla Shirer’s Fervent : A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer is a must-read for any Christian woman looking to transform her prayer life and her entire life in general. A+, 5/5 stars.
Image Credits: UnplannedFilm.com
WARNING – THIS POST CONTAINS MAINLY SPOILERS.
On Friday night the pro-life Christian movie from PureFlix, Unplanned opened up in 1,000 theaters for a limited release. Now, just a few days later it’s taken #5 in the box office, which is pretty impressive considering this is a Christian film (Christian films sadly don’t typically perform well at the box office…) and had such a limited release.
This film is beautiful even in it’s ugliest parts as it unveils the truth about Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. I am impressed about every single aspect of this movie, including how it seemed to have been produced in secret and released at the perfect time – a time where many laws are being passed that make late-term abortions legal. This is a heartbreaking time in our nation. I always held the belief that life begins at conception. With that being said, I always held the view that abortion is murder – especially when the baby is developed enough to survive without the mother’s womb, such as is the case of a late-term abortion.
Going into this movie many people would say my views are biased and this movie served the purpose of confirming what I already believed about abortion – and for the most part people would be right in saying that. However, while I have always been anti-abortion and skeptical of Planned Parenthood I still tried to keep a somewhat open mind about the organization and the other services that they offered. I also never really fully understood what an abortion entailed, other than knowing it would terminate a pregnancy.
Unplanned was POWERFUL. It was extremely raw, honest, uncensored, and open. I can truly say I can’t imagine how someone could see this film and still support abortion and/or Planned Parenthood.
The movie opens with a flashback of Abby Johnson, former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan Texas. In this early scene Johnson helps with an abortion procedure that uses an ultrasound for guidance. Even though Johnson has had two abortions prior to this point in her story (one via a pill and one via an actual procedure) she was never shown her ultrasounds and never fully understood what happened during these abortions. This scene shows the unborn child on the ultrasound fighting for it’s life as chemicals are injected into the woman in order to terminate her pregnancy. It is visibly clear that the baby is alive at this point, but through the procedure the baby is literally sucked out of the mother’s womb, killing the baby in what looks almost like a bloody massacre. The scene ends here, only to return later in the film.
The rest of the movie tells Johnson’s story almost chronologically. Viewers see how Johnson had her first abortion as a teenager, a secret she kept between herself and her boyfriend at the time. Her boyfriend talked her into it as neither of them were prepared to handle a pregnancy. It is assumed that this abortion takes place at a non-Planned Parenthood clinic and may not have been the safest abortion clinic around, but one that she could afford. This is something Johnson seems to have been ashamed of, but at the same time is something she buried in the back of her mind and was able to move past.
Johnson later becomes involved with Planned Parenthood at a college fair where she begins to volunteer for the organization. She brings up her conservative up-bringing and the way her and her family has always been pro-life when questioned by the recruiter. The recruiter promises Johnson that Planned Parenthood works to limit the number of abortions and to provide more resources to women. She hooks Johnson by saying they are pro women’s rights. The next thing she knows, Johnson is working as a volunteer at Planned Parenthood.
Johnson starts off as an escort helping to lead women from their cars to the clinic. This is not an easy task as Planned Parenthood frequently has many Christians on the other side of the fence trying to talk women out of getting abortions. At times, Johnson’s boss, Cheryl, will come out to yell at the protesters to go home. However, she forbids her employees from calling the police saying they don’t want “bad press”.
While working as a volunteer Johnson realizes that she is once again pregnant with her abusive husband, a husband whom she just caught cheating and had planned to leave a day prior. She simply cannot have this baby. Using her new resources, she decides to get an abortion. Since she is only a few weeks pregnant they tell her she is eligible for the abortion pill. They warn her that it will make her bleed but no more than if she had her period.
There was blood every where. Johnson explained that at this moment she felt that this is how she would die, and she hoped her pro-life mother wouldn’t find her like this. The bleeding and blood clots go on for 8 consecutive weeks, far longer than what Johnson was originally told.
It takes her awhile, but once she heals Johnson places all blame and loathing on herself and forgives Planned Parenthood. She returns to the clinic and becomes really good at her job and quickly climbs the ropes at Planned Parenthood. In the beginning her and Cheryl hit it off well and Cheryl asks Abby if she’d like to become a counselor, to which Johnson quickly agrees. As a counselor Johnson finds herself lying to women that their baby won’t feel anything if they get an abortion. She promises them that an abortion will be their best option, especially if they are at a risk of becoming a teen mom. These girls trust in Johnson and her comforting nature, and one girl who doesn’t look a day past 16 even asks Johnson if she will be with her in the operating room, to which Johnson politely declines by explaining she’s only a counselor.
As Johnson begins to advance as a counselor it is revealed that Cheryl is being promoted and moved to the Houston clinic. She has hopes that Johnson will take her place, making her the youngest director in the history of the clinic. But she has one task for her to complete first: she needs to go to the P.O.C. room and not cry.
The technical term for what “P.O.C.” stands for is “Products of Conception”, but one of the workers at Planned Parenthood jokes that it really means “Pieces of Children”. Unfortunately, this is no joking matter – it’s the actual horrifying truth.
A lifeless fetus lays on the table. Johnson is giving a set of tweezers and explained that she must identify all of the child’s parts. Here the fetus is clearly a developed, now deceased, child. Cheryl explains to her employee that she must identify all of the parts to ensure that they “got everything” during the abortion procedure. If anything is missing it means it’s still inside the woman and they need to take her back into the operating room. After Johnson confirms that they have all of the parts Cheryl congratulates her and explains that Johnson is the first one to do this without crying, which is how she knows that she’ll make a great director.
Feeling sick yet? It only gets worst.
In the next scene a worker dressed in blue like a janitor wheels out a full garbage can, ready to dump it into his truck.
“Is that what I think it is?” asks Shawn.
The worker essentially confirms that it very likely is, and he asks to pray over it with his wife. The worker asks if he’d like to wait since a second can is on its way. They agree and then Shawn and his wife and the other 40 Days for Life volunteers all pray over the aborted babies. These are two trashcans full of aborted babies. Murdered babies. Is there anything in the world sadder than this?
This is one of the final scenes before it goes back to the earlier scene where Johnson is called to help assist an ultrasound abortion. She is called in for help because the abortion is going horribly wrong. After having the abortion the young teenage girl begins to bleed uncontrollably. Johnson notices and has her rushed back into the operating room so they can fix her up. This is the first time that ever assists with an ultrasound abortion and she is horrified by the sight of the living fetus fighting for its life. It reminds her of her own two abortions – the two children she had killed. Horrified by what she’s done, Johnson runs out of the operating room and cries in the bathroom before leaving and walking next door to Shawn’s 40 Days for Life organization.
It is at that moment that Johnson decides to resign from her position. The 40 Days to Life Organization helps Johnson to safely resign and look for a new job. They even support her when Cheryl and Planned Parenthood sue her and try to destroy her, a lawsuit in which Johnson is declared innocent.
Don’t let the ‘R’ rating scare you; Unplanned is an excellent and important film that all young adults and even teens should see. If children are old enough to know about and talk about sex, then they are old enough to see this film. It is an important film that will change how you view the abortion industry, and if you’re anything like me it will encourage you to get involved and to fight for the lives and the rights of the unborn.
Last weekend Evan and I had plans to eat dinner at Bennigan’s in Vineland. It was St. Patrick’s Day, after all.
Vineland isn’t the closest town to us. It’s not necessary far, but it is a good 30-45 minutes away depending on traffic, so we don’t get around to the area very much. With the weather being so cold we have been limited in the activities we can participate on our days off. It’s been way too cold to go to the park or do anything outside and we’ve already been to our local mall (Deptford) plenty of times and the only decent movie in theaters (Run the Race – highly recommend!) we’ve already seen. In order to make our trip more worthwhile (not that traveling 30-45 minutes to go to an Irish bar isn’t totally worth it…) we decided to hang out around the Cumberland mall before dinner.
Now I know some people have different opinions about the Cumberland mall. It’s not very big and those who live in the Vineland area don’t tend to like it too much. I suppose if this is your local mall and one of the only things around it can be a bit limiting, but for Evan and I it offers something different and it provides us with a sense of nostalgia since many of the stores are no longer in business around us (such as FYE, one of our all-time favorite stores).
The Cumberland mall also has a book store which sadly our mall hasn’t had in years. This mall has a Books a Million (BAM) and it is fantastic.
If you know me at all you know I lack the ability to simply walk past a book store without stopping in and checking it out. If you REALLY know me you also know I lack self-control and even though I have a million unread books all over my house, I still can’t resist buying a new one every time I’m in proximity of a book store.
This time was no different. When I saw a collection of Emily Dickinson poems published by Arcturus Publishing titled, The Poetry of Emily Dickinson, I just HAD to buy it. For the amazing price of $5.97 how could I possibly pass it up?
The cover was really beautiful, too which further made me want to buy this book. It’s simple with a plain black background and a single daisy on the front, but this is very fitting for Ms. Dickinson. Dickinson was a pretty dark poet. She often wrote about death and came off as being depressed/depressing. However, she also wrote about many beautiful things and as a transcendentalist/Romantic era writer, she embraced nature and frequently wrote about it.
This was surprisingly my first collection of Dickinson poems. However, it’s definitely not my first encounter with the poet. I studied her extensively in college and have always been a huge fan of her work. In fact, it is my dream to visit Amherst, Massachusetts to see her house and to further study her.
One thing I love about reading and re-reading Dickinson’s work is that I always learn something new or see something I didn’t notice before. There’s always something new to consider, analyze, research, and ponder of. This time was no different.
The things that stood out to me the most as I read through this collection were:
- Dickinson’s religion, or lack thereof.
- All of the references to death.
- The countless references to the angel Gabriel.
- Dickinson’s mental health.
- The poem “You cannot put a fire out…” (often referred to as “133”).
Many critics would agree that Emily Dickinson was an atheist or at the very least that she didn’t believe in God. However, I’m not so sure I believe that. In this collection of nearly 315 poems I think she references God more often than not. If someone was so unsure God didn’t exist, why would they spend so much time writing about him? Also, many of the references of God ask questions that allude to Dickinson not understanding why God seemingly wasn’t there for her in tough times or why God doesn’t give her strength she needs to get through her day. In “I took my poem in my hand…” (often referred to as “59”) Dickinson states, “Was it Goliath was too large,/Or I too small?” as she discusses her struggle to maintain power and control and to overcome a challenging time in her life.
Similarly, Dickinson also references death in my poems that not. This could be due to the fact that throughout her childhood many of her friends and family members died tragic deaths from various illnesses, some at young ages. In many of these poems she also touches on the afterlife and appears to question the existence of heaven or her ability to get to heaven. However, I wouldn’t say she feels it doesn’t exist; she merely seems as though she is unsure. She also appears to be struggling with the deaths of her loved ones as she questions mortality and what it means for us to die and what we’ll leave behind.
Dickinson also specifically references the angel Gabriel in multiple poems. Gabriel was viewed as a guardian angel and a saint. He was also the angel who told Mary she’d give birth to baby Jesus. People in the Bible often feared Gabriel. In some of these poems she compares elements of nature, such as the robin in “The robin is a Gabriel…” (often referred to as “4”) to Gabriel. This suggests that nature brings her closer to her God, just as Gabriel warned his people of Jesus’ coming. One may also suggest that perhaps this is Dickinson’s way of expressing her fear of God and uncertainty surrounding his presence just as people were uncertain of what Gabriel was telling them when he said Mary would give birth to Jesus. Gabriel is often associated with heaven as well, so for Dickinson to dismiss Gabriel (as she often does throughout her poems) is perhaps a way for her to dismiss or question the existence of heaven as well.
After reading a majority of these poems I also suspect that Dickinson suffered from many mental illnesses. I see a combination of anxiety (which makes sense given how secluded she chose to be), depression (especially through her frequent writings on death and mortality). Other critics believe she may have suffered from bipolar disorder and I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of her suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well. Dickinson seems to acknowledge that she is not mentally well in many of her poems, too. Poems such as “I felt a cleaving in my mind…” (often referred to as “106”) express the idea that Dickinson feels her mind pulling her in multiple directions. This poem states, “I felt a Cleaving in my Mind – / As if my Brain had split – ” which may loosely be a reference to the possibility of Dickinson suffering from bipolar disorder.
There were many poems in this collection I was less familiar with that really stood out to my favorite poem was probably “You cannot put a fire out…” (often referred to as “133”). I felt that this was one of Dickinson’s most passionate poems where she expressed the idea of being inextinguishable. After focusing so much on death, depression, doom and gloom, this poem seemed much more uplifting and optimistic. I felt that Dickinson was saying that no matter what life threw at her, she would rise above it and overcome it. She was a burning fire that could never be put out. I thought this poem had such a strong and powerful message and I was surprised it wasn’t taught in schools more often.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this collection of Emily Dickinson poems. There was only two things that annoyed me with this edition of Dickinson’s poems:
- I hated the formatting. The poems were separated by little squiggly line breaks but some poems carried on to another page and sometimes it was confusing to know whether or not a poem was continuing over or if it was an entirely new poem altogether.
- They didn’t use page numbers for the titles. Dickinson’s work is typically referred to by number since she didn’t give titles to her work. Not having these numbers on hands makes it difficult to reference.
Looking past these style decisions, this is still a solid collection of Dickinson’s finest poems that contain much beauty, thought, and expression. These poems are wonderfully crafted and thought-provoking and highly enjoyable to read. 4 out of 5 stars.
Confession: when a friend of mine recommended I read books and commentary by and listen to sermons from John Piper, I initially wasn’t a fan.
I was in my early-mid 20’s and made a lot of recent mistakes with sin. I knew I needed to transform my life and to re-evaluate my relationship with God and change my ways, but I wasn’t quite ready yet. Piper seemed to me like a harsh, bitter, old man who was always yelling at me not to do things.
Fast forward now to my life as a 28 (almost 29 year old) and I can’t get enough of Piper!
Piper hasn’t changed at all, but I have and for the better. I have grown in my walk with God and discovered just how much I need him in every aspect of my life. I didn’t want to listen to Piper and how he was always telling me what not to watch or read or think or do, but I’m ready to hear it now. Now I understand that Piper isn’t trying to yell at me at all; he’s simply trying to get me to correct my behavior and turn away from sin and deny myself so that there will be less of me and more of Him.
Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life really narrows in on this idea. I was initially drawn to this book due to the title. I, like many other 20-30 year olds who pick up this book for the first time, was looking for answers. I feel as though I am never completely satisfied with my life. I always feel like I’m missing out on the next big opportunity or falling behind in different aspects of life. I always question what God’s will is for me and how I can fulfill it. As a little girl I thought that I’d get married by 18, have two kids (hopefully twins) by 21, and be living in New York City, well on my way to becoming the CEO of Rolling Stone Magazine. Laugh with me now.
The second thing that drew me in to Don’t Waste Your Life was it’s simple brown no-frills cover. It reminded me of the brown bags I’d use as book covers for my school textbooks back in the day before Book Sox were a thing. Piper didn’t need to impress me with a fancy cover or marketing. He came to deliver a message and he wanted to get me by reading the book. The simple cover also reminded me a lot of the plain red (or white, depending on your version) covers that J.D. Salinger used for my all-time favorite novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger taught me that some of the best books are the ones that don’t need a fancy cover. This philosophy held true for Piper as well.
I didn’t find the answer I was looking for regarding where I should work or when I should get married and have kids or what I should do with my life or how I could know what God’s will for me was.
But at the same time – I did learn all of those things and so much more – just not quite in the way I was expecting.
I have been wasting my life, and I need to stop that immediately.
According to Piper, the number one way a person can waste their life is by living in a way that does not make God a priority. By priority Piper means that everything we do in life should reflect back to and glorify Him. Our lives are not for us, they are for Him and living in a way that is pleasing to us but does not reflect Him and his glory is sin and the very foundation of a wasted life.
One of the earliest points that Piper makes is how we should avoid boasting and basking in our accomplishments. Now this doesn’t mean we can’t be proud of our work and things that we have achieved; we should be proud of these things because we should be doing them to bring honor, praise, and glory to God. However, we don’t want to live off of our accomplishments and to lose focus on what or who we’re working for – our heavenly father. We want to be humble and to avoid being prideful or selfish.
Piper also stresses the importance of magnifying Christ through both pain and death. This reminds me so much of the Biblical story of Job which I have recently been reading through. Job went through many hardships, but he still held on to his faith and refused to curse God during these difficult times. We need to be more like Job and to learn to thank God not only for the good times, but the trials and hardships in life as well because they remind us who is in control and they make us stronger in our faith.
Furthermore, Piper reminds us that our main goal in life should be to make others glad in God and that this may involve taking some difficult risks in life for the reward of God’s glory. We need to constantly reflect Christ and to live our lives in a way that helps others to see Christ in us. If we are constantly miserable or questioning God and failing to praise him during hard times, others will see that and may be turned away from following God. However, if we are able to maintain our faith and to thank Him even during these times of trial others will see that and see that we are set apart from the rest of the world and they will want to know why and they will want to learn more about Christ and how they too, can be followers.
As for risks? It is our job as Christians to bring others to Christ and this may not always be a fun or easy or even safe task. Piper reminds us of Philippians 1:21 which states, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” We must live our lives for Christ, even if doing so results in our death. Piper further reminds us of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 10:22, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” We may die in our faith in Christ as we work to share the good news with others who are not yet saved. We will be persecuted and many have been already. But dying in the name of Christ is not a wasted life, it is a noble, honorable life that God will reward.
However, Piper is quick to point out that this does not mean that everyone is destined to devote their lives to becoming a missionary. While missionaries live noble, God-serving lives and it’s one of the most honorable professions a person can have, God has other plans for some of us. That doesn’t mean that we can’t serve, honor, glorify, and worship God in our secular lives. Not only can we do those things, but we should. Some ways in which we can honor God is by performing our jobs to the best of our ability, thanking Him for providing us with the job, and searching for opportunities to witness onto others in the workplace and to also allow others to see Christ in us through our work ethnic, positive attitude, and the way we choose to live our lives both inside and outside of work. Additionally, we can honor him with the income we receive from our jobs by choosing to spend our money wisely and to always be giving and generous with our money. Before we buy more materialistic things that we don’t need, we should use our money to help those who are poor or are in a greater need than us.
I don’t know about you, but I know I have some major life changes to make. I need less of me and more of Him. I need to make changes to make sure I am constantly living my life for God, because otherwise my entire existence will have been nothing but a waste. Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life stirred up something deep within me and encouraged me to get up and make a change in my life. That to me is a sign of not only a good book or author, but a good pastor and an even better follower of Christ.
DISCLAIMER: I am a MA in Writing Student at Rowan University who has recently had the opportunity to study under Professor Atwood. The following review may be biased.
When I saw that I would be required to read MC Atwood’s debut young adult novel, The Devils You Know for my Seminar II class this semester as part of my MA in Writing program at Rowan University, I was very excited. Last fall I had a wonderful experience studying under Professor Atwood by taking her Writing Genre Fiction course. Atwood is hilarious and one of the kindest individuals I’ve ever met. She is also seriously talented as both a writer and an editor.
The Devils You Know was a real pleasure to read. I love that while the book is Atwood’s favorite genre – horror – it is also still young adult. While terrifying, it was also extremely relatable. This novel is about more than a creepy haunted house with scary clowns and dolls (seriously…so many dolls…). It’s a story about friendship and finding yourself in the midst of the terror known as high school.
In the beginning of the novel, Paul, Violet, Dylan, Ashley, and Gretchen don’t know each other very well for the most part. Paul is seen as being the cool black guy that everyone loves. Violet is the quiet “nice” girl that no one knows very well, but Paul has a crush on, and she is beginning to develop feelings for as well. Dylan tries a little too hard to be a bad ass and I can really see him as being a bit of a punk rocker/skater kid. Ashley is the stuck up, rich, right-winged Republican princess that owns the school and absolutely HATES Gretchen (the feeling appears to be mutual), and Gretchen is Dylan’s partner whom is every bit as weird and tough as he is.
The quintent rarely ever crosses paths and most certainly wouldn’t call each other friends. However, when the opportunity to visit the legendary Boulder House on a class field trip presents itself, all five members of the group sign up and find themselves forced to not only share in the same space and experiences, but to also work together as a team and get to REALLY know the truth about each other. Sometimes the truth can be completely alarming and sometimes you think you know someone (as is the case of Dylan and Gretchen), but later realize you don’t know that person at all.
For instance – who would’ve guessed that Paul likes to wear tights and role play during medieval events? Nice girls finish last…and get taken advantage of as seen by the way Mr. Rhinehart takes advantage of Violet by having an affair with her the day she turns 18. Dylan is not actually Dylan at all…he’s John Michael…and despite his foul mouth and constant use of the word “yo”, he’s not as tough as he wants people to think he is. He’s actually a very conservative Christian who attends church every week with his rich parents. On the other end of the spectrum, Ashley isn’t the conservative Christian she wants everyone to believe she is. In fact, she’s gay and she’s trying everything to hide her true identity from everyone, especially her Republican parents. After all, her father IS a well-known senator who HATES anyone that’s not straight. If he knew the truth about her it would destroy him and the rest of her family. What’s worst – she doesn’t hate Gretchen at all. In fact, she’s in love with her. As for Gretchen? She’s tough because she has to be, not because she wants to be. Her family is on food stamps and she makes her own clothes because she has no choice. Her mother is ill and the family constantly struggles with money.
In order to survive the house and everything in it – from demonic angels to creepy evil dolls to scary clowns to even whales and everything in between, the quintent must work together. However, when the quintent’s secrets are revealed to one another, they all feel such a strong sense of shame that they want to go through the house alone. However, they later learn that while they each have their own secrets, it doesn’t make them less and if anything, knowing the truth about who they are is what will not only bring them closer together, but also force them to want to stick together to support each other and to make it out of the house alive and beyond the house, to make it through high school alive, too.
Some of the novel’s strengths lie in the extreme attention to details, particularly with the imagery and descriptions of the house. It’s a very unique and clever book that while sticking to the main conventions of the horror genre, doesn’t fall into the trap of cliches. For example: there’s an entire room dedicated to whales and aquatic lives. I’ve never been afraid of whales and squids/octapuses, but I am now! I also really appreciated the way the novel took the very successful risk of having multiple narrators/points of views. Each chapter was told by a different character – Ashley, Gretchen, Dylan, Violet, and/or Paul. This allowed the reader to get up close and personal with all of the characters. Atwood did a great job of breaking them all down and creating an equal balance between each character’s voice so it never felt like you had too much of one character and not enough of another character. It also never got too confusing or overwhelming; five seemed like the perfect number.
So why four stars and not five? While I really enjoyed this book and struggled to put it down, it wasn’t perfect. There were still some things that bothered me with this book. One of the main things I didn’t like was Dylan’s character. He really annoyed me. I didn’t like his dialogue and I had trouble believing that’s how he would actually talk. I think there was an instance in the beginning where he said something along the lines of “I remembered to turn my swag on” which made me cringe. Do people even use the term “swag” anymore? I thought that died around 2008. “Fuck-a-doodle-doo” also sounded really awkward to me. I could believe him saying it once or twice, but constantly throughout the book? And no one ever comments on how weird it sounds? I had trouble buying it. Lastly, by the end of the book I was really annoyed by his constant use of the word “yo”. I think he said it but I feel like that would be something he’d say in the beginning of a sentence, not the end and reading it vs. hearing it – it reads kind of awkwardly and annoyed me as a reader. Lastly – his name is something completely different than what everyone calls him and no one knew this? I feel like the school would at least have his legal name down and probably call him by it on the first day of class. I just didn’t buy that as being his secret.
Also, reading this as a conservative Christian, I realize I’m a little biased but I did take some issues with the content of the novel. At times I felt like I was being attacked based on my views and like I was supposed to apologize or feel bad about being a conservative, Republican, Christian. I go to church every week the way Dylan/John Michael did – I don’t think that’s a “bad” thing in itself.
Lastly, demonic/fallen angels? The angels which are typically symbols for good, were made into symbols for evil. I wasn’t really okay with that imagery. I felt like the idea of Christianity throughout the novel was being shown in a negative light. Some of the jabs against Christianity/Republicans (such as the subtle George Bush reference…) felt a little over-done/cheap. I also thought of the impact/influence they may have on the novel’s target teenage audience which made me a little uncomfortable.
But overall I did really like this novel. It was very well researched, well written, and engaging. 4 out of 5 stars.
Hey guys! For those of you who don’t already know I am currently enrolled in a Writing Genre Fiction course at Rowan University as I work towards completing my MA in Writing. I took this class because I had to take something. I’ve never really been into genre fiction (although I do like horror) and I am actually more of a non-fiction writer which is completely different from genre fiction. This class has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone as a writer on more than one occasion.
I actually really enjoyed writing my horror story though. Initially I had planned to write about something related to trypophobia, the fear of holes, because I think the whole concept is so strange but fascinating. However, I quickly changed my idea once I read about one of my Facebook friend’s nightmares. Here’s how they described it in their Facebook post:
And with that, the beginning of my story was born. I was going to write a story about a creepy doll that wanted to suck the breath out of people. But first I had to answer, why would she do that?
I pulled a lot from my Christian beliefs about life and death and good and evil and somehow came up with a story in which everything starts off dark, gloomy, and depressing. The horror is portrayed as being normal or even good, whereas normalcy and goodness is portrayed as being evil. I will allow you as a reader to draw your own conclusions about why I took this path.
The story is below. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 🙂
A Breath Of Life
When Lillian was born, her parents had every intention to call her Lily.
“She’s beautiful, just like a field of fresh lilies,” her father said.
However, Lillian wanted no parts in lilies, or any flowers for that matter. From the time Lillian was three, she demanded to be called “Lilith”.
Lillian, or shall we say “Lilith’s stubborn, eccentric side showed in ways far beyond her name. When her mother, Rose, wanted to dress her up in frilly dresses with bows in her hair, Lilith refused.
“But you’ll look so pretty!” Rose said.
“I don’t want to look pretty!” Lilith said. “Black. I want to wear black,” she said as she pointed to her beloved black sweater with her black pants and black shoes. Rose never knew of another five year with half as many black clothes as Lilith had, but she also knew it wasn’t worth arguing with Lilith; Lilith never lost an argument.
Lilith’s dark side took some getting used to. Sure, adults expected some edginess and darkness from a moody teenager, but no one ever expected it from a “sweet” seven-year-old girl. Still, as everyone got to know Lilith, they became more and more familiar with her unusual sense of style and life perspective.
When Lilith requested to have her eighth birthday part on Friday, October 13th, no one was surprised, even if it was three weeks before her actual birthday.
Lilith’s birthday party was different from those of most eight year olds (or seven year olds, if you want to be technical). All of the balloons were black. There were no pony rides or petting zoos or even a walk around character. Instead, Lilith surrounded herself with her beloved black cat, Bones. She replaced the cliched piñata with a series of sugar skulls and for entertainment she played the saddest songs she could find while guests had the opportunity to build their own personal graveyards.
Lilith didn’t have any friends. Her parents enrolled her in a local public school, but all of the other kids thought she was weird. The parents didn’t help; they couldn’t understand why a child of Lilith’s age would choose to be so dark. They most certainly didn’t want their normal children hanging around someone of Lilith’s kind.
Still, Lilith’s party wasn’t a total bust. She had her parents, her brother, Ryan, and several aunts, uncles, and cousins in attendance, mainly because they all either felt obligated to come or they were sorry for her. Her parents guessed it was a combination of the two emotions.
Other than her parents, Lilith’s family never quite got her. Her parents tried endlessly to tell her other relatives that Lilith liked dark things. Still, year after year after year Lilith would end up with frilly pink and purple dresses, my little pony figures, and cute “girly” things that she’d promptly throw in the trash immediately after all of her guests have left. When Lilith’s Aunt Violet gifted her with a new, custom-made American Girl doll, she realized that this year was no different. However, her mother was determined to put a stop to it.
“Look Lilith! She looks just like you!” Rose exclaimed.
“I DO NOT LOOK LIKE THIS!” Lilith corrected her mother.
“Sure you do. See, she had beautiful black hair just like you. And isn’t her dress gorgeous?”
“My hair covers my face and I don’t wear dresses,” Lilith corrected.
“I tried to get one that looked like you…this is the closest they could do…I even brought your picture in with me to the American Girl store…” Aunt Violet said, apologetically.
“It’s fine. Lilith loves it. It will do her good to have a new friend.” Rose said, you can even give her a nice new name. How about Eve? She suggested.
“Sure, whatever,” Lilith said.
The guests were invited to stay until dinner to enjoy Lilith’s favorite meal, spaghetti tacos. Many of the guests asked why they couldn’t have tacos OR spaghetti. Apparently, Lilith’s family didn’t understand the art of combining the two favorites into one, but Lilith didn’t mind.
When the last guest left shortly after 8, Lilith’s mother had a firm discussion with her daughter.
“I don’t understand why you found it necessary to be so rude to your guests today,” she said.
“I wasn’t rude!” Lilith said.
“Yes you were! You didn’t thank anyone for coming or for bringing your gifts. Your dear Aunt Violet went out of her way to visit NYC to get a custom American Girl doll made to look like you and your way of thanking her is by complaining!” Rose said.
“IT. DOES. NOT. LOOK. LIKE. ME,” Lilith argued.
“Whatever. Here’s what you’re going to do. You are going to learn to appreciate when people give you a gift. Remember, there are plenty of people on this planet that don’t even know what it is to be given a gift. Now I want you to take your doll up to bed with you to sleep with tonight. When you wake up in the morning I’ll help you to write a thank you letter to Aunt Violet explaining how much you love your new doll.”
“Yes, mama,” Lilith said. She knew it was no use arguing anymore, she had been clearly defeated this time around.
Lilith had no trouble falling asleep that night. A terrible thunderstorm has come in off the coast and threatened the area. Lilith was able to fall asleep to the sounds of heavy rain, and thunder with what she thought sounded like the occasional pang of hail. The surges of lightening gave way to just the right amount of light in her otherwise pitch-dark room to allow her to sleep comfortably and dream of all of her favorite monsters.
Shortly after Lilith entered a deep stage of REM sleep, the dreaming began. She saw the image of her favorite monster and only friend, Mr. Olga. Mr. Olga was tall, fat, and full of hair. He had a snaggle tooth, big mean claws, horns, and often wore a spike collar. In her art class at school, Lilith often drew pictures of Mr. Olga. Her classmates and her teacher, Miss Lana often said that Mr. Olga looked like a darker version of Sully from the Monsters, Inc. films, but Lilith knew he was far more unique than that.
Lilith’s dreams were always the same. She’d enter in to Mr. Olga’s home in the world of Sorrowville, a town of only two: her and Mr. Olga. This was the only place where they could truly be themselves and live freely among each other. They would plant cemeteries together (even though they never had any people to bury) and play with Mr. Olga’s black cats, Mischief and Despair. When they grew tired of that they’d put the radio on and play all of their favorite songs from My Chemical Romance, Black Veil Brides, and the occasional piece from Sleeping With Sirens. Then they would depart and count down the hours until the next day when they could do it all over again.
But tonight was different. Lilith knew that from the minute she stepped foot in Mr. Olga’s small cave in Sorrowville. The temperature wasn’t its breezy temperature of 66.6 degrees Fahrenheit the way her and Mr. Olga always set it. It was 34.14 degrees and set on Celsius. She felt warm and clammy and was even beginning to sweat a little, something she never thought was even possible in Sorrowville. What’s more, the town wasn’t its usual shades of black and grey with clouds and thunderstorms. The sky was bright blue without a single cloud in the atmosphere. The sun was bright and blazing hot, which explained why she was so warm. Her family would say it looked nice and she worried that if they ever seen this version of Sorrowville, they’d even want to join her and Mr. Olga. The very idea of that happening horrified Lilith.
Lilith and Mr. Olga weren’t the only ones in Sorrowville tonight. Instead, they were surrounded by the presence of a doll who looked like a prettier version of Lilith; it was her brand new custom-made American Girl doll from her Aunt Violet, Eve.
“What on earth do you think you’re doing?!?” Lilith said.
“I came here to play, Lillian. Don’t you want to be friends?” Eve said.
“My name is LILITH, NOT LILLIAN. AND NO! NO ONE IS ALLOWED HERE BUT ME AND MR. OLGA!” she screamed.
“Silly Lillian. Don’t you know that I am you?” she said.
Mr. Olga glanced at Lilith. “She does have your hair,” he admitted.
“YOU ARE NOTHING LIKE ME!” Lilith screamed, “I NEVER WEAR MY HAIR LIKE THAT AND I HATE DRESSES!”
“We can fix that, Lillian,” she said.
“I am perfectly fine the way I am. I don’t need to be fixed.”
“That’s too bad. You see, your Aunt Violet sent me here to fix you. She said it’s not normal for a girl your age to be so… dark. And depressing.
“Psh. What does she know. She can’t change me,” Lilith said.
“No she can’t. That’s what I’m here for,” Eve said. I came to suck the breath right from you.”
Mr. Olga started to laugh.
“Stop it!” Lilith said. “Why would you laugh at that?”
“Because she thinks she can suck the breath out of you. Did she forget that I’m a monster?” he said.
“Good point,” Lilith said.
Mr. Olga inched closer to the Eve’s face and placed his hands up high above his head to show off his freshly sharpened claws. He then let out a huge growl. “RAWRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!” he said.
Eve flew over top of Mr. Olga and made her way through to Lilith.
“Just one little bite. A little something soft, trying to be polite. Nothing too hard, it wouldn’t be nice,” the doll chanted as it took a bite out of Lilith’s neck.
“WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU? ARE YOU A FRIGGEN VAMPIRE?!? Lilith screamed as Mr. Olga rushed over to her pry the doll off of her neck.
Mr. Olga clenched the doll tightly in his claws. He walked outside of his cave, towards the lake of misery and cast the doll threw the doll deep into the lake.
“Well done!” Lilith exclaimed, “Thank you for always taking such good care of me.” She gave Mr. Olga a big hug.
“You’re welcome,” he grunted.
Mr. Olga and Lilith began their walk back to Mr. Olga’s cave to resume their daily adventures. When Mr. Olga went to turn the knob on the cave door, the entire door knob fell off and the door flung open on its own.
Eve was standing there, glaring at both Lilith and Mr. Olga.
“You can’t get rid of me that easily, but it was cute for you to try,” she said.
“Not again! What do you want?” Lilith said.
“I already told you, Lillian. I want to suck the breath right out of you.”
“Okay, but why?”
“You need to change Lillian. It is not good to be so dark. Dark is a form of evil, and there is no place for evil in our world.
“Which is why Lilith comes with me to Sorrowville,” Mr. Olga explained.
“Yeah…about that. Sorrowville’s got to go, too.” Eve said.
“Go? Where?” Lilith asked.
“Bye bye. Sorrowville go bye bye,” the doll said as she struck a match and tossed it towards Mr. Olga. “Lilith, run! REMEMBER: 1 Peter 3:11!”
Lilith woke up covered in sweat and out of breath. Nightmares usually excited Lilith. She found them to be fascinating and entertaining, never scary the way her family and classmates described them. But even Lilith had to admit that the nightmare she just had was absolutely horrifying.
Lilith climbed out of bed and walked towards her window, hoping to find solace. She didn’t think it was still raining, but she always felt at peace with the passing of a storm. She pushed back her black curtains and opened the window by an inch and looked outside.
The sun was beginning to rise. The sky was bright and by society’s definition (though never Lilith’s), it was a beautiful shade of pinks, purples, and a hint of blue. There was no sign of the storm.
Lilith looked down towards the ground and then she saw it. Eve. Her custom-made American Girl Doll. It was holding a sign that read:
“Hi Lillian. I didn’t forget last night. Don’t forget 1 Peter 3:11. Also, remember Proverbs 16:17. Allow me to suck the breath right out of you. Or else. Love, your favorite doll.”
Lilith shut the window and pulled the curtains tight again. She ran into her bed and pulled the covers overhead, hoping to fall back asleep again. Her dreams were bad but reality was somehow even worse. She needed to get back to Sorrowville, back to Mr. Olga. She hoped he had survived the fire, that this dream would bring forth a new adventure, one without that stupid evil doll.
- 2. 1. And she was back into her deep REM Sleep, back in the darkness of Sorrowville.
Only there was no Mr. Olga this time. There was no darkness. The cave was even gone. She was greeted by the doll and a beautiful mansion on a bright and sunny day.
“Are you ready to follow Proverbs 16:17 yet?” she asked. “Will you allow me to suck the breath right out of you? Do you want to live?” she asked.
Lilith could not speak, she had no answers.
Wow, long time, no post. Am I right? I apologize for being so quiet on here lately. My initial plan was to dedicate much of my summer to get back into blogging and updating my marketing and deaf awareness social accounts, but then I ended up going all over Pennsylvania and spending a lot of time in Chicago and investing more time into studying and before I knew it summer was over and none of those goals got accomplished. But hey, I’m here now and that’s something, right?
Anyways, guys – we need to talk about Coraline.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Coraline it is a really creepy and really really really freaking weird children’s novel written by Neil Gaiman. This book was published in 2002 and became a movie a few years later (I’m not sure when exactly but I want to say the movie came out around 2007…does that sound about right?)
I was assigned to read this book for my Seminar I course this semester. When I found out it was going to be my required reading I went and watched the movie on Netflix right away. I have heard a lot about the movie and have been meaning to watch it for some time. On the surface, Coraline reminded me a lot of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride, two movies I always really loved. Now that I know that Coraline had many of the same producers and masterminds that those other movies had, it makes a lot of sense.
I thought the movie was interested. I liked it and couldn’t stop watching it, but I also thought it was one of the weirdest, creepiest movies I’ve ever seen in my life. I love horror movies but the only ones that ever really did a good job of scaring me are the Saw movies. I found most other horror movies to be completely comical.
Coraline was scarier to me than any of the Saw movies were.
…And the book was better than the movie but still somehow even more horrifying to me. I don’t know if I loved it or hated it. I thought it was super freaking weird, but at the same time I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t have to have the book read for class until September 20th. Last night was probably the worst time I could’ve read it since I was running on about 3 or 4 hours of sleep total (isn’t grad school fun?) but I started reading it during my commute to work earlier in the day and I couldn’t put it down. Despite how tired I was, I couldn’t sleep not knowing what was going to happen to Coraline next. It’s been awhile since a book captivated me as much as this one did, so there’s no denying that despite my concerns about the book’s weirdness, it was extremely well written.
But, Mr. Gaiman, I have a few questions for you now, none of which were included in your little Q&A session for the book’s 10 year anniversary edition. Here are my questions:
1. Why in the world is this book considered a children’s book?
I have friends that have young kids who have seen the movie version of Coraline and love it. If you’re three or even five years old and can handle Coraline, more power to you because despite your young age, you are stronger than I am apparently. I would never tell my friends or anyone not to let their kids read or watch this movie. It’s so well crafted that I don’t think you should deny a child the right to watch the movie or read the book if they want to.
But, at the same time when I have kids of my own I don’t think this is ever going to exactly be one of my reading recommendations for them. I might even be the kind of mom who keeps her copy of it under lock and key and tries to shelter their kids from discovering it.
My reasoning has nothing at all to do with the book’s craft, but everything to do with the creepiness of this book. I was afraid this book would give me nightmares last night and I’m 27 years old. The book literally talks about an “other mother” and an “other father” and the mother is really evil and literally plucks kids’ eyeballs out and replaces them with buttons. Is it me or is this not horrifying? How many kids saw this movie or read the book and were suddenly petrified of their dolls afterwards? I mean I’m always kind of petrified of dolls – they are creepy to begin with, but after seeing Coraline I think I’d kill anyone who handed me a doll…
2. What kind of a relationship does Neil Gaiman have with his own parents?
I’m not trying to sound like Sigmund Freud or anything, but Neil Gaiman must have some serious mommy issues to write a book that is this messed up.
But while I think the other mother is much more evil and disturbing, I wouldn’t say the father is off the hook exactly.
What was Gaiman’s inspiration for making his characters like this and is it a positive or a negative portrayal? In the book’s reading guide it seems as though Gaiman wants his readers to connect with the idea of their parents not having time to play with them as kids. I think that is a common theme in children’s books, but Gaiman is going much deeper than that with his portrayal of Coraline’s parents here.
The other mother is completely evil and creepy. Did Gaiman have a rough childhood with his mother? Would his mother or has his mother ever caused harm to him perhaps in a way that she believed would be to his benefit (like how the other mother wants to love Coraline and give her a happy life, but at the expense of her eyeballs?).
Were Gaiman’s parents divorced? Did his mother steal him away from his father as a child (kind of like the idea of kidnapping presented throughout the text?) Did it break his spirit (kind of like the idea of how the other mother stole the children’s souls)? Was Gaiman’s mother evil and manipulative and abusive not only towards Gaiman, but towards his father as well? Was his father simply “whipped” and living in a “whatever your mother says goes” kind of world when Gaiman was a child? Coraline’s other father just seems way too absent and nonchalant and a stark contrast of the other mother in this novel. Even Coraline’s real parents seem to have some issues and tension between them where the mother seems to play a dominating role and her real father is just kind of there.
Or – did Gaiman have a great family life with very loving, perfect parents and perhaps he used that as the inspiration to show children that even though their parents might be busy they still love them and their real parents are better than any kind of substitute they could ever dream of, no matter how mice or similar other people may seem?
Either way, it definitely seems as though Gaiman’s own experiences with his parents could have influenced this book.
3. What is with all of the mice?
Just when you think Coraline couldn’t get any weirder – there is a freaking mouse circus. You can’t make this kind of stuff up. What kind of drugs was Gaiman on when he wrote this book? No, seriously.
It’s really weird, but at the same time this could potentially be brilliant.
Circuses have been in the news a lot over the past decade or so – the time of Coraline’s peak. One of the main reasons why people are so angry about circuses is due to the treatment of animals used. We all care about animals like elephants and tigers and seals and horses and lions which are often used in these circus shows – but what about mice and rats? Do they even count as being animals?
We slaughter these animals in mass quantities because we don’t think they matter. We seem them as being dirty, disgusting, diseased, evil, and not worthy of life. We perform clinical trials on them. We do all kinds of tests on them. If the rat or mouse dies in the process we don’t even grieve for them, we just simply take out the trash and go on with our lives.
This is where Gaiman is doing something really unique. Gaiman does what he does best and brings in the really freaking weird character of Mr. Bobo – most frequently referred to as “the man upstairs”. The man upstairs is training his mice and he seems them as being talented and kind of brilliant for their ability to perform music and hundreds or thousands of tricks. I don’t think anyone would argue that Mr. Bobo takes great care of his mice; he even talks about buying them new cheese to help them out a bit. How many other people would do this for mice or rats? I don’t know of anyone who would go through all of that for a rat. I know me personally if I see a mouse or a rat first off I’m grabbing my cat, Picasso, and making him kill the little menace, and that’s only if I feel like being nice that day.
I’m wondering if Gaiman chose to perhaps include the mice/rats in his book in this way to make a political statement on how we view animals and animals rights.
Or – is this something larger. Is it a political statement on how prejudice we are? How we view good and evil?
The latter statement seems like it may be a bit more accurate.
Because think of this. Most of us will look at a rat or a mouse as being evil, whether it does or does not actually bother us. Sure, a rat in the subway is probably filled with disease and if it bites us we’re probably going to get infected and die and that’s evil. But then there are still domesticated rats and mice that people actually keep as nice little house pets. Are those still evil?
And why is our first human instinct always to kill the rats and mice we found walking the streets? Why don’t we ever think to stop and pick up the animal or call animal control and to get them help and see if we can cure them of their diseases? We would do that for a dog or a chicken or any other animal. Why are rats and mice different?
And to further drag this point along. Let’s compare the mice to the other parents.
The mice – whom on normal non-Gaiman terms would be considered evil, filthy things, seem to represent something good, perhaps one of the only things that are good in this novel.
The other parents start off in the book as being good. We normally think of our mother and father as being loving, kind, and supportive of us. They are meant to protect us from all harm. Originally the other parents were supposed to be better versions of Coraline’s own real parents, but we soon found out that they actually weren’t as kind and loving and supportive as they seemed to be. They wouldn’t have protected Coraline or kept her safe. In fact, these two individuals we automatically assume are going to be a positive force in Coraline’s life are actually EVIL and a source of harm to Coraline and all whom they come into contact with.
That’s kind of an interesting little juxtaposition there, isn’t it?
4. Is Neil Gaiman wiccan or a witch or something?
Of all of the parts of the book, these were the elements that bothered me the most as a Christian. Gaiman seems to want to chalk it up as being just magic based on the reading guide and his answers to the questions in the Q&A for the 10th anniversary edition of Coraline but this is more than just Hansel and Gretel era-magic. I mean – tea leaves? Really? Miss Spink and Miss Forcible seem like true witches.
But are they evil? I think it’s debatable honestly. I don’t usually see them as being evil or bad the way you’d normally view a witch. This kind of goes back to the idea with the mice – something often seen as being evil is actually good.
But what is going on with those dogs? The images didn’t seem as strong in the book as they were in the movie, but they were equally as disturbing. They literally have a collection of dead dogs in their home. When their dogs get sick they don’t seem to really jump on helping them. I mean I know they take the dog to the vet and everything but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that they kind of WANTED the dogs to die so they could stuff them and grow their collection.
And doesn’t this kind of fit in with the theme of the dolls? Stuffed animals are like dolls right? It’s better to kill real, living things, to substitute them for stuffed items that can be whatever you want them to be or something along those lines? Creeeeeeeeeeeeepy, but it is what it is, right?
Also, who can forget that weird little song Coraline sings about be a “twitchy, witchy girl?”
Is Coraline the witch? Hmm…it’s possible.
5. Does Gaiman believe in God? How does Gaiman view God?
The whole magic and witchcraft stuff is only a small part of a larger whole in Coraline. He seems to be really commenting on bigger issues connecting back to religion and his views on God. I don’t think it’s any wonder that my Baptist friends aren’t all a big fan of this novel because these parts made me a little uncomfortable and these are some reasons why I may hesitate in recommending this book or movie to my future children one day.
First off, let’s talk about the other mother again. Who is she really? She is very evil almost like Satan, but I guess not that evil. Is she playing God? The novel does talk quite a bit about how the other mother created a world for the children and she’d create a world for Coraline if she’ll only agree to live with her. It explains how she could create something new every day so that Coraline would never be bored, but there is no outside because she hasn’t created that yet.
Christians believe that God created all things. We can have paradise in heaven if we only follow Christ and accept him in our heart. Coraline can have all things if she only allows her mother to sew buttons in her eyes and stay there forever. It’s different, but similiar, no?
Also let’s talk about those souls that the other mother is collecting from the children. This seems really really satanic to me. You always here of those sayings of “I sold my soul to the devil”, isn’t that exactly what these kids here have done? Are they in hell? It sure as heck doesn’t seem like they’re in heaven, that’s for sure.
I also want to mention that this doesn’t seem to be the first instance where Gaiman has commented about religion and God, for better or for worst. He has another novel for adults called American Gods. Now, I haven’t read it at all and have no idea what it’s about so I can’t really say anything other than this: it makes you wonder.
These are just five main questions I had after reading Coraline. Now that I’ve written them all out and analyzed this book in over 2600 words I can’t say that I am anywhere closer to knowing the answer to my questions. In fact, I’d argue that I have even MORE questions and I don’t even know if I liked the book or detested it.
To describe this book in just one word, only one word is needed to sum it all up: