The Purpose of 2021


At the end of a year such as this, I find myself at a loss for what to say. Parts of 2020 were wonderful, such as seeing my cousins again after so long. Other aspects were nightmarish–imagining all of the people in the world falling sick, picturing empty chairs at Thanksgiving and Christmas tables, the sense of utter helplessness.

I imagine that 2020 changed everyone in some way. As it is now, I have developed a thirst for God again–yes, a thirst for Truth. You can see it in my religious blog. You might notice it if you see the pile of Papal Encyclicals on my desk, waiting to be read. I am single, but I’m in love with Jesus and His Church.

Can there be a love stronger than what I feel for the Church right now? She is a beacon of hope and a chest of treasures. The best memories of my childhood were in religious education class. There is no sweeter aroma to me than the inside of my parish, which I can smell even through the odious face-mask. I think of the days I was preparing for Confirmation–and such a nostalgia grips me that I want to weep.

I can’t–I can’t imagine I would have found this love again, if COVID fear had not sent me back “home.” Hold on to your faith and don’t let go. Bathe your quaking heart in the gentle truth of God’s love; wrap yourself in the safety of Mary’s mantle.

Some of you, like me, might feel inclined to weep as we near the end of this horrific year. Do it–let your tears water your faith. It will grow into a deeply-rooted tree, shade in the heat of trouble, shelter from the storm.

As for me, one day I will teach religious education. One day, I will give other kids the beautiful memories that my religion teachers gave me. When, God, will I be able to do this in person? A blog is all I can manage for now. I pray that this should be in my future–yes, I study and I pray.

My beautiful Idaho in the winter

Many of you might have lost someone this year. I wish I could tell you that time will heal your grief, but if my previous post here tells you anything, it’s that time does not patch up the wound of a lost loved one.

At the Christmas Eve Mass last week, we asked for my beloved grandmother’s name to be mentioned in the prayers for the deceased. When I heard her name mentioned as deceased, my heart hurt–as if she had left us again. It felt like that morning, two years ago, when my dad woke us up on Christmas Eve to say, “Grandma died.”

After prayers were said, the choir played The First Noel, my favorite Christmas song–but I could not sing it. I was crying–so hard that I could not hold a note, or remember the lyrics. I could only kneel and rifle through the beautiful memories of Grandma and her house, the clothes she wore, her scent and her laughter, the deck overlooking her yard. My heart, though grateful that she was with Jesus, felt terrible pain.

It felt as if she had been wrenched from me again.

On the kneeler, I felt relief–and then emptiness–and I sobbed instead to The First Noel, praying in thanksgiving for my grandma’s life. That was all I could do–thank the Lord for her life.

If you need to cry, let your tears water your faith. Don’t hold them in, though; turn to the crucified Savior and cry.

There’s a time for flower beds and there’s a time for ice / The armor of the tree and bush which, frozen, slowly dies…

2021 does not promise to be easier. I’m not afraid of 2021. I wear the shield of faith, and instead of letting it wrench me of hope, I pray that God will use me and my writing to give hope to others.

I’m not afraid of 2021. I am afraid of not seeing a future, of not anticipating being anyone, of being the same person I was before COVID. Let me never be lukewarm again. I am more than a writer; I am a child of God, His ambassador on earth. All Christians have much work to do in His name.

There will have been positive changes in you this year, as well. Perhaps you can’t see them yet; dig deep and you will feel them. Have a good cry and they will surface on your heart. You have a purpose–yes, you, though there are moments you might feel you don’t make a dent in history. You have a purpose; that’s why you were born!

My grandma had a beautiful purpose; now she has gone to Jesus. She left a family aching with rich love for her. Live the sort of life that will form your legacy of love. There is nothing else we should strive to be remembered for, because God is Love.

Enter 2021 ready to find your purpose. I am.

Dear Grandma:


Dear Grandma:

It’s been two years, and I guess I need to talk to you. Merry Christmas is hard to pronounce, because you left on Christmas Eve.

I remember what your house looked like every Christmastime. I remember you had Mrs. Claus sitting on a child-sized rocking chair and you always had tons of ornaments on your tree. You made a lot of them decades past; I really wish we had gotten better photos of the masterpiece that was your Christmas tree.

It’s been two years since you went to Heaven and I’ve learned that time does not, in fact, heal. It gives you opportunities to find distractions; you pick up new hobbies and responsibilities. You seek the same sort of comfort in other people, but no one hugs like you did, and no one smells like you did.

One summer we were in your basement. You asked me, “Would you ever consider visiting my church?” Because you are Mormon and I have been Catholic since I was eleven. I didn’t know what to say at the time; I didn’t want to get into a religious discussion with my grandma. “I’ll consider it,” I promised you, and though you might have wanted some more enthusiasm, you didn’t press the subject.

When you died, I decided I wanted to keep that promise. I didn’t expect I’d be keeping that promise I made to you while you were in your casket, but I’m sure you were in the same room. I told a story my cousins must have been familiar with. I spoke of how you loved the autumn leaves as they changed with the seasons. I reminded my cousins of how you would point them out every time you drove us somewhere in October.

I spoke to distant family and friends from your church who probably didn’t know this side of you, about how you were an artist. You would pull up in your white Dodge Durango, all dressed up to visit the craft store. One time you accidentally pulled up to get us when I had arranged to go somewhere else with a friend, so you and I agreed to go out again some other time. I regret that decision; I will always regret it.

I spoke a eulogy as a granddaughter, and though I had never done any form of public speaking previously, people said that it was moving. Many asked me to send them the transcript. It was the last thing I could do for you on earth: remind people of how you loved.

Two years later, Christmas isn’t the same. You left us on the morning of Christmas Eve, forever making yourself a part of the Christmas spirit, but we are human and our hearts are still broken. Last year we did not put up a Christmas tree; this year we have a small one, but your house has been taken by another family, and we are utterly alone in this city.

My brother snapped a candid shot of a time you spontaneously decided to teach me to make chocolate chip cookies. You were wearing a cheetah-print blouse and I was paying attention. I didn’t know at the time how desperately I would want that moment back, and I am grateful to Christian for preserving that moment.

One time you were speaking of someone you knew who had gotten engaged, and seeing that I looked melancholy, gave me advice about relationships. “You’ll have one one day,” you said, referring to a wedding announcement. “Men aren’t as aggressive with their feelings.” Whether that’s true or not, your care for how I felt on the subject still serves as a balm.

One time I asked you if Grandpa would be proud of us. It had been over ten years since his death, and you knew him better than anyone else, while I only have flashes of important moments spent with him. “Oh,” you said, nearly breaking down, “he would be so proud of you.” You then walked away, as if to cry somewhere.

I remember being a young child, cuddled up against you while you read out loud from Peter Rabbit. I remember the feel of the couch beneath us, the smell of your laundry detergent, and the illustrations from the book. Then I would want you to read me another book, and you’d wait patiently as I chose a children’s book from your cupboard. It smelled like the library I would one day have. When you died, I kept that copy of Peter Rabbit for myself.

A snippet of a conversation between you and Grandpa lingers in my mind regarding the grandfather clock we inherited from you. He was staring at the pendulum as it went back and forth, admiring how the entire living room could be seen on its face. “Colleen,” he told you, “take a photo of that.” “The flash would ruin it,” you replied. “Paint it,” he said.

There are moments that the four of us feel lost in the world without you. We haven’t gone to your favorite restaurant, Casa Mexico, since then; I don’t think we ever will. We can’t drive by your house.

I always dream of your house, you know. I dream of going inside and everything being where it should be, including the grandfather clock now ticking away in my living room. In my mind, that will always be our family’s house.

“You’re still grieving?” some might ask. “That was a long time ago.” Or, “She’s in Heaven!” Or, “Find a hobby.”

Certain friends could not understand that grief causes change in behavior, priorities, and mindset. I don’t miss them. If they couldn’t stand by me while I grieved, they weren’t really friends.

Grandma Colleen, the thing I remember most about you is how the only thing you remembered to say in your final months was “I love you.” You took that love with you, and I can picture you looking back at us at the gates to Heaven in order to say “I love you” one last time.

I don’t know the point of this post. I’m not sure you can read it. I suppose I want everyone to know for Christmas what a great grandmother you are.

You left a void in all of us. I’m sorry we can’t fill it; I don’t mean to guilt you. We miss you and we always will.

Christmas is about Jesus…but it’s also about you. It always will be.

I love you.

-Mariella

Waiting at the Manger


Last night we made a small pilgrimage to our church, where there is a Nativity scene. Baby Jesus is not there yet; according to tradition, He will be placed in the manger on Christmas Eve. In our house we have a small Nativity scene where Baby Jesus is covered up; He will be revealed on Christmas Eve.

Friends, it has been a year to test all of us; enough has happened to chip away at the faith of the most pious person. We cannot let fear steal away our joy of the holidays. We cannot let fear steal away our joy.

I’m not a theologian. I am a storyteller. Long ago, when I was baptized, I knew Jesus had sent us all out to tell the greatest story of them all: the story of how He came to save us from eternal grief. My short posts on lives of the Saints at Write Catholic are only the result of the first chapter.

What is the first chapter? Is it not when the Creator descended as a babe, helpless in the arms of His Mother, surrounded by the animals blessed to adore Him–already rejected, because there was no room for Him at the inn?

2021 is a good time to erase fear from the inns of our hearts and make space for the gifts that Jesus brought us. In 2020 we were all afraid, and we had reason to be; in 2020, many people lost loved ones and had their lives changed forever.

St. John Paul II’s handwriting encourages us to remember the 365 times that the Bible tells us not to be afraid. Anyone who knows of St. John Paul II’s life can agree that he saw fear; he felt it; he wept when he lost his friends, he must have been frustrated when Parkinson’s debilitated him, and there must have been times when he asked God Why?

He had a purpose, though, and God never gives us more than we can handle. You have a purpose, too; so do I. In 2021, I will follow the words of St. John Paul II and pray for the grace to stand steady in the face of a shifting world.

As survivors of 2020, what might our purpose be? Here are some ideas off of the top of my head:

  • Comfort the mourning. You probably know somebody who lost a friend or family member to COVID; send them a card in the mail and reassure them of your prayer and friendship.
  • Exercise your faith. Like a muscle, faith needs to be put into action daily. Read the Bible or a devotional; sit in silence and wait for the soft voice in your heart to give you instructions.
  • Pray the Rosary. Our Lady gave us the Rosary with the promise that this Sacramental would save the world. She told the children at Fatima that it should be prayed every day. I have made this a practice, and it brings me peace I cannot describe with human words.
  • Count your blessings. A dear friend encouraged me to write my small blessings in a gratitude journal. Be grateful for your breakfast in the morning; be grateful for that line in a song you really love. The more you practice gratitude, the more grateful you will be.
  • Tell someone about Jesus. I can assure you that, in the chaos of 2020, many people have forgotten about Jesus and what He did for us. Tell one person about Jesus this year; remind them that we have not been forgotten, and that we look forward to a better world.
  • Practice charity. Whether it’s donating to a food bank or being kind to someone you do not know, those five dollars might buy a meal–a kind sentence might be the only kindness someone encounters in an entire day. Love covers a multitude of sins–and heals a multitude of hurts.

We are a people of joy, not fear.

Christmas is nearly upon us; I can feel in my bones that we Christians have extra work to do in 2021. Raise the hashtag #2021BeNotAfraid. Seek the positive, the reminders of God in the world. Tell people why you still have hope.

My part in all of this? I am a writer. I can use words to get messages across. I am more than a fiction writer. My interests are in more than fantasy and historical fiction. It is my vocation to keep telling the greatest story in the world.

I believe this is my purpose. Sit down for a while now and ask God…what is yours?

Review: EAST by Edith Pattou


Do you have a book that has been with you for years? One that became your favorite story for so long that, though the plot is fuzzy, you remember how much you love it? One so dear that it remains a part of you, sharing in fond memories–a friend you have been waiting to meet again?

As a teenager, if asked what my favorite book was, I wouldn’t have replied Harry Potter. After all, Rowling’s had books reached a favorite level that it would feel silly to name them. My real favorite book, the one I recommended to everyone–and eventually lent (to a person who never returned it!) was East by Edith Pattou.

I had not read East in over ten years when it appeared on Amazon in August as a suggested title for my Kindle. It wasn’t expensive, and I knew that it was time to revisit this old friend of mine. It would bring me comfort in rough times such as these. 

This year, when I reread East, I sought comfort from a childhood friend.

East is the story of Rose. She was born into a farmer’s family, to a mother who was very superstitious. When Rose’s mother was expecting her, she was very concerned that the infant not be born facing North, believing that a child born facing North would be a wanderer and get into all sorts of trouble.

Rose’s birth was a sudden, chaotic event. It took place in the forest when her parents went out to gather berries. Her father had no choice but to deliver her there on the forest floor…and in the chaos, her mother’s greatest fear took place: Rose was born facing North. Only her parents knew about this, and they agreed to keep it a secret. They lied and told Rose that she had been born facing East, calling her Ebba Rose. However, her father despised the lie, calling her Nyamh in his heart.

Her childhood was chaotic enough that anyone watching would not be surprised if they’d been told that she was a North-facing child. She frequently ran off to have adventures, getting into mischief and causing much grief to her parents. 

This was when she began to see the White Bear. When she first met him at the age of five, she forgot about him. He was to appear later when she was a young woman–and change her life forever.

Their youngest daughter, Sara, had fallen ill. One night the White Bear appeared at their house and said that Sara would be healed–for a price. He would take Rose as a companion in exchange for her sister’s health. 

He gave them a week to think it over, and in that week something happens to help Rose make up her mind: she discovered the truth about her birth, that she had been born facing North.

So painful was her betrayal that she left her family. She packed her few possessions and set off with the White Bear, despite her brother’s protests. What ensued was an adventure full of heartbreak and friendship, a love story that reminded me of Beauty and the Beast, and one that I have not forgotten to this day.

Love is mysterious. How can a young lady fall for a white bear? Why, if she would only take the time to look into his eyes, she would discover that the frightening bear is more human than he appears. True love is listening, paying attention, and choosing to keep an open heart.

Read East by Edith Pattou; I will forever call it one of my favorites.

Review: All is Mary and Bright


Andrew Bright, the Earl of Sanders, is tired of women. Ever since he inherited his father’s title, it’s been a nightmare when his mother invites female friends to his house–especially friends with unwed daughters. Even if he expresses no interest in the unwed lady, he will find her ‘accidentally’ waiting in his library.

So irate does he become that he avoids his London townhouse whenever his mother invites friends.

This time, circumstances are different. His mother and sisters have come from their country house to celebrate Christmas with him in London. In doing so, they have sacrificed many beloved Christmas traditions, and he appreciates their visit.

There is one problem, though: they have once again brought friends, a Mrs. Hatcher and her daughter, Mary. Will Mary Hatcher be the next lady he finds in his library?

Andrew could avoid the townhouse again and spend time with his questionable friends. Gamblers and drinkers, he and his friends normally go to the city for a bit of fun…and sometimes, trouble. 

However, following an embarrassing episode with these friends at the Frost Fair, Andrew has had enough. He decides he would rather spend the holidays with his family…and the Hatcher women.

When Andrew learns that Mary Hatcher is already engaged, he feels relief. At least there won’t be another flirt in his library. This relief is short-lived, though; unknowingly, Mary begins to win him over. He wants to know everything about her. He would do anything in his power to make her happy.

What cruel fate that he has fallen in love with the one woman woman he can’t have.

He feels a spark of hope on learning that Miss Hatcher hasn’t seen her fiance in two years. It becomes clear that she knows nothing about her fiance, and Andrew wonders if he can convince her to change her mind.

The truth is that Mary’s fiance can live two years away from her, but Andrew can’t live a day without her.

He soon learns that there is a reason Mary is being forced to marry a stranger. Her father is managing her life from a distance. Can Andrew and Mary live happily ever after, or will she be forced to go through with this marriage of convenience?

Marriages of convenience were common in their era, but they were usually contracts rather than vows of love. Many arranged marriages were miserable or apathetic. A person’s heart should never be used as a bargaining chip to pay a debt.

I loved that this was the message of the book. There is no better gift for Christmas than true love.

Read Kasey Stockton’s other fantastic Christmas story, A Duke for Lady Eve!

The Catholic Project – November Digest


Back in July I announced that I would be using my gift of writing to talk about my Catholic faith. It took a few months for me to decide how to do just that and where. Though I shared my conversion story here, I want this blog to focus on book reviews and other literary things. Aside from a monthly update on what’s going on in my missionary blog, here I will focus on books.

Consider these monthly summaries newsletters. My missionary blog, Write Catholic, is where you will find my posts about Catholic Saints’ lives, Catholic book reviews, and–sometime in the near future–lives of the greatest Popes, as well as conversion stories. We are given gifts and expected to use them to build the Kingdom. I want to use my passion for writing to draw people nearer to Catholicism and teach what we really believe.

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite posts from the month of November. Great sites such as Ignitum Today and Catholics Around the World have been kind enough to feature some of them.


November 8 – St. Cecilia: Listening to Heavenly Music

Saint Cecilia by Jacques Blanchard

Saint Cecilia is the Patron Saint of music in the Roman Catholic Church. She is patroness of music because it is said that she heard heavenly song in her heart. She might not have played the piano, though works of art often depict her doing so. Nonetheless, musicians ask for her intercession. Read more…


November 8 – St. Therese of Lisieux: Who’s That Nun?

In the month of October, many non-Catholics scratch their heads as their Papist friends fill their feeds with images and quotes of a nun. She died long ago, and is a Saint in the eyes of the Church. Despite her popularity, many people cannot fathom how a normal-looking girl became a Saint. Read More…


November 20: Sts. Louis & Zelie Martin: A Love Story

St. Therese’s family was close to God from the moment of her parents’ marriage. Her mother, Zelie, prayed that she would have many holy children–and all of her daughters became nuns! In this story, the graces did not begin when the Martin daughters chose to become nuns. This story begins with their parents, a tale of love written by the hand of God. Read More…


November 25 – Six Famous Carmelite Saints

When you say “I saw a nun” or “I saw a monk,” can you name which Order they belonged to? Benedictines, Jesuits, and Dominicans have different habits and ways of serving the Church. Some choose the cloistered life; others are missionaries, serving the poor. The Carmelites are one of the most famous Religious Orders. Here are six great Saints who came from this community. Read More…


November 27 – St. Nicholas Owen & His Priest Holes

Priests were targeted by priest hunters, who searched for these servants of God and arrested them. If a priest was spotted, he was given forty days to leave the country or be punished for high treason unless he renounced Catholicism. Many brave priests chose to stay and feed Christ’s sheep. They would take refuge in the homes of the faithful, hidden in tunnels or “priest holes” built by men like St. Nicholas Owen. Read More…


December 4 – St. Maria Goretti: Only The Strong Forgive

The surgeon tried to save Maria’s life, but the wounds were too deep and too many. He soon realized that he could do nothing for her. It is said that he asked his patient, weeping, to pray for him in Heaven.
“I will gladly pray for you,” Maria said.
Who is the true warrior–the one who survives and lives as a coward, or the one who falls with courage? Read More…


Conclusion

These are my favorite articles that I wrote in the month of November. I must say that, since I started this project, I have never felt so fulfilled. I am finally using my gift to serve the Church and introduce my Heavenly siblings to the modern world.

I have already published my first Saint biography for December, the story of St. Maria Goretti. I plan to write about St. Nicholas, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Agnes this month. I post on Wednesdays and Fridays, so if you’re interested, join me on my journey to learn more about my faith.

I believe that in rough times, people need stories of heroes who also endured trials. The Saints are perfect. Comment if you have any ideas, or if you are a convert and would like to share your story!

Happy Advent, and I hope you have a lovely Christmas season!

Review: Her Silent Knight


How does a person know if they’re in love or just infatuated? One can mistake intrigue, jealousy, or obsession with love. It’s especially easy to make this mistake when you are young–when the romance in question would be forbidden–when sneaking off on clandestine visits gives you an adrenaline rush.

You feel alive, like the heroine of a great romance novel…but in most cases you are not in love.

In Ashtyn Newbold’s new Christmas Regency novel, Her Silent Knight, Selina Ellis believes herself to be in love. She seizes every opportunity to meet with her beau, Noah, against her mother’s wishes. One day during the Frost Fair on the frozen Thames river, she gives her mother the slip to find Noah and the refuge of his arms.

She’s convinced that no one she knows will discover them.

Things do not go as planned, however. Strolling on the frozen surface of the Thames is an old childhood friend, Edmund, whom she has not seen in years. He came to London to be by his ailing grandmother’s side during her last moments, but the heavy snowfall delayed his journey, so he was unable to see her.

Stranded in London because of the snow, Edmund spots Selina with Noah. He knows about Noah and the man’s rakish reputation; outraged, he determines not to let Selina be used. He decides that he will do everything in his power to prevent Selina from marrying the man. After all, Noah does not truly love her; he keeps her around for reasons of interest.

How will Edmund change Selina’s mind when she believes herself to be in love? The best plan he can come up with is to show her what real love looks like. She’s blinded by the adventure of a forbidden romance, but does not yet know what it’s like to be loved.

When her mother invites Edmund to stay with them in their house for the holidays, he has plenty of time to open her eyes. How will he do this, though, when she is determined to avoid him–when she does all she can think of to have him tossed out–when she makes him promise not to interfere?

Most of all, how will Edmund do this without falling in love with her?

My thoughts as I read this were Poor Selina. She wants what everyone else does–love–and believes she has found it with Noah. He puts on a great act of caring for her, but in reality is taking advantage of her youth and inexperience. Edmund knows this and, though Selina is irritated by his meddling in her romance, he becomes her knight–he will not allow her heart to be tread upon.

Edmund’s presence and honest desire to make her feel loved will make Selina see reality. As Selina is exposed to real love, she notices her thoughts beginning to gravitate to Edmund rather than Noah. Seeing Edmund enjoy a laugh with another lady gives her a most bitter feeling; could it be jealousy?

Selina begins to realize what Noah never gave her–but Edmund is.

Pride can be the greatest barrier to our happiness. Sooner or later, we all learn what true love is like. The journey isn’t easy, though. You make mistakes and later reflect on how silly you were–chasing an infatuation, thinking it would be your happily ever after!

Thanks to Edmund, Selina finds love for Christmas–and finally sees that what she had with Noah was not a happily ever after. 

I enjoyed this book. It was a sweet love story and gave me some good laughs! If you’re interested in more Christmas romance from Ashtyn Newbold, check out my review for The Earl’s Mistletoe Match!  Check out her website, as well, for more clean romance stories.

Review: Rilla of Ingleside


We have reached the end of my Annetober adventure with the tear-jerker Rilla of Ingleside. Of all the books in Anne Shirley’s series, this was my favorite. Its tone is starkly different from the others. Set during the First World War, we see our beloved characters deal with fear and grief that gives them all a new depth.

Rilla of Ingleside is told from the viewpoint of Anne’s youngest daughter. She is the baby of the family, and they often worry that she will always see life as a playground. She is concerned about looking pretty and winning the affections of a young man she has a crush on. Rilla often has silly tantrums, crying over things that don’t matter. Soon she will have real tragedies to weep over.

Her older brother, Jem, is the first to enlist in the army to help defend England. He has always had a fighting spirit, playing with toy soldiers and dreaming of being a hero in battle. It’s heartbreaking to read of Anne’s grief when one of her children sets off on a journey that might lead to death. We remember her as the optimistic young woman whose daydreams could ease anyone’s worries; now she is the one who needs consolation.

Dog Monday, Jem’s pet, follows him to the train station as he is leaving. Monday does not return to Ingleside, waiting at the train station for his master to return. This broke my heart. The town takes notice of this loyal dog who waits each time a train arrives to see Jem step out. A doghouse is built for Monday so that the creature can at least be comfortable as he waits. The Blythes come regularly to bring him food, but cannot coax him to return home. This was one of my favorite storylines, one only L.M. Montgomery can write with such beauty.

Walter, the second oldest Blythe son, does not want to go to war. He wants to go to college, but he faces so much shame in college–even receiving a white feather accusing him of cowardice. Tormented by shame, he enlists as well. This is when Rilla grows up; Walter is her favorite brother, and she cannot bear the thought that he might not come back. Nonetheless, he returns home and prepares to leave for war.

The Blythes now have two sons to pray for, two sons who have put their lives on the line..

Rilla now feels that she wants to make a difference. She does not fuss so much about her looks, and only thinks about the men of the town when she prays they’ll return alive from war. She leads several charitable societies and even takes in a ‘war baby,’ the child of a soldier and a woman who died at childbirth, mothering him until his father returns from the front lines. She is not recognizable as the Rilla we meet in the first chapters.

When tragedy grips the Blythe family, Anne’s optimism appears to die. One of their sons will not return. The happy family we have read about in previous books is broken. This is a touch of reality in a world so often a refuge for us when we endure tragedy. It all seems more real because we see that even Anne Shirley Blythe can be so devastated that she shuts down. Our heroine becomes relatable to us; it is an honor to grieve with her.

Rilla of Ingleside is a sad way to end the Anne series, but I thought it fitting. L.M. Montgomery closes her masterpiece of a series with a novel that is directed straight to our hearts. She gives us a younger heroine we can think about when we feel sad, inadequate, or unwanted. She helps us through grief by making it a regular part of her world–the perfect world where we previously would not have imagined there could be war.

My heart aches as I write this. The book is so powerful that I will never forget the emotions it evoked in me. Though my heart aches, I am thankful that there was some loss in the perfect world of Anne Shirley; it makes me think that there is nothing wrong with being sad, devastated, and that there are some losses that even the imagination cannot ease.

I am grateful for L.M. Montgomery’s series and glad that I took the time to read it from beginning to end. It will take your emotions in all sorts of directions; it will make you joyful, nervous, it will make you fall in love and it will make you want to cry. There is a reason it is a classic, and now I understand. I look forward to reading it from start to end again one day.

Review: Rainbow Valley


My journey through Annetober this year showed me many fictional places that I wished I could visit. From Avonlea to the House of Dreams, L.M. Montgomery knew how to create a place that could heal any soul, a place to which readers would become attached. Though I wish that I could visit these places, they are alive in my heart.

One of these places is a field after which the seventh book is named. Rainbow Valley stands out from the other books because it follows the perspectives of Anne Blythe’s children rather than her own. The brood from Anne of Ingleside have grown old enough to understand things–old enough to recognize a soul in trouble and want to help.

Not only is Rainbow Valley different in this sense. It takes us to a different house where we meet a new family. The Meredith children live in an old manse next to a graveyard. I thought this an excellent way to contrast their life with that of the Blythes. While the Blythes play in the fields of Rainbow Valley, the Manse children have games on headstones. They wander the graveyard, singing and chasing insects. Their paradise is a place of death.

The Meredith children stumble upon Rainbow Valley one day when the Blythes are playing there. From that day on, the children become friends; the Merediths are welcome to visit Rainbow Valley whenever they want. This only provides temporary relief, however. They still have no mother, and practically have no father. Mr. Meredith is an absentminded minister who has not thought about their comfort in years.

As the Meredith children remain motherless, they get into unbelievable scrapes. They are not aware, most of the time, that what they’re doing is not acceptable to society. To them, playing and singing on headstones is normal. It isn’t until Faith Meredith goes to church without socks one day that their situation becomes a public scandal.

People begin to talk about how the Presbyterian minister does not know how to care for his children. Whispers circulate that the man should remarry for their sake. It’s out of the question for him. He has not yet recovered from the death of his wife, Cecilia. He’s convinced that he never will.

The Manse in which he lives with his children is a reflection of his own soul: it needs tending, it is lonely, and there are shadows everywhere.

In my review for Anne of Green Gables, I suggested that book one was the story of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. Anne might have come into their lives, but the Cuthberts made the frightening decision to adopt the orphan girl. I have the same opinion about Rainbow Valley: it is the story of Mr. Meredith facing an important decision. Will he choose a life of endless mourning, or will he seek a wife to be a good mother to his children–especially after he becomes aware that they are in constant trouble?

Mr. Meredith’s heart is eager to move on. Soon he will meet a woman who’ll enchant him in a different, quiet way–a woman who is difficult to get, because of a promise she made–and perhaps that will make him more determined to fight for her love. If the wellbeing of his children was not enough to bring on a life change, a personal challenge might.

The Meredith children affect us in a different way than the Blythes; they represent loneliness while the Blythes live in a state of joy. They frolic in a graveyard while the Blythes have a field to themselves. They have no mother, while everyone who meets Anne knows she is a great parent.

If you have a ‘Meredith child’ in your life, a person who is alone and could use some company, would you invite them over to play?

Rainbow Valley challenges us to reach out to people in the graveyards of life. Not only that, it warns us that grief can take one over. If we allow grief to consume us, those we love will be affected–and it will be almost as if they were dead, as well.

Life alone is not the answer to any problem, and if you have children or others who depend on you, then you will have to make the frightening choice to stop grieving and open the window. If you live in your own Rainbow Valley and know somebody stuck in a graveyard, share your adventures with them.

This book offers a new perspective on Montgomery’s world that I truly appreciate. It was a welcome break from the colorful nature of Anne’s other books; it acknowledged that not everyone in the world knows true love. Will the Meredith children have a new mother at the end? Read this delightful novel to find out.

At last, we are nearing the end of the beloved series by L.M. Montgomery. Next week I will share my thoughts on my favorite book of them all, Rilla of Ingleside. Until then, I hope you are having a great holiday season, despite the challenges of this year!

Review: Anne of Ingleside


My journey through Annetober took me from Anne’s House of Dreams to Anne of Ingleside, the fifth book in the beloved series by L.M. Montgomery.

This book differs from the first because it focuses on the Blythe children–Jem, Walter, Shirley, Diana, Anne, and newborn Rilla. (If you hadn’t caught on yet, Rilla is short for Marilla, who certainly is deserving of a child to be named after her!) Ingleside was the second home that Anne and Gilbert lived in after their marriage, and it is where they stayed to raise their loving family.

This chronicle of Anne’s life allows us to laugh and cry over the years when their children are still young enough to get into trouble. With a big family like theirs, there’s always trouble to get into. We are delighted whenever one of the Blythe children finds themself in an awkward spot; it’s a comical way for them to learn a lesson–and for readers to learn it, too.

I was impressed at the distinct personalities each of the children have. Jem is a soldier trapped in a child’s body, ready to fight but too small to fight any real battles. Walter is a dreamer, very much like his mother was in the first book, and I could relate to his sensitive ways. Diana struggles to make friends, and for a while is insecure enough to associate with anyone at school, no matter the trouble it might bring about.

Having by now finished the series, I am doubly impressed that these personalities matured consistently. Walter will not suddenly stop being a dreamer when he’s a young man; Jem is still ready to fight. That is a post for another day, though.

Gilbert Blythe shone in this book. He is a hard-working doctor, well-respected in the community, often losing sleep to go and see a patient. In this book, Anne’s dreams seemed to move aside so that we could have a better view of him. At last we can appreciate Gilbert’s accomplishments, seeing him for the intelligent and responsible man he is. While I had already admired him, I appreciated that Montgomery gave him a spot of more importance.

As for Anne, she is happy to run her house, already having spent so much time as a schoolteacher. If you remember that Anne and Gilbert both were the best students at their schools, you might think that Montgomery was giving us a chance to appreciate Gilbert’s good grades as well as Anne’s.

Like in the other books, you’ll find plenty of fascinating characters in Anne of Ingleside. Susan the housekeeper, in particular, was my favorite. She’s a great help to Anne with the children, more of an aunt or beloved nanny than a housekeeper. Her wisdom helps the family out of many scrapes, and she has some lines that made me chuckle. Susan has a solution for everything.

My favorite scenes in this novel were those of forgiveness. When Jem discovers that the pearl necklace he bought his mother was fake, he thinks he has done a great wrong; he begs her to forgive him for having fooled her into thinking they were real, but mothers always know best. Anne assures him that the effort he made to save up for that pearl necklace made it worth more than a handful of real pearls.

I also loved how Anne and Gilbert settled a disagreement, towards the end of the book. With age come new worries and stresses. Gilbert is busy with work, and Anne has begun to notice in herself signs of aging–her red hair turning silver, her energy no longer what it used to be. It has lowered her spirits enough that she and Gilbert have a misunderstanding. We discover in the end that their love is still young and full of spirit. I think this scene was meant to remind us readers that we should always tell a person how we feel about them, because when life becomes a challenge, kind words do help.

The storytelling in this whole series is magnificent. We meet and say farewell to characters in such a natural manner that we could almost reminisce on them as people we actually knew in real life. They are so vivid that we can stop in a moment of distraction and think, “Hmm, I wonder what happened to Captain Jim?” or “What’s new with Susan?” This is the sort of story that beats time; it wins hearts of readers for generations, and it takes great skill to create such a world.

I am nostalgic for such a world. I can easily imagine that these places–Green Gables, Ingleside, the House of Dreams–do exist in some dimension we can only access in between book covers. I am nostalgic for a world where people spoke in person, built things with their hands, valued the concept of a loving family, and passed traditions on to their children. 

The Internet connects us with friends, which is wonderful, but we lost so many valuable talents–such as the ability to make our own clothing, or to enjoy the silence during a beautiful sunset, or to value gifts like Jem’s necklace. It is fortunate that books like these keep such powerful, warm places alive for us today.

In the next book, Rainbow Valley, Anne is no longer the main character. It focuses on her children as they grow into adolescents–and make more mistakes. The Blythe family is flourishing, and they invite us to join them in their play through the book; I will post my thoughts on it next week.

Review: Anne’s House of Dreams


Last week, I expressed frustration over the pacing of L.M. Montgomery’s novel Anne of Windy Poplars. I didn’t like the pacing; perhaps that was my inner romantic craving sweeter scenes. As suspected, Anne’s House of Dreams made me forget the impatient taste its predecessor left.

Anne’s House of Dreams satisfied that itch in me hoping something great would happen. The very first chapter, in fact, is promising. It opens with her wedding to Gilbert Blythe (at last!) 

How Gilbert must have struggled to believe that his bride was the girl who broke a slate on his head in school! He deserved that headache, of course; he had teased her about her red hair. I think that Anne held her grudge for too long, though, until she was no longer punishing Gilbert but herself.

This is the moment that readers were waiting for: Anne and Gilbert starting over for real.

Gilbert makes more of an appearance in Anne’s stories following Anne’s House of Dreams. I like him; he’s quiet, intelligent, and has eyes for no one but his ‘Anne-girl.’ I have the feeling that, had she never accepted him, he wouldn’t have found another woman. He’s the sort that only falls once. He was so certain of his love that he waited for her to come around.

After the wedding, Anne and Gilbert begin their new life in a house he found. Anne calls this new place the House of Dreams. It’s built on a hill overseeing the ocean. We might think of such a home as isolated, but–as other books have shown–no place is depressing if Anne lives in it.

She has a way of attracting broken souls and showing them that there is light. Even a poor, wretched cat we met in Anne of the Island came to her for healing. It is no surprise, then, that this lonely old house should find itself full of color after the Blythes move in. Souls in neighboring houses flock to Anne to bask in her presence.

The old house on the hill becomes a cheerful place of hope.

I must conclude that the ‘dull’ feel of Anne of Windy Poplars was due to it being a sort of prologue. It was Anne’s world shining but taking a deep breath before presenting us with this delightful chronicle.

Not all waiting periods are bad, and if you are being forced to wait for something, hold your breath: good things are on their way.

In this instance, the pause makes way for characters that steal our hearts. My favorite character in Anne’s House of Dreams is Captain Jim, a charismatic old sailor with countless stories to tell, the sort of person that Anne gets along with. There were moments when their bond reminded me of Anne’s bond with Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables. (At this point in the series, it feels like so long since we’ve read about Matthew. I will never forget the chapter in which the confused man brings an orphan girl home from the train station!)

Captain Jim delights in making Anne feel at home. He knows the people in this town and all of their stories; he knows why they are hurting and, at his advanced age, has a great deal of compassion to offer the world. I was so happy when his maritime story was published as a book. He must have been delighted to revisit those moments!

Anne and Gilbert’s marriage turned out to be a happy, trusting union. They supported each other through times of tragedy, neither of them losing hope, and their tragedy was compensated with great joy. 

I cannot finish this essay without adding that Gilbert is a good man. He’s been the most patient person in the world waiting for his Anne-girl; after their marriage, he works hard to ensure that she is happy. He never asks her to quit the daydreaming that drew him to her in the first place. They are at peace, and so are readers.

Anne’s stay in the House of Dreams cannot last forever; after all, happy families must grow. We can be sure that she will be a source of light when they move to their second home.

Next week, I will share my thoughts about Anne of Ingleside. I hope you had a happy Halloween! What did you read for the spookiest day of the year?

Review: Anne of Windy Poplars


I journeyed through the world of Anne Shirley this autumn, accidentally participating in a delightful trend called Annetober. Each time I finished one of her books, I would write my thoughts in a journal.

Here are my thoughts for Anne of Windy Poplars. If you’re interested, last week I posted my thoughts about Anne of the Island.

It chronicles the three years of Anne’s life she spent as a full-time teacher. While she teaches, she’s waiting for Gilbert to finish college so they can get married.

Windy Poplars is written in a different format: L.M. Montgomery shows us Anne’s feeling by means of letters to Gilbert, many of which are long and Anne-ish. She can’t help going into rants about things she finds beautiful or bemoaning what she thinks unjust.

Anne of Windy Poplars has more promise of a loving future than the previous books; still, I found myself becoming impatient. I understood why she had to wait three years for Gilbert to finish college. Nonetheless, I felt that readers deserved more romance at this point. I kept waiting for a sweet scene with Gilbert to show that they were in love, but we mostly got shown this in Anne’s letters. Because Gilbert’s replies were never shared, it felt rather one-sided, almost as if Anne was making it up.

In short, I found Windy Poplars to drag on, sometimes wondering if it was necessary to the series in the first place.

That said, I have to admit that Anne is a masterfully crafted character. She is consistent with her optimism and willingness to work hard. She gives her students the attention that they need, spends her free time learning about her neighbors, and even asks a local about the deceased in a nearby graveyard. Instead of thinking the graveyard frightening, Anne calls it romantic. 

Although these years dragged on, they revealed an Anne who discovered the beauty of normalcy. She learns patience that her vocations entail, both her work as a teacher and her future as a married woman.

When I wasn’t frustrated about its pace, this book made me wonder if I am able to see the beauty in everyday life–the ritual, the routine. Anne tends to her students every day; few things seem to change. Routine is a part of life, much more so than a wedding. 

Contrary to popular belief, if we live our lives fully, we will spend more time doing mundane things. Events like weddings are brief flashes in our long-term memories. We can’t live waiting for exceptional events to take place, because if we do, we blind ourselves to the ordinary and don’t live as we ought to.

One moral I took from Anne of Windy Poplars is that fulfilling lives are composed of ‘ordinary’ moments. We come alive when we learn to recognize and share them with those around us. One small opportunity to make a child smile should not be wasted; this is something we learn through Anne.

Anne’s stay at Windy Poplars reminds me that periods of growth in our lives are quiet. During these periods, it is easy to believe that nothing is changing, or that we won’t achieve the things we set our minds and passions to. Real change is slow. We are unlikely to see the improvement until we look back, a decade later.

Though I found Anne of Windy Poplars to be a slow read, I reflected on it as a writer. From that angle, I realized it might have been intended as foreshadowing for the things that are to take place in the next installment. I had the happy feeling that, with these gentle chapters, L.M. Montgomery is preparing us for delightful adventures.

These ‘smaller events’ were not insignificant after all. Great feasts are composed of small dishes. Vast palaces are made of small bricks raising them up. Just so, a book in which the scenes are quiet doesn’t have to be a bad thing. These quiet scenes are preparing us for a symphony.

Finally, let us not forget the comfort of a life lived in peace. Even if you did not do anything extraordinary or heroic by the end of your journey on earth, you’ll still have memories to reflect on with a smile.

On that day, ask yourself: Did you live a life at peace with yourself? Did you enjoy the gently crackling hearth of a fireplace on a cold winter’s night, or count snowflakes as they fell? Did you gather the leaves outside your door as they turned crisp and golden?

Anne of Windy Poplars reminded me of these small blessings, all great reminders of a life lived to its fullest.